It’s that time of year again! One thing fills my newsfeed: the never ending debate between wishing someone a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” Although I don’t want to admit to this “debate” being one-sided, I find myself witnessing more arguments over the “Merry Christmas” side of things. Let’s delve into the history of Christmas and discuss other holidays celebrated this time of year in order to decide which is more socially acceptable: “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.”
As many know, Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, Jesus of Nazereth. This is a Christian celebration that takes place on the twenty-fifth of December; however, Christmas isn’t the original or only holiday to take place during the month of December.
One of the attributions to the many historical holidays celebrated in mid to late December is the occurrence of the Winter Solstice which happens on the twenty-first of this month. Many religions and cultures have acknowledged the Winter Solstice as the end of darkness and cold and the beginning of harvest and light. We have seen, throughout history, people from all over the world have celebrated with food, family, and song around the date of the twenty-first due to the nearing of spring.
Could the Winter Solstice explain the date of Christmas?
Let’s begin by looking into different holidays historically celebrated this time of year.
Naturally we are familiar with the word “yule,” but did you know that Yule is an actual holiday that was celebrated on the Winter Solstice by the Norse? With feasts, and dance, and tradition, the Norse celebrated Yule for thousands of years and many of those traditions still hold strong in different countries throughout Europe.
The Germans honored a Pagan god named Oden during the mid-winter months by, again, feasting and practicing traditions through song and dance.
More relevant, however, are the Romans. While they had many celebrations in the month of December, they celebrated a particular god on a particular day during this month. Mithra, their sun god, was commemorated on his birthday, the twenty-fifth of December, long before the rise of Christianity and birth of Christ.
As far as Christ’s DOB goes, no one really knows when it was. Some scholars believe that he was born in spring (hence the shepherds) while some argue that historical evidence proves he was born in late summer, like August. The Bible does not actually state the time of year Jesus was born. This is probably why early Christians did not celebrate his birth.
During the early years of Christianity, believers celebrated Easter but did not recognize a holiday commemorating Christ’s birth. When Christmas was finally established, Pope Julius I simply chose December twenty-fifth as the day of celebration.
In other words, Mr. Pope Julius I pretty much decided for himself when Jesus was born since that’s what Christmas is all about, right?
But…don’t we recognize a pattern here?
All these holidays falling around the same time of year with Christmas randomly finding a place among them is a little suspicious, isn’t it? It is believed that the church chose to celebrate Christmas at this time of year due to all the Pagan holidays celebrated already. After all, why compete with the (then) dominate Pagans when you can just join ’em? Either way, the decision to put Christmas four days after the Winter Solstice proved as a good one since it is now the most popular and commercialized holiday in the modern world.
With that history lesson behind us, let’s look at two other holidays celebrated around the same time of Christmas.
Hanukkah takes place over eight days during; this year the Jewish people will be celebrating from the evening of December sixteenth through December twenty-fourth, or Christmas Eve. The story and magic behind Hanukkah is very interesting, so I encourage all of you to take a look, but we’re going to talk about it’s origins.
Hanukkah, or “dedication,” commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the second century BC.
So Hanukkah celebrates an event that happened before Christ.
However important this event, it is not mentioned in the Torah because it happened after it was written. It is, though, mentioned in the New Testament of the Christian Bible when Jesus attends a celebration called the “Feast of Dedication.”
Feast of Dedication AKA Hanukkah.
Hanukkah is celebrated all around the world around the month of December and, like this year, falls very close to Christmas.
Another popular holiday, Kwanzaa, was founded in 1966 for African-American people to gather as a community. This celebration, which takes place this year from December twenty-sixth to January first, is full of family, feasting, and the Seven Principles. These Seven Principles are passed down to the children each night of Kwanzaa–one principle a night.
Although this holiday isn’t as deeply rooted as the ones previously mentioned, it is still widely practiced by thousands of African Americans.
So do people really have the right to force “Christmas” into our holidays?
Why not “Happy Hanukkah?”
Just because Christianity is the major religion in our country and world, does not give it the right to dominate a holiday season filled with many other (if not hundreds of other) traditions, celebrations and religions.
Christ may be your reason for the season, but there are millions of people worldwide that do not recognize the birth of Christ and doing so does not make them bad people or take away their right to celebrate the holidays. They can most certainly celebrate this month, especially since we are more than sure Christ wasn’t born in December and, with the mass commercialization during the time of year, it’s almost impossible not to celebrate.
I believe that we, as individuals, should be free to choose between “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays.” While “Happy Holidays” is more diverse, covering all traditions and religions, “Merry Christmas” is just as acceptable when used properly.
I have, however, seen many people abuse the phrase “Merry Christmas.” In the end, everyone should be proud of their faith and what they believe in, but no faith should ever feel bullied or overpowered by the use of a simple phrase.
The next time you see a comment reading something along the lines of:
“It should be Merry CHRISTmas and nothing else!!”,
please share this blog post with them.