We celebrate Christmas in our culture with a weird mix of pagan, Christian and consumerist images, symbols and narratives. I used to fret over that, but now I’m just resigned to it and can even see the great humor in it (of course it would be much funnier without the burden of debt, guilt and anxiety that it puts on so many people, but we won’t go there this morning).
I was traveling for business a few years ago and saw a front yard nativity scene in Rhode Island that included Frosty the Snowman at the manger (along with “the Three Wisemen” of course). Sadly, Santa and the Little Drummer Boy were missing.
Much of what we associate with Christmas comes from our pagan northern European ancestors. When Christmas was invented it was merged into existing pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice. In the last 125 years or so our culture has morphed it again, infusing it with materialism and consumerism. Christmas these days is first and foremost about buying things and welcoming the arrival of Santa Claus.
Like most things, culture evolves. In another 125 years Christmas may look a lot different from the way we celebrate it these days.
There are constant reminders of our pagan past all around us, even if most of us don’t recognize them. Christmas and Easter celebrations are well-known examples, but even the names of the days of the week derive from our pagan roots.
The ancient Greeks named the days after the seven known bodies in the solar system (designating each day according to which heavenly body was believed to preside over it). Germanic people adapted those names to the names of some of their gods, and that is how they made it into English. Thus:
Even though Saturn is a Roman god, not a Norse god, he somehow made the cut. The rest of them are Norse/Germanic gods or goddesses.
The Quakers were so uncomfortable with this that they insisted on calling the days of the week merely “First Day,” “Second Day,” etc. A few of them still do this, but it never took hold. Our pagan day-names are here to stay, and I think that’s just fine.
All of this reminds me that we’re half-way through December and we still haven’t decorated an evergreen tree yet. We need to get on that. Our tradition is to top the tree with a decapitated cosmonaut. That tradition derives not from the forests of Bavaria, but rather from our young son’s often bizarre taste and sense of humor. We’re holding on, but I doubt that tradition’s staying power.
Hoping all of y’all are enjoying the season.