The pagan roots of Christmas

Last modified: 12/13/2010 12:00:00 AM
Re ' 'Xmas'? Bah!' (Monitor letter, Dec. 7): Jim Maheux is quite ignorant about his own holiday. First off, X (the Greek letter chi) has been used as an abbreviation for Christ since the 16th century. So 'Xmas' isn't some newfangled retailer's abbreviation; it's one with 500 years of precedence.

Next, the Bible doesn't state the day of Christ's birth, but the details given in the Gospel of Luke actually suggest a spring or summer date. Dec. 25 was well-established in the Roman calendar as the winter solstice, which has long been a significant date in pagan traditions. Therefore the day for Christmas was chosen not for accuracy but instead to co-opt, and even supplant, the common celebrations of the time. So for Maheux to complain about the corruption of his holiday is quite ironic. In fact, many common Christmas traditions are of pagan origin. Do you give gifts? Thank the Romans and Saturnalia (the church actually banned gift giving in the Middle Ages before inventing the Magi rationalization). Do you have a tree? Thank 15th-century Estonians who would erect a tree, have young women dance around it, and then set it on fire.

So, Mr. Maheux, if you are so focused on Christmas being entirely about Christ, how many of your celebrations are you going to have to change? Remember: no gifts, no tree, nothing to do with St. Nicholas, and you should probably change the day you celebrate. My point in all this? Christmas has never been just about Christ.




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