Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Reason for THE Season

Mat (Mature Atheist Turtle) in his front yard speaking with Ary (Christian)

Mat: How do you like my sign?

Ary: Well, there isn't much to it.  I doubt if most people will know who Mithra was or perhaps even the winter solstice.

Mat: You're just afraid that we atheists are doing away with Christmas.  Most businesses now advertise Holiday sales, and decorations and avoid the word Christmas.

Ary:  There has been a backlash about that.  After complaints a number of stores have gone out of their way to make sure that the word Christmas is included in their promotions.

Mat: Yeah, but it's not like it was before.

Ary: Perhaps, but you are leaving out half the globe with your sign.

Mat: How?

Ary:  The Winter Solstice is only in December in the northern hemisphere.  It's the Summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere.

Mat: What different does it make?  Jesus wasn't born in December anyway.

Ary: But Christmas isn't about the month of the year or the changing of seasons, it's about the birth of Jesus.

Mat: And Christians don't know when that was so they stole someone else's celebration.

Ary:  It's true that the early church wasn't focused on the birth of Jesus.  They were much more interested in His resurrection.  The whole birth thing smacked of paganism, but as time passed and more and more people became Christians, two things happened.  First, the Christians didn't want to celebrate the pagan holidays and they became interested in Jesus' birthday. 

Mat: Yeah, and they tried to muscle out the Mithras celebrations. 

Saturnalia, escultura en el Jardín Botánico de Bs.As
Usuario:Roberto Fiadone
From Wikimedia Commons freely licensed media file
Ary: No, it was more about maintaining the festive atmosphere common to Saturnalia.  Saturnalia was started about 200 B.C. to raise the spirits of Rome after their defeat by the Carthaginians.  It grew to a multi-day  festival which Romans would not abandon.  It also got a bit out of hand with the drinking and cavorting but while Christmas retained a number of the elements of the celebration common to Saturnalia, it is incorrect to say that it replaced it because Saturnalia ran from December 17th through the 23rd and Christmas in the 25th.

Mat: Close enough to count as far as I am concerned.  Christians stole the Winter Solstice and Saturnalia for their own selfish purposes.

Ary:  Perhaps there is another option.  The Mishna and Talmud describe in Avodah Zara 8a Saturna which occurs before the Winter solstice.  There is another 8 day long celebration after the solstice called Kalenda.  This celebration is said to have originated with Adam as follows:

"GEMARA. Said R. Hanan b. Raba: KALENDA is kept on the eight days following the [winter] equinox. SATURNALIA on the eight days preceding the equinox. As a mnemonic take the verse, Thou hast beset me behind and before.13

Our Rabbis taught:14  When primitive Adam saw the day getting gradually shorter, he said, 'Woe is me, perhaps because I have sinned, the world around me is being darkened and returning to its state of chaos and confusion; this then is the kind of death to which I have been sentenced from Heaven!' So he began keeping an eight days' fast. But as he observed the winter equinox and noted the day getting increasingly longer, he said, 'This is the world's course', and he set forth to keep an eight days' festivity. In the following year he appointed both15  as festivals. Now, he fixed them for the sake of Heaven, but the [heathens] appointed them for the sake of idolatry."
Avodah Zara 8a

So, allow me to summarize.  Your sign is off because it refers to the Winter Solstice (excluding the Southern hemisphere) and Mithra, neither of which is applicable to Christmas.  Further, those who maintain that Christians annexed Saturnalia are off based on the Date of Christmas (December 25, when Saturnalia ended on December 23).  Finally, we have evidence that the Jews believed that Adam (the first man) celebrated a festival around the time of Christmas.  It is possible to make the case that December 25 was chosen to honor that celebration, which the Gamara says was defiled by the pagan.

Mat: Time to Turtle up!

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