Put the "X" back in Xmas
Every year at this time, on cue, an entire culture cries foul over the term Xmas, proclaiming that Christ is being systematically deleted from his own birthday. And after all, Jesus is (to quote the cliché) the Reason For The Season. Xmas is an insult to Christ.
These people write newspaper articles. They do clips on the evening news. They shower Facebook with emphatic posts and requests to click "like" for anyone who's ready to do battle against the heathen onslaught with a daring new FB page.
They do everything EXCEPT a little homework. A little pre-knee-jerk research would have revealed that the X comes from the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of the Greek word Χριστός, translated "Christ."
Xmas is CHRISTmas.
But the protests continue, as frothing religious communities wail about the War On Christmas. They picket in the streets and boycott holiday events because the true story of the sweet baby Jesus is why the holiday exists in the first place. Right?
Sigh. Those pesky facts.
December 25th was a date selected by the church, because no actual birth date for Jesus could be determined. It is the time of the Winter Solstice, and December 25th is also the traditional birthday of the Persian sun god, Mithra, whose birth legend includes shepherds, Magi, gifts, miracles, disciples and a virgin birth. Other influences on the Jesus story include:
Attis: a Roman Pagan god. Born December 25th. Crucified as a man. Spent 3 days in the underworld and arose on Sunday as a solar deity for the new season. Accounts of Attis take place 200 years before the story of Christ.
Dionysus: a Greek Pagan god. Born December 25th. Worshipped throughout the Middle East, especially Jerusalem. He was viewed as the son of Zeus.
Osiris: an Egyptian Pagan god. Three wise men announced his birth. He was called the King of Kings. Worship of Osiris was established throughout the Roman Empire a century before the birth of Christ.
Babylonians: the festival of Saturnalia (the Festival of Saturn), celebrated December 17-23 in the Roman Empire as a tribute to the god, Saturn, ultimately combined into a single holy day: December 25th.
Scandinavia: the Norse celebration of Yule from December 21st through January. In recognition of the return of the sun, the men would bring home logs to burn, and the people would feast until the last ember waned (often for many days).
Oden: the German Pagan god, honored mid-Winter. The people were terrified of Oden, as the legend has him making nocturnal flights through the sky to observe mankind, deciding who to bless, and who to punish.
Other Christmas traditions?
The Christmas tree? Pagan in orgin. The early Egyptians saw evergreen trees as a symbol of life over death. Around the Winter Solstice, they'd bring green date palm leaves into their homes.
Mistletoe? Pagan in origin. The early Druid priests often used evergreen plants and mistletoe in Pagan ceremonies. The mistletoe plant was the symbol of "the birth of a god." Kissing under the mistletoe is a Pagan symbol of love and harmony.
The exchange of gifts? Pagan in origin. The practice of gift giving originally stemmed from the early Roman feast of Saturn (Saturnalia). Charity towards others was also a common practice at this time.
In fact, Santa Claus arguably has a more verifiable origin than the baby Jesus story. Jollly ol' Saint Nick is based on Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, named as a saint in the 19th century.
But let's stick with Jesus. And for just a moment, let's examine the suspiciously contradictory, biblical account of this amazing tale.
The book of Matthew has Mary and Joseph residing in Bethlehem in Judea. Luke places them in Galilee.
Matthew says the birth of Jesus occurred during the reign of Herod the Great of Judea, and coincides with a census ordered by emperor Augustus at the time that Quirinius (Cyrenius) was the Roman governor of Syria (Luke 2:1-3). But Rome didn't rule Judea until 6 A.D. A full decade had to have separated Herod and Quirinius. And if a census did happen, it was long after Herod's death, making the story of the infant massacre historically impossible.
Luke says Joseph took Mary (in the last stages of pregnancy) on an arduous four-day trek to participate in the census. Yet Roman tradition was to register only men (not women), in the place or town of their local taxation district, which was much more practical. A 60-mile trek would not have been required, nor would the participation of Mary.
The book of Matthew has 28 generations between David and the birth of Jesus. Luke has 41 generations for the same period.
Matthew says Jesus’ grandfather (on Joseph’s side) is Jacob, while Luke says the grandfather is Heli.
Matthew 2:11 says Jesus’ birth took place in a house. Luke’s account says Jesus' birth took place in a stable, because there was no room in the inn.
And the virgin birth? Not so much. Matthew apparently misread the Greek Septuagint of Isaiah 7:14, (mistranslating the Hebrew word “almah,” which doesn’t mean “virgin.” It translates, “young woman of marriageable age” or “young maiden.”) The virginity angle was mostly likely added to the story because, culturally, it was often claimed that important people had miraculous births. Plato was said to be the offspring of the god Apollo. Alexander The Great was said to have been conceived when a thunderbolt impregnated his mother, Olympias. Buddha’s birth story includes elephants in the sky. Confucius has dragons in the Heavens.
The three kings? In the book of Matthew, they were magi (astronomers), not kings. There’s no mention of “three” and the entire account contradicts Luke’s account, which has Jesus being visited by local shepherds.
After Jesus' birth, Matthew says the family immediately fled to Egypt for several years to escape Herod's wrath (Matt. 2:13-14). But Luke has them returning immediately to Nazareth.
The book of Luke says that John The Baptist was a relative of Jesus and knew he was the divine Christ, even in the womb (Luke 1:41,44). But in the same book (Luke 7:19-23), the adult John The Baptist didn’t know who Jesus was.
Ultimately, the evidence shows that much of the early December 25th holiday had nothing to do with Jesus. And the biblical account we cherish is wildly contradictory, unverifiable, nonsensical and (romantic as it may be) plagiarized from other, earlier myths.
I'm a fan of Christmas. I enjoy loved ones, illuminated displays, trees, stockings, gifts, the classic Christmas songs, hot chocolate and pumpkin pie. But I also celebrate the season knowing that those plastic nativity displays are actually more real than the fantastic tale they represent.
And as millions defiantly erect Pagan symbols while defending a Christian savior story, it's a chance for the rest of us to smile warmly, offer them a cup of hot cider, and wish them a Merry XMAS.