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An essay donated by Alton C. Thompson

Why Do We Celebrate Christmas?

Some who ask the question posed above, undoubtedly do so with a rhetorical intent, so that they’re really asking:

"Why on earth do we Celebrate Christmas?!"

For example, because gift-giving has become a virtual obligation at Christmas, some resent that aspect of Christmas:

Currently I am wrapping gifts that I purchased today to the tune of several hundred (US) dollars.  I know that at least half of the value will be either unwanted or unappreciated. Yet the recipient will have to act like they like it.  And I will have to like whatever they give me. I . . . hate this. 1

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An article on Wikipedia titled "Christmas gift" adds:

"Economist Joel Waldfogel [has] noted that because of the mismatch between what the giftee values the gift and the value paid for by the giver, the gifts lose between 10% to one-third of their value; he calls it the "deadweight loss of Christmas." 1 This leads to gifts often being returned, sold, or re-gifted.  In the 2016 European online survey, 15% of respondents were unhappy about their gifts and 10% could not remember what they had received.  Twenty-five percent of respondents said they had re-gifted their presents to someone else, 14% sold the items, 10% tried to return them to the store, and 5% returned the gift to the giver. Seniors were more likely to send their unwanted presents to charity, while those aged 25 to 34 "simply threw them away." 2 Gifts that are least likely to be appreciated rely on personal tastes, and include items like perfumes and cosmetics, ornaments, and clothing." 2

For some, Christmas is an economic burden, and more. Consider this comment written by Margaret Deland in Harper's Bazaar in 1904!:

"Twenty-five years ago, Christmas was not the burden that it is now. There was less haggling and weighing, less quid pro quo, less fatigue of body, less wearing of soul; and, most of all, there was less loading up with trash." 3

Still others bemoan the fact that it has become a celebration of capitalism: 4

image 5

On the face of it, Christmas seems like the most naked celebration of capitalism 4– and by "naked", I mean the opposite:  wrapped, adorned, decorated and sparkling. It might be dressed sexy but, by God, it’s dressed.  Or perhaps by Satan. Or Santa. Or Setanta -- the given name of the Irish mythological figure Cú Chulainn.

Which is doubtless doing a Christmas deal on festive football with the opportunity to treat someone special to a banquet of motor racing in the new year.  This is capitalism warmly enveloped by fur and wool and silk and diamonds. It’s retail at its most meretricious. Shopping as goddess and whore, love expressed with money and love bought.

There’s also this -- regarding Christmas music specifically:  "Christmas Music Can Actually Be Mentally Draining"! 6

According to [music psychology researcher Dr. Victoria Williamson, there's a U-shaped relationship between the amount of times we hear music that we like and our reaction to it. 7The first few times you hear your favorite Christmas songs you actually do feel festive, but once you hear those same tunes too many times, it becomes maddening.

I think that we can all relate to that!

For a variety of reasons, then, some hate the celebration of Christmas — so that when they ask "Why do we celebrate Christmas?," they intend that question as a rhetorical one.

On the other hand, though, there are those who, in asking that question, do what a serious answer.  Of course, it’s likely that "9 out of 10" people asked that question would immediately answer:

What planet are you from?  The answer to that question is obvious:  It’s to celebrate the birth of Jesus!!

Which answer assumes that Jesus was born on December 25. But:

  1. Was he? And

  2. Is that the real reason?

  3. How does one explain this fact?!

The first recorded Christmas celebration was in Rome 8 in 336 CE.

In the early Middle Ages, it was overshadowed by Epiphany. 9 The feast regained prominence after 800 CE, when Charlemagne was crowned emperor on Christmas Day.

Why, rather, was Christmas not celebrated immediately after Jesus’s death?

  1. What’s the relevance of this fact? According to History.com:

    "The middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight." 10

As that quotation points out, mid-winter celebrations had "pagan roots," 11 and people were already celebrating during the winter before Jesus came along.  After all, winter, with its lack of light, is a depressing time of the year. 12 Thus, it’s not surprising that people living in Europe felt a need to create celebrations during the winter—and that binge drinking occurs then. 13

The reason why winter is depressing for those of living in the mid latitudes is we humans originated in Africa; 14 and that because the departure, of our ancestors, from Africa was relatively recent, we humans became "designed"—physically and otherwise—for life near the Equator.  For, that is, a location that experiences less variation in length of day and night, during the course of a year, than is experienced in, e.g., the northern part of the United States.

As our ancestors left Africa for other locations, they needed to adapt to the different environmental conditions (by creating clothing and shelter, e.g.); but given that they retained the same biological nature that they had in Africa (which got changed in some respects, though), they found that they not only did not "fit" the new environments physically, but mentally as well.  Hence the depression, the temptation of drink, and the need for celebrations.

The above discussion helps me make one of two comments regarding why we celebrate Christmas:

The "pagan" celebrations that were already occurring in Europe became transformed into the Christmas celebration.  After all, we have no solid evidence for Jesus having been born on December 25. 15 In fact, the Bible contains passages that suggest he was born in the Fall.

As to why we celebrate the birth of Jesus, my answer is likely to be controversial:

We celebrate the birth (death, resurrection, etc.) of Jesus to help us divert our thoughts away from the fact that we are basically uninterested in the life of Jesus!  And, specifically, what he taught!

Consider the passage from the "Sheep and Goats" section of Matthew 25:

  • 37 "Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

  • 40 "The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me'." 16

It can be regarded as expressing well what Jesus’s ministry was "about."  Given that fact, it should be "perfectly clear" that the celebration of his birth is anything but what Jesus would want from us!!

Are we such "creatures" of our society that we simply can’t see that?!  Or, rather, do we willfully not "see" it?!

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Timohy Lee, "The economic case against Christmas presents," Vox, 2016-DEC-21, at: https://www.vox.com/
  2. "The truth about unwanted Christmas gifts," Ing, 2016-DEC-01, at: https://www.ing.com/
  3. "Without capitalism there'd be no Christmas," Newstalk, 2017-DEC-22. at: https://www.newstalk.com/
  4. David Mitchell, "Don’t prick the Christmas spending bubble – it’s keeping capitalism alive," The Guardian, 2014-NOV-23, at: https://www.theguardian.com/
  5. Image from a video: "Capitalism Created Christmas or how to do Sociology of a Holiday," You Tube, 2016-DEC-23 by SJW Tactics, at: https://www.youtube.com/
  6. Chloe Tejada, "Christmas Music Can Actually Be Mentally Draining," 2017-NOV-07, at: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/
  7. Victoria Williamson, "ICMPC 12 Day 1: First morning session," Music Psychology, 2012-JUL-24, at: http://musicpsychology.co.uk/
  8. "Rome," Wikipedia, as on 2018-DEC-10, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  9. "Epiphany (Holiday)," Wikipedia, as on 2018-DEC-11, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  10. "History of Christmas," History, 2018, at: https://www.history.com/
  11. Stephanie Pappas, "Pagan Roots? 5 Surprising Facts About Christmas," Live Science, 2012-DEC-22, at: https://www.livescience.com/
  12. "Why is winter so depressing? The science behind your winter blues," The Loop, 2018-JAN-20, at: https://www.theloop.ca/
  13. Dr. Wayne Osborne, "Christmas Binge Drinking: The Facts You Should Know," Treated.com, undated, at: https://www.treated.com/
  14. "Recent African origin of modern humans," Wikipedia, as on 2018-NOV-13, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  15. Sarah Pruitt, "Why is Christmas celebrated on December 25?," History, 2012-DEC-24, at: https://www.history.com/
  16. "Matthew 25," King James Version, Bible Gateway, at: https://www.biblegateway.com/

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Author: Alton C. Thompson
Originally posted on: 2018-DEC-13

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