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A Reason for the Season

Entry 1759, on 2015-12-27 at 13:39:46 (Rating 3, Religion)

Well, Christmas is over for another year so I guess it's about time I spoiled the holiday spirit with one of my curmudgeonly blog posts. We are often asked by the more traditional groups in society to remember the "reason for the season" but what is this and does a reason even exist?

Well no, I don't think so. I think several reasons exist - one of which is the one the traditionalists are thinking of - but there's no longer just one reason (and maybe there never was).

So let's get it out of the way now: the most usually cited reason for the season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the symbolic founder of the Christian Church. As you might have guessed, I have a few comments to make about this particular reason...

First, no one really knows whether Jesus even existed. In fact I believe there are very good reasons to say he didn't; however I realise that the majority of historians disagree with me on this one. The big problem is that it's not a simple case of him existing or not existing. The idea that Jesus existed in the way described in the Bible is ridiculous and most historians agree that didn't happen, but there are some reasons to think the myths might be based on a real person or maybe several people. So if the Jesus myth described in the Bible is very loosely based on real events does that mean he existed or not? It's somewhere in between.

Second, the birth story is hopelessly confused and contradictory. Prophecy indicated Jesus should be born in Bethlehem but the story already indicated Nazareth so a non-existent census had to be evoked to try to reconcile this. There's also the non-existent star mentioned in only one gospel, the contradictory virgin myth, the fact that no one knows the day, month or even year of the birth, etc, etc. So choosing December 25 seems to be totally arbitrary (or is it? see below).

Third, Christmas, along with all the other known traditions, dogma, and myths associated with Christianity, only appeared decades or centuries after the alleged events occurred (or, in most cases, didn't occur) and the special days all seem to be borrowed from earlier traditions. Christmas is clearly a mid-winter celebration, for example, and Easter originally came from a spring or fertility ritual.

But if the birth of Jesus isn't the reason then what is? In most countries the number of people reporting that they think of Christmas in the traditional, religious sense is shrinking. Christmas for many is about a break from work, time with family, an excuse to buy stuff, or just a summer (southern hemisphere) holiday.

So there is not just one reason, there are many: traditional, modern, religious, family related, consumerist, etc. Many Christians arrogantly assume theirs is the only reason but that isn't true - it isn't even the first. If we want to celebrate the original reason let's go back to pagan rituals like Saturnalia, in fact the descriptions of those sound pretty cool (lots of drinking and sex).

Christians are welcome to their reason, no matter how silly it is, and I'll stick to mine (enjoying summer, relaxation, drinking, etc) if they don't mind. At least mine is based on reality.

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Comment 1 (4461) by Richard on 2015-12-31 at 10:21:40:

The holidays are a great time to relax, and catch up on reading huh. Always enjoy your religious/morality musings, but with respect, on occasion your personal negative feelngs against it lets the simple logic fall by the wayside. As always I am compelled to focus on just where the logic is lacking...

To say no one really knows whether Jesus existed is in this category. There is more accepted historical (extra biblical) evidence for this than a huge number of other historical figures, that we wouldn't make this statement about. We may as well say no one really knows whether any historical figure actually existed, but of course that too is illogical, or at least pointless.

In spite of suggesting that 'no one really knows' whether Jesus existed, which can only be based on the assumption that historical records are unreliable, you seem remarkably confident that a census didn't actually exist? Not sure that's entirely logical? In any case, you may have issues with the birth accounts, but again, logically this has nothing at all to do with the particular question you are asking, which whether the birth of Jesus is the primary reason that people have celebrated 'Christmas' for centuries.

So apparently Christmas is a mid-winter celebration, and therefore it must have some other origin?! Seriously? The logic escapes me there too, when considering a global celebration. And of course whatever date chosen to celebrate any event, doesn't invalidate or affect the reason at all. So are you suggesting we don't really celebrate the Queens birthday, simply because we have chosen a different date to do it?

On a similar vein, the fact that most people choose to barely acknowledge the Queen on the chosen celebration date, but rather have time off, have a holiday with family, and the other things you mentioned, doesn't actually change the reason the celebration began to exist at all does it.

You will be familiar with the logical law of non contradiction. A only equals A if all attributes are the same. Saturnalia may be a pre-Christmas fun pagan festival in your opinion, and it may have similar timing and share some attributes, but one thing is for sure, it simply isn't Christmas. Maybe it would been called... Christmas... if it was. What is with that name anyway? Sorry Owen, these arguments just don't really carry any weight.

What intrigues me is the fervour that you and many others have to actually try to modify / eradicate the way people have celebrated the birth of Jesus at Christmas for centuries and then go so far as to call it 'arrogance' to dare to suggest the self-evident truth that this really is the 'primary' reason for the origin of the Christmas season. So what if it is, why is that a problem? I thought tolerance was all the rage these days?

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Comment 2 (4462) by OJB on 2015-12-31 at 12:09:07:

This wasn't meant to be primarily a discussion on the historicity of Jesus but that might be a good topic for the near future. In my opinion the evidence is very weak and much weaker than evidence for most other figures. Of course, you do have to remove all of the Christian fakery and religious mythology first.

I'm fairly sure the census story doesn't hold up to historical scrutiny. I'll include a discussion of that in the future post as well.

I'm not saying the alleged birth of Jesus isn't a significant reason for the season, just that it isn't the only significant reason. In fact, in many cases, other reasons are more important.

My only point really was that we should talk about many reasons rather than a reason. No big deal. Now, the historicity of Jesus: that's far more controversial!

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Comment 3 (4463) by Richard on 2015-12-31 at 16:38:27:

Yes, I am glad you see my point, that the historicity of Jesus isn't relevant to the topic of whether his birth, alleged or otherwise, is the primary reason for the celebration called Christmas. I look forward to Anzac Day then, when I assume you will give that day the same treatment because some people use that celebration day in lots of ways. Will you argue that it's not just 'a reason' (celebrating our heroic Anzacs, and the personal sacrifice they made for the sake of others), but 'many reasons', which may be 'more important' like a day off with family... Not sure that argument should be taken the least bit seriously either to be honest, but always a fun read. :)

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Comment 4 (4464) by OJB on 2015-12-31 at 17:28:33:

Actually I think the historicity of Jesus is relevant, it's just wasn't the primary subject of the post. If the Jesus story wasn't such an obvious load of nonsense I think almost everyone would be a Christian and would be celebrating Christmas for the religious reason.

Anzac day is a bit different because it commemorates well established historical events and doesn't seem to be an old event which has been "repurposed". I do agree that there are multiple reasons for observing it though, because many people, me included, don't really participate much in the traditional observation (partly because it seems to glorify military aggression).

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