Bring back the Christmas spirit

But lay off the tat…

So let’s remind ourselves of the real meaning of Christmas, shall we? Hasn’t it always been about the birth of Jesus?

Well no. The early Christians did not celebrate Christmas. Their ritual celebration took place at Easter.

Christmas – December the 25th – was marked in the ancient world as the birthday of a variety of gods, including Attis, Osiris, Dionysus and Sol Invictus, the Invincible Sun.

Early Christians disagreed about the date of Jesus’ birth, suggesting April, May, November and January as possible months, while some early Church Fathers even considered the celebration of birthdays themselves as a pagan habit.

The first known Christmas celebrations took place in Rome in 336 CE. Later, when Christianity became the official religion of Rome, the old religions were suppressed, and many of the popular practices associated with them became incorporated into the Christian year.

What is obvious is that it is about the return of the light in the depths of Midwinter. Christmas Day marks the first point after the solstice when the Sun visibly moves on the horizon and the days get longer.

That, surely, is a good enough reason to celebrate, whoever’s name you do it in. It marks the return of hope to our cold and inhospitable world.

It was always seen as a day of feasting and gift-giving, of lights and greenery and ritual fire. Trouble is, in our modern age, it has also become associated with a mass spending spree of almost mythic proportions.

Just as the worship of Attis and Osiris was supplanted by Christianity over a millennium and a half ago, so the worship of Christ has now become replaced by the worship of brands.

These days Christmas is as much associated with the return of the Coca Cola lorry, or the soft-focus sentimentality of the M&S adverts, as it is with any of its more traditional images.

I’ve found this particularly tiresome this year: the endless display of shiny new products meant to lead us all into temptation. As if the world isn’t already groaning under the weight of our endless demands.

Bring back the spirit of Old Christmas, I say, whichever gods you worship, but lay off the consumer tat.


From The Whitstable Gazette 21/12/17

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