Why I Don't Celebrate "Christmas"

 BessyReyna-Graphic2withoutpicBessy Reyna
Bessy Reyna
CTLatinoNews.com Columnist
     After years of struggle, I have resigned myself to accepting that my First Amendment rights seem to end when the Christmas season begins. I don’t really care about how other people partake in this “tradition.” I do, however, really get tired of having to justify my lack of enthusiasm for Christmas every year, and having my name changed to Scrooge Reyna. You risk a lot when you don’t like Christmas. In conversation, people who only minutes before were friends suddenly question the value of that friendship as they ask, “What do you mean you don’t celebrate Christmas!”
     Part of the problem is that I am one of those cynical people who resist participating in an activity just because it is a tradition or it is what’s expected. Today, the health of the country’s economy depends on the expectation that everyone will be running to the malls — or the Internet — buying gifts for one another, eating and drinking a lot and traveling to be with family. Then we spend the New Year dieting, complaining about how stressful holidays are and paying off all of the accumulated credit card debt. Yet I am scorned for not wanting to take part in this ritual.
One year, I turned my cynicism into activism and decided to organize an “I Hate Christmas” club. Another time, I made a “Stop Santa” button and wore it before the holidays. I must confess that I began to fear for my life every time I walked into a store. I’ve never received so many dirty looks or been treated like such a criminal. One cashier in particular became very agitated and yelled at the top of her voice, “What do you mean you want to stop Santa!” Maybe I went a bit too far that time.
As I grow older, I am beginning to cope with Christmas in a less confrontational and more intellectual fashion. To find out when this tradition began, I have read a number
of books and confess that it’s truly a fascinating story.
There are marked similarities between Christmas and the pre-Christian Roman feast to the god Saturn, held on Dec. 17. The Saturnalia was like a Mardi Gras, with lots of drinking and eating. It was followed by the New Year’s, or Kalend, festival, in which houses were “decorated with lights and greenery, and people exchanged gifts.” As described by the Greek philosopher Libanius in the fourth century: “The impulse to spend seizes everyone. He who the whole year through has taken pleasure in saving and piling up his pence becomes suddenly extravagant. A stream of presents pours itself out on all sides.” The Roman emperor Caligula, much to the disgust of his subjects, required them to give him presents; he waited on the porch of his palace to receive them.
These traditions are chronicled by British historian Clement Miles, who studied extensively how pre-Christian winter solstice festivals and mythology were metamorphosed into what we now call Christmas in his book “Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan,” first published in 1912.
Stephen Nissenbaum, another historian, provides an account of the development of Christmas in New England in his book “The Battle for Christmas.” He writes how the Puritans, to stop Mardi Gras-type revelry, banned Christmas celebrations in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681.
The way we now celebrate Christmas was the creation of a few upper-class New Yorkers, in the middle of the 19th century. At that time, Christmas celebrations gave license to rowdy lower-class revelers to drink and sing in the streets, and to invade wealthy people’s homes. This too, followed the Saturnalia tradition. According to Lucian of Samosata, during the Saturnalia, “All men shall be equal, slave and free, rich and poor, one with another.” The rich and the poor were expected to exchange presents in ancient times, and the rich were to serve the slaves. This tradition, however, had become so unpopular and dangerous for the wealthy by the 19th century, that landed gentry, including Washington Irving and Clement Moore, conspired to create a more tranquil and domestic tradition, celebrating Christmas inside homes to protect themselves and their families.
Christmas is the one time of the year when our socioeconomic class differences become most apparent. Children, regardless of their economic background, are watching the same TV commercials and want the same expensive toys. It is difficult for parents of limited means to see their children wanting the expensive toys advertised on TV as the
“most popular of the season” while knowing they can’t give them to their kids. .
I have always considered Christmas to be a class act, but until my reading, I wasn’t aware of how right I had been. From now on I can just say, “I follow the Puritan tradition,” and maybe that will get me out of being called a Scrooge.

Bessy Reyna is a former opinion columnist for the Hartford Courant where a similar version of this column first appeared. 


2 thoughts on “Why I Don't Celebrate "Christmas"

  1. You raise very salient points.What I also dislike about Christmas is the hubris inherent in the holiday-not everyone is Christian and some people are a-religious. Furthermore Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace and “good will towards men”, but according to Professor David I. Kertzer’s book The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism, some of the most depraved customs of the Saturnalia carnival were intentionally revived by the Catholic Church in 1466 when Pope Paul II, for the amusement of his Roman citizens, forced Jews to race naked through the streets of the city. An eyewitness account reports, “Before they were to run, the Jews were richly fed, so as to make the race more difficult for them and at the same time more amusing for spectators. They ran… amid Rome’s taunting shrieks and peals of laughter, while the Holy Father stood upon a richly ornamented balcony and laughed heartily.”
    Christmas as well as many other “holy days” was an attempt to superimpose a Christian god over Pagan ones as Christianity spread. Christians also seem to have appropriated the celebration of the ancient god Mithras’ birthday among other winter solstice celebrations. The Mithras and Jesus mythos have many similarities -among them that he was born of a virgin birth around the winter solstice, was wrapped in swaddling clothes,placed in a manger and attended by shepherds. Mithra’s birthday on December 25th has been so widely claimed that the Catholic Encyclopedia (“Mithraism”) remarks: “The 25 December was observed as his birthday, the natalis invicti, the rebirth of the winter-sun, unconquered by the rigors of the season.”
    One of the saddest aspects of Christmas-besides the billions of nonhuman animals “sacrificed” for Christmas dinner at the earth’s expense- is the captive animals such as reindeer, camels, goats etc. They get shuttled from place to place, are roughly handled, beaten and live in inhumane conditions. How this is supposed to bring peace on earth is truly beyond comprehension. The Three Kings day parade is the most egregious example of this-a parade is no place for camels. I am Colombiana, but it is not MY tradition to hurt animals-human or non human.

    1. Nancy: You are absolutely right. When I first read about Mithra I was shocked by the parallel between his and Jesus stories. As for Christian churches taking over Pagan believes, it’s the same with Diane/Artemis and the virgin Mary’s August celebrations. I would love to see a chart outlining all these things and how they overlap. Thanks for your comment

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