Most of you will be shopping for gifts this holiday season and you'll most likely at one point or another find your way into a Wal-Mart or Target store. If you go to Target, the typical greeting of "Merry Christmas" will be substituted for the more inclusive "Happy Holidays." This move is to apparently not offend and exclude those who observe Hanukkah or any other one of the various celebrations that coincide with the holiday season. This has brought many people out of the woodwork decrying Target's anti-Christian agenda and bias. If you really consider the origins of Christmas, however, I think you can find little reason to throw too much of a fit.
Widely accepted as a Christian holiday commemorating the birth of Christ, the 25th of December was not the actual birth date of Christ. No one knows the exact date, but it's often thought to have occurred somewhere between midsummer and early fall around the year 4 B.C. The 25th of December had been celebrated by several cultures as a holiday commemorating their own messiahs and gods for quite some time before Christ. For instance, the Persians worshipped Mithras, their sun god, on the 25th of December. Before the calendar reform, the winter solstice observed by many Roman pagans fell on the 25th of December as part of the Saturnalia festival, which honored the pagan god Saturn. The Babylonians had a festival on the 25th honoring the pagan god Isis, Mistletoe came from the Druids and the decoration of evergreen trees was an ode to the Scandinavian pagan god Baldor.
In an effort to compete with the pagan religions of the time, Pope Julius I and the Roman Emperor Constantine each played a part in the Fourth Century to make the celebration of Christ's birth coincide with the pagan celebrations on Dec. 25. This philosophy of competing with paganism became a widely used method of introducing Christianity to pagan cultures. The similarities between Christianity and paganism that exist in symbols and artwork offer plenty of evidence for this fact and have been widely popularized by people such as Dan Brown. This is not the only holiday this happened to as Easter is very rooted in paganism. Employees at Target can say whatever the Sam hill they want to me, I could give a rat's tail.
So what has Christmas become nowadays? I'd argue it's become another holiday altogether, separate from any pagan or Christian definition. Don't get me wrong though, the holiday season is still about worshipping a god. Millions of people all across the world will observe a holiday where they will worship consumerism. I hadn't even begun to think about turkey last month before I saw the Christmas decorations sprouting up and got all the ads from Best Buy and Wal-Mart in the mail telling me to buy, buy, buy like some consumerist zombie.
Go back a little over a hundred years ago and Christmas was a time where those with a lot went out and gave to those who didn't have much, like the poor and homeless. Instead, we now give each other iPods and DVDs, as if we needed these things in the first place. Ever gone to downtown Denver and handed out coats or sandwiches to the homeless? It's probably the last thing most of us would do on Christmas, we'll be stuffing our faces and looking at our new toys. Christmas used to be a time of charity and goodwill, like all the Christmas carols talk about, but now it's a time of year when little kids all over the world are writing letters to Santa Claus begging for an Xbox360. I'd encourage all of you to cut back on the amount of gifts you receive and turn some of those things into charity. I don't care what you call it, Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, whatever – you should keep others in mind before yourself.
Tyler Wittman is a senior speech communication major. His column runs every Tuesday in the Collegian.