‘Keep Christ in Christmas” says the small billboard beside Fourth Avenue.
Directed at all who would dare secularize the birth of Christ, the sign, emblazoned with a traditional manger scene, is meant to remind passing motorists of the “true meaning of Christmas.”
For about the last 50 years in Canada, Christians of all sects have found themselves contending with the increasing de-Christification of Christmas.
Stores are packed, yet churches are empty, bemoan religious officials. And the “true meaning” of Christmas is lost behind a distracting mantle of eating, drinking and secular merriment.
It seems strange that a holiday so closely associated with snow, ice and pine trees should have been invented in a Middle Eastern stable more than 2,000 years ago.
Midwinter festivals have existed, in some capacity, since the dawn of human civilization. The Romans had Saturnalia, Germanic tribes had Yule and Celtic druids celebrated the winter solstice.
Many of the Christmas traditions we hold dear stem from these early pagan festivals.
Mistletoe was viewed by the druids as having mystical powers. The milk from the mistletoe berries was noted as having a close resemblance to human semen, and gave the plant a close association with fertility. That’s where the kissing-under-the-mistletoe tradition got started.
Evergreen trees were chopped down and brought indoors to remind revellers what the colour green looked like, and to assure them that their crops would soon be growing again. Just for colour, sometimes the trees were splattered with animal guts. That’s why green and red are still known as the official Christmas colours.
All these early festivals had no real divine endorsement, they were simply social devices intended to blunt the spectre of winter amid a haze of drinking, merrymaking and boar-slaughtering.
Excess gave these holidays true meaning. It might be cold and dark outside, but with a belly full of freshly-killed boar, a head full of mead and a house bedecked in candles and poinsettias, even the most bipolar pagan could feel ready to, once again, face the remaining months of heavy, soul-destroying European winters.
Around the third century AD, killjoy Christians were the only ones who didn’t have a winter holiday. As their pagan neighbours whooped it up, early Christians just sat inside, not celebrating.
When they weren’t being used to bait lions, these early Christians were forbidden to even acknowledge the birth of Christ, as it was seen to negate his standing as a divine entity.
Conversion rates were down, as pagans were hard-convinced to join a religion of wintertime party poopers.
Enter Pope Julius, who in 350, concocted a date for Jesus’ birth (December 25th, conveniently), and designated that pagan converts could now slaughter boars and make merry just as before — as long as they put down the mead at some point and went to church.
Conversion rates skyrocketed, and Julius’ sainthood was well-assured.
There is speculation the Christian nonrequirement for circumcision was a similar tactic to bring over converts. Because of questionable hygienic conditions, circumcision was well-known to strike infants with heinous infections.
Conversion, therefore, was also a notable public health investment.
It is delicious irony that Christians now see their holiday as being hijacked by agents of secularism. And somewhere, a third-century pagan is delighted.
Keep “Christ” in Christmas if you want, but as long as your gullet is rinsed with wine, your belly is jammed with ham and the crippling spectre of the Yukon winter is drowned out by your loud, boisterous merrymakery — the “true meaning” of Christmas is safe.