Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Christian Traditions

When I was a little kid I was very perplexed about the whole Santa Claus and Easter Bunny mythology. I remember polling my school mates in 3rd grade one spring in order to figure out who still believed in the Easter Bunny. I was pretty much over it, but I wanted to be sure I wasn't the only one. One kid swore he'd actually *seen* the Easter Bunny, and I didn't know what to do with that. How can you argue with an eye witness account?

Just think about it for a minute. What does a fat guy in a red suit have to do with baby Jesus? And what is the whole cookie and milk exchange for presents all about? Why do rabbits lay decorated eggs in hidden places for little kids to find on the day we talk about Jesus dying on the cross? For a while, I wondered if rabbits actually laid eggs until I was taught about mammals in elementary school.

Most of all, why would my parents lie to me on supposedly sacred holidays? The lies aren't malicious, but why is there this big conspiracy to fool little kids during a time they should be learning the truth of their faith? Does that not seem weird to you? It made no sense whatsoever to me, but no little kid is going to complain about getting presents and candy, so I just went with it. And that's what people do. We don't usually question our traditions. It still seems odd to me that if you want to raise your kids in a religion purported to be true, then why lie to them on the two most holy days of the religious tradition? Am I the only one that sees the irony here?

Many years ago, sometime back in the early 90s, I learned about the Christianization of the pagan festivals that eventually became known as the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter. In a recent conversation with a friend named Jon, he summarized this as follows:
The early church merged their festivals celebrating the resurrection of Christ and Christ’s birth with pagan agricultural festivals (spring and mid-winter) in order to ensure a smooth transition of pagans into the religion. That’s why – specifically – those two festivals are packed with pagan iconography – Eostre is thought to be a pagan goddess. Eggs and rabbits represent fertility. Decorating trees was a pagan custom during the mid-winter festival of Yule (hence Yule-tide). And there’s a lot more where that came from.
Jon is right. There is a lot more to this if you dig into the history. It still bothers me that the two holidays (Holy Days) most celebrated and identified with Christianity across the planet are two "Christianized" pagan celebrations, not the designated feasts or celebrations outlined by God in the Bible. I'm not the only one. Some "fundamentalist" Christians really get hot and bothered by this. Their core complaint does have some merit even if their outrage is a little over the top in some cases.

The commercialization of the Easter and Christmas seasons used to bother me too, but I'm over it. Christmas doesn't come earlier every year like everyone says. Commercial enterprises move out their Halloween stuff to make room for Thanksgiving about the same time every year because Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are big drivers in their Q4 sales. It's just business. And after all these *are* pagan festivals at their core. So, wouldn't it make sense that pagans celebrate in pagan ways? If we want to "put the Christ back in Christmas" perhaps we should also remember that Christ wasn't in Christmas to begin with. I'm just saying...