In my freshman year of high school I could’ve been a really good student. I did really well in class and in most classes, I was getting B’s and A’s on my tests. This may surprise my dad, but I even did homework in some of the classes, and I let people copy from my paper. Unfortunately, outside of the exercise of doing the homework sometimes, I rarely ever turned it in when I did. As a result, many of the people that copied my work got better grades than me. I wasn’t the only contributor to their better grades but to a very small degree, my efforts showed through in a relatively permanent way in their scholastic careers. Not that it means much, we’re all grown so the only thing that matters is the GPA. However, behind some of those honor roll students, there were unsung, underachieving heroes like me.
You Know Who
A few years ago, I was reading this story about a guy that lived a long time ago, his mom was a virgin, God was his dad, he was killed and resurrected, you know who I’m talking about. Osiris, out of Egypt. His tale was fresh around the same time Judaism was getting off the ground, but the victors lost interest. Just when people forgot that story, after a couple millennia, some special folks decided to remix it a bit. Much like the new Disney movies, they went a bit darker than the original. The new guy had wise men showing up with incense and cologne, creation of wine from water, diseased people getting healed from touching his tattered rags. The one upmanship is pretty apparent and was pretty effective until it wasn’t.
One of the things I noticed when living in Belgium, there are churches, but not that many “church folks” as I’m accustomed to seeing in the States. Most of the people I encountered seem to be religious on paper not so much in action. I had a similar experience in the Netherlands and Germany. Somewhere between mid and late November the Christmas decorations would come out and there were more bonfires and things. I was invited to one, didn’t stay long because upon arrival there were a few guys in Black face with afro wigs on. Not my kind of party, but they seem to love doing this silly stuff. I learned that character was “Zwarte Piet”, in English, Black Peter. I never heard of him in America, so I decided to do some digging. Despite the characterization of him being a squarely on the racist side, he was a legit character…but I still couldn’t get down with that.
In my research, I found out that the Pagans that were around before and after Christianity became a widespread thing enjoyed partying hard. With the church being less entertaining, they proved to be a hard group to convert. Early on Jesus didn’t have a birthday that was celebrated, but the Pagan God Mithra did…December 25th of course. Granted, there were drunken parties and orgies in honor of Mithra. When the early Christians looked at their paper, they couldn’t or didn’t want to do all of that because Paul you know…wasn’t into that, but they were able to weave in Jesus’ birthday with these Pagan traditions in an effort to convert more people. The move was successful obviously. Now, all across the planet people celebrate Christmas around the same day the pagans used to celebrate Mithra, albeit with the more innocent pagan traditions of giving gifts, decorating evergreen trees, and hanging lights, not so much the sex parties and liquor.
Let me drop another disclaimer in here, this post isn’t at all an attempt to hate on Christmas. Though it is not one of my favorite holidays due to the exaggerated emphasis on consumerism, I don’t have an actual issue with all of these things coming together. Interestingly enough, the first time I ever had gumbo my aunt made it on Christmas way back in the 1990’s. Symbolically speaking, gumbo is probably the most fitting meal for Christmas. Both are the result of a big ol’ pot of random ingredients coming together to make something pleasing to the palate. One literal, the other figuratively speaking.
Everywhere I go (in America) people say “Jesus is the reason for the season” and me being the kind of guy I am, I dismiss this politely when challenged, and passively when the person is nice. I don’t aim to piss people off, because folks get up in arms about Jesus and are quick to pray for you when you aren’t following suit. Not to mention, I don’t really care what people choose to believe. Unlike the ladies in my World Studies class in high school, I doubt the writers of the Christian gospels sat around with the written version of Egyptian myths and simply made it their own. I think what likely happened was they knew of these tales already and much like gumbo, they mixed things together to get the flavor just right.
All that to say, Jesus is still the reason for the season, but the asterisk next to that statement should be pretty big. It’s possible that these pagan rituals would have lasted through time without being associated with Christianity, but I personally doubt this. Coke and Pepsi dominate the cola market, but both generously borrowed from other sources (sometimes each other) to get their empires to where they are today. Adaptation is necessary for survival in nature and the same can be true with mythology. Christianity had to adapt to local customs and traditions to spread in the manner it did, before Europeans started colonizing and forcing it onto people. Though Christianity killed off much of the context behind its stolen practices, these practices live on just fine for the few that know and adhere to those origins. Happy Holidays 🙂