There Is Indeed a Christmas Story

The Transplanted Christmas Tree

There cannot be Christmas without children. On Dec 25, you will truly appreciate this paraphrase: “The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to children.”

On this day, children all over the world turn color blind to appreciate the pastel-perfect joys of Santa Claus and his reindeers, Yule logs burning by the fireplace, sylvan snow-topped cabins with their smoky chimneys, and ornamented Christmas trees with presents piled up. There may be Christmas carol sorties into your home, bringing much mirth and the familiar Ho! Ho! Ho!

Never had such a transplanted festival create a sense of oneness among children. Take away Christmas and you take away a seasonal joy entitled to them. It is so innately appealing to children that they universally provide the finest celebratory squeals in honor of the most famous birth ever recorded — and contested — in history.

Wherever there is a Santa, a Christmas tree or carols sung, few adult killjoys dare reprimand children that none of the scenes and lilts of nativity are well, native.

Christmas traditions had drifted to much of the world on crests of colonial waves. The sinews of raw power may be flexed to determine new rulers, codicils, industries and taxations but in its veins flow a more permanent infusion of culture, languages and traditions. Take away some newer traditions and you will be up against an army of children. Or, adults for that matter.

If you are one to ponder over alien semiotics and cultural subversion as some philosophers do, listen to the lyrics of the Spanish-English carol Donde Esta Santa Claus. When the tempo nears its apogee, hark ye the Ole! Ole! Ole! There is nothing Christian in this. In fact, even today, few Spaniards — frenzied football and matador fans alike — realize that the trademark Iberian rally cry literally invoke (the intervention of) Allah! Allah! Allah! It is tradition that goes back a millennium to the Moorish Caliphates of Spain.

Traditions are our heritage.

Christmas may come in nuanced forms, but the one which universally prevailed is the Germanic variant. If you have a plastic Christmas tree bedecked with lights and decorations, play a soft “O’ Tannenbaum” (O’ Fir Tree) to enliven the atmosphere. The song is better known as “O’ Christmas Tree” in another Germanic tongue — English. Even the Vienna Choir Boys, purveyors of the finest caroling traditions, switch between both languages to stamp the Teutonic nature of a universal Christmas.

And touching on Vienna, the city lies on a cultural fault line that has a bearing on Christmas. It was here that the great Austrian statesman Klemens von Metternich made a startling observation: Asia begins at the Landstrasse (a street in Vienna).

He was right.

Move eastwards and Dec 25 is postponed by the stubborn chronometry of the Julian calendar to Jan 6 or 7. This is the day when much of Orthodox Christianity celebrates Christmas, from Belgrade to Athens to Moscow to Istanbul. Only in a non-Christian Jerusalem can there be three Christmases celebrated by legacy custodians — on Dec 25, Jan 6 and Jan 7.

The failure to celebrate Christmas together is no mere calendrical curio; it is a truncated event that that symbolizes a splintered Christendom. Croatians and Serbs may share a common tongue and may have intermarried beyond overt differentiation, but they remain age-old nemeses.

It gets deeper. Despite their common European heritage, Americans and Russians display a mutual suspicion that is so primeval, and so ingrained that it could not have sprung from 80 years of Bolshevism. (They are both market capitalists today).

It is primeval allright, dating back to 1054AD when the Eastern Church balked at the ecclesiastical demands of Roman Catholicism. The split was venomous and even today, long after the subsequent protestant and charismatic revolutions within the Church, ingrained prejudices remain colored by the Roman lens.

This event led to centuries of biased theological scholarship and a subsequent obscuring of Dec 25.

The intellectuals, the rationalists and the logicians would scoff at them all. It is all there recorded in the pages of history: Dec 25 was a Roman tribute to Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (The Birthday of the Unconquered Sun)!

Case closed. Christmas is pagan. Sorry kids!

Actually, not so fast…Ho! Ho! Ho!

Roots of the Historical Christmas

The birth and life of Jesus is now dubbed the “Greatest Story Ever Told.” It sounds like a fantastical bedtime story, ideal for kids but little more.

Adults though have a problem unlike children. In their quest for meaning, they still want to believe in something. This story is an archetype that echoes through their consciousness, in movies, in books, and in deeds. Anyone who has ever stopped to help a stricken neighbor, or who had embraced those deemed unworthy, hopeless or condemned relives that story.

It goes back to Eden.

According to ancient accounts, a Divine plan was activated to salvage man from his own folly, rebellion, and inability to take dominion of the earth in a state of harmony.

Thus, a part of the Divine Himself would be born in human form, to sow the seeds of truth and salvation. This was leadership by living example and ultimately, through sacrificial death. Christians believe Jesus was the One.

To man then, as it is today, life meant warfare. He had to either cut down or undercut his neighbor to maintain an existential equilibrium. Call it the Global Trinity where there must be a victor, a subject, and a collateral damage. It was, and remains, a dog eat dog world, even when the crumbs get fewer.

Old plots are rehashed perennially in new guises.

If the year 2009 promises uncertainty, be advised: The same failed success stories — no oxymoron here — are still around, regrouping in another guise to build another towering eyrie out of the rubble of their latest failed enterprise.

There is nothing new under the sun, as the wise King Solomon would say.

The starkest ancient account of this enterprise was the Tower of Babel project, where, the most intelligent of men saw the need for order, with One Religion, One Language, One Financial Standard, and One Code of Laws to govern, and exert dominion over mankind.

Sounds familiar?

If you like surrendering your life — even your thought life — to an elite few, this idea might appeal to you. Think of it! No more ethno-religious wars, no more terrorism, no more “Us vs Them” as everything is adjudicated by the ones “Above.”

And there will be free-for-all welfare! Those who resist this, or who believe in some Bethlehem fairy tale should be struck by Jardis of Narnia.

Communism failed folks, and some of its high priests have turned into hedge fund managers, sub prime stars, and AAA+ consecrated Ivy Leaguers that an irreligious Dow Jones just fails to apotheosize, just as the plebeians failed to appreciate Marxism earlier. There has to be greater order, greater enforcement, and greater scrutiny. Nothing less than a New World Order.

The Bible says God saw through such thoughts; that man will never stop unleashing violence before introducing order to beleaguered souls.

Thus, he sent not a conquering King to wipe out a corrupt order and establish “peace” but someone from a long line of shepherds. His ways are not our ways.

The biblical Joseph, who eventually saved Egypt, was a shepherd. David, the greatest king ever, was another shepherd of Jesus’ bloodline. The patriarch Abraham, who started it all, was a shepherd.

In Paulo Coelho’s magnum opus The Alchemist, the mysterious Melchizedek and Arab sages appear to remind the protagonist, a shepherd boy, that his treasure hunt was a quest worthy of shepherds. The Divine favors shepherds and one from among them even became the King of Kings, so he was told.

The Way of the Shepherd

Shepherds lead their flock to green pastures and still waters, though a narrow and winding path, whenever necessary. The path less-trodden is a metaphor for a way of life.

Think of the denouement in the Sound of Music, of children clambering up an Alpine redoubt, and it is comforting to hope that in fiery trials, there may appear a shepherd to lead the stricken to safety.

Furthermore, the permanence of the pastoral setting is the antithesis of the human Ziggurat. The latter crumbles eventually, needing bailouts in their trillions for a “reconstruction project.” It is all glitzy and expensive, needing blood for cement, bones for bricks, sweat for mortars, and tears for failing.

I would rather think of a manger, of a real menagerie with horses, mules, donkeys and — a long time back — the baby Jesus himself. At least for now. His first honored visitors were coincidentally…shepherds.

And what about Dec 25?

The year of Jesus birth has been rightly contested and there is no way he could have been born on Dec 25. The activity of the shepherds, who were informed of his birth, suggest an earlier month, preferably September. Nine months prior would have been December when the word became flesh (conceived), as the Bible puts it.

This then is the shocker: Dec 25 may have been the date of Jesus’ conception. There is a growing body of research which indicate this, after traditions are detached from their dubious dogma. For a quick synoptic account, follow the shepherd’s trail at Michaemas and see where that leads…1

Merry Christmas everyone!

  1. Cf. with Gary Leupp, “Celebrating the True Meaning of December 25: Happy Birthday Mithras!Dissident Voice, 25 December 2005. []

Mathew is a Malaysian writer who applies a trans-disciplinary outlook to the fields of strategic foresight, horizon scanning and propaganda. He often tracks weak signals, general trends and force multipliers -- and studies how these potentiate to impact our future. Mathew can be found online at Panoptic World. Read other articles by Mathew.

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  1. Rahb said on December 23rd, 2008 at 4:06pm #

    You seem either conflicted or sarcastic at some points, sorry if I don’t read you right.
    “[A]fter traditions are detached from their dubious dogma” they would more likely ask whether the guy, aside from metaphoric attempts to pass what they considered wisdom on, was born at all – never mind when he was conceived. Any sun worshiping society would have been quite familiar with a dec. 25 birth/ rebirth following 3 days of death. Astrologers know about following a bright eastern star too. From Bethlehem as a starting point, which is a whole other basket of bread, the star (same with the evening sun) then heads north, that could put us in say Nazareth, kinda fishy if you ask me but it’s okay because, then it then hides off west of there – towards one of it’s origins in Egypt (one of the new testament’s conflicts resolved).
    It certainly does maintain the societal ziggurats though. Alas, ’tis the season to endorse religious and economic prejudice. Children are innately color blind (prejudice is the result of taking cues from us) and have a “sense of oneness” that has nothing to do with religion, season, or some so-called “Christian” holiday (keep in mind that the majority of the world is not Christian). Images of “sylvan snow-topped cabins with their smoky chimneys, and ornamented Christmas trees with presents piled up” more likely remind them of what they don’t have, those delights are the experience of very few from a broader perspective, having again nothing to do with their religion.
    “Anyone who has ever stopped to help a stricken neighbor, or who had embraced those deemed unworthy, hopeless or condemned” acts on the altruism built into their brain, necessary for existence, and is sometimes helped along by their religious belief, this again is not specific to Christianity. Hand-picking their preferred parts of the scriptures parents buy love from their kids in hopes that they will ignore, Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” For those that play semantics games and say “hate” could actually mean “love less” in Greek, this is potentially true, consider then that it is the same word used to direct your views on other abominations throughout the new testament – again pointing to the hand picking…
    I’m not really convinced on “Ole” either, what does Chomsky say?
    All of my long-winded blathering aside, do celebrate. Celebrate in peace, celebrate love and compassion, celebrate the beauty and innocence of children, celebrate the fact that no person (not even those elite on top) nor society is completely independent, celebrate the fact that happiness is something from within (not at all dependent on all the crap you can buy, as some would have you believe), and then I don’t care who’s name you celebrate in. Peace!

  2. UNRR said on December 24th, 2008 at 8:02am #

    This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 12/24/2008, at The Unreligious Right

  3. bozh said on December 24th, 2008 at 2:16pm #

    my post in which i do not wish anyone a merry christmas had not appeared.
    i find that christianity, islam, and judaism r some of the vitiating isms that befell us.
    jesus if he had ben accurately quote was antihuman. eg, he said, u shall always have poor amongst u; meek shall inherit th earth (such as pals); i came to uphold the laws and the prophets; ie, approved of stoning and extermination of canaanites; why throw pearls before swine for they will trample it; meaning that people who don’t agree w. him r pigs and wld trample on his wisdom.
    he even implied he was son of god, etcet. thnxc

  4. Don Hawkins said on December 24th, 2008 at 2:27pm #

    Bozh you have a good day and by this time next year just one year 365 day’s 12 months I am not sure just how it will play out but interesting times if nothing else change no way around it.

  5. Don Hawkins said on December 24th, 2008 at 2:43pm #

    Well here is two way’s it could play out. Hold on to the old way of thinking or at least try and we all go deeper into the rabbit hole/ darkside. Start using reason and the knowledge think anew you know a new way of thinking. The forces for the first way are strong but I have to admit losing some of there power and the truth and knowledge are still there worst enemy. The second way must be started by those of us who know where the wild wind blows and we are few right now but that can change and we do have truth and knowledge and will that be enough? Yes it sure will as it has to be no other way. Two and two is four not twenty or ten but four. Could you just see two million people in front of the Capital saying together one and one is two, one and one is two.

  6. AaronG said on December 25th, 2008 at 6:14am #

    xmas is certainly an interesting time of year to study the human species in all our imperfections. It’s a frenzy of sheeple rushing around department stores buying forced gifts for loved ones and not really pausing long enough to know why they are doing it. It represents all that’s wrong with our society – WE DO NOT STOP TO QUESTION WHY. Why do we blindly follow the tradition of xmas? Why are our holidays conveniently spaced apart so we don’t get a break from spending? Spend. Spend. Spend. It is now our national duty to spend until we drop. The elite need us to spend and not ask why. Just keep swiping that credit card. These are some of the main reasons that I get when I ask people why they celebrate xmas:

    RELIGIOUS – ”I celebrate the birth of Jesus” (I don’t need to elaborate. The Bible says that Jesus was born when the shepherds were living out of doors. It’s a bit cold in the Middle East this time of year to be camping under the stars, I suspect. The whole Jesus’ birth thing is a bit old by now).

    SECULAR – ”Oh, it’s just a time to be with family, and the kids love it.” (This is the more disturbing answer, since secular people are supposed to be able to think for themselves. And it’s a hard one to counter, since you’re seen as ”spoiling it for the kids”, a bit like not wanting to criticise the war cos you have to ”support the troops”. There are approximately 365 days in the year to voluntarily enjoy the family. What force is motivating you to provide the retail sector with approx 40% of their annual takings at xmas time? If xmas is so sacred, why do the best sales occur on or just after the 26th December? When you awaken on the 26th is your family just as important to you as they were on the 25th? If so, why all the fuss about xmas? Does it feel good to lie to your kids about some old fat guy with a beard breaking into your house and delivering gifts? They’re too young to know that their government lies to them, but surely their parents can be truthful. ”Better be good or Santa won’t give you a present” sounds much like ”Better be good or you won’t go to heaven/will go to hell” – secular people unknowingly act very religious sometimes. I’ve met many secular people who don’t really like the idea of xmas, and obviously don’t believe the Jesus thing, but they get involved in xmas anyway since they don’t want to be different. This is disturbing. Though not outwardly admitting it, they are being motivated by a corporate force. They may even have ”progressive” views on the world and may even criticise the corporate world for all our problems. But when it comes to the strong tradition of xmas they put their views aside and join the crowd.)

    As a side point, I haven’t celebrated xmas for 16 years. My 4 yo girl and 2yo boy don’t know the difference. Sure, when they start school they’ll be under pressure from the other kids for being ”different”. But ”different” does not mean wrong. My kids can receive presents on August23rd, January 5th, June 24th………yes, any time of year. I don’t want the business world dictating to me when I can surprise my kids with a heartfelt gift. They already bombard my loungeroom with enough advertising.

    Sorry to spoil everyone’s xmas – my xmas $pirit is just not working this year. Oh well, tomorrow is another day………………..

  7. bozh said on December 25th, 2008 at 9:10am #

    to me, celebrating christmas means the following:
    approbation of intolerance, crusades, burning at stake, inquisition, warfare, divisiveness, persecution of scientists/educators, etcetc. thnx

  8. Rahb said on December 25th, 2008 at 11:11am #

    to add – how are we supposed to explain that the kids who don’t get gifts aren’t naughty, just for bein’ poor?

  9. Tree said on December 25th, 2008 at 1:06pm #

    I felt so guilty after reading the comments here that I set fire to my Christmas tree and took away every kids’ gift in my neighborhood.
    Apparently, the true hero of Christmas is the Grinch–before his heart grew too big! Maybe someone should write a dissertation on the socio-politico-religious-o ramifications of the Grinch and his theft of Christmas?
    Now excuse me while I go hang myself by the string of twinkly lights I have wrapped around the boxwood…