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Letter: Christians co-opted Saturnalia first

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014 11:28 p.m. CDT

To the Editor:

This is in response to Mack Besser’s letter entitled, “Get your own holiday, atheists.” Check your history, Mack. There was no Christian holiday of Christmas for 500 years after the birth of Jesus, until the Roman Emperor arbitrarily proclaimed Dec. 25 to be Jesus’ birthday and established it as a holiday throughout the Empire. 

The reason Dec. 25 was chosen was because it was a pagan holiday celebrated throughout Europe. The pagan holiday was Saturnalia, the celebration of the winter solstice. Co-opting the holiday was intended to aid in the conversion of the pagans to Christianity. Along with the date, a lot of the pagan traditions were also adopted. These include a feast, the exchange of gifts, the decorated tree, holly, mistletoe, and even St. Nicholas. 

Nonbelievers might well say, “Get your own holiday, Christians.” 

Most authorities agree that the most likely time of Jesus’ birth was in September. Why not co-opt the fall equinox and proclaim Sept. 21 to be Christmas? It would be more accurate. But then Black Friday would have to come right after the Fourth of July, and the giant retailers might have some problems with that. 

After all, Christmas has become more economic than religious. At any rate, “believers” and “nonbelievers” can continue to celebrate the winter solstice by whatever name they wish – but Christians should not maintain that nonbelievers are taking over their holiday when the opposite is the case.

Sanford J. Dean


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