It’s rather sad when you hear some Catholics impose to non-Catholics how December 25 should be celebrated. Just this morning while having breakfast, my mom told me to start going to church again because we are 3 months away from December and I need to begin cleansing my soul for the special day. But I’m a Catholic turned Buddhist, so why should I do that? At that instant, I want to ignite a philosophical argument about religion with her, but I know that my mom didn’t have the kind of education I had years ago. Unlike me, she didn’t study the basic ontological principles and philosophy of behind her faith before she embraced it. My mother’s Catholicism wasn’t a free choice, but an acquired habit, a requisite to her upbringing, a contingent part of her childhood reality that her parents made indispensable and absolute, a pious norm that she inherited from her parents. I desperately wanted to shout back at her, but out of filial respect, I just shut my mouth and continued eating my bacon and eggs.
I wonder how many more condescending Catholics out there infringe their customs to non-Catholics. I strongly believe that there should be some sort of intervention for them to stop. We are in a democratic country and everyone is free to practice whatever faith they choose to follow and if their choice happens to be different from yours, you can do nothing but respect them. Mutual respect must be the only abiding principle that should rule the spiritual sphere and nothing else. Truth be told, many of the established practices that we generally observe during Christmas already began even before Christ was born, which clearly insinuates that their origins in history can be traced to non-Catholic but pagan customs.
Anthropologists posit that approximately 4000 years ago, the Mesopotamians observed a 12-day festival they call “Zagmuth”. Every year, people will hold a grand feast to pray and praise their god “Marduk” in preparation for the New Year and Winter. Ancient people believed that if they do this, the gods will help them get through the cold season and pave the way for an abundant New Year ahead of them. It is said that the “12 days of Christmas” tradition was derived from this pagan ritual.
In Rome, “Saturnalia” is annually celebrated to honor the Roman god “Saturn” through a feast that starts in the middle of December and ends on the first day of January. One of the major Roman customs practiced at that time was gift offering. Each family would visit their neighbors and exchange gifts with them to promote good fortune in each Roman household. As a sign of hospitality families will make an effort to decorate their homes with elegant garlands and beautiful candles. So, really, Christ isn’t the one who initiated Christmas promotional items giving in companies during December—it has been done by our ancestors even before Christ.
In Scandinavia, people celebrate a festival called “Yuletide” during winter where people will create a pyre out of Yule logs to remind themselves that the sun will shine again, that the cold season was transitory and summer is just around the corner waiting to give them warmth. Scandinavians traditionally sing and dance folklores around the pyre to provide hope for the community. Some of them hang candles and apples on snow-withered trees to foreshadow the coming of spring and summer season.
History narrates that emperor Constantine, having a passionate desire to convert a lot of pagans in the medieval ages to his new found religion, Catholicism, incorporated pagan winter customs to Catholic rituals so that people would find it easier to adopt the new religious culture. In the end, Constantine’s idea worked and a lot of pagans eventually embraced Catholicism, incarnating their old ways into their new faith.
Evidently, most of the Christmas “Catholic” traditions are but “déjà vus”, so to speak, of the ancient people’s pagan winter practices, so what’s up with those presumptuous Catholics who keep on discrimination non-Catholics during Christmas? It can even be said that they are the ones who popularized the traditions but it doesn’t mean that these customs are “Catholic” already. The arguments I posit seems to be nominal in nature, but in truth, what I want really is to make Christmas truly universal, which means that it should not be exclusive for Christ-believers alone. After all, “catholic” fundamentally means “universal”.
Everyone should see Christmas not only as a Christian feast, but a human celebration of love and hope. The birth of Christ, trees, gift and Christmas cards giving, pyres, candles and all other rituals associated to December 25 should be seen as mere symbols and physical manifestations of a universal truth that lies in each of us. Thus, whatever way a person chooses to celebrate this special day should be respected and accepted for we may be different people having different faiths but we are all united by our humanity.
[notice]Links in this post were provided by the author.[/notice]
- Christmas, Pagan Romans, and Frodo Baggins (crisismagazine.com)
- Pagans & Christians (or adding Chocolate Jesus to my Pagan Peanut Butter) (markmandrake.com)
- Origin of Christmas – Lawrence Kelemen (promoteliberty.wordpress.com)
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