Red Cups, Seasons Greetings, and Jesus


(I was going to post something about microenterprise, but I wanted to get this up while it was still timely. You’ll have to wait a few weeks for the microenterprise post.)

Here we go again. Christmas is coming. And in the spirit of the season, Christians are getting angry.

  • We’re angry when someone says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
  • We’re angry that our kids are on winter break instead of Christmas vacation.
  • We’re angry that Starbucks has plain red cups.

Seriously? Do we have nothing better on which to spend our time and energy?

What exactly is missing from Starbucks’ cups this year? Snowmen, snowflakes, ice skaters, carolers, sledders, reindeer, decorated conifers, ornaments. And we’re upset because they’re taking Christmas out of drinking coffee?

What do any of these symbols have to do with the birth of Jesus? Reindeer are associated with Santa. “Christmas” trees originated in Germany, where pagans decorated evergreens in honor of the coming growing season and as a symbol of immortality.

Before we try to force people into saying “merry Christmas” instead of “happy holidays,” think a moment. What does the word “holiday” mean? It comes from “holy day.” Isn’t Christmas—the Christ’s mass—a holy day? It may not be Jesus’ actual birthday, but it’s the day we celebrate his birth.

I find it ironic that so many Christians feel a need to defend their Christmas celebration. After all, the holiday has a pagan origin. The Romans took a festival dedicated to the rebirth of the sun-god, Mithra, and repurposed it for Saturn, their own sun-god. Saturnalia was a time of gift-giving and singing (sound familiar?) plus a lot of lewd and licentious behavior. The Romans converted the festival to a Christian celebration in the fourth century (when Christianity became the state religion) and spread it throughout their empire.

By the middle ages, the celebration had become so immoral that Christians wanted nothing to do with it. The Puritans, for example, banned the celebration of Christmas on the grounds that it was too pagan and unbiblical. It wasn’t until the past two hundred years that the church has redeemed the celebration, focusing on family instead of drunken revelry.

Our current celebration keeps many customs which are pagan in origin. I’ve already mentioned gift giving, singing, and Christmas trees. The inclusion of holly and mistletoe comes from the Celtic Druids, although it was also associated with Saturn. Wreaths also date back to the Roman Saturnalia, and to the Etruscans before them; they were also used by ancient European animists to symbolize strength an d fortitude. Yule logs were burned by Anglo-Saxon pagans as an “emblem of the return of the sun.”

Then there’s good old Santa Claus. Most of us know that the basis for the legend is derived from St. Nicolas, a kind and generous man who gave children gifts on Christmas. However, other stories have been added to the original. For example, Odin, traditionally led “a hunting party with other gods on Yule, a German holiday at roughly the same time as Christmas; … like Santa, he has 8 reindeer; and he would fill children’s’ boots with candy….”

Are we defending Jesus? Or are we defending our traditions?

Quoted text and much information from

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