Rebirth of Reason

Sense of Life

Why Objectivists Should Celebrate Christmas
by Matthew Humphreys

Every year in late November or December, some Christmas related debate seems to start up on SOLOHQ – from what Christmas means to what we should call it. Here then are a few thoughts from an ex-Christian: I have come to the conclusion that Christmas as it is celebrated in the west today has much more Objectivism in it that Christianity.
As is clear from the above discussions (and other Christmas-related articles on SOLOHQ); for SOLOists, the festival known as Christmas has nothing to do with the supposed coming of Jesus and everything to do with selfishly enjoying life here on earth - benevolently exchanging gifts, partying or otherwise spending time with friends and loved-ones. Christmas celebrations for most people in western countries of course tend to be something of a hodge podge, mixing the above elements with some ceremonial recognition of Jesus’ supposed mystical arrival on earth.
As I’m sure many SOLOists will be aware, it seems likely that Jesus was born much earlier in the year (there is much evidence that he was never born at all, but that’s a discussion for another day), and that the early church moved the festival to late December (or early January in some countries) to coincide with pre-Christian pagan winter solstice festivals that already took place around this time of year (in the northern hemisphere). Many of the secular “traditions” associated with Christmas, such as the decorated trees, the use of holly and mistletoe etc probably derive from the Germanic pagan Yule festival. In the Roman Empire, the winter solstice celebrations were known as Saturnalia, in honour of the god Saturn (which I gather was apparently the Roman name for Cronus, one of the early Titans).
These festivals were in essence celebrations of life here on earth. Granted there was an element of pagan mysticism to many of these festivals also, in that they in part involved the worship of the sun as a triumphant god. But let’s put that in context: the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year in terms of daylight, and after it the days become longer as the sun symbolically regains dominance over the darkness of the winter months. I would submit that this symbolism in fact plays directly into the view of the festival as a celebration of life.
The puritanical early Christians of course opposed these pagan celebrations precisely because of the emphasis on this world. Many of them probably believed that Jesus’ return and the end of the world would occur within a relatively short period of time (some Biblical passages actually suggest this would occur within the lifetime of Jesus’ immediate disciples!). As the centuries passed and the world continued to exist, the Christians more or less shut up about the end of the world, relegating it to some unspecified point in the future, and proceeded to take over the existing pagan festivals!
What though of the other traditions of the modern, western Christmas celebrations? Well it seems that some form gift giving were also a feature of the pre-Christian Scandinavian Jule festival (and possibly some of the other pagan traditions too). But the resurrection of these ancient customs in modern times resulted from that triumph of human productivity that was the industrial revolution. Leonard Peikoff suggests that the values of industrial America in particular effectively “amplified” those of the ancient pagan customs. (Dr. Peikoff’s article is a good read, though a couple of his assertions of fact seem incomplete or otherwise arguable).
Though the myth of Santa Claus has its origins in older European ideas such as the British Father Christmas, Turkish Saint Nicholas, the Dutch Sinterklass and even the Norse god Odin, the modern image of a bearded man in red and white originated and gradually came to prominence in the US, and was then exported to other countries when that universal symbol of American capitalism, Coca Cola, plastered that image all over their Christmas advertising (note that some sources wrongly credit Coca Cola with having created the red and white image). Indeed to this day, Santa and the wonderful “Holidays Are Coming” jingle feature prominently in annual Coca Cola Christmas commercials in a number of countries.
As explained above, the pagan winter solstice celebrations were interlinked to a form of mystical worship, and while most Christians today do participate in the secular celebrations, Christianity links the feast to mystical worship of different kind. While Objectivists rightly have no time for either form of mysticism, I will admit that I do find something fundamentally benevolent in the concept of communities coming together (i.e. to church) in joint celebration. Perhaps the day will come when, partying aside, communities full of Objectivists will come together for some form of secular ceremony in celebration of living another year.
In the meantime, let us celebrate the festival for what it truly is, and in that spirit may I take this opportunity to wish all SOLOists a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!
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