Venezuela got a head start on Christmas this year, thanks to their fearless leader, President Nicolas Maduro. According to NPR, Venezuelan workers “will receive the first two-thirds of their Christmas bonuses and pensions [in November]. Critics say he’s just looking for votes ahead of municipal elections in December.”
Of course, in America we call bullshit on Maduro. But we like to say a lot of things in America, and many of the things we say are based on more emotion than actual information. So, in the spirit of holidays, I think a handful of holiday misunderstandings need a little clarification.
1. “Don’t be such a Scrooge.” Among the many sins of Sir Ebenezer Scrooge, one of the most unbelievable to Christmas worshipers is Scrooge’s expectation that his employees arrive for work per usual on Christmas morning.
While A Christmas Carol is set in England, the novella was published in 1843 and Christmas didn’t become a federal holiday in the United States until 1870. So, that means if Scrooge had been an employer in America, asking his employees to come to work on December 25, 1843 would have been, well, normal. #GiveScroogeABreak
2. “The Reason for the Season.” This one is used recklessly by Christians and churchyard signs across the country. December 25th isn’t really the baby Jesus’ birthday. Everyone knows that part.
But the reason it was picked as the single greatest birthday ever has nothing to do with anyone’s “best guess” and everything to do with the Roman Emperor Constantine’s massive push to Christianize the Holy Roman Empire.
Since December 25th was part of Saturnalia, a pre-existing and very popular pagan holiday, Constantine says, “Look, you can still have your drunken debauchery, but now you’re having it in the holy celebration of our Lord Jesus Christ. This will make it wildly easier for me to control you.” I’m paraphrasing, of course.
Now, as many Americans—but maybe not all Americans—know, the very truest Christians, the Puritans, hightailed it out of Anglican England to the New World because they wanted freedom of religion (see Pilgrims). And what do that do with this new-found power? They CANCEL Christmas. Or more accurately, if you got caught celebrating, you got a pretty heavy fine. #ChristiansCantMakeUpTheirMinds
3. “Christmas is about the kids.” For a really long time—like for almost 2,000 years—Christmas didn’t have shit to do with kids (see Alcohol). It wasn’t until 1823 when Clement Clark Moore published A Visit from Saint Nicholas, also known as A Night Before Christmas, when it dawned on parents that maybe kids would enjoy the holiday, too. Also, in many ways, this story is the birth of our Santa Claus.
4. “Marketing is ruining Christmas.”If you say this, you’re wrong. Marketing actually invented the Christmas that you’ve been celebrating your entire life.
Santa Claus: Everything you know about this magical man, his cozy home on the North Pole, his elf slaves, the reindeer, the Naughty and Nice List, etc. came to us from Thomas Nast, an illustrator hired by Harper’s Weekly from 1863 to 1886. The term for this is content marketing.
Christmas Trees: A German tradition, the Christmas tree found its way to England when German Prince Albert married Queen Victoria. The Christmas tree made it to America when an illustration of the Queen’s decorated tree was published in magazines across the country. Again, content marketing.
Christmas Gifts: The origin for the gifts is actually biblical—maybe the only biblically sourced tradition of the whole mess—but the Bible has three gifts from the Magi. If you give or receive more than three gifts on Christmas, you can thank marketing—and the Industrial Revolution.
I could go on, of course, there are Christmas lights to be strung and all sorts of seasonal foods to be eaten. But you get the point, which is if you don’t like the idea of marketing being at the center of your holiday, well, you might as well just not celebrate it. #MarketingOwnsChristmas
5. “Santa Claus is white.” While the folklore and mythology that surround this magical man are insanely hard to pin down, have you actually seen the real Santa Claus? There is no substantial evidence regarding his ethnicity. So, we cannot with any true certainty assert that he is white. We can, however, assert that Jesus was not white–and that he was probably not an American. #OMGOMGOMG
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For the sake of full disclosure, I’m not an expert on the history and evolution of Christmas or Santa Claus. I did do research, though. And while there are conflicting opinions about everything, I think it still proves Maduro and his Ministry of Supreme Happiness can do whatever they want with the holiday—seeing as that’s pretty much the way it has worked for the past 2,000 years.
Santa photo by Mike Lewis (Flickr: Mike & Mckenzie) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.