This year, more than previous, I've seen, heard, and read more podcasts, radio programs, blog posts, news articles and so forth dedicated to proving that Christmas didn't start with Christ.
Let me explain: all this media pointed to the fact that Christmas didn't exist as a holiday until the 4th century when the church created it. More than that, they tried to explain how Jesus wasn't born in the winter, but the spring, St. Nicholas, though real, didn't really do anything like Santa Claus and many of the characteristics attributed to Santa are really from Norse traditions, and so on and so forth etc. etc.
My point is, so what? Does any of this really matter? I mean, really?
Let's start with the birth of Jesus. Our only source for the nativity story is the Bible. Actually, it's two sources, two books of the Bible, but most people just consider the Bible as one. In the writings contained in the Bible, the authors do not mention the date, the season, or anything that specifies the time of year.
The hint that people point to is the mention of shepherds in the fields watching their flocks at night. The argument is that the only time the shepherds would be with their flocks in the field at night instead of snuggly in their beds is in the spring. Spring is when sheep have babies so the shepherds would keep an eye on the ewes to see if they went into labor and to help deliver the lambs. Some further argue that in the winter, their wouldn't be much grass or unfrozen water, so the sheep would be in pens or barns.
Ok. So Jesus might have been born in the spring. So what? Does it matter?
Let's talk about Saint Nicholas. Here's the facts. Yes, he was a real person. Born in a Greek society in what is now Turkey sometime in the third century, he grew to become a Bishop. Under Roman persecution of Christians, he was exiled and imprisoned. He died December 6, 343 AD. That's it. That's all the facts we know. Some historians say he was known for his generosity and his concern for ships and sailors.
All else is legend. There are stories of him rescuing girls from a life of prostitution by giving them money for their dowries and other such stories. Stories become legend, legend tradition, tradition becomes engrained and before too long St. Nick is Santa Claus. The toys and coal and reindeer and so on and so forth are all added as the stories spread around the world and combine with the traditions of the people in various places.
There is way too much to go into as to how each piece of the Santa Claus/St. Nick story fell into place to form the fat man in the red suit with flying reindeer character we see today. There are many website out there devoted to it, so I'm not going to rehash it here. (A good, respectful one to start with can be found here.)
So the reality of St. Nicholas is nothing like Santa Clause. So what? Does it matter?
Finally, let's look at the origin of Christmas as a holiday.
Here's the facts. Early Christians did not celebrate Christmas. The centerpiece of the Christian calendar was Easter (Resurrection Day). It wasn't until the 4th century that the leaders of the church looked around and said, "Hey, every winter, everyone seems to have all these parties and things going on and no one is interested in going to church. We should do something." So Christmas (or the Christ Mass) was invented, not as a replacement, but as a competing celebration to bring people into the church. The idea was to get folks who celebrated the Winter solstice, Saturnalia, and who knows what else into the church.
Again, there's way too much information on how the Christ Mass became Christmas with trees and gifts and Santa and stuff. Yes, the Christian invented holiday got mished and mashed with the traditions of others to become what we know today.
Again, I say, So what? Does it matter?
And my answer is: no. It does not matter one little tiny bit.
As a Christian, I choose to follow the original tradition that Christmas is the day chosen to recognize the birth of Christ. I, like the leaders of the early church, don't really care that it isn't the "real" day.
You, who may not be a Christian, choose to keep the day in your own way, or not at all. Does it matter? No. I'm not going to argue you into keeping the day my way as you aren't going to argue me into keeping it your way.
So as the holiday season winds to a close, let's put our differences aside and look forward to the new year. If you want to talk, or even have a friendly debate, we can do that, I'd love to. But our differences of opinion don't have to separate us.
PS. And for the record, I'm really tired of hearing "Keep Christ in Christmas, don't use Xmas." In Greek, the language the Bible was written in, the word "Christ" starts with an X. Many early Christians used the symbol of an X to identify themselves to each other, a shorthand way of writing "Christ". An X has a deeper, richer meaning as the word "Christ" than the English word. I gladly, joyously use Xmas. It's still Christmas. So stop bugging me about it.