Recently, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights called off its boycott of Wal-Mart after a disappointed customer, who complained that "Happy Holidays" was used to replace the greeting, "Merry Christmas", received a rather heated e-mail by an employee over the origins of Christmas. Ireing them (and justly so, in my opinion), the civil rights group called off the boycott after the superstore giant issued an apology. The media was quick to wrap the matter up by saying the argument was about saying "Merry Christmas", when, in fact, it was the rather belligerent e-mail from an employee who apparently doesn't know the true origins of Christmas.
Christmas, as noted by Clement of Alexandria, was first celebrated in Egypt in 200 A.D. in what Egyptian theologians at the time thought was the ninth month (believed to be the month of Jesus' birth). Clement also noted that the Basilidians celebrated the Epiphany and the Nativity of Christ in early January. In Rome, the early Church and civil calenders marked Natalis Invicti, the birth of Christ. But Christmas was not considered a major feast in the Church until the Middles Ages; Easter was. The word Christmas, Cristes Maesse (Mass of Christ in Old English), wasn't used until 1038.
The winter festivals of Jul, celebrated by the Scandinavians on the first day of winter, and Juvenalia, a Roman festival for children and the birth of the god, Mithra, were celebrated in December. As more people became Christians, these festivals were phased out. Symbols of these festivals remained only as circumstantial vestiges, like burning of the Yule log (a load of wood was given to a family when a child was born) or mistletoe (symbolising the crown of thorns used on Christ during His Crucifixion).
This brief history lesson aside, I think certain issues are largely forgotten. First, that Christmas is NOT a pagan holiday, or an offshoot thereof, nor is it a generic holiday. It is a specific holiday, very much the same way Saint Patrick's Day or the Fourth of July are (can you imagine if those holidays were changed to Irish Day or North America Day?). It is also a holiday that is celebrated, in form or another, by an enormous amount of people. They have every right to celebrate it in its entirety and without compromises, which, in reality, are nothing more than attempts to phase the importance and origins of the holiday (but not the holiday itself as it is too profitable. Not that I'm accusing Wal-Mart of doing anything for profit). And before I am inundated by posts and e-mails saying that all of this is in the spirit of tolerance and blahblahblah, when has a holiday that is not Christmas been forbidden? Simply because more people celebrate a certain holiday (and, in this case, Christmas) than others does not mean that the other holidays are outlawed, forbidden or deliberately forgotten. And when does tolerance, especially in countries claiming cultural pluralism, mean phasing out holidays or any other important observances because of what some claim is intolerance? Celebrate Christmas or don't. One has the freedom to do that in countries like the United States. I think the new catchphrase for tolerance should be: "Suck it up or get out".
More to come as Christmas develops.