For those upset about Starbucks cups, Festivus poles, non-traditional nativities, Black Santa, and any other non-traditional, or abstinence from, holiday displays: Why aren’t you waging war against the inclusion of Santa, the reindeer, and the Christmas tree in traditional Christmas imagery? Much of what our society believes about Christmas is simply wrong.
TL;DR Summary: As per the bible, Mary and Joseph weren’t turned away by an innkeeper, Jesus wasn’t born in December, and lastly (and most importantly) Santa, the reindeer, the stockings, and the beloved Christmas tree were all adopted from Pagan rituals involving the ingestion of psychedelic mushrooms. If there’s a war on Christmas imagery, it started almost 2,000 years ago, and Christians should be just as angry about those non-Biblical symbols.
Much of the Christmas story you’re familiar with is fabricated – it’s simply nowhere in the Bible. People argue that the purpose of the story is allegorical and theological, and not practically historical, and that’s exactly my point – acknowledgement. According to the untranslated text, Mary and Joseph attempted to stay in a “kataluma”, a Greek word used twice in the New Testament which most often translates to a furnished guestroom in the house of friends or relatives. An inn is never mentioned. Because this was unavailable, they stayed with the livestock. At the time, livestock was kept on the first floor of the home while the family stayed on the second floor – the body heat of the animals helped to heat the upstairs. This is very different from a barn. The wise men, “magi” were not specifically numbered, and did not visit him until his presentation in the temple, at which point the word used to refer to Jesus changes from “baby” to “child”, meaning the wise men might not have come until years later. The reason 3 was chosen as the number of magi present was because three specific gifts were mentioned, but this assumes that all magi brought a gift and each only brought one.
Jesus probably wasn’t born in December at all, as it would be unusual for shepherds to be watching their flocks in the fields during winter, as the fields would be unproductive for grazing. Based on clues in the Bible, many scholars believe it most likely occurred in September, since that was the most common time for pre-winter travel, and it coincides with the Roman census.
The December 25th date was chosen by the Roman Catholic Church between 250 A.D. and it’s first appearance on a Roman calendar in 336 A.D. to coincide with pagan Saturnalia and Sol Invictus celebrations of the winter solstice in an attempt to pacify a widely varied citizenry and coalesce two holidays into one – the same thing that later happened with Easter, when the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection was combined with a pagan festival of fertility and rebirth that marked the return of Spring (thus the rabbits and eggs imagery).
Santa Claus is based mostly on Saint Nicholas (Nikolaos of Myra), a Greek Bishop who lived from 270 to 343 A.D., but looked nothing like the fat, bearded, red and white figure we currently recognize. Saint Nick was 5 feet tall, dark skinned, and thin. The modern representation of a fat, rosy cheeked Santa was invented by Haddon Sundblom, an artist for Coca-Cola, for an early 20th century ad campaign. His red and white fur suit and habit of flying around the world with reindeer to deliver presents is based, again, on many pagan traditions, including the pre-Christian, Mid-winter, Germanic celebration of Yule and the bearded Norse god Odin who, during Yule, would ride his eight legged horse across the sky visiting people with gifts. The red and white color scheme comes from an even more exciting source: the Amanita Muscaria mushroom, used traditionally in Siberian Shamanic rituals.
The Amanita Muscaria mushroom, or Fly Agaric, has a white stem and a deep red cap with white spots. It grows beneath conifer trees (Christmas trees) much the same as colorfully wrapped presents are placed beneath Christmas trees now. Reindeer, the grazing cattle of the Siberian tribes, sought out and ate the mushrooms vigorously to get high, the same as humans. The tribal shamans, dressed in red and white, in honor of the mushrooms, would go out in the winter and procure the mushroom for use in the winter solstice rituals. Once picked, the mushrooms were often hung from the branches of trees, or in fabric sacks over fireplaces, to dry – thus the decorating of the Christmas tree and the hanging of stockings full of gifts over the fire. As recently as the late 1800s and early 1900s, popular Christmas imagery (cards, book illustrations, etc) were full of images of the Amanita Muscaria mushroom, but these images, and their pagan origins, have been largely forgotten (or ignored) by our society.