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This Foolishness With Santa

Why We Do It

Black Friday

Gift-giving, as we know it, as we practice it, has absolutely no biblical foundation whatsoever. Churches and, I suppose, pastors like to point to the biblical Magi, “Three Kings,” or “Three Wise Men,” who came from the East to worship the Christ child [Mathew 2:1-12]. First of all, the bible never says there were only three of them; it gives no account of how many there were. Second, these men were not Christians. They were astrologers who studied signs in the heavens. The term Magi refers to the caste of Zoroastrianism, a pagan religion and philosophy based on the teachings of prophet Zoroaster and formerly among the world's largest religions, serving as the state religion of Iran for many centuries. These three Wise Men are not to be admired, emulated, praised or somehow beatified as saints. Their religious practices and use of astrology caused derivatives of the term Magi to be applied to the occult in general and led to the English term magic. Translated in the King James Version as wise men, the same translation is applied to the wise men led by Daniel of earlier Hebrew Scriptures (Daniel 2:48). The same word is given as sorcerer and sorcery when describing "Elymas the sorcerer" in Acts 13:6–11, and Simon Magus, considered a heretic by the early Church, in Acts 8:9–13. Our romanticization of the Three Wise Men has absolutely no biblical foundation. There is no record of their conversion to Christianity; they came to honor the King of the Jews, reportedly following a star—which is unlikely as stars do not move.

These men presented their gifts to God, not to each

other, not to friends and families. They didn’t stop by Walmart or camp outside Best Buy and stampede, pushing and shoving, for the latest flatscreen. The Magi presented the Christ child with three biblically and doctrinally significant gifts: gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense (an incense) as a symbol of priestship, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of death (or suffering). At Christmas, our gifts should be to God, not to Cousin Earl. The absolute insanity of people rushing from their Thanksgiving family time to stampede through the aisles at Target offends God, has nothing whatsoever to do with Him, yet is being done in His name. If we give gifts at Christmas, if we are using these Magi as our biblical model, those gifts should be to God, not to us, not to our kids. And those gifts should have meaning. They should reveal truth.

Christmas became a federal holiday in the United States in 1870, signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant. Christmas was slowly gaining in acceptance and popularity and had already been adopted as a legal holiday in many states. Again, this was no ancient or sacred day. The first Apostles and early church knew nothing about Christmas, never celebrated Christmas. Christmas Day, as we know it, formally came into being a century and a half ago. Like Christmas, many of us assume Santa Claus, mythologized as the legacy of Saint Nicholas, is also an ancient cultural artifact passed down through generations. Santa Claus, as we know him, was formalized not millennia or even centuries ago but about 90 years ago, here in the United States. Santa is a modern invention, refined and purposed by advertisers to appeal to children and encourage families to spend money. Santa has absolutely no religious significance, and the historical references to any person, alleged saint, living or dead, are extremely specious. Even calling Santa a pagan symbol gives him too much credit. He is no more real than Tony The Tiger or Captain Crunch. He is a wholly invented American symbol (though derived from European symbols and tradition) who exists only to exploit children in order to emotionally blackmail you into spending money.

The modern popular image of Santa Claus was created in the United States, and in particular in New York, largely by legendary American author Washington Irving (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow) and German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast, who reinvented the Dutch Sinterklaas, popular in New York (formerly the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam) into what we now know as Santa. At his first American appearance in 1810, Santa Claus was drawn in bishops' robes. However as new artists took over, Santa Claus developed more secular attire. Nast drew a new image of “Santa Claus” annually, beginning in 1863. By the 1880s, Nast's Santa had evolved into the robed, fur clad, form we now recognize, perhaps based on the English figure of Father Christmas. The image was standardized by advertisers in the 1920’s.

There Is No Truth In This: Brainwashed by Madison Avenue ad firms. What are we presenting to God?

The (Unclean) Spirit of Christmas

The warm feelings this time of year engenders have absolutely nothing to do with Christ. It is a manufactured warmth, an atmosphere created of a kind of communal insanity invented by advertisers.  Holiday decor and Christmas music playing everywhere you go, bell-ringing collectors from the Salvation Army and other organizations, Christmas cards arriving in the mail. Red everywhere. This is all conditioning, brainwashing. Christmas is coming. Hurry. Run out to the mall. Spend, spend, spend. Christmas is typically the largest annual economic stimulus for many nations around the world. Sales increase dramatically in almost all retail areas and shops introduce new products as people purchase gifts, decorations, and supplies. In the U.S., the "Christmas shopping season" starts as early as October. In the United States, it has been calculated that a quarter of all personal spending takes place during the Christmas/holiday shopping season. In most Western nations, Christmas Day is the least active day of the year for business and commerce; almost all retail, commercial and institutional businesses are closed, and almost all industries cease activity (more than any other day of the year), whether laws require such or not.

The warmth, the love and kindness elicited during the holiday season, should be exhibited, demonstrated by us, by those who call themselves Christians, year round. Perry Como wafting from every loudspeaker in every store, the relentless ringing of Salvation Army bells, the twinkling lights and trees everywhere you look, is all conditioning. It is no different than Chinese water torture. It is a relentless, repetitive display which alters our mood, affects our behavior and predisposes us to kindness which, in turn, opens our wallets. We are, as a community, en mass, pushed into a kind of dissociative state of consciousness. It is a sublimely effective, organized effort perpetrated by well-meaning and to whatever extent unwitting accomplices in retail and even government organizations. Even we, who choose to follow Christ, believe this foolishness with the shopping and the trees and rushing around and all that stress, somehow honors God. It doesn’t. Not one moment of it. It is community dementia imposed upon us to get our money. Period.

I am unconvinced that God wants, needs, or requires us to honor Jesus’ birth. As heretical as this sounds on its face, I am not entirely certain God wants, needs or requires us to ceremonially honor Jesus. Jesus, as the Christ, as Lord, has a transactional function: to close the gap between the Creator and the created, to reconcile mankind to God. We love Christ, we honor Him, because He is God, but I’m not sure our purpose, as Christians, is to honor Jesus ceremonially. Becoming more like Jesus is the way to actually honor Him, as opposed to the pageantry of celebrating Jesus with all that noise and jumping around. Jesus does not need that and I am unconvinced God requires that of us. Jesus is our template, our model for humankind. We honor Him by becoming more like Him.

The external hoopla over His birthday does not honor Him nearly as much as our genuine efforts to love one another, all year long, not just during the holiday shopping season.

Christopher J. Priest
4 December 2011