Friday, January 05, 2007

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas

Don't take much interest in Christmas. Used to be great fun in the old days when it was simply an orgy of commercial excess, but now I find that people are tainting the whole thing with a lot of religious mumbo jumbo.
--Peter Cook

I was planning to post various Christmas stuff, but as usual time got in the way. However, as we are still within the twelve days of Christmas, and in any case tomorrow will be Christmas Day in Russia, I guess it's not too late. Not that the date means much anyway, since one of the few historical facts we can be reasonably sure of about Jesus Christ is that he wasn't born on the 25th of December (nor in zero AD; most historians of the period place his birth around four years earlier).

We owe the present date of our Christmas celebrations to the Emperor Constantine, who wanted to usurp the place of the Roman Festival of Saturnalia when Christianity became the official religion of the Empire (a move from which it has never recovered). Most of our cherished Christmas traditions have nothing to do with Christ, but are either pagan survivals from the various festivals that celebrated the Winter Solstice (as the Chinese still do), like the Christmas Tree and the Yule Log, or Victorian inventions, like the Christmas card and the popular image of Santa Claus in his red robes.

Similarly Easter took over the place and some of the customs (all those eggs!) of the spring fertility festivals which were also common in many cultures. Some religious purists reject all these non-Christian accretions to their faith, but I welcome them as part of mankind's continuing tradition of celebrating the great cycle of the turning seasons.

Anyway, back to Christmas. I haven't tried to post a picture here before, so let's try. The cartoon above was borrowed from Private Eye (please subscribe so they'll forgive me). The funny thing is that when I first read the caption, I took it as a satire on Tony Blair's vacuous New Labour political correctness, until I saw the word "Tory" in the smaller print. Which just goes to show how little difference there is between Britain's two major parties these days.

In his Christmas Eve message, Pope Benedict XVI made a special appeal for the protection of children. He could make a start by protecting them from the priests of his own church.

I have one more Christmas item to post, but that can wait a day or two. If you've already celebrated Christmas, I hope you had a good time. And if I have any Russian readers, Merry Christmas to you!

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