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In this video, Dr. David Kyle Johnson talks about the Christmas conspiracy. While we hear a lot about the War on Christmas, there isn’t much press on how Christians conspired to use the most wonderful time of the year for their own ends.

This video is part of a larger conversation we had about his book The Myths that Stole Christmas.

Dr. David Kyle Johnson enjoys discussing philosophy through a pop culture lens. Here is a bit more about him.

David Kyle Johnson is a professor of philosophy at King’s College (PA) and also has three courses for The Great Courses: Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy (2018), The Big Questions of Philosophy (2016) and Exploring Metaphysics (2014). 

Academically he specializes in logic (both formal and scientific), metaphysics, and philosophy of religion, and has articles in journals such as Religious Studies, Sophia, Philo, Think and Science, Religion and Culture. Most of his articles are available (for free) on academia.edu.

Kyle also publishes prolifically on the intersection of philosophy and popular culture. He’s edited four books on the topic (on Black Mirror and Philosophy (forthcoming), Inception and Philosophy (2011), NBC’s Heroes (2009), and Introducing Philosophy Through Pop Culture (2010)), and written over 20 articles (on Star Trek, Doctor Who, South Park, Tolkien, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, Family Guy, The Office, and Battlestar Galactica just to name a few). He maintains two blogs for Psychology Today (Plato on Pop and A Logical Take), is the author of The Myths that Stole Christmas, and has an authors@google talk on Inception with over half-a-million views on Youtube. 

What follows is a transcript of what Dr. David Kyle Johnson had to say on the Christmas conspiracy.

So this is what turns out to be one of those conspiracies that turned out to be true. There are a couple of them here, right in the early history of Christmas and the early history of the holiday. I should say there was a religious conspiracy, right?

There were already existing celebrations around this time of year, Saturnalia and the celebration of the Sun god Sol. And those are two different things. Those traditions were in the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church conspired to hijack those celebrations and make them about Jesus when they weren’t about Jesus to begin with.

There’s no reason to think that Jesus was born on December 25th, but they just declared that to be Jesus’ birthday. So they essentially tacked on Christian elements to this already existing holiday. As I tried to explain in the book, essentially what happened was that Constantine converted to Christianity but his entire army worship Sol Invictus, right? And everybody else was celebrating Saturnalia or something, you know, like a harvest festival at that time. And if he was going to make the Roman Empire Christian, he couldn’t very well do that but have everybody celebrating these non-Christian holidays. He couldn’t have the biggest celebration of the year be a non-Christian celebration. And so essentially what the church does is declare well yeah, what we’re really doing is celebrating Jesus because Jesus was born on that day. And the public essentially said, do we still get to celebrate? Yeah, OK, fine. You can say what it is about whatever, right? Like we don’t care as long as we still get to have our party.

Over time, people forgot what they were originally celebrating. And it does become to be seen about Jesus. But that is not at all where the celebrations came from. Throughout the Middle Ages, the church conspired to try to Christianize the holiday to make it about Jesus in more than name only and only actually became known as Christmas in the 1100s. And it gets that from Christ mass. That was the earliest mass you could go to to end your fast.

Once it was finally called Christmas in the 1100s, it was still celebrated in a completely raucous and secular way. There was feasting, drinking, and sex. That was how you celebrated Christmas. And that was true throughout the Middle Ages despite the Catholic Church’s attempts to try to make the holiday religious in more than just name only. It was so raucous, that the only organization, the only group to ever actually wage a war on Christmas, was the most Christian of them all, the Puritans. They outlawed celebrations in early America because they were debaucherous, they were just drinking and sex and cross-dressing. As part of it as well, they banned those celebrations. You couldn’t even take the day off work unless it was a Sunday. December 25th happened to fall on a Sunday. Otherwise, you’d better be working on Christmas Day.

In case you want to know the true history of wassailing, you can check out this short video.

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