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Somebody recently shared with me a piece from The Catholic Thing titled “Appropriating the Christmas Appropriators” and I would like to take issue with some a lot of the claims. Here are a few:

“Cultural appropriation” is just one of the grave injustices recently discovered by the “woke” culture. It is – according to authoritative sources – the inappropriate adoption of elements of a minority culture by members of a dominant culture. Most of mainstream culture has already taken Christ out of Christmas. But you might argue that, by “cultural appropriation,” it continues to make money off of Him, while abusing the rights of Christians. So we have winter holiday trees, festive lights, wreaths, holiday spending – without Jesus….


How have they offended us? Let me count the ways:

They have appropriated the Christmas tree. But the Christmas tree is a symbol of Jesus. In winter, what is evergreen becomes a sign of everlasting life, and it reminds Christians of the “tree of life,” an image of Christ on the Cross.

They have appropriated wreaths. Wreaths adorn our shopping centers and businesses. But the circular shape – without beginning or end – represents God, and the evergreens represent eternal life.

They have appropriated holly. But the holly tree is another Christian symbol. The sharp leaves symbolize the crown of thorns worn by Jesus, while the berries represent drops of His blood.

They have appropriated seasonal lights and candles, but the festive glowing lights symbolize Jesus, the source of all light. Jesus is the Light of the World.

The star atop the tree represents the star that led the Wise Men to Jesus. It directs us to follow the light of the Savior just as the Wise Men found Him by following the star.

The poinsettia is like the evergreen tree. It thrives during the winter and symbolizes everlasting life. The shape resembles a star (see again the Three Wise Men). Red poinsettias remind us of the blood that Jesus shed for us. The white poinsettias symbolize His purity.

Christmas bells symbolize the hymn of the angels in Heaven announcing the birth of Jesus and praising God: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of goodwill.”

Candy canes remind us of the staff carried by the shepherds who visited the baby Jesus – and that Jesus is the Good Shepherd Who gently leads us to safety and peace. “The Lord is my Shepherd there is nothing I shall want.” (Ps. 23) Santa Claus brings gifts to children on Christmas.

Saint Nicholas, a 4th-century Catholic saint – Good Saint Nick – forms the basis of his popular image.

Christmas is the season of giving – and consumer spending. The Wise Men “offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” (Mt. 2:11) But the greatest gift of all came from our Heavenly Father: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) On Christmas Day, we remember that the Savior is the true gift of Christmas.

They can’t even escape Jesus when they reduce Christmas to a “winter holiday.” “Holiday” is a conflation of  two words: “holy day.” Get it? Ha, ha!

Right, now we’ve got that out of the way, let me introduce you to the Genetic Fallacy.

The genetic fallacy is described as follows:

The genetic fallacy (also known as the fallacy of origins or fallacy of virtue) is a fallacy of irrelevance that is based solely on someone’s or something’s history, origin, or source rather than its current meaning or context. This overlooks any difference to be found in the present situation, typically transferring the positive or negative esteem from the earlier context. In other words, a claim is ignored in favor of attacking or championing its source.

The move here is problematic because the author, Rev. Pokorsky, is being fallacious in demanding we ascribe meaning to a thing (Christmas holidays) because that is what the original meaning was. You know, because on May bank holiday in the UK, I always go out and celebrate the oncoming fruits of summer by dancing around a maypole. Okay, look, the move is fallacious. We make our own meaning, and we don’t have to do things in a certain way because that’s how they came about being done. But the problem is much deeper than that. It turns out that Pokorsky is not very good at history. It turns out that most of what he claims of the Christmas celebrations do not have their genesis in Christianity. A little history lesson, from History concerning the origins of many of these ideas – the Roman celebration of Saturnalia:

Saturnalia, the most popular holiday on the ancient Roman calendar, derived from older farming-related rituals of midwinter and the winter solstice, especially the practice of offering gifts or sacrifices to the gods during the winter sowing season.

The pagan celebration of Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture and time, began as a single day, but by the late Republic (133-31 B.C.) it had expanded to a weeklong festival beginning December 17. (On the Julian calendar, which the Romans used at the time, the winter solstice fell on December 25.)

This is a form of syncretism whereby the dominant religion – Christianity – co-opted or appropriated the times and rituals of pagan celebrations in order to convince pagans over to Christianity. After all, the word Easter comes from Eostre – the Germanic goddess of dawn who is celebrated during the Spring Equinox. It’s not just the tining of these two Christian ritual celebrations that was stolen.

During Saturnalia, work and business came to a halt. Schools and courts of law closed, and the normal social patterns were suspended.

People decorated their homes with wreaths and other greenery, and shed their traditional togas in favor of colorful clothes known as synthesis. Even slaves did not have to work during Saturnalia, but were allowed to participate in the festivities; in some cases, they sat at the head of the table while their masters served them.

Instead of working, Romans spent Saturnalia gambling, singing, playing music, feasting, socializing and giving each other gifts. Wax taper candles called cerei were common gifts during Saturnalia, to signify light returning after the solstice….

Saturnalia was by far the jolliest Roman holiday; the Roman poet Catullus famously described it as “the best of times.” So riotous were the festivities that the Roman author Pliny reportedly built a soundproof room so that he could work during the raucous celebrations….

Before the end of the fourth century, many of the traditions of Saturnalia—including giving gifts, singing, lighting candles, feasting and merrymaking—had become absorbed by the traditions of Christmas as many of us know them today. [My emphasis]

To give some further information on Christmas trees:

Long before the advent of Christianity, plants and trees that remained green all year had a special meaning for people in the winter. Just as people today decorate their homes during the festive season with pine, spruce, and fir trees, ancient peoples hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows. In many countries it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness.

Indeed, the “Christmas” tree is appropriating cultural ideas from ancient Egyptians, the Romans, and Druids. Of Christmas bells, The History Junkie tells us:

Like many of the traditions around Christmas, bells were first used in pagan winter festivals with the purpose of protecting the people of the city from evil spirits. As Christianity gained influence the use of bells changed from a pagan purpose to a Christian one. The infamous St. Patrick would often use bells to signify the beginning and end of his lessons.

The claims of Pokorsky are, indeed, precisely wrong. You could literally use his article as an argument against Christian Christmas. It’s really quite delicious, like a Saturnalia feast.  

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...