Christmas Brouhaha – Atheists and Christmas History

Christmas brouhaha – atheists and Christmas history

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to explore the Christmas brouhaha, with the intention of finding peace, balance and happiness.

First a quick update:

“Are Guys Intimidated by Success? Why the Girl Who Has Everything Doesn’t Have a Boyfriend”
Read my quotes as well as my  controversial response to the comments in the article for

“Alec Baldwin and inflated sense of self”
Read my revised list of the Top Ten Celebrity Meltdowns of 2011 which now includes Alec Baldwin who 5 years ago called his 11-year-old daughter, “A thoughtless little pig”, now threw a tantrum on a plane, locked himself in the bathroom after violating FAA regulations and then ridiculed the airline and crew with an SNL spoof where he referred to himself as “An American hero.”

Now, let’s talk about Christmas, Christmas history, the controversy and whether or not there is a possibility to find a balance and peace between religious people and atheists.

For decades, it has been heralded as “the most wonderful time of the year”:

With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer”

o says the popular Christmas song by Andy Williams that dates back to 1963. But the brouhaha about Christmas continues to get louder and louder, with very little cheer.

One example is the famous Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, California where for 60 years Christians had displayed Nativity scenes for a whole city block. But this year, 18 of the 21 displays in the park are by atheists. In fact, churches were granted two of the 21 display sites, and one went to Isaac Levitansky of Chabad Channukah Menorah.

American Athiests Inc. claims they have 37 million members, and ironically, since 1963, the year of the famous song “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

One of their banners on display quotes Thomas Jefferson:

“Religions are all alike – founded upon fables and mythologies.”

Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ birth but not even the churches can agree on the date or year.

The Catholic Church’s official commentary on the New Testament states that “Though the year of Jesus birth is not reckoned with certainty, the birth did not occur in AD 1.” Other religious documents place Jesus’ birthday as March 21st, May 20th, November 18th and September 11th. The modern Armenian Apostolic church continues to celebrate Christmas on January 6th.

So how did Christmas come to be celebrated on December 25th, the day of the Roman feast of the birth of Mithra, the Indo-Iranian Sun God – Sol Invictus (the Invincible Sun)?

Roman pagans celebrated the holiday of Saturnalia, the Winter Solstice. Saturnus, the god of seed and sowing, was honored with this festival from December the 17th to 23rd. The celebrations and festivities included visiting friends, gift-giving, and “Drinking, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping of frenzied hands, an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water—such are the functions over which I preside” wrote Lucian in Saturnalia.

In the 3rd century, the Roman Emperor Aurelian blended Saturnalia with a number of birth celebrations of savior Gods from other religions, into a single holy day, December 25th.

In the 4th century CE, Christianity imported the Saturnalia festival hoping to convert mass numbers of pagans by promising them that they could continue to celebrate the Saturnalia as Christians; eventually in 386 CE, Christian leaders named December 25th, to be Jesus’ birthday and many of the customs of Saturnalia continued on during the celebration of Jesus’ birthday. Accordingly, Christmas and its celebrations were banned by the Puritans and it was deemed illegal in Massachusetts, USA between 1659 and 1681.

Meanwhile, the Jews believe much of anti-Semitism traces back to Saturnalia as the Christian church continued many of its the customs, with claims that “in 1466, Pope Paul II, for the amusement of his Roman citizens, forced Jews to race naked through the streets of the city.” And in 1836, “the Jewish community of Rome sent a petition in 1836 to Pope Gregory XVI begging him to stop the annual Saturnalia abuse of the Jewish community, he responded, ‘It is not opportune to make any innovation.’” (Judaism online: )

A careful study reveals that many of the Christmas customs (the stocking, Santa Claus, his flying reindeers, caroling, and so forth) are of pagan origin but the negative result of the heated arguments for and against Christmas might best be summed up by Richard who writes:

“Christians/Atheists- listen up. You both start this garbage every year like clockwork. Well, guess what? You’re both fringe groups cut from opposite ends of the same narcissistic cloth, and neither of you have any right to ruin this time of year for the rest of us who just want to spend time with family and friends and enjoy the holiday season. Both of you are free to believe, or disbelieve anything you wish. But you don’t have the right to foist your hatred of each other on the rest of us, so grow up, and shut up. You should both be ashamed of yourselves.”

While so many of us have strong beliefs and are often chained by them, maybe our energy would be better spent on reaping the joyous rewards of the intended spirit of Christmas rather than trying to force our beliefs for or against the tradition. In other words, celebrate the spirit of love, joy, friendship and good cheer.

We have commercialized almost every Holiday to the extent that the original intention and meaning behind all of them has gone. Stores now open at midnight on Thanksgiving Day and people line-up and camp out hours before with the hope of snagging some bargains; the opportunity to spend time with family and give thanks is replaced with the desire to get a good deal.

And so it goes for Christmastime; as Richard states, the focus should be to “spend time with family and friends and enjoy the holiday season.” The magic of this time of the year is the opportunity to stop the constant rush and stress of everyday life, to get together with the people that you love, to express appreciation for them, and to give thanks for everything that you have.

From a psychological and behavioral perspective, Christmas Day can be a soothing time because it creates a feeling of community and connection: when time appears to stand still, shops are closed, there is nowhere to rush, we are not thinking or worrying about tomorrow, we all stop on one single day; we get together with loved ones and family, knowing that everyone else across the country is doing the same thing and that the mood, intention and focus is on friendship, love, gratitude, warmth, affection and acceptance. And in that moment, we suddenly notice the small things that really mean a lot.

In every moment, we have a choice and can make true the words sung by Andy Williams:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
It’s the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call
It’s the hap- happiest season of all

No matter what your religious beliefs are or are not, I send you love and blessings and wish you and your loved ones only the best, with the hope that it will be the hap-happiest season of all.

And if you are feeling lonely, read my article and suggestions about “Overcoming Loneliness”.

You can comment on this newsletter  directly below.

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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2 replies
  1. Avatar
    Patrick Wanis says:

    Dear Joe,

    I made no reference to fringe groups; I believe you are referring to Richard’s comments and not mine.
    Of course, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam cannot be viewed as fringe groups (nor can Atheists)- at least not from a global perspective. Below are some approximate numbers for “Major Religions of the World Ranked by Number of Adherents”

    Note: Judaism only accounts for .22% with 14 million and Christianity below incorporates Catholics, Orthodox, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.

    In fact, Judaism is perceived as one of the three major religions of the world but there are more followers for other religions such as Buddhism – 376 million and Hindusim with 900 million followers.

    Christianity: 2.1 billion
    Islam: 1.5 billion
    Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist: 1.1 billion
    Hinduism: 900 million
    Chinese traditional religion: 394 million
    Buddhism: 376 million
    primal-indigenous: 300 million
    African Traditional & Diasporic: 100 million
    Sikhism: 23 million
    Juche: 19 million
    Spiritism: 15 million
    Judaism: 14 million
    Baha’i: 7 million
    Jainism: 4.2 million
    Shinto: 4 million
    Cao Dai: 4 million
    Zoroastrianism: 2.6 million
    Tenrikyo: 2 million
    Neo-Paganism: 1 million
    Unitarian-Universalism: 800 thousand
    Rastafarianism: 600 thousand
    Scientology: 500 thousand

    All the best,

  2. Avatar
    Joe says:

    Interesting that you call Christians a fringe group…the Roman Catholic Christians make up more and 1 billion people worldwide. How many people does it take to not be a fringe group?

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