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Location: TUCSON, Arizona, United States

Friday, December 14, 2007

`Tis the season...

Ever wonder why xmas is celebrated on December 25th? It's because that date began the weeklong events of Saturnalia, the Roman yearend festival. That's right. Roman, as in ancient Rome. When xtianity began to flourish in the 4th c. CE the celebration of Jesus' birth was put on the festival day still familiar to the peoples of Europe. If you want make something popular, link it to what's already so. It's still a common advertising practice. Until recently, however, xmas was not a significant date on the xtian calendar. In his detailed 17th c. diary, for example, Samuel Pepy's does not even mention annual activities on December 25th. By "recently," of course, I mean the 19th century. It was in the 1800s that commercial life in the cities began to be the standard, in America as in Europe. Then the gift-giving associated with December 25th appeared as an opportunity for profit. Exchanging cards and presents became popular and around this popularity images ("Santa Claus," borrowed from the German and Dutch "Sankt Nicholas") and mythology (the Bethlehem story) rapidly accumulated. So rants about "losing the true meaning of Christmas" are entirely wrong. "Christmas" as we know it originated as a commercial holiday. To make this even clearer, here's why Thanksgiving is on the 4th Thursday in November: in 1939 President Roosevelt proposed, and Congress agreed, that making it a federal holiday four weeks before xmas would create a lucrative shopping-period for U.S. retailers. And so it has become, children. It's not by chance that the majority of family conflict is now concentrated in the last month of the year...


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