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Merry Christmyths

Published:Sunday | December 23, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Dr Orville Taylor, Contributor

Assuming that the world did not end on December 21, 2012, you are reading this column and snickering at the pagan Maya who made the prediction. Laugh as much as you want, but they are also thinking that we are idiots celebrating a feast which is full of myths, ignorance and sheer lies. After all, Christmas is a period of shutting out reality and celebrating in euphoric numbness for a few days.

One of the first myths is that we are celebrating the birth of Christ. Well, that is so wrong because Christ was not born on earth, it is Jesus who was. Christ, which means 'the anointed one', is the name that he took on after his dunking by John the Baptist. The first reference to him being the Christ, which is a title and not a name, came in Matthew 16:16 when Peter declared, "You are the Christ." Nevertheless, that is the least of our concerns. The bigger problem is that we don't even know when he was born.


If you look on the almanac, and some calendars have it, the winter solstice begins this year on December 21, but it varies two days either way. This solstice is when the sun appears lowest in the sky relative to the horizon and has been such a significant event that many cultures have festivals or during this period.

Ironically, the pagan Romans, who killed Jesus, had a celebration along with the attendant tree worship. Christendom's appropriation of it is evidence of 'if you can't beat them, join them'. Thus, Christmas falls in the same category as Easter, when another non-Christian tradition was retrofitted.

The early Church also neatly tried to place conception somewhere in March because, according to Luke 1:26, the visitation of the angel took place when Elizabeth was six months pregnant with John the Baptist. Nevertheless, getting the month is hard enough; it is the year which
befuddles us most.

This is year 2012. Thus, according
to popular lore, it is 2012 years since he was born. Was he born 01 BC,
0000 AD or 0001 AD? But let's not fight over a year, because we have
bigger battles of myth versus truth. Inconveniently for the theologians
who clash with the historians, Herod the Great was born between 73 and
74 BC and died 4 BC. Unless he has been resurrected or had some serious
'sciance', it is impossible for him to have ordered the death of baby
Jesus. Indeed, the census, referred to in Luke 2, occurred somewhere
around 8 BC. Thus, Jesus might very well have been born before he was
born. Well, he is God himself, so he can do the

We also think he was born in a stable, but
there is no such biblical reference. He was placed in a manger, which
is a feeding trough for herbivores. In fact, there are references in
Matthew to him being in a house when the Magi went to visit

And how did the jackass get into the picture?
Somebody placed Mary on a donkey and an old carol makes it true.
However, we need to get the ass out of the story because the Bible
didn't say so, and in any event, if you ever rode a donkey, you would
know that Jesus would have been born in a saddle, which is fastened with
the donkey 'kupa'.

Another non-scriptural belief is
that there were three wise men. There were Magi, which means men of
knowledge and secrets and includes magicians. Thus, the words 'magus'
and 'magi' are singular and plural.

And by the way,
they were not kings. We would like to say so because it would make Jesus
King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but they were simply sages and
prestidigitators who bowed down and worshipped him. Wise men seek him,
but up to the present, many kings shun

Nonetheless, although three gifts were brought -
gold, frankincense and myrrh - no reference is made to the number of
Magi, but this little embellishment is rather

Easter more significant

any event, there is no evidence that the Magi went to visit Jesus on
the night of his birth after being led there. Sorry, friends, but the
first set of people who saw him were common shepherds. The visit of the
Magi came long afterwards, and it was subsequent to Herod telling them
to go and find the infant, after he had learned of his

Still, for those who believe, it is not
important when he was born, and in fact, it is only significant that he
was incarnated because he needed to be born in order to die. Easter is
really the most important Jesus date.

Yet, Christmas
is now a true 'babylan' feast, which is only vaguely Christian. The tree
of pagan fame becomes a Christmas tree, and eclipsing Jesus as the main
actor for this winter extravaganza is Santa Claus. This figure is scary
because he is omniscient and omnipresent. We might think it
insignificant, but imagine a big fat red man, who can be in every house
in the four hours between bedtime and Christmas morning and deliver all
kinds of presents to every child. With powers that Jesus Himself did not
show on earth, he doesn't walk on water but he flies a sleigh with
wingless animals and moves faster than the speed of

I am very uncomfortable with teaching my child
or allowing her to believe that anyone apart from God and Satan can know
the deepest of thoughts and monitors her behaviour 24/7. Worst of all,
he is not a black hero, having been sanitised of his black helpers.
Santa is derived from a Dutch saint, Sinterklaas, who, according to
legend, used to ride rooftops from the second century to the Middle Ages
and send out his black-faced helpers called Zwarte Pieten (Black

Interestingly, it is the Petes who got the
information by eavesdropping on the children. Later on, their negative
characteristics were racialised, perhaps explaining why the current
Santa helpers are all white, like him. Up to the 1900s, his feast was
celebrated in the first week of December.

A Coca-Cola

After he crossed into the Americas, a series of
events pushed by Washington Irving's 1809 History of New
, Clement Clark Moore's poem of 1822 gave us the famous

'Twas the night
before Christmas, when all through the

Not a creature was stirring,
not even a mouse.

The stockings
were hung by the chimney with

In the hope that St Nicholas
soon would be there.

marriage between the early December and late-month festivities was

By the 1900s, artist Norman Rockwell and
Coca-Cola had appropriated the image of the fat man drinking its product
and the rest of it is - marketing. This very act of making him a
commercial figure might have been the turning point of him replacing
Jesus. Nevertheless, it is not true that Santa is a pagan figure. More
of a fairy-tale type, he is no more dangerous than the countless
nursery-rhyme characters we teach the children

Still, it is Christmas, and we need a bit of
both. Because the myth of the country progressing is being debunked. The
crime rate is still unacceptably high, and now the Survey of
Living Conditions
indicates that poverty rose in 2010 from 16
to 17.5 per cent and looks ready to grow. There is a fat man with a
white beard, but his is as sparse as the net international

If under the tree there is no International
Monetary Fund present, the resemblance to Santa stops there, and Jesus
help us!

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in
sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to and

A child sits on Santa's lap in New York in the lead-up to the Christmas celebrations. - AP