For all of the mushy-headed Fox viewers out there who take the comical "war on Christmas" meme seriously enough to get worked up over, it is worth pointing out that what is now celebrated as the birthday of Jesus is actually an amalgam of traditions from a pantheon of pagan winter festivals that predate Christianity—after all, the Bible is silent on the date of Christ’s birth, and most biblical scholars place it in the springtime rather than the dead of winter. Further, early Christians had no tradition of celebrating Christ’s birth—either in winter or the spring.
For instance, the Norse pagan festival of Yule is likely the source of the Christmas tree. For ancient north Europeans, evergreen trees (maintaining life year-round) appeared to have mystical life-giving properties. So they brought evergreen boughs into their homes, later decorating them with silver and gold ornaments. The Yule log was burned through for 12 days after Christmas. These were later incorporated into the Christian celebration of the birth of their own sun God, Jesus, whose birthday was decreed to be December 25 by Pope Julius I in 350 AD. It is widely acknowledged that this date was chosen to compete with, and undermine the popularity of competing festivals by other sun God cults, including the Persian sun God of Mithra and the Roman God of Saturnalia, both on December 25. Also around this time were celebrations of the Mesopotamian God of Marduk's conquering of the forces of chaos and the Greek God of Zeus' renewed annual battle against the Kronos and the Titans.
The Roman festival of Saturnalia was the immediate progenitor of Christmas. For centuries, the Romans celebrated a weeks-long Bacchanalian festival of food, sex, wine and raucous behavior in honor of Saturn, the Roman God of agriculture. The aim was to appease Saturn in order ensure a good harvest for the coming year. Naked singers went from house to house, thus begetting the tradition of caroling. Meanwhile, the least favored citizens of the empire were forced to bring offerings to the emperor, thus the tradition of gift-giving. The celebration expanded from December 25 to a week, as the people of Rome engaged in wild sex orgies, naked drunkenness and random raping for the duration of the official holiday.
Santa Claus is the clearest example of amalgamated pagan solstice festival traditions (with a touch of 20th century commercialism). Nicholas was the bishop of the town of Myra in Turkey in the 4th century CE (and one of the senior conveners of the Council of Nicaea of 325 CE, which determined what would and would not be included in the Roman Bible). A cult emerged around his person as someone who brought gifts to the less fortunate residents of the city. Roman sailors brought the the cult to Italy, and it spread to the north where it was ultimately fused with the feared pagan God of Odin or Wodon—a wizened Norse God who rode his horse in the sky to keep watch on the activities of mortals below. The Catholic Church merged the Christian crusader myth of Nicholas with Wodon to make Christianity appealing to the Germanic pagans.
Thus, the gift-giving, reindeer-riding, North pole-dwelling St. Nicholas was born in the 19th century. The image of the bright red and white coat came from a 1931 advertising campaign of the Coca Cola company, whose executives insisted on the red and white scheme of Santa, which they hoped would promote the Coca Cola product. Thus, the modern-day image and story of St. Nicholas.
Today, Christmas is literally celebrated around the world. Although the bulk of the celebrations are concentrated in Christian countries, Christmas is celebrated by non-Christians as well.
If a Muslim (and Hindu and Buddhist and atheist) nation of people celebrates Christmas as a secular holiday, this shows that Christmas truly is, once again, a secular festival. Non-Christians have borrowed Christmas back from the Christians. Just as it should be.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!