'Tis The Season

'Tis The Season Cover Image

John R York

December 15, 2023

Reflections of Christmas

Christmas is regarded as a special time of year characterized by joy and happiness by billions of people around the world. In the United States and many other countries, Christmas is a formal holiday. But not everybody looks forward to celebrating this special day. There are several countries where Christmas is not observed, including many in the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia.

As I thought about Christmas this past week, and the meaning of Christmas, I realized that it needs to be considered in three different contexts: religious, secular, and commercial.

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of a Jewish boy who was thought to be the anointed one. It happened in a small, walled outpost of a town in an area that is now known as the West Bank. Ironically, this is a piece of real estate where humans have been invading, conquering, persecuting, and killing each other from the beginning of time.  Does this seem a bit cynical? Probably not the way a good Christian would describe this seminal event.

In the Christian faith, Christmas is the commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ, a time of hope and joy in the belief that God came into the world in the form of a man to atone for the sins of humanity. The jingle bells and stocking hung in a row came much later.

I think just about everyone knows that Christmas is, at its roots, a religious festival. It wasn’t until the fourth century that “the church” chose the date for Christmas to be December 25, which also happens to be exactly nine months after the Mary was told by the archangel Gabriel, according to the Gospel of Luke, that she was going to have a baby who would be the Son of God.

Predictably, significant disagreements eventually occurred over these ecclesiastical proclamations. Obviously, many of the Jews remained unconvinced that Jesus was the Son of God. Even some of the Christians didn't agree on the details. The Eastern Christian Churches decided to celebrate Christmas on December according to their older Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar. According to the Julian calendar this date corresponds to January 7. Several centuries later, the Muslims, while they do believe in Jesus, didn’t think December was the correct date of his birth either. They decided it was more likely sometime in the Fall, but they don’t celebrate the birthdays of religious figures. So, no Christmas in Islam.

The tradition of giving gifts at Christmas time began with our pagan rituals. Those crazy pagans really knew how to have a good time, and the guys in charge of Christianity in those days knew it would be useful to fold some of those pagan rituals into Christmas. They could say, for example, that the tradition of bearing gifts began with the Magi – you know, the Three Wise Men. They came bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh. You’ve got to admit that gold is a pretty nice gift, but the frankincense (which is incense) and the myrrh (an embalming oil) are kind of weird. But in those days, I guess they were cool gifts.

You may have heard the term “wassailing”. Wassail is spiced wine or ale. That’s what people did in the old days. They went wassailing on Christmas Eve and on the Twelfth Night – they were partying, trying to get the rich people to give the poor people some brewski. By the 1800s, gift giving focused more on children to be given by various versions of Santa Claus.  There was Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, Babbo Natale, Papa Noel, and Sinterklaas, to name a few. A poem by Clement Clarke Moore came out in 1820, which eventually became known as “ ‘Twas the Night before Christmas”. Thus, the secular version of Christmas began to evolve.

A lot of people, including me, thought that the use of “Xmas” was a deliberate attempt to take the Christ out of Christmas as a way to de-emphasize the religious aspect of the holiday. (Damn heathens!) In fact, Xmas has been a common abbreviation for Christmas as far back as the twelfth century. You see, the ‘X’ comes from the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of the Greek word Christos, which means “anointed”. Get it?

Nevertheless, it’s true that many people today don’t pay much attention to the religious connection to Christmas. For many millions, Christmas is a time for joy and merriment, a good reason to indulge in general-purpose pagan hedonism. Families gather together, conifer trees are decorated, lights are affixed to the outside of houses, parties and feasts are planned, and the mind-boggling buying frenzy commences.

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of modern-day Christmas is the amount of money that is spent each year - $886.7 billion in 2021, just in the US. The average American spends around $800 on gifts, food, and decorations. Businesses begin priming the spending orgy as early as October. In the United States, Thanksgiving is considered the official kickoff for revving up the holiday spirit. There are nearly 10,000 Christmas songs worldwide, more Christmas movies than anyone could watch in a lifetime (by October, Paula is chomping at the bit to begin watching them), and approximately 2 billion Christmas cards are sent every year in the US.

Even the stock market benefits from Christmas. It’s called the Santa Claus effect and can often result in a one to two percent increase in market performance in the last five trading days of the outgoing year and the first two trading days of the incoming one. Ah, capitalism!

Unfortunately, Christmas is not a joyous time for everyone. There are many people who are down and out and can’t afford to participate in the holiday merriment. There are people who have lost their job, who were recently divorced, are mourning the loss of a loved one, or suffer from a plethora of mental and physical health issues. They may be sitting out Christmas on the sideline. There are also Grinches, but it’s hard to feel bad for them.

Christmas also brings out the goodness and generosity in many people. Fortunately, there are several organizations in nearly every community who invest a lot of energy trying to help those who need a hand. It’s uplifting to help others, but it is also difficult to discover just how many people are in trouble. If there is a single point of unity in the Christmas spirit, whether religious, secular, or commercial, I hope it’s the inclination to be generous in one’s attitude toward others and to invest a little time to spread Christmas joy where it’s most needed.

Those are my thoughts about the holiday season. I hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday, whatever it is that you celebrate. Be good to each other.

Speaking of Gifts

Perhaps some of you are still trying to decide what to give someone for Christmas. Well, a book makes a mighty fine gift They are small, relatively inexpensive (mine are all priced under $20), and they're easy to wrap. What else can you give to someone under $20 that provides them with the means to take a trip without leaving their chair? 

The ebook versions of many any of my novels are now on sale at 50% off at They are the largest distributor of ebooks for self-published authors in the world. This sale began on December 15, 2023, and ends on January 1, 2024.

So, as they say on TV, act now! If you read books on Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook Book, IPad or IPod, or many other platforms, then this is the ideal time to cash in on the sale. Just $3.99 for any of my books. 

Also, I just checked on Amazon, and my romance, ghost story, murder mystery, Billy Bean's Ghost, is on sale right now. The paperback version is only $8.50 - half off! You can also order the audio book version for $17.46. 

Merry Christmas Everyone!

The Picture

The picture at the top of this blog is part of our holiday decorations for the front of our house.