Let's start with the "seasons greetings" vs "merry christmas" cage match. "Seasons greetings" is better for business: it's just a cost-efficient way of saying, "merry christmas, happy hanukkah, happy kwanzaa, happy whatever else we forgot." Besides, since the right overwhelmingly places greater value on corporate revenue than on christian values, it stands to reason that they would support that phrase, doesn't it?
Besides all that, the main thing is that Christmas is PAGAN PAGAN PAGAN! That's right, members of the flock:
Thousands of years before Christianity even appeared, cultures all around the world were celebrating a similar holiday, with many of the traditions that we now associate with Christmas.Now, I know a lot of Christians are discouraged by this sort of narrative because their religion teaches them that they thought of everything first. Well, hey - if they feel slandered by this sort of thing, they can always call the ACLU.
What these cultures celebrated was the Winter Solstice, or the shortest day of the year. This usually occurs on December 21. For various reasons, ancient cultures celebrated this holiday at different times in December or early January.
Why did these many cultures celebrate the Winter Solstice? Because from here on the days will get longer and warmer. It is a holiday of optimism, that the sun will win in its battle over darkness. It is also a holiday of rebirth and fertility, for the lengthening sun will eventually allow farmers to plant their crops. Light is an intrinsic part of most of these celebrations, whether it be sunlight, candles, bonfires, Yuletide logs or today's Christmas lights. Not for nothing do most cultures start their New Year about this time.
The first evidence that we have of a Solstice celebration is Mesopotamia from 4,000 years ago. Solstice celebrations have been found in every part of the ancient world, from China to Native America.
The Solstice celebration that Christianity drew on was the Roman holiday Saturnalia. During these celebrations, people suspended all work and indulged in great feasts and drinking. They decorated their homes with greenery of all sorts (for greenery was the product of sunlight, of course). This ranged from wreaths made of laurel to trees adorned with candles. Gifts were sometimes exchanged, especially with small children. But the most interesting aspect of the holiday was the reversal of social order. Wars were suspended, quarrels forgotten, debts forgiven. Slaves exchanged places with their masters, and children became head of their families. In fact, the Romans went so far as to crown a mock king "the Lord of Misrule." The holiday, needless to say, was extremely popular with the people.
In 274 A.D., the Roman Empire was still "pagan" (that is, not yet Christianized). In that year, the Emperor Aurelian proclaimed that December 25 would be the birthday of the "Invincible Sun."
In 336 A.D., Emperor Constantine Christianized this holiday, proclaiming it to be the birthday of Jesus. The date is almost certainly wrong; the Bible doesn't say when Jesus was born. However, it was most likely in spring, the only time that ancient shepherds ever watched over their flocks by night.
It is interesting to note that as Christmas spread throughout Europe, it absorbed the Winter Solstice customs of other countries. For example, when Christianity spread to Scandinavia, it found Scandinavians celebrating the Winter Solstice with Yule logs, mistletoe, holly, legends about elves, and Yule goats who carried presents from the gods.