From me to Yule

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By John Pawlak

With the holidays upon us, it’s a time of celebration, a time of reflection, and of course a time to spend lots of money on gifts that you can’t afford.
For most Americans, it doesn’t really matter if one goes bankrupt in December or March or June.  The year offers ample opportunities to buy dangerous toys for your kids, Elvis Presley lamps for that Aunt you hate, ugly sweaters for your father, and Cadmium-laden Chinese jewelry for the one you love.
But why dwell on the negative aspects of commercialism?  The holiday season is designed to give us all a chance to spend time with our families, maybe a day trip to enjoy the New Mexican scenery, or just sit back and relax for a few days.
At this time of the year, I find myself enjoying the nuances of history, particularly that of holidays like Christmas.  Many people don’t know that Dec. 25 was chosen by the Christian church as a matter of
convenience and opportunity.  Dec. 25 was already an established day of celebration by pagans.  The Roman festival of Saturnalia (worship of the God Saturn) and the “birthday” of Mithra (Persian God) were both on Dec. 25.
These holidays were quite popular and people weren’t about to stop having their annual parties.  They exchanged gifts, lit fires for lighting spectacles, decorated trees, gave to charities, had feasts, and sat with their families to the warmth of the yule log.
Faith is faith, but tradition is tradition.  You don’t mess with tradition!
So the church decided to piggy-back on the holidays and the first official Christmas was celebrated in the year 336.
Many fundamentalists get angry over this, likening Christmas to pagan rituals wrapped in pretty paper.  Well, fundamentally speaking, I’d have to say - Get a life!  It’s a party, guys!  You can honor the spirit of
Christmas and still enjoy a glass of spirits at the same time.
And yes, it’s true that pagan rituals and myths permeate the season.  So what?
Take Santa Claus for example.  The original Ol’ Saint Nick, or Nikolaos of Myra, was born in Turkey in the late 3rd century.  He was generous to a fault with his money.  Stories were told of how he would give this
money secretly, stealing into homes of poor people at night so that they wouldn’t know who was leaving them purses of money.  
The legend grew and Nicholas was even reputed to bringing back to life three murdered children whose bodies had been hacked up and stored in a barrel of pickle brine.
I don’t recall which Christmas song sang about that.  I guess it’s hard to have lyrics that rhyme with murder and pickle.
But the Santa we know today didn’t “fill out” until the 1920s when Haddon Sundblom drew him as a fat man in a thick red felt outfit. Prior to that, Santa looked more like some nasty gaunt elfish character, something you might expect to see at a dinner party thrown by Smeagol.
Gollum!  Gollum!
And even Coca Cola had a hand in the “shaping” of Santa Claus. Sundblom’s Santa looked just a bit jollier and fatter, enjoying a cold fizzy Coke and wishing everyone a very merry bottle of Christmas.
But with or without Santa, you don’t need to be Christian to enjoy the holiday season.  You can dance with the Hopis as they celebrate Soyaluna.  Or make merry on Dong Zhi (“Chinese Thanksgiving”), held this year on the 21st.  Hanukkah ended on the 12th, but why stop the party?  
I never met a loukoumade (honey puff) I didn’t like!
December is full of reasons to party.  Bodhi Day (Buddhist).  Boxing Day (Commonwealth nations).
 Winter Solstice (rebirth of the Sun) is on the 21st, a couple weeks before the perihelion.  Kwanzaa (honoring African heritage) begins on the 26th.  And of course, we have New Year’s Eve.
 Myself, I’m planning on celebrating National Chocolate Day (held each year on the 24th).
Whatever your pleasure, have a wonderful holiday season.  Spend time with family and friends, and remember to drive safe.
And don’t forget to break open those boxes of chocolate on Christmas Eve!
John Pawlak
Los Alamos Columnist