Trees are being decorated, presents are being purchased, and carols are being sung. The holiday season tends to bring out the worst and best of the United States' (and the rest of the world's) capitalistic culture, and this year's festivities are being compounded by occurrences such as asinine statements from Presidential candidates and budding domestic and international warfare.
Unbeknownst to many, Christmas' origins are actually not rooted in Christianity or the bible, as ancient civilizations were celebrating winter centuries before Jesus' birth. The earliest of these celebrations occurred with the Norse people in Scandinavia. They celebrated a holiday entitled "Yule" from December 21, the winter solstice, through January. As a part of celebrating life and good fortune during this holiday, fathers and sons would bring home large logs and feast until they burned out.
Ancient Romans' winter celebration was known as "Saturnalia" -- a holiday in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. This celebration would begin each year during the week leading up to winter solstice and would continue for a full month. The festivities consisted of plentiful amounts of food and drinks, and the civilization's social order was turned upside down as slaves became masters for the month.
Along with celebrating Saturnalia, members of Rome's upper class often celebrated the birthday of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun, on December 25. It is believed that this day was considered by this group to be the holiest day of the year.
As Christianity began to spread widely during first century AD, it challenged many Pagan traditions in the Roman Empire. Jesus' birthday remained a mystery, as the Bible made no reference to an exact date. And although some evidence suggests that his birth may have occurred in the spring, Pope Julius I chose December 25. It is theorized that this date was chosen in an effort to resonate with the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival.
In addition to his date of birth, Jesus' ethnicity is another characteristic of his existence which is widely questioned, despite the fact that he was born in the Middle East. While the majority of Christianity depicts him to look like Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall, much evidence supports the notion that his complexion was much darker. These uncertainties and inaccuracies within Christianity should however certainly not be surprising to anyone, especially considering the church's history.
Like the actual celebration of Christmas, Jesus' lone competition for attention during this time of year also has roots in ancient civilizations of Europe. Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, was a Turkish archbishop who died in fourth century AD; and the anniversary of his death became known as "Saint Nicholas Day." From that point, on December 6 of every year, "good" children would awake to gifts from the kind saint, while "bad" children wouldn't receive anything - a tradition that has remained quite imprinted in our current celebration of Christmas. 1,500 years later, in true American fashion, a seminary professor named Clement Clark Moore poached and reconstructed the story of Saint Nicholas into the hyper-sensationalized and capitalistic tale and celebration that we currently experience.
In 1822, Moore wrote a book of poems entitled The Night Before Christmas about a saint named Santa Claus who was pulled by a herd of reindeers and went down chimneys with gifts for children. And ironically, just like Jesus, Santa Claus' appearance was in question. As a result, in 1863, political cartoonist Thomas Nast depicted his white, rotund and bearded version of Santa Claus which now reigns supreme as the standard across the world.
During this year's "most wonderful time," it is even more imperative that we be mindful of our past and present as the sometimes biased and misinformed decisions made by our predecessors have had a profound impact on our lives.
As black men continue to be unjustly killed by police; as citizens and residents continue to lead mass murders in our cities; and as our country uses its power and wealth to bomb and kill innocent people in foreign countries - let us recognize these occurrences, their roots and the way that our present actions and words may impact the future of human culture.
I fully support President Obama and most of his stances and decisions during his two terms, but there was a remark made in his recent oval office address on ISIL that I vehemently disagree with. In the address he said, "[America] has been at war with terrorists since Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11."
While this may be one of the most recent and patriotic examples that he [and his speechwriter] thought to be appropriate, the reality is that our country has been fighting terrorists much longer than 14 years.
In April 1995, a 26 year old White man named Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma that left 168 people dead and hundreds more injured.
Last month in New Orleans, several African-American men fired as many as 70 bullets into a crowd of about 500 people at a local playground, seriously injuring 17 people.
Since 1866, an organization known as The Ku Klux Klan has been in existence in the United States and is responsible for an overwhelming majority of the 3,960 African-Americans who were lynched between 1877 and 1950.
One of their most notorious acts of terrorism was their bombing in June 1921 of a district in Tulsa, Oklahoma known as "Black Wall Street." This bombing resulted in the death of more than 300 African-Americans and the burning of over 1,200 African-American homes.
The unfortunate reality is that while we fight terrorists abroad, we simultaneously breed and cultivate them in the United States - and sometimes even outside of the United States. Even members of ISIL were funded and trained by United States instructors in 2012 at a secret base in Jordan as part of covert aid targeting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Perhaps the United States' infatuation with murder and destruction stems from its roots as a nation; since it was founded through terrorism as European "settlers" committed genocide against the Native Americans to establish this great and sometimes oxymoronic country.
As the United States and the long list of other countries bomb ISIL during this holiday season, I reiterate the importance of being mindful.
The irony is that as we currently celebrate a fabricated holiday and the Pope Julius I arbitrarily assigned birth date of Jesus, we are simultaneously bombing and murdering humans in the confirmed area of Jesus' birth.
According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), at least 526 civilians, including 137 children, have been killed in the country since September of this year. And this number unfortunately continues to grow daily, as TIME.com reported as recently as December 14 that 45 civilians, including at least 10 children and 4 women, were killed in strikes that took place in the country on December 13.
Many Christians often ask "what would Jesus do?" and reference a "return of Christ"; but I doubt whatever the circumstance that his first option would be murder and he would most certainly fear a "return" to such a turbulent area.
It is time for us to recognize the inaccuracies and faults within our history and human culture - whether it be in regards to Christmas, Jesus or terrorism - and use this identification as an impetus for improvement. Happy Holidays.