THE TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS (AND SATAN)
Yes, gather the children around the hellfire and put the chestnuts on, because I’m going to explain the true meaning of Christmas. The tree part, at least.
It’s pretty simple, so this won’t take all that long. But it’s bound to leave some people pissed off, which as it turns out is exactly what I wanted for the holidays.
Tabitha and I visited Christmas In the Park a few hours ago, this year converted to a drive-through attraction for viral safety. And yes, our own little Satanic spruce is there, decked with boughs of unholly.
Most of the public loves our contribution. But every year, invariably, someone asks why Satanists would want a Christmas tree anyway?
But I think that’s the wrong question. We’d be better off asking, why does ANYONE want a Christmas tree? Other than to ensure that the landfills all smell pine-fresh come January, that is.
Britannica suggests that the modern Christmas tree has its roots in pagan rites: “Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans, and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens.”
But the recognizable, modern Christmas tree probably grew out of the “paradise trees” of West Germany, hung with fruit to symbolize Original Sin and with lights to represent Jesus’ light in the world. If ever any party needed more booze in the eggnog this is it, but I digress.
TIME traces the Christmas tree to European church traditions, but suggests it may have served as a winter equivalent of a maypole, that most phallic of all pagan Wicker Man accoutrements (other than Christopher Lee himself).
Many popular anecdotes credit the western Christmas tree practice to Prince Albert, “so much so that by 1861, the year of Albert’s death, it was firmly believed that this German prince had transplanted the custom to England with him.” Given that his other big cultural legacy is an elaborate genital piercing, truly a man for all seasons.
Some die-hard fundies persist that Christmas trees are actually a form of idolatry on account of Jeremiah 10 complaining that “the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe, [and] they deck it with silver and with gold.”
But on Patheos, Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong calls this a “silly argument,” noting that “idolatry comes from the heart.” Which sounds to me an awful lot like an endorsement, but I assume he was going somewhere else with that.
Does it seem strange that so few sources seem to quite agree about this holiday history? Didn’t I promise you some “true meaning” back at the top?
Well, that’s the catch: truth can be subjective. You’re probably not hearing this for the first time just now.
Other religions get off on promising you the answer to everything. But very often there is no one answer; rather, there are millions of answers. Religion, folklore, culture, and tradition are messy, fractious things, sometimes changing radically over just a few years or a few miles.
History is meant to be much more concrete, but most historians will tell you that there is rarely anything like a sound historical record. (Which is actually a big part of why we need historians at all.)
For example, History.com notes that evergreen trees held religious and superstitious significance throughout seemingly all of recorded history. They add, “It was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, and evil spirits.”
Is that what that was? Here I thought my allergies were acting up.
The blog continues: “Winter came every year because the sun god had become sick and weak. […]. Evergreen boughs reminded them that when the sun god was strong, summer would return.”
To be honest, the vagueness of this account makes me skeptical about it; History.com never bothers to cite its sources.
But I do love the IDEA of such a belief: of a god who weakens and becomes vulnerable. These days, conventional gods are always supposed to be perfect, almighty, all-knowing, ominpotent–and who has patience for that bullshit?
Almightiness is paradoxical, unknowable, alien–how is anyone relate to that god? How would it relate to any of us? It’s like praying to the siren noise from that Inception trailer.
By contrast, Satan is fallible, sympathetic, and human–and this turns out to be very lucky for us, in my opinion.
So how can I not find the idea of an ailing god perversely pleasing? Notice the specific language too: it’s not just that the sun is weaker or distant during the winter, it’s “sick.” Pandemic-stricken, perhaps.
But it’s also recovering. Better times will return. And to keep the thoughts of better times alive, you have…a tree.
Why would Satanists want a Christmas tree? Because it’s been a hard year; the future is uncertain; life is unpredictable; our influence finite. The tree represents resilience, shared resources and experience, and happier times.
In many ways, this is not dissimilar to how I think of Satan. Excepting that you can’t get a ten-foot Lucifer for $15 from the Boy Scouts in Alameda.
So of course a Satanic Christmas tree seems very apropos–more so, arguably, than any other tree in the lot, at least in my opinion.
The true meaning of the holidays is…mine. Or yours. We could perhaps compare notes. But either way, we don’t have to be bound by an imagined orthodoxy; Christmas past is mostly just ghosts.