There’s More to Christmas Than We Think

Bartolome Esteban Murillo, “Adoration of the Shepherds”


’Tis the season for rightwing politicians to gin up Christian resentment against cultural elites for (so they claim) engaging in a war against Christmas. So ’tis the season to share once again a poem by my father, along with my commentary, which attempt to bring some sanity to the issue. Scott Bates observes that many of Christmas’s most iconic symbols have actually been imported from other religions.

In the past there has been furor over a scene placed in front of a courthouse in Henderson County, Texas and a lawsuit filed in Santa Monica, California. But let’s hear from the latest entry into this phony controversy. Here’s our president-elect:

When I started 18 months ago, I told my first crowd in Wisconsin that we are going to come back here some day and we are going to say, “Merry Christmas: again. Merry Christmas. So, Merry Christmas everyone. Happy New Year, but Merry Christmas.

My father starts with the fact that Christianity, like all religions, is syncretistic—which is to say, it is an amalgamation of rituals and symbols, some articulated by inspired individuals (Jesus and his followers), some taken from earlier religions.  Another way of putting this is that every religion is a symbol system that human beings employ to come as near as they can to the (ultimately unknowable) mind of God. The universe will always have mysteries that we cannot penetrate, and humans use whatever materials—whatever symbols—are at hand to do what they can.

Devout followers may deny the affinities between the crucifixion of Jesus and the dismemberment of the Egyptian god Horus or overlook the fact that Jesus was probably not born in December, the time of the winter solstice and the Roman feast of Saturnalia. After all, they like to believe their religious symbols are “pure.” Examined carefully, however, Christmas proves to be more inclusive than they think.

Christmas at the Courthouse

By Scott Bates

The wise-men are Egyptian,
The virgin birth, Antique;
The evergreen is Roman
The manger scene is Greek;

T’is the Saturnalian Season
When solar gifts are cool,
So Happy Birthday, Horus!
From our Multiculture School.

If Bill O’Reilly at Fox News and Donald Trump were to embrace such an open version of the Christmas story, maybe we wouldn’t be having all these battles. Then again, maybe they want people of other faiths to feel excluded.

Fa la la la la.

Other Christmas Poems by Scott Bates

Christmas Bird Count from Santa’s Sleigh

Where are the Games of Yesteryear 

Moving towards Death’s Doorway 

No Room for Them in the (Holiday) Inn 

The Animals Are Trying to Warn Us

Holly & Ivy Dance to the Music of the Moon

Night before Christmas on the Moon

Move with the Wind, Sleep under the Snow

Midwinter Transformation: A Poem

An ABC of Children’s Books

The Divine Comedy, Doggerel Version

Books Unleashed in Christmas Carrels

Epiphany Sunday and the Arabian Nights

Epiphany from a Camel’s Point of View

A Roc for Christmas (Annual Bird Count)

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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