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Posted at thenewsleaders.com

August Berkshire, President Minnesota Atheists, Minneapolis

Ron Scarbro claims “One of the tenets of Christianity, thankfully, is tolerance.” He then spends the rest of his column berating atheists and pagans. (Newsleaders, Sartell, Opinions, “So this is Christmas - peace and goodwill to all!” Dec. 12).

Christmas is not to be found in the Bible. Judging from the nativity story, the birth of Jesus would have occurred in the spring. (Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate Christmas.) The earliest reference to Christmas being celebrated on Dec. 25 - the winter solstice in the old Julian calendar - was in Rome in 354. In 380, the Roman emperor Theodosius ordered all pagan temples to be destroyed and forced pagans to accept Christianity.

Pagans had celebrated the winter solstice as the birth/rebirth of their sun/savior gods. It was so popular the early Christians could not stamp it out, so they co-opted it for the birth of their god. However, all the fun parts of the celebration are pagan in origin: gatherings of families and friends, feasts, gift-giving, lights, music, decorated trees and more.

In fact, the Bible states, “Learn not the way of the heathen... For the customs of the people are in vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest... They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.” (Jeremiah 10.2-4)

 

 

From 1659 to 1680 the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony prohibited the observance of Christmas: “Whoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas and the like, either by forbearing labor, feasting or any other way upon such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for each offense five shillings as a fine to the country.”

The U.S. Congress was in session on Dec. 25, 1789, and also for 64 of the next 67 years. It wasn't until 1836 that Alabama became the first state to make Christmas a legal holiday. In 1894, Christmas was included in the first group of federal holidays. Previously, Congress often met, and mail was delivered, on Christmas day.

Scarbro wonders if atheists and pagans can be “at least as tolerant as Christians?” We'll do better than that. We'll allow Christians to continue to imagine their god was born on Dec. 25, so long as they don't try to force their religion on the rest of us.

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