Monday, November 01, 2010

Comedy Christians and Pagan hedonists

There are Christians with a sense of humour (I've met some) but the plonkers who've been whingeing that the BBC gave more attention to a bunch of Druids than to them over last weekend clearly don't have one, or they'd realise just how silly they were. The Telegraph reported,
Mike Judge, spokesman for the Christian Institute, said: “I understand the BBC might choose to concentrate on something for one day, but I consider it to be symptomatic of a much bigger problem across the BBC ... They down-play Christianity and up-play paganism which is unreflective of British society. It does create an atmosphere where it’s OK to marginalise Christians.” 
Marginalise? If only!

Hallowe'en (October 31st) is All Souls Eve, the night before All Saints Day in the Christian calendar, when they're supposed to pray for "the departed faithful". The departed unfaithful can go to hell, presumably. What few people realise is that it's another example of the church claiming a much older festival, Samhain, when pagans have always celebrated the coming of winter. The old festivals celebrated around the Northern hemisphere make much more sense than Christian ones, even to those of us who aren't religious, because they mark solar and seasonal events, which had real significance for our forebears. When you were dependent on the sun's warmth and the weather for your survival, pre-modern conveniences, it was natural to mark the special days in the solar calendar with festivals.

The main solar festivals were the midsummer and midwinter solstices (the longest and the shortest days) and the spring and autumn equinoxes, when night and day are of equal length. The Christians, realising that they couldn't stamp out the old ways, simply made up stories to fit them. So the midwinter solstice, which is on 21st December, became Christmas. The early Christians didn't celebrate it at all for the first four centuries, and the Puritans under Cromwell banned it, but people would insist on enjoying themselves in midwinter anyway.

Then there's Easter. Some say that the name comes from a pagan goddess, Eostre or Ostara, but apparently she was invented by Grimm. The egg is a symbol of fertility, and people have been celebrating the arrival of Spring and new life, when crops started growing again and animals started breeding, since long before the Christians decided it was when Jesus was crucified. Christians and pagans each had their own myths and I really couldn't care less, but I'd rather celebrate the arrival of Spring than a death.

So far, the Christians haven't managed to spoil the midsummer solstice with their silliness, and they don't seem very interested in the autumn equinox, but give them time...

The midwinter solstice festival is much older than Christianity. It's been celebrated in the Northern hemisphere as the festival of the death and rebirth of the sun, when people drank and ate to excess, masters and servants swapped places, and so on - feasts and parties! I bet the BBC won't mention that though, for fear of upsetting those Christians who insist on carping on about "the real meaning of Christmas". Killjoys!

Photo (c) M Nelson - Midwinter sunset.

Postscript: This post was edited after I was criticised for a creative explanation of Easter. Regardless of my casual disregard for the history of the Easter goddess myth, my point was that the Christians have no exclusive claim to any of these festivals, which have been celebrated in different ways at different times. The 21st century versions seem to be more commercial than anything else, which is extremely irritating.


Margaret said...

The BBC responded to the complaints - "We will continue to explore and explain the background to the events that our audiences celebrate - no matter what their religion might be - and will do so without downplaying anyone's personal beliefs."

whiskeyforaftershave said...

I think I mentioned on twitter what a great post this is. But I think the name Easter does come from a fertility goddess: Astarte, also known as Diana (coincidentally...) She's the 1 who gets a star turn in the Book of Acts

Margaret said...

Merry Midwinter, whatever you call it!