The Truth About Christmas : A Parable

T

Jef­fer­son Baugh de­spised Christ­mas. He hated the in­ces­sant month-long ca­coph­ony of pop-mu­sic-in­fused hol­i­day car­ols that began the day after Thanks­giv­ing and droned on through New Years. He loathed hol­i­day sales and the an­nual cycle of ram­pant com­mer­cial­ism. He scoffed at an­i­mated Christ­mas shows fea­tur­ing doe-eyed chil­dren who found their way home be­cause they be­lieved. And at fif­teen years of age, gifts “from Santa” dis­gusted him. Christ­mas was phony, hyp­o­crit­i­cal, in­sin­cere, and ab­surd.

Jef­fer­son ig­nored the half-dozen stu­dent pre­sen­ta­tions that pre­ceded his own, think­ing of them as so many step­ping-stones on the path to­ward win­ter break—a respite from teach­ers, class­rooms, home­work, and mo­rons wear­ing elf hats and rein­deer antler hair­bands that could not come too soon. A final “Feliz Navi­dad” slide ended Maria Perez’s ag­o­niz­ing pre­sen­ta­tion on Puerto Rican Hol­i­day Tra­di­tions. The sprin­kle of po­lite class­room ap­plause faded. Miss Hamil­ton took a deep breath fol­lowed by an un­in­ten­tion­ally au­di­ble sigh. “Mr. Baugh, what do you have to show us today?”

Jef­fer­son ap­proached the front of the class—not so slowly that he could be ac­cused of stalling, but just slowly enough to in­spire a note of ten­sion in the room. His di­sheveled hair, care­lessly tucked-in shirt, and the hole in the thigh of his well-worn jeans sug­gested that de­spite his many hours of re­search, Jef­fer­son was not pre­pared to de­liver his pre­sen­ta­tion.

But he was pre­pared—pre­pared to meet Christ­mas head-on. Miss Hamil­ton’s “hol­i­day pre­sen­ta­tion” as­sign­ment of­fered the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to state his case against hol­low tra­di­tions and “un-Chris­t­ian prac­tices”—not that he was at all re­li­gious—but Jef­fer­son had armed him­self with facts—inar­guable, in­con­testable, un­de­ni­able facts. What self-re­spect­ing per­son would dare con­tra­dict con­clu­sions de­rived from truth? Jef­fer­son was con­fi­dent of vic­tory over the dark forces of ig­no­rance.

He fum­bled in his pocket for his thumb drive and plugged it awk­wardly into the com­puter at the front of the class­room, dou­ble-clicked, and waited for his pre­sen­ta­tion to launch. His title slide, “The Truth About Christ­mas” shone in stark, white, sans-serif type against an unin­spir­ing gray-to-black gra­di­ent back­ground.

“What the hell does a dimwit like you know about Christ­mas?” heck­led Greg High­land from the sec­ond-to-last row.

“Maybe Santa will bring you a brain this year,” added Bill Hagstrom.

Jef­fer­son smiled. “Don’t worry. I used short words and big text. I’ll try to speak slowly so…”

“That’s enough” in­ter­rupted Miss Hamil­ton, peer­ing over her glasses. Mr. Baugh, please pro­ceed.”

Jef­fer­son in­haled and began. “The Truth About Christ­mas,” he re­cited, ig­nor­ing the fact that every­one al­ready knew full well what his pre­sen­ta­tion was about. He waited an­other awk­ward mo­ment be­fore con­tin­u­ing.

“Today, I’d like to re­veal the true ori­gins of three pop­u­lar Christ­mas sto­ries and tra­di­tions—Christ­mas trees, mistle­toe, and the ori­gin of Santa Claus.”

“How can the ori­gin of Santa Claus be the ori­gin of some­thing else,” in­ter­rupted Jeanne Sharp­ing­ton, but Miss Hamil­ton ar­rested her with a stare and nod­ded to Jef­fer­son to dis­en­gage and pro­ceed.

An image of a log­ging camp faded onto the screen.

“Christ­mas Trees,” he stated, re­peat­ing the cap­tion.

“Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Christ­mas Tree As­so­ci­a­tion, 25–30 mil­lion real Christ­mas trees are sold in the United States every year. It can take as many as 15 years to grow a tree of typ­i­cal height (6–7 feet), but the av­er­age grow­ing time is 7 years.[1]

He clicked to a slide with a big green ques­tion mark on it that fol­lowed the word “Re­spon­si­ble.” “Is it en­vi­ron­men­tally re­spon­si­ble to cut down 30 mil­lion trees every year?

Leav­ing that ques­tion unan­swered, Jef­fer­son clicked again to re­veal an­other ques­tion ren­dered in white text against the dark back­ground. “But most im­por­tant…,” he prompted the class, “What do Christ­mas Trees have to do with Christ­mas?

A photo of The Holy Bible ap­peared.

Jef­fer­son cleared his throat. “The Prophet Je­re­miah con­demned the an­cient Mid­dle East­ern prac­tice of cut­ting down trees, bring­ing them home, and dec­o­rat­ing them as Pagan.

“Of course, those weren’t re­ally Christ­mas trees, be­cause Jesus wasn’t born until cen­turies later, but in Je­re­miah’s time, the ‘hea­then’ would cut down trees, carve or dec­o­rate them in the form of gods or god­desses, and over­lay them with pre­cious met­als.

A scanned image of an open Bible fol­lowed. Jef­fer­son quoted scrip­ture, stretch­ing his arms out and for­ward as if to de­liver his con­gre­ga­tion from un­holy sin.

“Je­re­miah 10:2-4: Thus sayeth the Lord, Learn not the way of the hea­then, and be not dis­mayed at the signs of heaven; for the hea­then are dis­mayed at them. For 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. They deck it with sil­ver and with gold; they fas­ten it with nails and with ham­mers, that it move not.”

Bob Parks in the sec­ond row stood up. “You’re gonna burn in hell, you …”

“Mr. Parks,” in­ter­jected Miss Hamil­ton. “If you….”

“What’s your prob­lem, Parks?” Jef­fer­son protested. “It’s not like I changed what it says in the Bible. If you don’t like that Christ­mas trees are for hea­thens, go see your shrink … or your pa­role of­fi­cer … or go has­sle a priest about it.”

“Stop!” shouted the teacher. “Jef­fer­son, please go on.”

“It wasn’t until 1851 that Pas­tor Henry Schwan of Cleve­land, Ohio dec­o­rated the first Christ­mas tree in an Amer­i­can church. His parish­ioners con­demned it as a Pagan prac­tice. Some even threat­ened him with vi­o­lence.”

The next slide dis­played a clip-art glow­ing light bulb with the word “Con­clu­sions” be­neath it. Jef­fer­son re­vealed his bul­let points one at a time.

 

  • Christ­mas trees dis­re­gard life and waste pre­cious re­sources.
  • Christ­mas trees started as a form of Pagan wor­ship.
  • Christ­mas trees are con­demned by the Bible as “hea­then.”
  • The tra­di­tion of dec­o­rat­ing Christ­mas trees in the US is his­tor­i­cally re­cent.
  • De­spite their pop­u­lar­ity, Christ­mas trees have noth­ing to do with Christ­mas.[2]

Miss Hamil­ton nes­tled her chin into her el­bow-sup­ported hands and closed her eyes.

A cheerful illustration of a smil­ing young man and woman about to kiss in a door­way be­neath a sprig of mistle­toe slid onto the screen. “Mistle­toe,” re­cited Jef­fer­son. “What does mistle­toe have to do with Christ­mas?”

“The story of mistle­toe comes from Norse mythol­ogy.”[3] A comic book Thor char­ac­ter dropped onto the screen.

“Mistle­toe was the sa­cred plant of Frigga, god­dess of love and mother of Bal­dur, god of the sum­mer sun. Bal­dur had a dream of death that alarmed his mother, for should he die, all life would per­ish. Frigga went to the el­e­ments—air, fire, water, and earth—and to every an­i­mal and plant ask­ing them to promise that no harm would come to Bal­dur. All agreed.

“But Loki, god of evil, knew of one plant Frigga had over­looked. Loki made an arrow tip out of mistle­toe and shot Bal­dur dead.

“The el­e­ments tried to bring Bal­dur back to life. Frigga fi­nally re­vived him. Her tears turned into the white berries on the mistle­toe plant, and in her joy, Frigga kissed every­one who passed be­neath the tree on which the mistle­toe grew. She de­creed that no harm should be­fall any­one stand­ing under the mistle­toe. In­stead, a kiss should be given as token of love.”

Jef­fer­son paused to take in the an­noyed faces of his class­mates, and rel­ish his au­di­ence’s cap­tiv­ity be­fore pro­ceed­ing.

Jef­fer­son’s “giant ques­tion mark” motif re­turned. “What does mistle­toe have to do with Christ­mas?” he asked his class­mates.

“Ain’t no­body gonna kiss a dumb-ass like you with­out some sorta ex­cuse,” of­fered Bob Parks.

Jef­fer­son rolled his eyes and smirked as Miss Hamil­ton mo­tioned side­ways to­ward the door with her thumb. Parks marched him­self self-right­eously out of the room.

 

  • Mistle­toe has its ori­gins in Norse mythol­ogy.
  • Mistle­toe is a par­a­sitic plant that’s prop­a­gated through bird poop.
  • Mistle­toe has no con­nec­tion what­so­ever to bib­li­cal Chris­tian­ity.

“Jef­fer­son, ex­actly what is your point?” queried Miss Hamil­ton.

“I have one more topic. If you’ll let me fin­ish, I’ll get to the con­clu­sion when I…”

“Okay … okay, con­tinue,” urged the teacher. De­spite her wish to move on, Miss Hamil­ton rec­og­nized that Jef­fer­son Baugh had—un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally—done his re­search, de­signed his slides (even if they weren’t very good), and ar­rived on time to de­liver his as­sign­ment.

A jolly, red-faced Saint Nick ap­peared on-screen. “Santa Claus,” Jef­fer­son began, “is per­haps the most in­ter­est­ing Christ­mas story of all.”

“Poor Santa,” sighed Haley Mar­tin.

“Leg­end has it that Santa and his out­fit were de­signed by Coca Cola. He made his first ap­pear­ance in early-20th cen­tury ads, and this de­fined the way he looks today.

“But Santa’s ori­gins go back far­ther than that.” Jef­fer­son paused for dra­matic ef­fect.

“Santa’s red robe and his bag of good­ies, his sleigh, his fly­ing rein­deer, and his com­ing down the chim­ney all began with the an­ces­tral tra­di­tions of the Kam­chadale and Ko­ryak in­dige­nous peo­ples of Siberia.” Jef­fer­son evis­cer­ated the pro­nun­ci­a­tions of the names of the tribes, but Miss Hamil­ton thought bet­ter of men­tion­ing it.

“At least there’s some truth to this story,” Jef­fer­son in­toned. “Santa re­ally does come from the North Pole!” Jef­fer­son looked at his class­mates and smiled, mis­chie­vously hop­ing they’d find some so­lace in his last rev­e­la­tion be­fore he dropped the boom.

“Have you seen the tra­di­tional red and white mush­rooms in fairy­tale il­lus­tra­tions—toad­stools? Mus­caria mush­rooms lie at the heart of the Santa story. These mush­rooms are poi­so­nous, but when dried out, they’re not dan­ger­ous.”

Jef­fer­son clicked over to a Nor­man Rock­well paint­ing of Christ­mas stock­ings hang­ing over a fire­place. “The tribal shaman” would dry the mush­rooms out by hang­ing them in a sock over the fire. That’s where the tra­di­tion of Christ­mas stock­ings began.”

The next slide fea­tured fly­ing rein­deer pulling Santa’s sleigh across a full-moon sky.

“Rein­deer love to eat mus­caria mush­rooms. The Arc­tic peo­ple ob­served that when rein­deer con­sumed these mush­rooms, they’d leap high into the air and prance around. This is why Santa’s sleigh is pulled by fly­ing rein­deer in today’s ver­sion of the story … and ob­vi­ously, the mush­rooms had some un­usual ef­fect on the rein­deer’s be­hav­ior.”

“When peo­ple saw the fun the rein­deer were hav­ing and tried eat­ing the mush­rooms them­selves, they dis­cov­ered the mush­rooms had pow­er­ful hal­lu­cino­genic prop­er­ties … but the mush­rooms also caused stom­ach cramps—re­ally bad stom­ach cramps. A pic­ture of a toi­let slid onto the screen.

“But some brave per­son ob­served that the rein­deer didn’t have that prob­lem. And if you let the rein­deer eat the mush­rooms first, they’d ab­sorb all the tox­ins and pee out all the hal­lu­cino­gens. Shamans began to get high … by drink­ing rein­deer urine.”

“That’s just gross,” re­marked Haley Mar­tin.

Miss Hamil­ton crossed her arms. “Re­ally, Jef­fer­son, is this nec­es­sary? I …”

“I’m sorry if the story is a lit­tle un­set­tling,” replied Jef­fer­son, “but it’s not like I’m mak­ing this stuff up. I’m just re­port­ing the truth. Isn’t that what aca­d­e­mic re­search is sup­posed to…?”

“And you’re al­most done?” cringed Miss Hamil­ton.

“Yes, Ma’am. Just … just a few more slides.”

Miss Hamil­ton nod­ded.

An­other image of Santa in a red and white robe graced the screen. “When the shaman would go out to col­lect mush­rooms, he’d wear a red and white cer­e­mo­nial robe in honor of the mush­room’s col­ors.

The next slide showed Santa on a rooftop with a big bag of gifts. “He’d col­lect mush­rooms in a large sack along with some rein­deer pee, then re­turn to his yurt—which was sort of like a round teepee or tent where the vil­lage el­ders gath­ered for the cer­e­mony.

Jef­fer­son clicked over to a photo of a mod­ern-day yurt in La­p­land. “What do you do when you live in the Arc­tic and your door is blocked by four or five feet of snow? You climb up on the roof to the hole where the smoke es­capes, and you slide down the lodge pole to get in. That’s where the whole crazy tra­di­tion of Santa drag­ging a bag of gifts down the chim­ney re­ally came from.”

“Ques­tion mark slide!” shouted Bob Dur­mond a mo­ment be­fore Jef­fer­son clicked the re­mote and val­i­dated that proph­esy. The class tit­tered, grate­ful for a note of comic re­lief.

“What does Santa Claus have to with Christ­mas?” con­tin­ued Jef­fer­son as he tried to con­ceal his ir­ri­ta­tion over hav­ing been sec­ond-guessed. He began to re­cite his bul­let points.[4]

  • Santa Claus is a sym­bolic retelling of a psy­che­delic mush­room rit­ual that orig­i­nated with Arc­tic tribal peo­ples.
  • Santa Claus has noth­ing to do with Chris­tian­ity or Bib­li­cal tra­di­tion or Christ­mas.
  • Santa Claus…

“Thank you, Mr. Baugh,” in­ter­rupted Miss Hamil­ton.

“But I …”

“Thank you, but we’re out of time. We have a lot of pre­sen­ta­tions to get through and…”

“But…”

“Jef­fer­son Baugh, please re­turn to your seat. I will see you after class to dis­cuss your pre­sen­ta­tion and your grade. That will be all.”

Jef­fer­son shuf­fled to his desk in the back row, stum­bling over Bob Dur­mond’s ex­tended foot on the way.

In­dig­na­tion over hav­ing been shot down for what he felt was a le­git­i­mate, truth­ful, and well-re­searched pre­sen­ta­tion ban­ished all aware­ness of the ones that fol­lowed. I’m sorry those id­iots don’t like the truth, but they shouldn’t pe­nal­ize me for point­ing out the hypocrisy of their cher­ished lit­tle tra­di­tions.

Miss Hamil­ton pil­lo­ried him after class and called his pre­sen­ta­tion “in­ap­pro­pri­ate” and “in poor taste.” He lis­tened with feigned po­lite­ness, of­fer­ing “Yes, Ma’am”s and “No Ma’am”s in re­sponse to her tirade. Sus­pect­ing cor­rectly that quot­ing Jesus’s edict about “Seek the truth…” would not help his case, he en­dured her lec­ture and fi­nally, with re­lief, walked out of the class­room into halls that had emp­tied of stu­dents for the day.

He donned his jacket, slung his book bag over his shoul­der, and strode out onto the snowy side­walk to begin the half-mile trek home.

Two blocks down, Bob Parks, Greg High­land, and Bill Hagstrom am­bushed him with a bar­rage of slushy snow­balls. Blinded, he could do noth­ing to stop them from hurl­ing his book bag onto a nearby fire es­cape. Bob Parks knocked him down with a blow to his left eye and kicked him re­peat­edly. “That’s from Santa,” said High­land. “Merry Christ­mas. I hope you enjoy your rein­deer piss,” jeered Hagstrom.

Jef­fer­son lay stunned on the pave­ment in the snow and ice as his as­sailants moved on and their voices faded. I won­der if my ribs are bro­ken. He sat up slowly, cleared the snow from his face, and ten­ta­tively opened his good eye.

He made a men­tal note about where his books could be re­trieved from the sec­ond floor fire es­cape, but thought bet­ter of knock­ing on a stranger’s door in his pre­sent con­di­tion. Pulling a pen­cil from his pocket, he scrawled a note and his phone num­ber on the back of an ad­ver­tis­ing flyer, waited for one of the build­ing’s oc­cu­pants to enter, and slip­ping in be­hind her, climbed the stairs to slide a note under the door of the apart­ment that faced the front of the build­ing. I sure hope I get those back.

Tak­ing a last breath of heated air from the apart­ment build­ing’s warm lobby, he en­tered the foyer, opened the outer door, and con­tin­ued down the street, shuf­fling his feet and look­ing down so his swollen face would be less no­tice­able to passers-by.

That’s when he caught a glimpse of it—a green­ish paper cor­ner pro­trud­ing from the snow. He reached down and re­trieved a folded one-hun­dred-dol­lar bill: one hun­dred freak­ing mirac­u­lous Amer­i­can dol­lars—and not one of those phony ad­ver­tis­ing, “ha-ha-made-you-look-piss-you-off” hun­dred-dol­lar bills. This was “legal ten­der for all debts pub­lic and pri­vate.” He slipped the bill into his jacket pocket and shook his head.

Jef­fer­son stepped lightly de­spite his sore side and painful eye. If his “en­light­ened” class­mates hadn’t beaten him, he prob­a­bly wouldn’t have been look­ing down. He would have missed that tiny paper in the snow.

What a won­der­ful irony—po­etic jus­tice. He’d al­ready con­cocted a long list of di­a­bol­i­cal re­venge fan­tasies—vi­o­lent acts he’d in­flict upon his truth-averse col­leagues—but this un­ex­pected boon in­spired an idea. They’d be ex­pect­ing some re­tal­i­a­tion from him. He’d over­look what they’d done and let them look over their shoul­ders for a while—just let those poor stooges won­der when the never-to-hap­pen strike would come. He chuck­led and saun­tered on, pleased with him­self for hav­ing dis­cov­ered his “re­venge with­out re­venge” strat­egy.

Snow fell and stung his cheeks. An icy wind blasted across the side­walk from an ad­ja­cent alley. He zipped his jacket up tight and when the gust sub­sided, he no­ticed a fig­ure in the shad­ows hud­dled be­hind a clus­ter of garbage cans—a shiv­er­ing woman who had wrapped her­self in news­pa­pers to in­su­late her­self from the cold.

Jef­fer­son knew the tem­per­a­ture would con­tinue to drop. He ap­proached the woman. “Miss, take my jacket.”

The woman looked at him through grate­ful tears. “But son, you…”

“I’m al­most home,” he said. “I’m not going to freeze be­fore I get there. You keep warm and safe tonight.”

Jef­fer­son helped the woman slide her arms into the sleeves and pulled up the zip­per. “Thank you, young man. You’re my Christ­mas mir­a­cle.”

“No,” said Jef­fer­son. “I’m just doing what’s right.”

Jef­fer­son nod­ded and hur­ried the last few blocks home. He wanted to get there be­fore he got un­com­fort­ably cold, but mostly he didn’t think it would be right to be there when the woman looked through his jacket pock­ets. That just wasn’t how Santa worked.

[1] http://​www.​rea​lchr​istm​astr​ees.​org/​dnn/​Education/​Quick-​Tree-​Facts

[2] http://​www.​rel​igio​usto​lera​nce.​org/​xmas_​tree.​htm

[3] http://​www.​the​holi​days​pot.​com/​christmas/​history/​mistletoe.​htm

[4] http://​inhabitat.​com/​santa-​and-​the-​shrooms-​the-​real-​story-​behind-​the-​design-​of-​christmas/

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