I have this story I tell people about Charlie Daniels and me, and it goes back to when I first arrived in Nashville, over 25 years ago. My first job was as a lowly little editorial assistant at a weekly entertainment trade magazine. I’d been on the job all of one week when for some reason they asked me to cover a press conference for Volunteer Jam, which some folks may remember as the big annual multi-artist music event Daniels staged in Nashville every year. It was a really big deal, and I’m not sure why I was sent to the press conference, except probably no one else was available and no doubt they just expected me to pick up the press kit with the list of that year’s artist lineup and sponsors, and then come back to the office to hand it over to one of the “real” reporters.
But of course this was my first press conference of any kind, ever. And what do reporters do at press conferences? They shout questions! Of course they do, that’s what they do in the movies, right? So instead of keeping my yap shut I shouted out to Charlies Daniels what I thought was an appropriate “question” for my entertainment trade magazine. With TV cameras rolling, and radio reporters holding up their mics, I shouted out to Charlie Daniels, “who is the promoter?!”
I mean hey, sounded like a good question to me, right?
And swear to God, Charlie Daniels looked at me, sneered, and said: “Yer not from around here, are ya?”
Swear. To. God. Could we be a bigger cliche of a Southern redneck asshole?
In my one week on the job I hadn’t yet learned that Charlie Daniels had an in-house promoter which produced every Volunteer Jam, and had been doing so for years. Ah well, then there is such a thing as a dumb question. My bad. But you didn’t have to be such a jerk about it, dude.
So fast forward a couple decades and I’m no longer a lowly editorial assistant, I’m writing for some bigger magazines and somehow they got my address and now I’m one of the thousands getting a Christmas card from the guy who so graciously welcomed me to Nashville so many years ago. Ain’t that a laugh.
Daniels’ Christmas cards have gotten more Jesus-y every year. This year, if you can read the message, he ends with, “May the peace of Almighty God rest on your home and family as we celebrate the Birthday of the Savior of Mankind.” It closes with a hearty, “Happy Birthday, Jesus!”
This is a huge pet peeve of mine, because December 25 is not Jesus’ birthday. The date is nowhere in the Bible, and such as the historical person Jesus existed, there is no record of his birth date. But December 25 is conveniently located on the calendar near the winter solstice and the Roman Feast of Saturnalia, so it’s pretty much accepted that December 25 was picked by the early Christian church to make it easier to convert pagans.
Mr. Beale says I’m being pedantic: no one knows Jesus’ actual birth date, so December 25 is the day we have picked to commemorate the event. But I certainly didn’t pick it. Why December 25? Why not March, that’s a month that really needs a holiday! Or, what about August? August really sucks, it’s insufferably hot and boring. It’s my least favorite month of the year. August could use a nice holiday, too.
Before you scoff, the magazine Biblical Archaeology Review says the early church actually suggested August or March as plausible dates for Jesus’ birth:
Finally, in about 200 C.E., a Christian teacher in Egypt makes reference to the date Jesus was born. According to Clement of Alexandria, several different days had been proposed by various Christian groups. Surprising as it may seem, Clement doesn’t mention December 25 at all. Clement writes: “There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the 28th year of Augustus, and in the 25th day of [the Egyptian month] Pachon [May 20 in our calendar]…And treating of His Passion, with very great accuracy, some say that it took place in the 16th year of Tiberius, on the 25th of Phamenoth [March 21]; and others on the 25th of Pharmuthi [April 21] and others say that on the 19th of Pharmuthi [April 15] the Savior suffered. Further, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi [April 20 or 21].”2
The fact that the Bible and the early church record is not at all specific about the date of Jesus’ birth just shows you how unimportant the event was. The big day was always, always Easter. You know, the Resurrection? The Passion? The Bible is very specific about when Easter is celebrated, it’s tied to the Jewish holiday of Passover. For hundreds of years the Christian church could care less about when Jesus was born; it was when he died that mattered. The American Protestant church holds a similar tradition: I have friends born and raised in the Church of Christ (a very conservative Southern Protestant denomination) who tell me when they were growing up, things like Christmas trees were a no-no. You might have a small acknowledgment of the day, but really the Big Deal was always Easter.
So what happened? Well, of course, America’s True Religion – consumerism – asserted its primacy over the faith tradition. It’s kinda hard to consumerize torture and a crucifixion (though lord knows they are doing a masterful job of changing that over at Free Market Jesus Central.) But all of those pagan traditions associated with the solstice — lights, trees, gift-giving, etc. — well let’s just lump those in with Christmas and call it a holiday, shall we? And now we even have a War On Christmas, because if consumerism is our first religion, then surely war is our second. It’s just all so perfect. Or, as the good folks at the Christian Left put it:
And if this seems sacrilegious, well don’t get me started on that whole myth of the “virgin birth” thing. That is a product of a translation error, which turned the Hebrew word for “young woman” into the Greek word for “virgin.” Woopsies.
So with that, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, glorious Solstice, wonderful Kwanzaa or just have a good, relaxing weekend. Whatever floats your boat, because life’s too short to worry about which December holiday is the baddest ass on the block.
I’m kind of busy this week, so blogging may be lighter than usual … or not, you know me. I can’t quit you. Just keep it merry, everyone!