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Christmas and Commerce
By Carlton U. Forbes
Staff Writer & Columnist
Christmas decoration of a major department store in South Korea

As the final week of the Christmas season gets into high gear, hagglers and hawkers, merchants and bargain hunters are employing every commercial trick to ensure a festive holiday celebration. After months of economic instability, high unemployment, and financial uncertainties, the yearend holiday seems like a great excuse to go a final shopping spree. With the Ho, ho, ho of Santa, and the jingle bells of carolers, the wishes of a White Christmas seem destined to come true for millions of celebrants.

Amidst the bustling commerce, and merriment of the season, some evangelicals are somewhat disturbed by the secular aspects of many Christmas customs. They say the mass of Christ is being corrupted by marketers, and the savior of souls is being usurped by Santa Claus. Consequently, the divine gift is being cheapened, and the Christ Child is being forgotten.

Feeling both disheartened and dismayed by this unsettling reality, many are calling for the restoration of true Christian virtues in the Christmas celebrations. The legend of Santa Claus has overshadowed the pious Saint Nicholas. The season’s festivities and revelries are unsuited for honoring the birthday of the divine child.

In light of this, some are calling for the reclamation of Christmas as a Christian holiday. Others are campaigning for the reinstatement of Saint Nicholas as the patron saint of children and the virtuous gift giver. Mary’s boy-child is the reason for the season; and the gift of God, the sinner’s savior.

Despite the noble intentions of religionist to reclaim this holiday from marketers and merchants, the notions of Christmas having sacred roots in Christianity is debatable. The first reason being, Jesus birth definitely did not occur on December 25th. Moreover, there are no biblical injunctions to honor Christ’s birthday as a sacred memorial.

So, how did the Christ-mass get entangled with the winter festival? The traditions surrounding the sun god Mithras, and Saturn, the god of harvest provide a few clues. Pagans were accustomed to reveling in cultic festivities of Saturnalia, (December 17th to 25th), culminating on Mithras birthday, long before Christ. During the reign of Constantine, Christianity became the official religion of Rome. Eventually, the winter festival was Christianized by the state church, which ascribed sacred significance to them.

Secondly, though Saint Nicholas of Myra is regarded by many as the real person behind the Santa Claus legend, some discrepancies cannot be reconciled with the facts. Indeed, the bishop of Myra was neither a toymaker nor a recluse of the North Pole. Instead, he was a tireless clergy who toiled among his parishioners, meeting their spiritual and oftentimes, material needs.

Also, Saint Nicholas’ feast day was traditionally celebrated on December 6th, not the 25th. Another unsettling fact, Catholic Encyclopedia states the following: “there is scarcely anything historically certain about him except that he was Bishop of Myra.” Evidently, catholic scholars are unable to authenticate much of the fanciful claims and tall tales about the fabled Saint Nicholas.

In truth, the modern Christmas holiday is a hodgepodge of cultural traditions, secular festivals, pagan practices and religious rites. It was not inspired by the biblical account of the Christ-child. Instead, it is an accommodation made by the early church to appease pagans, in hopes of converting them to Christianity. This makes it difficult to put Christ back into a celebration he was never really a part of.

So those who are clamoring for the restoration of Christ in Christmas would be better off ascertaining the actual date of Christ’s birth and start a new Christian holiday. Until then, children will continue giving their wish list to Santa, and manufacturers will promote their wares to consumers. Retailers will sell just about anything to gullible customers in search of that elusive, yet perfect gift to make merry the hearts of their loved ones. For Commerce is the real spirit of Christmas.

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Carlton U. Forbes, who serves as staff writer & columnist for The Seoul Times, currently teaches Global English at Dongyang University in S. Korea's Yeongju City. Among the books he authored are "A Few Choice Words" and "ESL Teaching Aids." A resident of S. Korea for over a decade Prof. Forbes can be reached at






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