Episode 34: Thank a Pagan for Christmas
In this episode, we look at the real reason for the season and how our holidays began with early humans marking the shortest day of the year in hopes that light would return. Next Douglas talks about actor Wil Wheaton’s recent social media post admitting to his homophobic past and how Humanists and others can follow his current path to be better people then finally we note how some Star Trek fans, in an effort to maintain their bigotry, miss the entire point of Star Trek.
Voice Over 0:00
This is Glass City Humanist, a show about humanism, humanist values by a humanist. Here’s your host, Douglas Berger.
Doug Berger 0:09
In this episode, we look at the real reason for the season, and how our holidays began with early humans marking the shortest day of the year in hopes that light would return. Next I talk about actor Wil Wheaton’s recent social media post admitting to his homophobic past, and how humanists and others can follow his current path to be better people. Then finally, I know how some Star Trek fans in an effort to maintain their bigotry missed the entire point of Star Trek
Voice Over 0:40
Glass City Humanist is an outreach project of the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie, building community through compassion and reason for a better tomorrow. If you live in the Greater Toledo, Ohio area and are looking for a humanist community, then please check us out. You can reach our group at humanistswle.org, or from a link on our website, glasscityhumanist.show.
Doug Berger 1:07
At the time that I’m recording this episode, it is the holiday season. It’s the week of Christmas that everybody knows is December the 25th every year. It’s supposedly according to Christians, it’s celebrating the birth of Jesus. And they talk about the war on Christmas alot. If we don’t say Merry Christmas and say happy holidays, when we try to be inclusive. The fact remains there are many, many different holidays during the end of the year here in the months of November, December and January. All these holidays that are celebrated at the end of the year, are somewhat all interrelated. And so we’re going to talk about that a little bit today. Now, a lot of people want to know, you know, I’m a secular humanist. What kind of holidays can I celebrate? Well, because you’re a secular humanist or a secular person in general, you can celebrate whatever holidays that you want, whenever you want. Since there is no penalty for celebrating the wrong holiday, it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. And we have several secular holidays that are available that I wanted to mention today. The first one is HumanLight. This is kind of an a quasi official holiday promoted by the American Humanist Association. It was developed in I believe in the 90s 1990s by the humanist group in New Jersey, to give a secular purpose or a secular reason for gathering in the month of December, according to the their website, it is to celebrate and express positive humanist ideals and values that include recent compassion and hope. Human light illuminates a positive secular vision. And they do this through the use of symbolism like candles, they have three candles representing reason, compassion and hope. They meet for a meal in most cases, and they talk about positive values, positive things that they expect in the coming year. They also talk about positive things that they’ve experienced in that that year. And so it’s it’s a decent, secular holiday, if that’s what you’re looking for if you’re looking for rituals that are similar to what many people celebrate Christmas. Have at it. HumanLight is normally celebrated around December the 23rd. A lot of the secular holidays are or non Christian holidays are celebrated at different times besides December 25, because they don’t want to encroach on the majority holiday and they want to give people the opportunity who celebrate Christmas to celebrate it. Now. Personally, I celebrate Christmas in that it’s a time for me to get together with friends and family. We exchange gifts. It’s just a time to be festive to be together in a dark doldrums of winter. You know, so that’s what we’re saying on that part. Now, HumanLight isn’t personally my cup of tea but I know some people friends of mine that do celebrate it. And it’s like I said it’s it’s a decent if you’re looking for a Christmas like type of holiday that HumanLight is it and i i highly recommend it. There is a another holiday not so much secular but it’s non Christian. And that is Kwanzaa that is celebrated. It’s normally December the 26th through January the first, it’s an annual celebration of African American culture that is held from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a communal feast called Karamu. And again, it uses the motif of the candles and the light bringing light to winter, in order to
Doug Berger 5:33
brighten the mid the middle of winter, because Winter has begun by this time, and we’ll get to that here in just a minute about the beginning of winter. And so a lot of these holidays, it’s the effort is to bring light into darkness. And so candles are a big motif, like we saw with HumanLight, Kwanzaa, Christmas has a lot of things with lights and candles, etc. And that’s also a good holiday for secular people to celebrate. If you’re, if you are of that culture, if you’re a person of color, or you know, people who are, that’s a good one. It’s a good one for anybody to really recognize and, and, and get into and understanding the different aspects of it because they do they have a whole like seven points that you go through. It’s it’s, it’s good, it’s a good holiday. Another one holiday more so that secular is also the result of a television show. You know, you talk about these like phrases like “AYYYY…” like Fonzie, and things like that percolating into popular culture. That’s what TV shows do and they percolated a holiday into popular culture, and it’s called Festivus. And this is from the TV show Seinfeld that was played moment, mainly in the 90s, late 90s, early 2000, was a comedy show hosted by Jerry Seinfeld. Festivus was a holiday that the character George Costanza’s dad created in order to dissent against the crass commercialization of Christmas. And so it was just it was just a bizarre thing. It was. It’s normally celebrated on December the 23rd. And it was originally created by author Daniel O’Keefe, and it appeared in the Seinfeld episode called “The Strike”, which O’Keeffe son Dan O’Keefe wrote, The non commercial holiday celebration as depicted on Seinfeld occurs on December 23, includes a Festivus dinner, an unadorned aluminum Festivus pole, which you can see here in the graphic I have for you practices such as the airing of grievances, and feats of strength, and the labeling of easily explainable events as Festivus miracles. The episode refers to it as a Festivus. For the rest of us. It’s been described as both a parody holiday Festival, and it’s a form of playful consumer resistance. And I know in my younger days, I had quite a few friends that celebrate Festivus there’s still a few friends that do. And so you know, if you’re looking for an alternative to Christmas, that’s a good one too. You know, all these and I’m not going to bring up all the different holidays, there’s many different because you have like Hanukkah, that’s a purely religious holiday, eight days of Hanukkah. And so you have different religions have different feast days, or holy days, that’s where the, that’s where the term holiday comes from a holy day. And they call it in different things Christmas Festivus, Kwanzaa. And so because we are secular, we could pick and choose whichever holidays we want to celebrate. Now, what all of these holidays emanate from, they all have a common thread that that they emanate from that they come from. And I’m sure you’re probably knowing pretty much what I’m going to mention here and the time that people throughout history even before it was recorded, ancient times from ancient time, probably when the first humans roamed the earth is we’ve been celebrating a particular holiday. In that holiday is the winter solstice and the winter solstice happens around December the 21st, at the time that this episode is being taped, it is December the 21st. It’s been a significant time of year in many cultures and has been marked by festivals and rituals. It marked the symbolic death and rebirth of the sun. The seasonal significance of the Winter Solstice is in the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days. Now, again, we’re talking about light and darkness again.
Doug Berger 10:28
And a lot of early humans feared darkness because darkness was bad. Darkness was bad, because you would be exposed to predators. Winter was bad a lot, especially for people of my persuasion, Caucasians, because we lived in the northern hemisphere of the Earth, where it got quite cold during the winter times, and you would have limited food. And so you would celebrate in order to appease whatever God or our mythical being that you thought would see you through this very dark and dangerous time for the winter, because you never knew you never knew. I mean, even up until modern times, even up until the 20th century, you know, when pioneers went out out back out west, in the wintertime, like in Minnesota, on the plains, and Minnesota and Nebraska, and the winters were harsh and terrible, you didn’t know if you were going to survive. And so people would celebrate this mainly to make themselves feel better appease any mythical beings that they think had any control over their lives. And so a lot of a lot of these holidays or holy days that we have, during the month of November, December and January, emanate from how different cultures celebrated the winter solstice. Now, as secular people we celebrate Winter Solstice, that’s our main thing. We wish people Happy Solstice. We don’t get into the the myth, mythical stuff, the spiritual stuff, as much. Some people do, most people don’t like. Like in this shot here, the graphic I have up is Stonehenge. Many believe it was built to celebrate the solstice. Because if the sun lines up a certain way, and things like that. Now after the winter solstice became big, and cultures evolved, and we had different, different holidays that took place. Of course, the big one that we know of, currently is Christmas, typically celebrated on December the 25th each year, for most religious, Christian religious people, it’s the time to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior of the world that died later on for your sins, etc, etc. But what most people most Christians know, but never talk about is that Christmas is really a co-option of a pagan holiday. Because if you know if you know your history about religious history about Christianity, it was a fringe almost a conspiracy theory type religion back in Roman times, and it wasn’t until one of the Roman Caesars was a Roman emperors were converted to Christianity that many Christians were were killed or put to death by the Roman authorities because they they had the pagan religion and so they would worship plants or animals or, or certain gods or many gods and and have these festivals one of them was called and I’m gonna mangle this Saturnalia which is typically celebrated on December the 17th.
Doug Berger 14:26
Romans love to good party and Saturnalia is no exception. The holiday which fell on December the 17th was a time to honor the god Saturn. And so homes and hearts are decorated with bows of greenery, vines, ivy and the like. The ancient Egyptians didn’t have evergreen trees, but they had palms and palm tree was a symbol of resurrection. If you read your Bible, you would know that and rebirth people often brought the fronds into their homes during the time of the Winter Solstice over time, it’s evolved into the modern tradition of the holiday tree. And the direct link between the pagan holidays. And Christmas, as we know it today comes from Germany is they would get the Evergreen large evergreen trees in their house and decorate it. And then when the Germans emigrated to the United States, they brought that tradition with them. And that comes from the pagan times. But don’t bring that up to some, some evangelical Christians. They don’t, they don’t like to hear that, you know, like Christmas is about baby Jesus, and nothing but maybe Jesus. But history historians and religious historians doubt that Jesus, if he really existed, was born on December the 25th. Well, one because you had different calendars. You had Julian and you had I forget what the other one is, somebody will tell me, but you had different calendars. So you don’t know. The Orthodox Church celebrates January the seventh as the feast day of Jesus. Because that’s according to their calendar. That’s when Jesus was born. There are some accounts that Jesus was probably born in November or October, because of the story, the Bible story, that the shepherds wouldn’t be with their flocks in the in the dead of winter, you know, things like that. If you look at life, well, you don’t want to, you don’t want to look at religion logically. But if you look at it, logically, that’s what it is. So basically, you know, they wanted to convert as many people as they could to Christianity. And so what they did was then they co-opted the pagan rituals like Saturnalia and called it Christmas. So the next time you’re talking to a friend of yours who’s religious, and let them know, Hey, you can thank a pagan for Christmas, they’ll, really appreciate that. And so the reason why I wanted to mention that about thanking a pagan for Christmas, is that one of the historical artifacts of that was that Puritans, and those were the people that came to the United States to escape religious persecution. Wanted to create a theocracy. In the new world here in the in where the United States ended up. And the Puritans these were the people that popular or colonized the Massachusetts Bay area. In 1620, the story about Thanksgiving, the well, the myth about Thanksgiving, that’s involves the Puritans and the Puritans. They live up to their name, they wanted religious purity. That’s why they left England because they couldn’t tolerate any other religions. Ah, yeah, they they were they were dissenters, because they wanted to be more religious. They wanted to be people to be religious like them. And so at this time, in the 17th century, Christmas was celebrated. And it was a time of drunken brawls, debauchery. You know, parties, you know, it was that it was that coming from the Saturnalia, the, the Roman Holiday, the feast and everything, you know, gluttony, everything, all that? Well, the Puritans didn’t appreciate that. And so they actually put a stop to it. They banned Christmas, the celebration of Christmas in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Doug Berger 18:58
And so Christmas in the 17th century, England wasn’t so different from the holiday we celebrate today. It was one of the largest religious observations, full of traditions feast days revelry cultural significance, but the Puritans a pious religious minority, who after all fled persecution from the Anglican majority felt that such celebrations were unnecessary and more importantly distracted from religious discipline. They also felt that due to the holidays loose pagan origins, not loose but pagan origin celebrating it we constitute idolatry you know, worshipping idols is a common sentiment among leaders at the time was that such feast days distracted from their core beliefs. They for whom all days are holy, can have no holiday. So the Puritans banned Christmas so like I said the next time you meet up with the evangelical friend or family member and they start complaining about the war on Christmas, you can just mention to him while you can thank a pagan for your Christmas
Voice Over 20:08
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Doug Berger 20:36
Because of this podcast and my use of the internet in general, I have participated in social media. I have Twitter a Twitter account, I have one for this. Hey, yeah, I have one for this podcast. So if you use Twitter, look for Glass City Humanist and subscribe, or follow or whatever they call it. Anyway, yeah, so I use social media. So I watch, I read a lot. I also use Facebook, I’m sorry, for some of you. But I use Facebook, usually a you know for the group for the Secular Humanist of Western Lake Erie. And it also keep helps me keep in touch with family members and friends. And that’s another story. I’m not going to talk about that right now. But I don’t really follow many celebrities in social media. Because few of them actually have content worth reading. There’s a few that are influencers, who tried to, it’s like reading an ad. There’s other ones where I know that their people wrote it, they did not write the tweet, or whatever. So some of them only use it to make money by talking about products that they try to sell. And some only use it to promote their next project. So you might not hear from him for a year. And then all of a sudden, they start tweeting every day, they will come see my next movie or look at this TV show. Look at me, you know, and you know when it’s sincere and when it’s not. And so one that I do follow on social media is actor Wil Wheaton, that who’s in the the image right there. Some of you may remember him he played ensign Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He was also one of the kids in “Stand by Me” the classic Stephen King movie, “Stand by Me”. And he also appeared as himself on several episodes of “The Big Bang Theory” as a nemesis for the character Sheldon. And so I mean, he’s, he’s an all around good guy I like and plus he’s into punk rock. So that’s kind of why I kind of like him too we have both that thing about punk rock. And so he writes heartfelt things. He was mentally and physically abused as a child, by his parents, and he’s been he’s freely talked about that. And things like that, and, and also his experience in Hollywood and some of the crap that he had to go through for that. And, and he and he writes pretty heartfelt posts on Facebook, Instagram, that sort of thing, the long form ones. And, and he’s not as popular these days as when he showed up in the teen magazines back in the 80s. But he still does quite a bit of work in the business. He voices, video games, he has a show about an after show discussion about Star Trek Discovery, I believe it is. It’s the newer, the newer version of Star Trek. And so he posts quite often on Facebook, and on December the seventh, he posted a note about why he felt so strongly against comedian Dave Chappelle making transphobic comments that were passed off his jokes. If you’re not familiar with it. I don’t believe I talked about it on this podcast. But comedian Dave Chappelle had a special called “Closer” on Netflix. And he made some really transphobic comments. He also made comments that were considered to be homophobic. And he got a lot of flack backlash about that. And he doubled down as some of these guys do. who’s just a joke? Come on, just trying to be funny.
Doug Berger 24:56
And it’s, they’re not jokes when you hit that low. It’s not a joke you hurt people. He posted Wil Wheaton posted a lengthy entry entry about why he feels strongly about people like Chappelle making transphobic comments that are passed off as jokes. And to do so he shared a story from when he was 16 years old. He played hockey every night at a local rink. And one night, he befriended a bunch of fellow players. They, he played a goalie and a lot of these teams needed goalies so he always found a pickup match and these group of guys took him you know, said come on and play with us and play had fun is he enjoyed himself immensely. And in the locker room, the young not terribly enlightened and still sensitive Wheaton unthinkingly made a homophobic joke, not realizing that everyone around him was gay. The team that he played with was made up of gay members. And one reason Wheaton made that homophobic joke because he’d learned it by watching comedy specials he was a big into like me, that’s why I like this story. And I wanted to share this because there’s a lot of things he did in his youth that I did. He loves Saturday Night Live He love the late night comics and, and comedy specials and, and things like that. A lot of the stuff that I did. In particular, he learned a lot of those homophobic jokes from Eddie Murphy’s “Delirious” stand up comedy special. I believe it was on HBO. It was back in 1983. And eventually I got put on VHS and even came out as a as a I had the cassette today Wheaton colleges that the shows gay jokes were just freaking appalling and inexcusable. And so I have put a link up in the show notes about his whole here’s a here’s a bit of it. Here’s a bit of it here. But I’ll put a link up in the show notes you could check out the whole the whole post and what touched me about him that story about the hockey players and how he felt so bad. And the reason why I felt so bad was because now he knows better. And and he went on about how Eddie Murphy’s delirious is in today’s climate is a terrible a terrible stand up special. It’s just terrible. And and so what touched me was I felt the exact same way about “Delirious” after I tried to watch it on one of the streaming services I think might have been on HBO Max, when we first got that I was like, oh, “Delirious”. I remember that was funny. I couldn’t get through. I just stopped watching. After maybe about 20 minutes. It was just one homophobic joke after another and it was just cringe. It made me cringe. Now I know when I was 16 Yeah, I was 16 too 16 17 I thought it was edgy comedy was hilarious. I loved it. Couldn’t get enough of it. I had to cassette used to listen to that thing constantly on my little little tape player. But I like I said I had to stop watching it on TV. Even though I could fast forward through the cringy parts. It just left a bad taste in my mouth. And and so like I said I thought it was just so funny and edgy. And and up until recently I had the still had the cassette. And it was like a it was like forbidden. It’s kind of like when Eddie Murphy talks about having Richard Pryor albums and having to be secret about listening to him because they were so nasty. So language wise. And and so but I I cannot listen to that. I might, what I might do is watch it again and skip over the cringy parts when they come up because there’s some good material in there. Like the ice cream man.
Doug Berger 29:28
The welfare hamburger because a lot of that stuff that I have personal experience with some of that stuff. The mom throwing the shoe. Well that never happened to me, but I understood that I was funny and the drunk guy complained about the dog poop and you know, things like that. I a lot of that stuff is funny. It’s good material, but the homophobic stuff just is not good. And I don’t recommend I don’t recommend kids watch the special at all. Parents if you can keep your kids from watching it, don’t watch it because it’s not. It’s not good. But I appreciated Wil Wheaton some reflection on that time of his life, and his promise to be better. And I do know that Eddie Murphy also grew up. That was like, right when he started rocketing up to stardom with SNL and, and his movie career, and he really got away from that type of homophobic joking with his next special, it there wasn’t that much in it barely in there at all. So he didn’t rely on it. And I also saw an interview, I didn’t have a chance to read it because it was behind a paywall. But he actually Eddie Murphy regrets those jokes in “Delirious” and in and I know, there’s gonna be people that are gonna say, hey, you know, it was the 1980s You know, that was a joke. So there, well, I know. But it’s still not good. It’s still not good to, to use those type of jokes and against marginalized people. It just really isn’t. So I’ll throw the link to the article to his post, read it. It’s great. It’s very humanistic. And I really enjoyed it. And so I wanted to also mention too, oh, here’s the the there’s the DVD cover for “Delirious” and Eddie and his red leather outfit. And
Voice Over 31:40
this is Glass City Humanist.
Doug Berger 31:48
Yeah, the other reason why I wanted to talk about Wil Wheaton’s article was that a friend of mine this week on Facebook complained, the new season of Star Trek Discovery came out season three, and introduced well and previously had an LGBT couple. The chief engineer had a husband, and they had scenes together and very, very forward looking. etc. This year, they introduced a trans character, and a binary character. And if you don’t understand or know what those things are, I would really advise you to look that information up. But because they did that, there was some people that are fans of Star Trek in general complained, mainly mainly older men, young men who don’t like that stuff. They call it being woke, overly woke and, and too much diversity. And it was funny because because I came to the same conclusion my friend did. It’s Star Trek, they’re talking about Star Trek was the most diverse show of its time. In all the times that it’s come on, it’s been progressive. Back in the 60s, the original show, in the rules of that time, they were able to do some pretty progressive storytelling, and characters. And they would highlight, they would talk about they would use, they would use the space plots to look at, like, say racism in the United States, or racism in general, or poverty and, or things like that. And one of the famous ones is Frank Gorshin, the comedian. He had a black and white face in one episode and, and had a diametrically opposed personality. And that was just, you know, just excellent writing. They had Kirk kissing alien women, green women. Now they were white green makeup. But, you know, they didn’t go far as far as the JJ Abrams Star Trek where they had Spock and Uhura getting together. But they were they could do it. They did a lot of progressive things. And one of the reasons was because of the Creator, Gene Roddenberry, which is here, this guy, Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek created the universe. And he was also a humanist of the year the American Humanist Association. He was a very humanistic person. And so one of the things that he said about diversity In in Star Trek II, and this is a quote from Gene Roddenberry. He said that Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight and differences and ideas and differences in life forms. You know, and they were very focused on science and technology. But they didn’t crap on religion, even though sometimes the religion in some of the shows some of the episodes need to be crapped on you know, they showed some kind of respect. And that came from Gene Roddenberry his his vision. And I’ve been, I’ve been pleased that, that the show has tried to stay with that vision, even after he’s passed away. That gets a little rickity, sometimes, like, Deep Space Nine kind of went off the rails a little bit with mysticism and spirituality. But in general, it stayed true to its humanistic roots. The showrunner for
Doug Berger 36:13
Discovery, made a statement saying that Star Trek has always made a mission of giving visibility to underrepresented communities, because it believes in showing people that a future without division on the basis of race, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation is entirely within our reach. We take pride in working closely with blue Dell Berio and Ian Alexander, who are the new characters, the new actors playing the characters, and Nick Adams at GLAD to create the extraordinary characters of Adira, and Gray, and bring their stories to life with empathy, understanding, empowerment, enjoy. That Star Trek man. It doesn’t get any more Star Trek than that. So if you’re listening to this podcast, and you don’t agree with me that there is nothing wrong with having a binary and trans gender character on Star Trek, you’re part of the problem. And you need to check yourself and find out if you really understand what Star Trek is all about. You know, even the actor Wil Wheaton, who just played a part in the Star Trek universe understands what Star Trek is about. So you guys need to get on the same page.
Voice Over 37:42
Thank you for listening. For information about the topics in this episode, please visit the episode page at glasscityhumanist.show. Glass City Humanist is an outreach of the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie, and is supported in part by a grant by the American Humanist Association. The AHA can be reached at americanhumanist.org SHoWLE can be reached at humanistswle.org. Glass City Humanist is hosted written and produced by Douglas Berger, and he is solely responsible for the content our theme music is Glass City Jam composed using the ampify studio See you next time.
Transcript is created by machine and is approximate.
©2021 Glass City Humanist and is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/
[Transcript also available for offline reading HERE]
Written, produced, and edited by Douglas Berger and he is entirely responsible for the content. Incidental voice overs by Shawn Meagley
The GCH theme is “Glass City Jam” composed using Ampify Studio
This episode by Glass City Humanist is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.