“Holiday Lights” or “Christmas Lights”

In response to my Holiday Lights post, "a guy" wrote:

They're Christmas lights, dude. Jews don't string up lights. So while it's properly a "holiday party" at your office, and you wish people "happy holidays" (not knowing their religion), you just don't put up holiday lights. No such thing.

I was going to just let this go, but I decided I'd comment on it.

The celebration of Christmas as a Christian holiday is as an overlay over existing celebration that occured on December 25th. The Egyptians celebrated the birthday of Ra, the sun god, on that day, as it was just after the winter solstice. Many other societies have also had celebrations on the solstice, and December 25th only became a christian holiday by the declaration of pope Julias I in the 4th century.

So, as somebody who isn't religious, I'm going to stick with the term "Holiday lights". I think there's a good reason to celebrate the days getting longer (*beyond* the fact that it's the start of the good skiing, which is a reason of its own) even if you don't believe there's a deity involved.

I may switch to "Solstice lights", but I think that could be more bother than it's worth.

Comments (47)

  1. Brad says:

    Ok, so other cultures prior to the 4th century happened to celebrate other events at the end of December, too. So what?

    Did they celebrate it with Soltice Trees and "RA" Wreaths??

    I’m gonna side with "a guy", here. These decorative traditions originated with the Christian celebration of Christmas, and even if you don’t happen to be religious, there’s no reason to go around saying "no, that’s not a Christmas tree, thats just a Winter Bush". You’re just denying the obvious.

    There are plenty of people our there that celebrate the fun, presents, and decorations of Christmas without it being a religous issue. The extent to which the modern commericalized "X-MAS" holiday (Santa, trees, lights) has distanced itself from the celebration of the birth of Christ is an interesting, but separate issue.

  2. same guy says:

    Lemme guess… <a href="http://home.mindspring.com/~gunnerso/IMG_0784_Small.jpg">that</a&gt; is not Santa either, but "Fat-Ra" with super kung-fu Sand Deer(tm).

    Face it, they’re Christmas lights. It’s fine, no problem with it, but that’s in fact what they are.

  3. James says:

    I’ve seen lots of names used for them as well… "mini lights" is the name you usually find on the box. Other times they are called "fairy lights"… To say the least, I don’t think it matters what you call them, so long as everyone knows what you are talking about. (In that case, "solstice lights" might not be the best choice…).

  4. Brian says:

    Christmas is a holiday, QED Christmas lights are holiday lights. Need a Venn Diagram?

  5. Ken says:

    Actually, they did celebrate with Solstice trees – decorated evergreens, wreaths, and light displays were all traditions early Christians lifted form the pagan celebration in their (successful) attempt to usurp the pagan holiday.

  6. Multi Racial Jewish Santa says:

    "Christmas" is a term only used by oppressive white male thugs. It has no place in our PC enlightened society.

    Now get with picture or I won’t let my wife back a holiday pie for you (after she is done washing the dishes of course)

  7. Brad says:

    Interesting historical tidbit, Ken. I’d like to see some documentation for that, actually.

  8. Brad says:

    What we have here is a consequence of the intermingling of religious aspects of a holiday celebration and non-religious aspects.

    Ultimately, I don’t know that either side is really served.

    I’m sure the original idea of Pope Julius I and others was to:

    1) Replace a "pagan" holiday with a Christian one

    2) Keep as many (benign) aspects of the existing traditional celebration as possible

    3) In so doing, create a lasting association between these "fun" traditions and the religious meaning of the holiday.

    There are several problems with this.

    1) People like EricGu want the "fun" tradition without the association of religion. So be it.

    2) Christians like me think that Santa and Christmas lights are a distraction from the religious meaning, and not something that encourages people to remember.

    On the other hand: religious holidays that DON’T have associated "fun" traditions don’t gain the "foothold" that the others do.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Here’s a fun little bit about where the traditions began. Take them with your own grain of salt.


    This guy wants people to disassociate Santa Claus with Cristmas all together:


    And he makes a compelling argument. Looks like were all going to have to start calling them holiday lights. Unless, of course, Edison was actually erecting the lights in honor of the birthday rather than the holiday. Who knows. Maybe it was Martin Luther himself who put candles on the tree to resemble the stars over Bethlehem.


    But it would seem to me that the mixing of Christmas traditions (lights on a tree), with other holiday traditions (Santa Claus) would lead to the necessary use of the least specific identifier. I’m going to side with "Holiday Lights" and reluctantly forgive any hethan who decides to use the term Christmas to mean anything other than the celebration of the birth of Christ.

  10. Tim says:

    Since the lights go up before Thanksgiving, and often stay up until after New Year’s Day, you are covering several nationally recognized holidays. I’ll side with Eric, and say they are holiday lights.

  11. Sophisticated (and intelligent) Metrosexual says:

    Christmas? You insensitive and ignorant red-staters dare to mention Christmas? Their obviously holiday lights to anyone with a brain — only bozos who go cow tipping and bang their sisters use the word Christmas in public, anymore.

  12. Interesting conversation. I don’t comment often here, but this one has me puzzled. Eric said "holiday lights". Seems harmless. Seems to me that can go without correction or even noticing. Yet some people have enough fortitude to make a snap at him. I would have thought – and I could be wrong – it would have taken Eric calling out other religions’ rituals as silly and insignificant for someone to call him out on it. See, I would have thought "holiday lights" would have been adjective usage, not religious indiscrimination. Silly me.

  13. Well, we do have a "holiday season" when we lump Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. These are the American holidays that we Americans celebrate. If you think deep, Thanksgiving is the only true "American" holiday. Yes. other holidays have a quite interesting history, but there are still three holidays with actual names. Turkey is associated with Thanksgiving. Lights are associated with Christmas (as is a decorated tree), and fireworks are associated with New Year’s. I don’t see what’s the big deal. I don’t understand how "holiday lights" is preferable to "Christmas lights". Should it be "holiday fireworks" on Jan 1? We have three major holidays during the winter, and they have names.

  14. Ken says:

    A small amount of info on evergreens in traditional winter celebrations:


    A multi-religious exploration of winter celebrations – of particular interest to this discussion is the Christianity section, detailing the origins of 25.Dec as Christmas:


    Some lights (candles, prior to this century) related info as it applies to Solstice/Christmas:


  15. Normal says:

    Does it really matter if the lights are technically associated with non-Christian things? Christmas has become a conglomeration of celebration for St. Nick, Christ, and just the plain old festive spirit that’s needed to get through the long days. Since they have been considered Christmas lights for this long, why is there any need to change the name. Christmas lights are just another of the MANY traditions brought from all over the world to celebrate this time of year.

  16. a guy says:

    Agree, call them Christmas lights since that is just what they are.

    What we need help getting through, though, is short days, not long days.

  17. Matt says:

    1. Jesus probably wasn’t born on Dec. 25.

    2. Pagan traditions that predate the declaration of "Christ’s Mass" heavily influence the way we celebrate it today.

    3. Christmas lights have a mixed history, stemming from the candles on Sweden’s St. Lucia Day and from Germany’s tradition of decorating evergreens with candles.

    This is explained in detail on the History Channel’s site, which has a web companion to their excellent TV special on the history of Christmas.

    For lights:



    The history of celebrating the nativity:

    "In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Unfortunately, the Bible does not mention date for his birth (a fact Puritans later pointed out in order to deny the legitimacy of the celebration). Although some evidence suggests that his birth may have occurred in the spring (why would shepherds be herding in the middle of winter?), Pope Julius I chose December 25. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century. By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia. Today, in the Greek and Russian orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated 13 days after the 25th, which is also referred to as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. This is the day it is believed that the three wise men finally found Jesus in the manger."


    Reading the history, you can’t help but observe how various traditions coalesce over time. No single tradition has a claim on the origin of Christmas. It would be difficult to ignore the dominant trait of present holiday celebrations: commerce. In a practical sense, December is the Holiday Shopping Season just as much as it is the celebration of the nativity.

    I don’t think "Holiday Lights" is merely politically correct. It’s a reflection of what the celebration is becoming. For most of us it is a secular holiday.

  18. Tim says:

    "Christmas is a holiday, QED Christmas lights are holiday lights. Need a Venn Diagram?"

    Christmas is also a day. Therefore we should call them "Day Lights." On the other hand, a day is certainly a thing, therefore we should call them Thing Lights. But lights are certainly things too, therefore we should call them Thing Things.

    Do you always try to be as general as possible? 🙂

    By the way, it’s also called holiday because holidays used to be purely relgious. They were Catholic Holy Days of obligation. Holiday…Holy Day. See?

  19. Me says:

    Hooray for thing things!

  20. Picky Picky says:

    >> This is the day it is believed that the *three* wise men finally found Jesus in the *manger*. — The History Channel

    I’ve always wondered where this belief came from…

    {Matthew 2:1} Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

    {Matthew 2:9} When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. {2:10} When they saw the star, they rejoiced

    with exceeding great joy. {2:11} And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down,

    and worshipped him:

    When the wise men (the number is not specified) found the young child (not baby), he was in a house (not lying in a manger in a stable).

  21. Sean Duggan says:

    The Feast of Epiphany is the celebration of the 3 wise men’s arrival, much much later. (Why did it take them so long? Typical men, they didn’t ask for directions. *rimshot*) It’s traditionally celebrated on January 6th and many churches provide a visual of it by having a model procession of camels, etc starting at one end of the church on Christmas day (when the wise men first saw the star) and slowly migrating across until they reach the manger on January 6th. Again, the date was picked more to supplant anexisting holiday (The Gnostic Feast of Lights) than for any sort of historical accuracy. The Church is nothing if not practical in such matters. More information available at http://www.goarch.org/en/ourfaith/articles/article8383.asp

    As for the Christmas / Holiday / Solstice distinction, I still consider Christmas to primarily be about Christ. It happens to coincide with the more secular holiday which is also popularly designated Christmas. People on either side getting hung up on semantics are just being silly in my opinion. ^_^ Although I find it even more funny when people ignorant of the Greek chi use "X-mas" to try to make it sound more secular.

  22. Christmas/Holiday lights can both kiss my butt says:

    Christmas lights, whatever their name or form, are just another piece of decoration that have come to represent a season when corporations, churches, and unscrupulous individuals get to empty the publics pockets of societies’ true god..THE ALMIGHTY DOLLAR!

    Think about it if you dare to…otherwise return to your regularly scheduled mindless wanderings.

  23. kyle says:

    I think that everyone should set down their differences there is no reason to fight for the right reason everyone has their own traditions and that doesn’t mean that you have to critisize them as for me I am a christian and I believe in the birth of christ but I don’t care if you believe in the egyption god or the muslim gods because everyone has their own beliefs

  24. Eric Gunnerson says:

    Eric here.

    Lauren, I’ve decided to remove your comment because not because of the content but because of the tone, and because you were SHOUTING in it.

  25. meee hoo hoo says:

    tra la la la la

  26. billy bob says:

    this is way too long dude you @$$.

  27. Nate W says:

    Now I’m not sure whether to call them "commerce lights" or "lights of Saturnalia."

    Wait! "Pretty lights" it is.

  28. beanz says:

    boobs are tasty

  29. Bunny says:

    If any of you want actual proof of what Christmas really is and what you are actually celebrating, try looking it up at the library or in an encylopedia. Jesus wasnt even born in Winter. The sheep wouldnt have been out if it was winter. Think of it, if there were a day that was celebrated when Hitler killed so many Jewish, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Gays, Etc…. but a pope or religious leader turned it into a christian holiday simply by saying it was someting else would you still celebrate it?

  30. billy bob says:

    they are very tasty

  31. packer40 says:

    A certain monk Boniface, went to germany to teach the word of God. He used their fir tree custom, to illastrate to the Holy trinaty to them. Later those who were converted, would hang them up-side down from ceilings to proclaim their christianity..Some went so far as to illistrate The Garden of Eden: Using cookies and candy etc. symbolizing the plentifullness, The tree of chourse was the tree, placing also flowers of red "knowlege" then of white "innocence"

  32. none says:

    what the??????????

  33. none says:

    what the??????????

  34. lol says:

    this is dumb!!!

  35. In god we trust says:

    Everthing represents a meaning of god. Have an open mine and allow your self to believe. Be creative and imagine. Its the only way to the truth & the good. love* peace* love* happiness

    god bless you all.

  36. Maff says:

    Christmas lights did not originate until after the Christmas tree was used as a Christmas symbol that Jesus Christ is the light of the world. No evidence that they existed prior to Christmas with some other meaning.


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