Reason for the Season

By Phil Plait | December 11, 2007 2:00 pm

I thought of this a long time ago, and it’s nice to see that others have replicated the idea:

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Humor
MORE ABOUT: Christmas, Humor, seasons

Comments (51)

  1. Hey Phil, congrats on <a href=”http://discovermagazine.com/2007/dec/good-astronomy-at-bad-astronomy”making it into the news. :)

  2. Liz H.

    I’ve needed to say this for a while, but this was the final straw.

    I understand that the brain-dead creationists make those people with religious faith who do understand and believe in science (a majority, I’m sure) look like fools. Because I, as H.L. Mencken stated, believe that “Religion is not a syllogism, but a poem,” I find myself attacked by both sides: those who say I am heretical because I use my mind to understand the world, and those who attack my deepest held beliefs, which of course I agree are neither logical nor provable, but give me peace and comfort when I encounter things that are difficult to understand scientifically: things like war and evil and love and sadness and hope. It is a way of looking at the world that works for me, and for a lot of other people.

    I come to this blog because I know that you are smart and right more often than not and I agree with your disgust with the creationists. I enjoy your articles very much, and your love of astronomy is contagious. But it seems to me your comments have become more and more hostile, and your attacks aimed towards religion in general. And now this: a snarky graphic which really doesn’t make that much sense anyway, since the season referred to is Christmas season, and not winter (yes, yes, solstice celebration etc. Still doesn’t entirely work).

    You have a right to your beliefs, and you have a duty to tell the truth. And this is your blog, and you can be as condescending as you want to be. But I don’t have to read it. Personally, I think you would find strong allies in your fight against creationism among the well educated men and women who understand and respect science while practicing their faith. Their arguments might be more easily received, and quite honestly, I bet there are more of them than there are flat-out cynics.

    Good luck in your endeavors.

  3. Caesar

    Liz,

    So, you’re suggesting Phil not post his true and objective statements because they offend your false and subjective beliefs?

    The “reason for the season” *is* the axial tilt of the Earth. Pretending that it’s not just “the season”, but is “The Christmas Season” is extreme christian chauvinism, as there are many holidays that are observed during the winter season, most of which predate christianity by centuries, if not millennia. The claim that Jesus is the “reason for the season” is, to put it mildly, foolish.

    As for your personal religious beliefs, I don’t see how Phil was attacking them. Unless your religious belief states Jesus is the reason we have trees in our houses, buy gifts for our friends and family, have feasts, light candles, eat pudding, etc. and so on, you’re not being mocked in any way. On the other hand, if you *do* think Jesus caused all this, then, well, stating it twice in one post might no longer be “putting it mildly”.

    Happy Solstice

  4. Chet

    It would be fantastic if “make-believe”, “just pretend”, “fantasy”, and “if I close my eyes (mind), it’ll all go right” were reality. However, there are those who create and imagine “horrific” ‘make-believe’ and ‘just pretend fantasies’. For example, the difference between “Riven/Myst” and “Halo”.
    Yes, axial tilt is the reason for the seasons–why the Sun appears to set/rise earlier/later each day till Dec 21, then begins to “set/rise” later/earlier each day till Jun 20th. And, by the way, it’s reversed in the Southern Hemisphere!
    And, as we must avoid the religious faith arguments which can not be changed unless the person changes themselves, why Christians do not consider the probability that the “manger scene on Dec 24/25th” was created by Christian evangelical groups after 75 CE to make the “Jesus” (actually Jeshua in Hebrew) story more “miraculous”–especially adding a “star” (magical) and Magi (magicians or Astrologers) traveling and, and… while taking the pagan religious/cults Sol Evictus and Mithra and other gods born in caves during the shortest “day” (Northern Hemisphere– remember its summer in the Southern) as a “sign” that the Sun God is returning to lengthen each day till Summer in the Northern Hemisphere? Jeshua bar Josef would have been quite unknown till after St Paul created/invented Christianity.
    So, can we not enjoy the amazing wonder of the seasons due to Eath’s axial tilt? Awesome.

  5. Andrew

    Lore Sjöberg is a comic genius. I have so much respect for him that I hunted down the o with the dieresis.

  6. I adore the graphic – it would look lovely on a holiday card. ;)

  7. Lswift

    “So, you’re suggesting Phil not post his true and objective statements because they offend your false and subjective beliefs?”

    Wow. Could you load that question with any more bile?

    I’m not religious, but Liz does have a bit of a point. There *are* a lot of complete a$$holes here who forgetten the smooth gradient of faith, from the shrug of someone who’s not quite an agnostic, to the wide eyed woo woos.

    Or you choose to ignore it because insults are easier then, you know, actually thinking about it. Liz clearly differentiated between winter and Christmas seasons.

    And if you don’t want the graphic to be confused for a statement against Christmas, then perhaps lose the red/green colors and the holly? Maybe pluralize seasons? Or was even *THAT* too much effort for your wonderous brains?

  8. chris

    turning on the poles, in a one horse open sleigh

  9. I don’t want a war on christmas. I want a war on axial tilt! I hope I get a sharp looking uniform too.

  10. RayCeeYa

    But I thought the seasons were caused by God moving the earth closer to and further away from the sun!?!

  11. Sergeant Zim

    turning on the poles, in a one horse open sleigh,
    o’er the fields we go, thinking all the way,

  12. Shenanigans!! *I* know the seasons are created by the uneven yet normal expansions of the earth according to my new modified Neil Adams theory on the expanding earth! The basis of my theory is that the expansion causes magma to rise to the surface heating the ground and giving the air giving the illusion of the atmosphere heating up.. that’s right.. its all an illusion!

  13. …the axis being pushed into its precise angle of 23.5 degrees by The Hand of God, which also, fortuitously, appeared in this short Nine Inch Nails video just months ago:

    http://yearzero.nin.com/yearzero_hi.html

    :)

  14. Caesar

    Lswift,

    “Wow. Could you load that question with any more bile?”

    Yes, but I generally wouldn’t. If you read it, there was very little bile. What Phil posted *is* 100% true and objective, the opposing view (which Liz is presumably defending, otherwise her post would be an extreme non sequitur), which is that *Jesus* is the “reason for the season”, is 100% false and subjective.

    “And if you don’t want the graphic to be confused for a statement against Christmas, then perhaps lose the red/green colors and the holly?”

    *What* do those things have to do with Jesus or Christianity in any way *whatsoever*?

    Your sentiment is exactly what my post was arguing against. It’s extremely offensive that so many Christians are on the warpath to make a fundamentally non-Christian holiday into a Christian one.

    I have nothing against Christians celebrating the solstice season in their own Christian way. But to rip on someone because a true fact is an attack on their beliefs? It would seem to me in such a situation, it’s not the true fact that ought be suppressed or tempered.

    As for Liz, I don’t have anything against her personally, just the sentiment she posted.

  15. Cello Man

    The sun setting earlier in the day (and lower to the horizon) means I have to close the blinds in my office around 2:30 in the afternoon now. In the summer I can leave ‘em open all day with no glare on my screen. A co-worker asked me why that was. I told her it was due to the northern hemisphere tilting away from the sun in this phase of the Earth’s orbit.

    She just looked at me and blinked.

  16. A couple of months ago I got into a discussion with a woman over the Earth’s tilt. She had heard something about the moon being closer to the Earth in the fall & that’s why it’s bigger or some other such nonsense. She also couldn’t grasp the concept that the same side of the moon always faces us. Trying to explain the difference between “far side” and “dark side” almost made her head explode. That eventually led to the tilt discussion.

    I mentioned that the Earth was actually closer to the sun by a couple of million miles in the winter. She actually laughed at me! She insisted that we were farther away, and that’s why it was colder. So I tried explaining that the reason it gets colder is that the days are shorter because of the Earth’s tilt, as well as the more shallow angle at which the sun’s rays hit us. Then I raised the fact that the southern hemisphere is now entering summer, but she remained unconvinced.

    This same woman once asked me if I believed in The Rapture, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. Still, it does point out the profound level of ignorance of science out there, and how people choose to fill in the gaps in their knowledge.

  17. Amanda: Actually, it is available on a holiday card. You can order a set by following the links or going to here. However, the site appears to be down at the moment…. No doubt the victim of a vast evangelical conspiracy.

  18. Philip

    Bravo, Liz H!!! My sentiments exactly. I accept and respect the findings of science, evolution included, but I believe in God as our creator. I am NOT a creationist (young earth, 6 days) but there is no proof whatsoever that life occured spontaneously all by its own. There is also no proof that God is the Creator, but I believe it nonetheless notwithstanding the derogatory and condescending remarks about my faith on this blog.

    Philip

  19. Grand Lunar

    Where can I get a card like this?
    Say, perhaps they can hang it on the ISS, hmm?

    One place I do think this season greeting won’t work is Mercury! IIRC, it doesn’t havea tilt, correct?
    Unless you can technically say that Mercury has ONE season: hot.

  20. Coucherias

    Personally I found Liz H.’s post to balanced and reasonable, deserving of some support.

    Liz H. was offended by something that does not offend me — I think Phil was being tongue-in-cheek — but at least she was responsible in how she disagreed. I cannot say the same for subsequent criticisms of her post.

    To my mind there is an undeniable reference to Christmas tradition in the image but I seriously doubt anyone here including the good doctor believes that the celebration of the birth of Christ is dependent on or springs from the tilt of the Earth’s axis.

  21. Eric Cartman

    This is teh offensive to me. Forget this, I’m going home.

  22. MartinM

    I come to this blog because I know that you are smart and right more often than not and I agree with your disgust with the creationists. I enjoy your articles very much, and your love of astronomy is contagious. But it seems to me your comments have become more and more hostile, and your attacks aimed towards religion in general.

    Perhaps you should clarify this part a little. It certainly seems like you’re saying that disgust towards people whose beliefs you disagree with is fine, but ‘hostility’ from Phil towards a belief he disagrees with crosses the line.

  23. DennyMo

    “Reason for the Season” is a phrase commonly used by Christians to refer to the birth of Christ as what they celebrate at Christmas. This image co-opted that slogan and used it as a swipe at Christians, simple as that. Caesar’s silly bloviations really had nothing to do with the original complaint, only provided an opportunity to demean someone he disagrees with.

    But he raises an interesting question. I wonder, would we (speaking primarily of the Americas and Europe) celebrate anything at all related to the winter solstice if organized religion hadn’t commited it to canon? Would we “have trees in our houses, buy gifts for our friends and family, have feasts, light candles, eat pudding, etc.” if the pagan holidays were never transmogrified into Christmas? Now there’s an interesting alternate history for some author to capture. Where’s Harry Turtledove when you need him?!?

  24. LSwift

    “*What* do those things have to do with Jesus or Christianity in any way *whatsoever*?”

    You completely miss the point over and over. It’s pointless. Your bilee and hate have blinded many of you.

    ““Reason for the Season” is a phrase commonly used by Christians to refer to the birth of Christ as what they celebrate at Christmas.”

    Well, you guys jumped all over her for saying the same damn thing! Are you really that blinded by hate? I’m a complete atheist and I can see her point, and people like you are *NOT* helping. All it does is make the religious retreat behind their shields. Useless, the whole lot of you! You offer NOTHING constructive to the fight against fundamentalism, and some of you clearly have pathologically elevated self opinions.

  25. LSwift

    MartinM, she’s saying that attacking the extremists is all well and good, but sometimes the criticism seems directed at a very broad audience as if even the most barely religious people are to be considered extremists. Honestly, I hope some of you are being deliberately obtuse, becasue if blogs like this represent the best and the brightest, well, the country is more DOOMED than anyone previously considered.

  26. Umm… Wow, ye alleged religious ‘moderates’. Touchy, much?

    I’m pretty sure–not certain, but pretty sure–that in days of yore, when I did (admittedly, nominally) call myself a Christian, I wouldn’t have taken any offense whatsoever from that their graphic. Cute. Kinda funny. And if you know the whole story of the presumably deliberate subverting of older and once (and arguably still) very widely celebrated pagan midwinter celebrations by setting the celebration of a major Christian festival at the same time, it’s actually essentially true, too…

    Seriously. You’re so insulted by ‘axial tilt is the reason for the season’?

    Wow. I briefly looked for a nicer way to say this, but apparently I’ve failed. So: seriously, get over yourselves. Go have yerselves an egg nog, decorate yer damned northern/germanic immortality/fertility/rebirty symbol with some images of yer birth/death/rebirth god, or somethin’, and chill, already. Or go sing some songs to yer invisible sky daddy, chant some mantras, find yer centre, whatever. The real world, with real people, with differing beliefs, apparently, however they might choose to express them, is clearly just too much for you.

  27. > I want a war on axial tilt! I hope I get a sharp looking uniform too.

    Hopefully something with double-breasted lines, sort of like the Evil Galactic Empire or the movie-period Starfleet uniforms.

    As for the whole “reason for the season” silliness. Here’s why.

    > What Phil posted *is* 100% true and objective,

    This is true. Axial tilt is the cause of seasonal (spring-summer-fall-winter) variation.

    > the opposing view (which Liz is presumably defending, otherwise her post would be an extreme non sequitur), which is that *Jesus* is the “reason for the season”, is 100% false and subjective.

    This is false. One must differentiate the physical season from the Christmas season–remember, people south of the equator celebrate Christmas in the middle of the summer! When people say “Jesus is the reason for the season” they’re talking about something completely different from “axial tilt is the reason for the season.” It comes from the word “season,” which means much more than just summer, winter, spring, and fall.

    Football season. Baseball season. Television shows and their seasons. It’s just indicative of a period of time, no more and no less. No one would ever use “axial tilt is the reason for the season” to parody baseball, would they, and yet when a Christian makes the argument that their season is different, everyone jumps down their throat and they’re 100% false?

    Historically, Christians developed “Jesus is the reason for the [Christmas] season” to counter growing capitalist secularism in their religious holiday. Then wags developed “Axial tilt is the reason for the [winter] season” to parody Christianity. To honestly equate “[winter] season” to “[Christmas] season” and from there say that the Christians are 100% wrong about a traditional time period tied to a date, which is not due to axial tilt, tends to indicate an ignorance of what is actually being said. That this ignorance appears to derive from intellectual absolutism is simply sad.

  28. James

    I don’t know why it is alright for Christians to criticize others but they don’t want their beliefs talked about even when they admit there is no evidence. Non-fundamentalists don’t want their “beliefs” examined objectively especially in the light of science and history because the Bible is found to not stand up to the challenge. Even when interpreted by liberal Christians.

    Jesus was not the reason for December 25th. Jesus was not born on December 25th. People celebrated December 25th thousands of years before the time of Jesus because of the tilt of the Earth on its axis!

  29. Mike J

    How about this…”Axial tilt is the reason for the seasons” (Plural).
    =)

  30. Law Mom

    Hey, I have a question. Not really related to axial tilt, but whatever. If the magi were from the East, and they were following a star in the East, were they walking backwards?

  31. nancy

    I don’t feel that Phil is being hostile, exactly… just a bit impatient and dismissive of those who keep any level of religious faith. I get more of a sense of outright hostility from Pharyngula and even our own dear Mr. Randi.

    I understand that a religious faith can comfort and provide “answers” to some people, and they are not necessarily unintelligent people. I myself, and the majority who read this blog, find more comfort in scientific fact and whatever knowledge we can glean when looking for answers. And I recognize that blindly following ancient stories and a magic man in the sky is dangerous, and that religion of any form should be kept out of schools and government. I applaud all efforts on that score.

    But let’s not go completely over the edge and automatically label all believers as nutcases- LSwift had a good point: “but sometimes the criticism seems directed at a very broad audience as if even the most barely religious people are to be considered extremists.”

    Yeah, there’s a fine line to be found there somewhere. carry on.

  32. Irishman

    I’ve got a question: why do some of you folks take this as a malicious attack on your faith? It seems to me you are choosing how to interpret the remark.

    Why can’t you choose to interpret the remark as lighthearted play on words, a holiday joke? Laugh it off, then go enjoy your holiday your way celebrating whatever you want in the manner you want? Why are you offended that someone else wants to celebrate differently, express a different point of view?

  33. DennyMo

    LSwift

    I’m not sure why you lumped me in the category of those who “jumped all over her for saying the same damn thing”: I was supporting her point.

    Lugosi

    Try the old “flashlight and globe” demonstration, usually more quickly understood by the easily confused.

  34. Gareth (bujin)

    Well, I’m new to the blog, and so unless there’s a whole load of anti-religious sentiment in previous posts, I find it very difficult to see how any form of religious “moderate” can take offence at this!

  35. Caesar

    LSwift,

    “Well, you guys jumped all over her for saying the same damn thing! Are you really that blinded by hate? I’m a complete atheist and I can see her point, and people like you are *NOT* helping.”

    No, she was saying that she’s offended that Phil is attacking *her beliefs*. He’s not attacking Christianity here, he’s “attacking” (mocking, really) a lie, which is that Christ’s birth is the “Reason for the Season”, which it most certainly is not.

    And you’re right, I’m “*NOT* helping” with perpetuating a lie. This lie is meant to force Christianity upon everyone who celebrates Christmas, and is variant of the “the US is a Christian nation” lie.

    DennyMo,

    ““Reason for the Season” is a phrase commonly used by Christians to refer to the birth of Christ as what they celebrate at Christmas. This image co-opted that slogan and used it as a swipe at Christians, simple as that. Caesar’s silly bloviations really had nothing to do with the original complaint, only provided an opportunity to demean someone he disagrees with.”

    My purpose wasn’t to attack *her*, it was to “attack” the notion that she’s under attack in the first place. The image isn’t an attack on Christmas *or* Christianity. It’s an “attack” on the idea that Christ is the reason Christmas exists, when the undeniable truth is that modern-day Christmas finds its roots centuries, if not millennia, before Jesus is said to have lived.

    It’s ironic that you’d decry someone for “demeaning someone he disagrees with” immediately after you write, “Caesar’s silly bloviations”. Hypocrisy tends to take the air out of one’s argument.

  36. Philip

    “Well, I’m new to the blog, and so unless there’s a whole load of anti-religious sentiment in previous posts, I find it very difficult to see how any form of religious “moderate” can take offence at this!”

    Gareth, keep reading the blog and you will notice how much antireligous posts there are. It is sickening to say the least.

    Philip

  37. Will

    Gareth, keep reading the blog and you will notice how much antireligous posts there are. It is sickening to say the least.

    Cripes, if you all are that sensitive, why don’t you just not read this blog and go comment somewhere else? Please don’t let the door hit you on the way out, seeing how fragile you all are.

  38. > It’s an “attack” on the idea that Christ is the reason Christmas exists, when the undeniable truth is that modern-day Christmas finds its roots centuries, if not millennia, before Jesus is said to have lived.

    Despite the fact that these pagan religions are long dead; modern neopagan religions are reconstructions based on limited data. There can is no argument over the fact that Christianity assimilated pagan festivities into their own celebrations; it’s the softer form of religious conversion. However, because these parent religions did die out, for the longest time the only reason why people celebrated Christmas is because of a celebration of Jesus’ birth. Given that we’re all talking about invisible pink unicorns, this motivation is just as viable as that of the pagans who originally introduced the winter solstice holiday. To say that axial tilt is the philosophical or motivational reason behind the Christmas season is equivalent to saying it is equivalent to the Ramadan or Haunnaka seasons, which are also celebrations shifted towards the winter ecological season (although their dating is done with a lunar calendar, so they move around a bit).

    George Carlin said, to paraphrase, “don’t worry about the words, worry about the person using them.” The axial tilt gag probably began as a benign pun and is still used as a benign pun. However, it is also used as a “your beliefs are invalid” attack and it is this attack which some people find offensive, and this offense is reasonable (even if the belief from which it derives is not). Unfortunately, the state of intellectual debate across the world today has lost the maturity to say “I’m sorry for offending you, but I’m going to keep it up as a benign pun” because people are so damn certain they’ve got the right answer that anyone who has a problem should not only suck it up, but don’t deserve a little bit of polite sympathy because the offended person is a dirty heretic.

  39. James

    So what if some people are offended? What is up with the only people who aren’t supposed to be offended are Christians? As evidenced from some of the comments above, even so-called “liberal christians” cry “I’m offended. I’m offended!” in order to shut up those who make reasonable remarks that oppose their superstition.

  40. I thought about this post from Phil today while I was driving in town. A local church had – on it’s sign – “Remember the Reason for the Season” and I blurted out “Axial Tilt!!!” :)

  41. DLC

    Wow. what a buncha noise over a simple graphic stating a well-known scientific fact.

  42. Michael Lonergan

    Axial tilt is of the Devil.

  43. nonsense bob

    Wow, sure are a lot of crybabies ’round these parts. I know a lot of liberal Christians personally, and none of them would be offended in the least by this joke.

    I think your infestation of “liberal Christians” is really a bunch of fakers, fundamentalists in disguise. Or just plain old trolls.

  44. Oh Phil- we here at Geologic HQ love this! I’m sending my holiday wishes online via this page of brilliance. Thanks! Step aside, Hallmark!

    Merry and jolly,
    Donna

  45. Sarah

    Good grief, religious people are sensitive!

    How can anybody possibly be “offended” by this graphic? Geez, some of you really need to get a life.

  46. Haha! I got so angry…. but my patience didn’t break
    this blog is just like human social evolution
    gods…. (God) so angry.. people are so addicted to stealing each other’s power…. and sharing is so boring… breath ha! :)
    i am a telepath
    stop thinking!!!!
    now i am the hypocrite…. *sigh*

    (oh yeah… um… kinda agnostic)

  47. Sue B.

    The truth of the matter…

    First I want to say I am a Believer in Jesus Christ. Second most Believers are sheep being lead to slaughter. X-mas which I will call it because it has nothing to do with Christ. He was born on 9/11…check it out astronomers…

    http://www.apostles-gathering.com/signsintheheavens.htm

    and you believers in Jesus Christ…x-mas came into being because the Catholic church wanted the pagan romans to convert to Catholicism…they allowed them to bring their pagan traditions with them…The rest of the Believers excepted those same traditions…along with Sunday worship…which are both abominations to the Lord…God hates all so called Holidays because they are pagan and against his commandments…Read about Aaron and repent you sheepish Believers…or except your punishment.

    Jer.32:5 And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the LORD.

    32:8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

    Read in Galatians when Paul tells the new Believers to stop going back to their old pagan ways..He tells them he is afraid of them because they did not take Gods words to heart..

    Galatians 4

    4:8 Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.
    4:9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
    4:10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.
    4:11 I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.

    As Believers in Jesus Christ we need to study the word of God on our own…not what the church teaches…most of which is a watered down version of the word of God. Stop being sheep to man and start being sheep to the Lord!

    Those who choose to not believe in the God of the universe were given that very choice by God himself…it is called free will.

  48. B.Scott

    I would like to order these cards to send out as my “Christmas” cards this year… does anyone know where I can order these from or where I can get a high quality image to make my own?

    Thank You,
    B. Scott
    BristolScott@hotmail.com

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