Friday, December 16, 2016

Falsely Accused? Nazi Christmas Propaganda Lives On...

“Martha, I don't care what As Bereans Did or anyone else says. Christmas is pagan. Christmas trees are pagan. Everyone knows it. The History Channel runs specials on it. It's written in encyclopedias. Even mainstream “Christian” theologians admit it.”

Oh, good. The Nazi propaganda machine worked.

No, seriously.  No tinfoil hats or black helicopters here. Look, I know it's become popular, even cliche, to link unpopular people or ideas with the Nazis. The thing is, this time, it's been documented.

The Nazi War on Christmas 

While Adolph Hitler's antipathy for Christianity is well-known, more recent research has revealed that Nazi leaders ran a calculated campaign to divorce Christmas from its Christian associations. Instead, they promoted its alleged association with the winter solstice and Germanic paganism to help advance their nationalistic, racist agenda, says Bernd Brunner, author of Inventing the Christmas Tree.

In our last post, we learned that Christmas trees were a German Protestant tradition. Many in Catholic regions of Germany rejected Christmas trees as part of the “Lutheran heresy” until the late 1800s – a fact that makes it difficult to argue Catholics co-opted them from ancient pagan worship. But by the 1900s, the decorated tree was accepted in Catholic parts of Germany and recognized around the world as a symbol of the German Christmas celebration. The Nazis used this symbolism – as well as some of the published tree legends we've already debunked - as to their advantage as a tools for ideological manipulation that echoes to this day.

“Thus the socialist propaganda machine strove to emphasize the tree's Germanic roots and to paint it as a direct descendant of the mythical tree of life – all in order to distract from the Christian meaning of the celebration,” Brunner said. 

Many communist, socialist and fascist movements of the 1900s discouraged Christmas, according to
Gary Bowler, author of Christmas in the Crosshairs. For example, Soviet officials tried to transition the holiday to a December 21 celebration of Stalin's birthday. Romanians were barred from singing carols in public. Some countries simply kept traditional treats off store shelves until after December 25 had passed.

Even leftist communists and democratic socialists in Germany opposed Christmas – which set up the national socialists to nobly defend the celebration. When communist protesters destroyed Christmas paraphernalia in the streets, Sturmabteilung (SA for short, by translation "storm division" or "storm troopers") soldiers encountered and confronted them, making the national socialist (aka Nazis) look reasonable and respectful in contrast. Nazi leaders promised to return to traditional values if elected, and these confrontations made them look like heroes defending their German heritage.

Even before they came to power, Nazi leaders used the holiday to advance their discrimination against Jews. Consider the wording from a 1928 pamphlet by well-known Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels:
“Six hundred small businesses have gone bankrupt due to Jewish department stores this Christmas season in Berlin alone! Set out the Christmas tree. Daughters of Zion, rejoice! The good Germans are forging their own chains from their hard-earned coins. The Jew will grow fat from the coins you give him, the German will starve.” (Bowler, 94)

A Nazi Noel? 

By the time Hitler came to power in 1933, his cohorts had successfully linked national socialism with a “non-Christian Christmas” season. The Nazis took great efforts not to oppose Christmas itself, but to paint the celebration of the Jewish Savior's birth as anti-Semitic and historically German.
“The solution was to avoid any direct attack on the traditional Christmas but to use the state's power, wherever possible, to promote a non-Christian view of the holiday that emphasized national unity, family togetherness, the role of the mother and the eternal cycle of the seasons.” (Bowler, 99)
Now in control of the government, the Nazis used their patriotic, nationalistic Christmas celebration
Nazi Christmas food collection for poor Germans
to promote public welfare programs. Scores of Hitler youth went door to door soliciting contributions for this “winter relief effort” and rewarding donors with small tokens of the Fuhrer's thanks. This effort truly did help many destitute Germans through Depression-Era winters, Bowler says. And it linked Nazism with charity and social solidarity in many German minds - as the leaders had calculated, no doubt.

Still, there were other nationalistic changes that first year, as the regime created a “new vision for Christmas", thanks to Goebbels – now Ministry of National Enlightenment and Propaganda. Brown-shirted SA soldiers accompanied the holy family in a traditional nativity play, while the audience sang the Nazi fight song along with traditional carols. One film dated to 1933 showed a nativity scene surrounded by SA soldiers and Teutonic knights, all arranged under a picture of Hitler.  The next year, Nazi leaders added holidays like Hitler's birthday and the anniversary of the Nazi political victory to the calendar.

Later on, the government started giving instructions on celebrating Christmas in a “national socialist manner.” They first targeted schools and the Hitler youth, Bowler said. Nativity plays and carols were finally banned from schools in 1938 and replaced with songs like this, which Hitler youth sung at Nuremburg rallies:
“No evil priest can prevent us from feeling that we are the children of Hitler!
We follow not Christ, but Horst Wessel.
Away with incense and holy water.
The Church can hang for all we care!
The swastika brings salvation on earth!”
(Bowler, 96) 
Youth also waved banners like this at these same rallies: “Down with a Christ who allows himself to be crucified. The German god cannot be a suffering god. He is god of power and strength.”

Neutralizing the Church

Hitler knew that his plans for territorial expansion and racial purity were mutually exclusive to the Christian message of peace and grace. Nazi Germany had no use for Jesus, and they would have to
Priests salute Hitler at Youth Rally
find a way to neutralize Christian churches in order to achieve their goals. The Reich made agreements with the Catholic Church that largely muzzled the religious institution, even though Hitler quickly broke his promises.
On the Protestant side, the German Christian movement took control and worked to align its teachings with national socialist principles. Soon, the National Protestant Church was portraying Jesus as an Aryan victim of the Jews and draped its altars with swastikas. Redacted version of the gospels eliminated Old Testament Hebrew prophecies from the nativity story. The pagan “blood and earth” ceremony was introduced.

From this point forward, the Christmas season was an annual struggle between Nazi pagans and paganized Christians versus leaders in Protestant and Catholic Christianity. Church leaders hoped to use the citizens' popular attachment to Christmas to defend Christianity itself in Nazi Germany.  No one won this power struggle, but ordinary German Christians were the big loser.
“Christmas was celebrated without any mention of Christianity, instead directives mandated it was 'a people's Christmas, in a consciousness of German tradition',” Bowler says.
Traditional Christian hymns were edited to remove Jewish ideas and words, like “Hosanna” and “Hallelujah.” In some songs, the Norse God “Baldur” replaced the name of Jesus. Schoolchildren praised Hitler in the re-written version of the classic Christmas hymn, Silent Night:
“Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.
Only chancellor stays on guard,
Germany's future to watch and to ward,
guiding our nation aright.”
Silent night, holy night all is calm, all is bright.
Adolf Hitler is Germany's Star,
Showing us greatness and glory afar,
Bringing us Germans the might.”
(Bowler, 97)

Nazi Yule and Solstice Propaganda

Notice how at first the Nazis adopted Christmas, then they slowly and purposefully hollowed it out and changed it. When World War II began in earnest, Hitler's efforts to paganize the Christmas season were unrestrained, Bowler says. SS families were given official, written instructions on how to begin their Julfest (Yuletide) celebration on Woten's Day, December 6. (Many Catholic, Orthodox and Methodist Christians traditionally recognize December 6 as the official day to remember the historical activities of St. Nicholas, and it is sometimes treated as the the unofficial beginning of the Christmas season. It was the original gift giving day, prior to Martin Luther.) These Nazi Julfest instructions reminded Germans of myths about the ancient god Woten (or Woden), who drove through the air, visiting his followers and leaving them presents to announce the start of the solstice.
“In order to expropriate the German people's deep investment in the Christmas season without referring to its Christian content, Nazi propagandists and ethnologists took advantage of the holiday's proximity to the winter solstice and attempted to build a new set of behaviors around December 21,” Bowler says. “A 1939 article in an educational monthly stated baldly: the real Christmas community celebration … is the winter solstice.” (Bowler, p. 98)
In fact, a variety of WWII-era children's books, magazines and even advent calendars took sharp aim at the SS soldier's home and family, shifting their attention from December 25 to the solstice. None mentioned Jesus or the nativity, but instead featured vague, seasonal sentiments. One “helpful” advent calendar arrived in German homes to help them plan their activities for the month.
Nazi Advent Calendar Cover, 1942
“The solstice symbol on the front cover – a spinning sun – gives a clue that the booklet will include none of the usual Christmas elements of the season. In fact the authors repeat the mantra, Weihnachten ist Sonnewende. 'Christmas is the solstice.' (Bowler, p. 100)
To celebrate Julfest, every SS soldier should have his own Jul plate filled with nuts, apples and Swastika-shaped biscuits, according to the publication. On the actual date of the winter solstice, SS men gathered on mountaintops performing “manly dances” while the townfolk gathered around huge bonfires below. Local children lit candles from these fires and brought them home to light their own Jul trees.

Nazi Advent Calendar Cover, 1943

Nazi Christmas Trees

Brunner, author of Inventing the Christmas Tree, explains more about how the Nazis appropriated the Christmas tree. Ornaments were renamed “Julschmuk,” or yule decorations. Angels, stars and other Christian symbols disappeared. Instead, balls with symbols of plants and animals were used to adorn
Collection of Nazi ornaments
the Jul tree, hearkening back to ancient Germanic tribal wisdom. It became common for swastikas, pikes or other Nazi symbols to appear atop the tree.

The Nazis even reappropriated Advent wreaths, which were designed in the 1800s by a Protestant pastor for residents in his orphanage. Suddenly, the candle-decked wreath were deemed an ancient German symbol, Bowler says, representative of pagans longing for light during the dark winter season.

The propaganda continued in East Germany even after World War II, Bowler says. While the German communist party initially opposed Christmas, they soon saw how it normalized life for its war-stricken citizens.

“Consequently, the leaders of the German Democratic Republic chose to preserve the holiday, strip it of many (but not all) of its connections to religion, and cast it as a time of peace, freedom and a new socialist beginning,” Bowler said. (p. 90)
Father Frost, whom originally bore an intentional and striking resemblance to Stalin - and snow maidens made public appearances, although Der Weihnachtsmann – the secular gift-bringer – was the most popular hero (Bowler, p. 90). Angels were catchily renamed “end-of-year winged figures.” Christmas may have outlasted the Berlin wall, but the holiday would never be seen the same way in Germany. Or anywhere else German mythology has touched.
“In the long run neither European Communism nor its war on Christmas survived, but until the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain came down in 1989, the struggle to control the holiday had some disparate effects. At a public level, the state had considerable success in controlling the agenda, secularizing and commercializing the public aspect, and shifting the merriment to January 1.” (Bowler, p. 90)
Claims associating Christmas traditions with paganism certainly didn't start with the Nazis. But Goebbels and other propagandists got their ideas from somewhere. Did the Nazis take unsubstantiated claims from people like Alexander Hislop or the Jehovah's Witnesses and run with them? Could they have used vague references from authors like Tacitus for their own nationalistic ends? No, we all know the Nazis never lied about anything! They never twisted anything to meet their needs! (She said, sarcastically.) And they certainly never controlled the information their citizens read.

Which leads us to wonder – if the Nazis hadn't resurrected these legends, how many would be accepted as fact by popular culture today? Did the churning of the Nazi propaganda machine bring these tired stories back to the surface? Many in the anti-Christmas crowd point to German experts, German materials and German legends as their sources on Christmas as reinventions of Yule or solstice celebrations. Of course they're correct! If anyone would know about German history, it's the German people, right? (She said, sarcastically.)

Did anti-Christmas voices like Herbert W Armstrong, founder of the modern Church of God movement - buy into this Nazi propaganda? We know that HWA had his eyes on the Third Reich. Some of his earliest failed prophecies predicted a Nazi victory in World War II, and his admiration for Hitler's control tactics has been documented by many, including the Boston Sunday Globe (Church beset with troubles, August 3, 1980). The Ambassador Reports' John Trechak stated that he found a well-worn copy of Mein Kampf in HWA's desk, dog-eared and highlighted. In his autobiography, HWA details his visit to the site of Hitler's infamous beer hall putsch and makes mention of the Fuhrer's subsequent imprisonment, during which he wrote Mein Kampf. Nazi Germany was clearly a topic of HWA's interest.

How much credence would Armstrong have gotten were it not for the Nazi effort to paganize Christmas? We'll never know. Many of the nationalist, socialist and communist movements of the 1900s have died out, but one must wonder whether useful idiots are still promoting their propaganda today.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11


xHWA said...

I love the opening paragraph. If I were to deconstruct it, this is how it would read:

“Martha, I don't care what As Bereans Did or primary source documents or leading historians or chronologically accurate timelines or anyone else says. Christmas is pagan. Christmas trees are pagan. Everyone knows it. I believe it so deeply and so emotionally that I have gone in search of self affirmation and managed to find some. I'll listen to anything at all, so long as it tells me what I want to hear. That's good enough for me. Regardless of how abysmally low the reliability of the source or demonstrably false the claims.”

Yes. That's about how it would read.

Anonymous said...

Yes, xHWA, that's how so many closed-minded people approach everything. While I am profoundly and painfully aware that if you leave your mind sufficiently open, people will throw trash in it, not listening to objective facts and only listening to what you want to hear is the province of fools. "Could you be wrong" is not part of the thinking of so very many people who don't question the ideas they have had from time immemorial, so whatever you heard first is the truth, no matter how much proof anyone has.

This is an amazingly good article. The thing that struck me was "...god cannot be a suffering god. He is god of power and strength." If you think about where we came from, this is a rather familiar refrain. There's no latitude for kindness or tender mercies: Our God is a powerful God who Demands...!

The really big problem with that is that the faux representative of God inherits that, seeing as how he claims to be of God: Therefore, you must respect his authority, because the leader is strong, a man of power and strength -- the one who "found the truth". It all looks a lot like Hitler's Germany, doesn't it.

Or maybe Dr. Philip Zimbardo's Princeton Experiment.

xHWA said...

We were each struck by different things in this article. For me, it was a couple three things.

The striking similarities between what the Nazis did with Christmas and what modern America is doing with Christmas. Just seems to me that it's all running so parallel.

Then this, "Suddenly, the candle-decked wreath were deemed an ancient German symbol, Bowler says, representative of pagans longing for light during the dark winter season."
They took a symbol, invented a new history for it, then declared it to be pagan. Exactly as it has happened over and over since. Happens in Armstrongism and other fundamentalist groups all the time. Not just with Christmas.

Then this, "...although Der Weihnachtsmann – the secular gift-bringer – was the most popular hero (Bowler, p. 90). Angels were catchily renamed 'end-of-year winged figures.'"
The Nazis just took the folk symbols (Santa Claus) and the religious figures (angels) and re-worked them into something new. Obviously they didn't stop there, these are just two examples. But it strikes me how they took established systems, altered them in a very short time, foisted them on the entire public, and this echoes in their culture even still.

The result of all this hot mess is that other groups have taken this false history and run with it as if it is the legitimate history -- which it never was -- and then they use that to invent even more fake histories. It snowballs! Sometimes purposefully. And people conclude Christmas is pagan and we shouldn't celebrate it because of the most unreliable, fake information possible.

nck said...

What about the Founding Fathers?

Did they have Christmas trees?


nck said...

Oh man,

I mean the Pilgrim Fathers of course? I guess not. They tried to be "pure".

Santa Claus is definitely a 1930's Coca Cola advertisement based on a true story, the story of St Nick and his helpers the Walkure.


Martha said...

Oh, no, of course the puritans/pilgrims wouldn't have a Christmas tree, or anything else related to Christmas. Not because they believed it was pagan, but because they believed"Christ-mass" was Catholic. Puritans came to the "new world" to escape bitter religious conflict with Catholics.

In colonial America, businesses and schools were open out of sheer principle (and probably a bit of spite) on December 25. It is my understanding that it was largely Hessian soldiers who first brought Christmas traditions to America. They would gain more traction later when German and Dutch settlers came.

I have not looked extensively into the roots of the Santa Claus tradition, since it's not something our family employs. Although I have heard xHWA mention Coca-Cola's Santa marketing campaigns before. Off the cuff, it makes sense that there is some co-mingling of St. Nicholas and potentially legends about Woden.

Anonymous said...

In reviewing the article, I'm now wondering how many of the Commandments the Armstrongists are breaking... but then it hit me: All of them.

So much for keeping God's Law.

Maybe we should send them a wrapped Christmas present, with a pretty bow:

A Bible.

Since they don't seem to have read it, or if they have, they don't seem to understand much about the New Testament....

Anonymous said...

"While Adolph Hitler's antipathy for Christianity is well-known, more recent research has revealed that Nazi leaders ran a calculated campaign to divorce Christmas from its Christian associations."

That's politics at work. They didn't care about truth, just about sucking up to the Fuhrer. If Adolf wanted something done his way, they did it. No different from spankies, divine dave's, or the 6-packs cult.