Everyone loves Christmas, right? Red noses, sherry, mince pies, the Coca-Cola truck, leaving a carrot out for Rudolph, kids playing with wrapping paper, drunken work lunches where men tie their ties around their heads to cut loose, all of it, everything, Christmas. Hooray!
But no! You know who doesn’t (necessarily) like Christmas? Satanists. Satan and Santa might share the same letters, but they don’t share the same values, surely? A partridge in a pear tree, or a goat burned to appease a dark lord?
We tracked down some Satanists to find out what they’ll be getting up to when you’re wearing a paper crown and listening to your racist uncle really mess up the joke from his cracker. Is it all lamb’s blood, speaking in tongues and sacrificing virgins, or is it more about wrapping up warm and having a nice dinner?
Gavin Baddeley is an author, journalist and ordained reverend in the Church of Satan.
“I’ve had a lifelong interest in the dark side and all things devilish. I was commissioned to write a history of Satanism, and I found that so much of what I was discovering and describing applied to me that ‘coming out of the coffin’ as a Satanist myself just seemed the honest thing to do. I was duly ordained as an honorary Satanic reverend by Anton LaVey, the 20th Century’s most infamous devil’s advocate. It’s worth noting that Satanism isn’t what many people imagine. We don’t believe in a literal Devil, let alone worship Him. The opposite of believing in God isn’t believing in a different god – it’s doubt and scepticism. The Abrahamic religions have three central dogmas: obedience, ignorance and abstinence. We revere the reverse: independence, curiosity and indulgence.
“If Jesus existed, he was most likely born in the spring. Christmas was established to match the Ancient Roman winter solstice festivals, as Christianity struggled to suffocate or swallow indigenous polytheist beliefs. It was the shortest day of the year, which made a natural time to try and drive away the darkness with feasting and frivolity. In our world of central heating and year-round fresh food, the prospect of the winter months as a bleak time of deprivation and death is a dim memory for most, but hints of Yule’s darker, pagan side endure. Most Christmas traditions, from trees to mistletoe, are manifestly heathen. You’d be surprised at the weird, twisted Yuletide traditions that survived in the forgotten backwaters of Britain.
“Nobody really sees Christmas as being about mangers and magi these days. It’s more of a celebration of the seven deadly sins. Gluttony and avarice are pretty self-evident. Lust abounds at office parties. If you’re looking for anger, just check out the Stella-swilling halfwits in Christmas jumpers, knocking chunks out of each other in every city centre of a Saturday night throughout December. Pride and envy take over as families try to outdo their neighbours with ostentatious displays of gift-giving. Then sloth will inevitably take centre stage in living rooms across the land on Christmas Day once the surfeit of turkey and sherry take their toll.
“I should confess that I rather like Christmas. I have no problem with sin, so long as it’s enjoyed honestly and at nobody else’s expense. I like spiced wine and rich food. I enjoy giving and receiving keepsakes. Curling up under a fur blanket in front of a roaring fire with your lover while it snows outside can be a small slice of heaven. But, of course, there is no heaven and no hell, so we do well to enjoy ourselves to the best of our ability while we’re here.”
Adam ‘Nergal’ Darski is the lead singer of legendary black metal band Behemoth and a former coach on the Polish version of The Voice. His new band Me and That Man’s debut album Songs of Love and Death is out now.
“I’ve had a close, fluctuating, evolving relationship with Satanism for almost three decades now, from primitive devil worship when I was a teenager to something more human-oriented, experienced and well thought-out in the later stages of my life. But I have always been attracted by outcast figures, antiheroes and fallen archetypes. What interested me was always the nature of man, and of who we really are as human beings.
“There are plenty of misconceptions about Satanism, but the one that annoys me the most is when people joke about eating cats or hurting animals. The Satanist nature is all about respecting other life, including an animal’s life. We’re not some kind of savage evil-doers.
“I don’t pay much attention to Christmas to be honest, but it’s always good to meet up with close ones and celebrate togetherness. Christmas is nothing more than old pagan Yule’s Eve, the celebration of life and light – we should never forget that Christians took the most crucial pagan tradition and put their on sticker on it. Last year I invited a bunch of friends to dinner, prepared presents for all of them, and we hung out, ate and drank, shared jokes, memories, anything really. It was cool. This 25 December, I will be in LA hanging out with friends. I really need to get out of the cold Polish winter. I don’t have a precise plan yet, but I have a few friends there so will probably go out for dinner or something. I wouldn’t even mind spending the day in my hotel, reading a book or watching TV, enjoying my own company.”
Vexen Crabtree works in IT infrastructure and is an 18-year veteran of the Church of Satan. He has written extensively on Satanism, sociology and religion.
“Christmas may have been a pagan festival of renewal, but today, it’s about kids and coming together. My family go for all the magical trappings of Christmas. Wonder, amazement, great presents for my son, glee and happiness for us parents, even if we lose our holiday lay-in. A big cooked meal for dinner, with Christmas crackers. It is hard to imagine another event where we pretty much do what is expected (within secular limits).
“Some parents don’t like ‘lying’ to children about Santa, but he sits in the realm of fantasy and entertainment which we all indulge. Parents don’t exclaim ‘but dragons aren’t real!’ when their children first see them in a book, so there’s no need to automatically destroy Christmas either. Although Christmas goes further – a Truman Show-style mass conspiracy of those in the know (grown-ups) versus innocents (children). But in finding out the truth, there is a great lesson to be learnt: there is no magic, and you must question what people tell you – sometimes they’re all wrong – and question your own beliefs. Sometimes your cherished beliefs are wrong, even those that seem to have evidence in the form of presents.
“We are pretty sure that now he’s eight, our son doesn’t actually believe in Santa, but he’s worried that if he tells us, we’ll stop doing it. He’s learning when to tell white lies – to go along with the play, even though the plot doesn’t make sense. Sometimes, that’s just how society works. If enough people pretend that ‘justice’ and ‘fairness’ are true things then, eventually, they become true things. Same for Christmas – we all play along, and it creates something worthwhile in the process. A family and child-oriented Christmas is good for many things: entertainment, family bonding, creative expression and balancing selfishness and politeness in the face of underwhelming presents. It teaches skepticism, social compromise and, fundamentally, how the magic in our lives is man-made.”
Sean Twomey is the Church of Rational Satanism’s representative for Ireland.
“Satanism can only be defined by the individual, as it is their own path they travel using philosophies that suit their unique personal system. The Church of Rational Satanism philosophy internalises hierarchies so the godhead is all about the self. It gives you a ladder to achieve personal goals that matter only to you, allowing you to shift your paradigm without destroying your core values and helping you create an evolving structure for your individual path.
“I live in Ireland, where the church has committed so many atrocities, yet Satanism is still thought of by many as a form of devil-worship and an excuse for mass orgies, defilement of innocents, things like that. I announced to some close friends a while back that I was a Satanist and of course the usual happened. Some denounced me stating I was going to burn in hell. Some just take the michael now and then but get as good as they give. Others just didn’t care. The majority cannot and will not understand the concept of internalising the ‘adversary’.
“There isn’t a day in the Satanic calendar that is the equivalent of Christmas to non-Satanists – to me as an individual, the Satanic calendar is what I deem it to be. The biggest parts of the year for me are the birthdays of my daughter, partner and of course myself. To me, Christmas is an attempt to remove an earlier Celtic celebration so I do celebrate during this period. The Celtic tradition at the winter solstice was a time for family and feasting. Satanism involves balanced indulgence, and who’s going to say no to a good dinner and prezzies?”