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To honor the sun-god Mithra, some of ancient mankind used the 25th of December as a day for eating, drinking, gambling, and fucking themselves silly—not choking on stale cookies, lamenting their credit ratings, or watching A Christmas Story on cable. In Inventing Christmas: How Our Holiday Came to Be, author Jock Elliott explains that the beginning of Christmas as we know it started in the fourth century, when the Church arbitrarily labeled Dec. 25 the “Day of Christ’s Nativity” in a ploy to scam the pagans into more civilized merriment. (If only those hedonistic brutes had stood their ground.) Elliott, an enthusiastic Christmas scholar and owner of “more than 3,000” first-edition Christmas books, goes on to explain the origin of many traditions that have come to characterize the holiday: trees, gifts, Santa Claus, cards, and carols. The book includes a few personal anecdotes and clippings from the author, but by mostly sticking to Christmas innovations prior to the 20th century, Elliott, who is chairm emeritus of a major advertising agency, conveniently escapes having to explain the role of the ad machine in the once-modest holiday’s materialistic turn. Still, he manages to demystify the bizarre rituals of late December in a way that should interest direct participants and impartial observers alike—by tracing the holiday’s path from lively end-of-harvest festival to solemn observation of the birth of Christ and hinting at the worship of the modern-day trinity of Hasbro, Tyco, and Mattel. Come, all ye faithful, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4, to the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s Hammer Auditorium, 500 17th St. NW. $15. (202) 639-1770 (Sarah Godfrey)