Happy Holidays – Christmas (repost) December 20, 2007Posted by Matt in Christmas, holiday, Jesus.
Tags: Black Peter, Christmas, Jesus, Santa Claus, Saturnalia, Winter Solstice
add a comment
Originally Posted 12/20/06
The third in our Winter (or Summer for my Southern Hemisphere friends) trilogy is the holiday of Christmas – the day that marks the traditional birthdate of Jesus Christ. The word itself is a contraction, meaning “Christ’s Mass,” with the Spanish “navidad” and French “noel” carry more Nativity connotations. Sometimes the day is denoted as X-mas, where the X comes from the Greek letter chi, which is the first letter in Christ. This celebration is not just the product of Christianity, though, instead it is a veritable potpourri of religious and pagan traditions woven together as one.
The Nativity, as mentioned above, refers to the Jesus’ miraculous birth written about in the Biblical books of Matthew and Luke. Jesus as God incarnate was born to the virgin Mary in a common manger in the little town of Bethlehem. To commemorate the event, shepherds and magi came from afar bringing praises and gifts for the newborn Savior.
Other holidays contributing to the festivities include the Roman Saturnalia, a time of relaxation, feasting, merry-making and gift giving in honor of the god Saturn. At times, the gala – filled with drinking, gambling, singing and public nudity – would go on as long as seven days. Sal Invictus was a winter solstice festival that was introduced to the Romans in the early third century with the purpose of celebrating the birthdays of two solar deities – Sol Invictus of Syrian origin and the Iranian god Mithras. A third celebration, denoted by the familiar word Yule, was a pagan Scandinavian holiday held in late December to early January in which Yule logs were lit to honor Thor, the god of thunder. Each spark from the fire was believed to represent a new pig or calf that would be born in the coming year.
Christian historian Sextus Julius Africanus put forth the idea that Jesus was born on December 25 in his AD 221 writing, Chronographiai. The date was chosen because it is nine months after March 25th – the Feast of Anunciation and presumed date of the Incarnation of Jesus. Within the next century, the commemoration had become an integral part of the Catholic Church. Centuries later, during the Reformation, Protestants condemned the celebration of Christmas and, in 1647, England’s Puritan rulers actually banned the holiday – causing those that were pro-Christmas to riot and resulting in its reinstatement. In conjunction with this belief, the Puritans of New England also disapproved of Christmas, so it was even outlawed here until 1681. The holiday was not fully embraced until the warm family emphasis of Charles Dickens’ 1843 book A Christmas Carol and Washington Irving’s The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon was put forth. It was not made a U.S. federal holiday until 1870.
Other important Christmas traditions include that of a mythical gift-giving Santa Clause and the bright adornment of the Christmas tree. The figure of Santa Claus (or Father Christmas, or St. Nicholas, or Sinterklaas) comes from a Dutch fairy tale based on the real St. Nicholas who gave gifts on the eve of his feast day – December 6. His association with Christmas came about in 19th century America when Washington Irving wrote of St. Nicholas, “riding over the tops of trees,” and from Clement Clarke Moore’s 1822 poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, that depicted him driving a sleigh pulled by reindeer and giving presents to children. Father Christmas, who was first written of in the 15th century, predates the Santa character, but he was more known for holdiday merrymaking and drunkeness than for good will and gift giving. In some cultures, Santa is accompanied by Black Peter, forming a dualistic relationship where Santa gives gifts, whle Peter may take back presents or punish children that are naughty. The tradition of the Christmas tree was one adapted from the pagan tree worship surrounding the Winter solstice. The tradition of using it as a holiday decoration came about in 18th century Germany, where it was in time introduced to England and into the United States.
There are a lot of other traditions and practices that have not been listed here, but I hope this entry, and this series, have been informative for you. Is there anything else you would add to this?