Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Holiday Reveal Tuesday: Christmas

Thanksgiving is two days away, and officially marks the beginning of the Christmas season. Many people put up their Christmas trees the day after Thanksgiving, as well as knock out most of their Christmas shopping! So today we are going to talk about Christmas.

My blurb
I've always felt torn about the Christmas holiday. I was never taught that Santa Claus was real, but most of my friends and family believed in him. I think its strange to lie to one's child about such things, or anything really. I've always felt that the holidays can be magical without make-believe fat men. Christmas has also become a material-centric holiday.  Despite some of the oddities of Christmas, I love the trees, the food, time with friends and family, decorating, lights, and the general happiness that surrounds the Christmas season. My favorite Christmas tradition? The advent calender!

The legend
The tale of Christmas normally begins out of Luke Chapter 2, a story complete with angels, shepherds, magi, a virgin birth and a baby in the manger.  It is celebrated as Jesus' birthday: when he was born in a barn because there was no room at the inn. His mother, Mary, and his step-father, Joseph, were in Bethlehem for a census. Carols sing of a magical starry night, where Jesus' humble existence began. We give gifts because the magi brought Jesus gifts. Often we have "living nativities" (when I was a child, I played "Mary" at a nursing home). It is now acknowledged that Jesus' birth was most likely in the Spring, not December 25th (or January 7th in Russia), but this has not changed the holiday much at all. It is the day to celebrate the Christian savior's birth.

What really happened?
The Christmas holiday dates back thousands of years ago: just not in the form we would like to imagine. The Winter Solstice is December 21st - the shortest day of the year. Most cultures celebrated light and birth because the harshest part of the winter was behind them. Different countries celebrated midwinter with unique traditions, all over the European world. Longer days of sunlight- sounds like something to celebrate to me! Whether in Germany, Scandinavia, or Rome, there were festivities and partying during the month of December for thousands of years before the birth of Jesus.

So where did the date December 25th come from? December 25th is Mithra's birthday. Mithra is the infant god born from a rock. He is the god of the unconquerable sun. Romans upheld this day as sacred. It would make sense that the unconquerable sun god's birthday would be close to the winter solstice, no?

So how did these pagan holidays turn into the celebration of Jesus' birth?  
It seems ludicrous, does it not? The  pagan celebration of winter solstice has somehow turned into the celebration of Jesus' birth, the savior of Christians, who denounce all things pagan.Well, it took about 1800 years for this to happen...Pope Julius I (pope from 337-352) declared December 25th as the celebration of Jesus' birthday primarily to convert some of the pagans and to consume Saturnalia. Think of it this way:

It took nearly 400 years before Jesus' birth was celebrated all over the modern European world on December 25th. This was known as the "Feast of the Nativity." The celebration of Christmas has continued to evolve since then with traditions from different countries around the world influencing what it is today.

In a Nutshell
Winter solstice was the celebration of midwinter for thousands of years. Yay, we just might survive!  Christianity begins to spread around 300-400 C.E. and wants to be a comparable and competitive religion, and so Jesus' birth is celebrated at the same time as the winter solstice holiday. Christians continue to practice pagan rituals and traditions even today.

For more information, check out The History of Christmas which has many cool videos and articles!

Next week: the history of Christmas traditions, such as, the Christmas tree, stockings, reindeer, and why is there a partridge in a pear tree?

No comments: