Loodee here, still searching for my holiday spirit I misplaced sometime around Thanksgiving. Well I can't keep pretending I don't notice the decorations on the traffic lights and the chubby Santas leering at me from every store window. Is there something a bit unforgiving which refuses me entree into the joy others feel so naturally at this time? Some absolutely adore Christmas! I'm a humbug, but malleable lol. And all that is just better left for me to sort out. I'd like to discuss something about the season, and hopefully you'll remember I only have an opinion, sprinkled with a bit of fact.
A friend chastised me saying there'd be no Christmas without Christ. I beg to remind her of the thousands of years b.c. man has celebrated the Winter Solstice, and in many a differing tradition. By any other name, a time of celebration and worship. So anyway:
As families gather round the mummified tree with gifts asunder, merriment galore, sooner or later someone will whisper, "Let's not forget what this day is really about!" And with duly bowed heads, we celebrate the birth of a King. If you're of the Christian persuasion, this is the time of year to rejoice in the coming of Our Lord and Savior, who brought the good news that indeed, our Father God truly is a Living God, who loves and forgives us, and if we just love Him and play nice, things will go alot smoother for Jews, and everyone else if truth be told. How did it happen that we celebrate two occasions on the same day? I'd like to offer that man has celebrated the Winter Solstice for ages unrecorded. Every country celebrates differently, and going back into history I'll just use one little example, the ancient Roman holiday of the Sun, "Saturnalia", also celebrated at this time. We still celebrate the Winter Solstice on the 22nd, the longest night of the year - the shortest day. With the sun at lowest, it's the turning point of the year. The Romans called it Dies Natalis Invicti Solis or "The Birthday of the Unconquered Sun." For many a modern year we've called it "The Birthday of the Son of God." The birth of Jesus.
All the traditions of Roman midwinter's Saturnalia are still performed today, depending on your country: it's a huge festival of hearth and home. The Romans took to making merry, halls of their homes decked with the boughs of laurel and evergreen trees, oil lamps were kept burning (we light our candles, in some ages directly on the tree), all meant to ward off the spirits of darkness. Schools were closed, the army rested, and no man was executed. Friends visited each other, bringing gifts of good luck such as incense, fruits, candles, cakes. In each Temple stood an evergreen, symbolizing the continuity of life, and all of this we continue to do. Did you know your Christmas tree has that meaning? Isn't this symbolism nice to know? And there are myriad other traditions for as many countries, but where amongst all this is the place set aside for Jesus, and why now?
In the 3rd century, many dates between December and April were celebrated by Christians as Mistlemas, now called Christmas (roughly translated as "blessed time") and meant to honor Christ's birth. The 6th of January was the most favored as it was thought to be the baptismal day of Our Lord. It is still a widely held belief that indeed, it was not the Winter Solstice when Jesus came into the world but October, the basis of which I'm not privy to but it's intriguing, as Julius Caesar did add those two months during harvest to the 10-month calendar. Either or. I think anyday is a good day to remember the birth of Christ, anytime a good one to honor Him. Back to the story:
It was c. 350 a.d. that December 25th was adopted in Rome and gradually almost the entire Christian Church agreed to it. The Greek Orthodox Church still celebrates Christmas on January 6th, however. But the 25th coincided with the Winter Solstice, The Yule, and the Saturnalia. All the merriment of Saturnalia was adopted into the observance of the birth of Christ. The mixings are now becoming soup. The tree and the manger are coalescing. By 1100 a.d. Christmas was the peak celebration of the year for all of Europe. Although it went through many changes, especially during Reformation, such as the banning of mistletoe for its pagan connotations (still held by today's Christian church) the mix held fast to this day - the combination of Saturnalia's merrymaking with the celebrations of the Winter Solstice, and the agreed-upon day of Christ's birth (with no historical basis and none really needed).
So Christmas is truly not really one or another, but a combination of many. Merriment, joy, and respectful honor. A most important day of the year.
In 1647 England, Parliament passed a law abolishing Christmas altogether, how bout that?! Even though Charles 2 revived it, the feasting and merrymaking were more worldly than religious. Bit of a dark time.
It's clear our Christmas traditions arose from what some would call "pagan" ceremonies but which we all still perform and take great joy in following, such as decking the halls and setting up our tree, having family gather, friends visit, exchange gifts, all the favors this greatly evolved time brings. It's the Winter Solstice. A duly recognized time of year. It's Saturnalia, the time to get a little nutty and just live to the fullest with those you love under the sun, which orb is honored. It's also the time our Holy Mother Church, founded by Christ, has declared to be the recognition of the birth amongst us of a Savior and King, humble, loving, 100% human, 100% divine, the anointed One, whose destiny was the foundation of the Christian faith. Why not celebrate anytime we want? you may ask. Why can't we chose another date? Those in more educated places who know the byways of historical fact have spoken and so was it writ. Who knows what the 28th century will bring.
When you celebrate with joyous merrymaking your Saturnalia feast, and meditate on the mysteries of the Winter Solstice, take a moment at the creche, the manger we all know so well, and pay your respects. If you don't believe it means anything, it can't hurt you I promise. (If I don't believe there's a monster under my bed, it can't hurt me.) Christmas seems to be, indeed, a combination of ancient traditions, and the Church declared it would also be the best time to recognize the Savior's birth. Whether the concept of such a Man is within your ethic or not, the way I see it and in my humblest of opinions, God requires no one's belief in Him to exist.
So to every dear soul in this Land of J, I wish you:
WARM WINTER SOLSTICE
A CHERISHED CHRISTMAS
and to Jesus,
HAPPY BIRTHDAY !