The ‘Christ-Mass’ Season is here again! Rejoice!
“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.” ― Laura Ingalls Wilder
Who still believes in Christmas?
The air is redolent with the heady smells of Christmas – the rich aromatic spices of ginger and cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, roasted chestnuts and the sweet scent of pine. Familiar Christmas songs are softly playing, the table is laden with Christmas cookies, with Christstollen, Lebkuchen, Shortbread, Melting Moments, Spritzkuchen, Macaroons and Speculaas, Oatmeal, Peanut butter, Almonds, Pecan and Chocolate, Marzipan, fruits and nuts, all sorts piled high. The mistletoe is up and the holly wreath hangs on the front door, welcoming all who enter.
“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ” ― Norman Vincent Peale
The Christmas tree is sparkling with glittering glass balls, garlands and tinsel, and heirlooms handed down for generations, with the special Star Of Bethlehem shining down from the top, angels placed strategically, the treasured nativity scene given pride of place below, close to the brightly and colorfully wrapped gifts, decorated with gay ribbons and self-made gift tags, scattered around the foot of the cherished tree. The festooned lights glow and shine softly with the joys of the season.
Christmas stockings hang above the mantel, rainbow-colored presents peeking out the top. The richly decorated table, laid with the special dining service kept for only special occasions, with flickering candles, red and green crackers, glittering crystal, silver and gold, groans with the weight of dishes prepared days in advance. Rich-red berry boughs are placed in every room, Christmas cards are hung up and shown proudly, beautiful in their variety.
You are sitting, snug and safe and comfortable, in front of the crackling fire, cradling a cup of mulled wine, eggnog or perhaps warm cocoa, visiting with family come from afar, catching up and enjoying the sense of re-connection. Life is good.
The children cannot settle down, their excitement and anticipation infectious, waiting for the faint tinkling of the bells to herald the coming of Father Christmas and his reindeer, bringing with him exquisite gifts and fulfilling long-awaited dreams.
Life is gentle once again, slowing down, becoming more indulgent. Love is all around, peace descends, minds relax, church bells toll, a deep breath in…..aaaaahhhhhhh…….sigh……
‘Tis the season (pardon the use of expression if you are against it) of tolerance and forgiveness. ‘Tis time again for being grateful and thankful, of being kind and thoughtful towards others, of looking outward, outside of that most important self and becoming one with those around you. ‘Tis time for fellowship, to embrace your neighbors and heal family rifts, ‘tis time to make time for spending with those who matter. ‘Tis a time of feasting, of the celebration of life, of remembering those less fortunate, of helping the poor, of giving to others.
Churches are once again resonating with the exultant songs of choirs singing, the sounds of bells pealing in exultation, hosannas rising to the rafters, inviting the forgotten and the misbegotten, welcoming all back to the place where it all began. Carolers going out into the night to sing joyous songs to warm cold hearts.
Where did this beautiful season begin, so filled with customs and tradition, emotion and meaning?
“There has been only one Christmas — the rest are anniversaries.” ― W.J. Cameron
Some people (in a slightly derogatorily way) refer to Christmas as the religious festival and Xmas to the commercialized one.
There are literally thousands of different ways in which people of an estimated 160 countries around the world celebrate their special season. Some celebrate on the eve of the 24th Dec, others on the 25th, and yet others either on the 26th, New Year’s Eve, Jan 6th, Jan 7th (according to the Julian Calendar) or at the end of January, celebrating the end of the Chinese year.
It is celebrated with an incredible array of food, from ham, turkey, goose, fish and barbecue, to stuffed cabbage, balls of cheese, soup, potato salad, nevik (a vegetable dish of green chard and chick peas), buckwheat cakes, spinach, oysters and rice pudding. It is true: variety is the spice of life!
But what is it about Christmas which causes such widely disparaging views and reactions in people when they debate the tradition?
Some possible background to ancient origins:
(Please note: this is not a thirty year dissertation, with an in-depth scientific study done by University Fellows, this is my own research only.)
Apparently the word ‘Christmas’ occurs nowhere in the Bible.
Some reports state that at around 1038 A.D. Christians considered the Lord’s Supper (Mass) as the most important part of the celebration of His Birth and thus this celebration became Christ-Mass, to wit: Christmas.
But conversely, in a report by David C. Pack, pagan customs featured their celebrations around the time of the modern-day Christmas time. It is contended that in the second century after the Birth of Christ, Romans honored the god of sowing, Saturn; they began celebrating the harvest festival, Saturnalia (Dec 17th), marking the Winter Solstice (the return of the sun). These celebrations seem to have gone the way many of our modern ones today go: too much wine, women and song.
(“Oh look, yet another Christmas TV special! How touching to have the meaning of Christmas brought to us by cola, fast food, and beer…. Who’d have ever guessed that product consumption, popular entertainment, and spirituality would mix so harmoniously? ” ― Bill Watterson, The Essential Calvin and Hobbes)
The Iranian god Mithra, the sun of righteousness, was said to be born on Dec 25th. On Jan 1st, the Roman New Year, greenery was used to decorate the houses, lights were put up and gifts were distributed to children and the poor. More tradition was added by the Germans and the Celtics, (the Teutonic tribes who invaded parts of Europe), with bonhomie, the Yule log and Yule cakes, fir trees and good-will becoming established customs. (Yule meaning “wheel” and so representing the sun.) The sun god was considered to revere holly berries and mistletoe. Holly was also used by the pagans to give to exchange as friendship tokens or they took the sprigs into their homes to give to fairy forest people who would shelter from the cold. The Roman Christians used them to decorate. And for many centuries, fire and lights have symbolized warmth and lasting life.
In about 529 A.D., when it is said that Christianity become the official state religion of the Roman Empire, Christmas was declared a civic holiday by Emperor Justinian. The celebration of Christmas reached its worst moments during the medieval period when debauchery and overindulgence became the norm. Many people still celebrate in this fashion today – so, not much has changed.
During earlier times, pagans celebrated their own birthdays, but there was no mention of anyone celebrating the Birth of Jesus, or holding feasts in His name. The earliest mention of a Church festival or feast was from Egypt. Christians during this time were more known to celebrate the deaths of great men than their births.
It was only in the fifth century that the Western Church mandated that the feast was to be celebrated henceforth, as a festival honoring Christ, on the day of the Mithraic ceremonial observance of the birth of the sun, and at the close of Saturnalia. This can probably be seen to be the origin of the modern Christmas celebration. It seems clear that the exact date of the Birth of Christ was never recorded. Some feel strongly that it was more political than religious chicanery which led church leaders to adopt the date of Saturnalia as the birth date of Jesus, trying to get their members’ buy-in with the accompanying festivities and giving of gifts.
It can endlessly be debated, based on various verses from the New Testament, whether or not Jesus would approve of the celebration of His Birthday as it is observed today. Scholars debate that if one studies the traditions of the early Jews, sheep would be taken out to pasture during Spring and returned to their stables in the Fall, when the rains would begin. During the time they spend in the fields, shepherds would watch over them day and night. So if Christ had been born when the sheep were still outside, it must have been before October, sometime in the fall.
Santa Claus: This is another contentious issue. Are you lying to your children when you tell them that Santa Claus exists and will they be scarred for life when they find out he is a myth once they’re older? Where did Santa come from?
Apparently in some parts of Asia, Nimrod was a fire god who came down chimneys of the erstwhile pagans and to whom human child sacrifices were made. Nimrod was commonly called Santa. Modern day Santa could alternatively have come from St Nicholas (a bishop of Myra, a Turkish town in the 4th century?), or from St Nick, which is unfortunately also a name used when one refers to the devil. The elves are purported to be today’s version of the”nature folk” of the pagan religions, the reindeer are connected with a pagan deity, the “horned god”. In the book Revelations in the Bible, mention is made of the doctrines of the Nicolaitanes. This was taken to mean follower of Nicholas. According to some interpretations, Nikos means conqueror/destroyer and Laos means people. It could thus be said that it means to follow the destroyer, Nimrod (Santa – from St Nicholas).
Gifts: Another interesting fact to consider: if we give gifts at Christmas time, and we say that the practice comes from the example of the Three Wise Men (or Kings) why do we give gifts to each other and not to Jesus, seeing as it is supposedly His Birthday and not ours? The gifts given to Jesus were indeed not actually ON His Birthday, but a time afterwards.
Trees: The oak tree was sacred to the Druids, as palms were to the Egyptians and the fir was to the Romans (who decorated the fir with red berried to celebrate Saturnalia). Mistletoe is a parasite which grows on oak trees, which traditionally had special meaning in some Druidical ceremonies. It was also apparently given by the early Celtics as a fertility remedy to barren animals. They decorated their oak tress with candles and fruits to pay homage to their harvest gods. The first Christmas tree is said to have come from Egypt, but was used long before the advent of Christianity. An old Babylonian folktale would have it that they believed Nimrod’s rising up again to be symbolized by a new, young tree sprouting from an old dead tree.
Speculation has it that the trees served to remind the Vikings that the cold and dark, dank days of winter would come to an end and that the green and lushness of spring would return.
Many legends have sprung up over the years. Such as the one which would have Martin Luther walking alone one night in a quiet wood, and because the air was crisp and clear, the stars were brilliantly edged along the edges of the trees as he looked up. This so inspired him that he cut down a smaller tree and tried to replicate his vision at home by placing candles on it.
Or the one in which the English missionary/martyr monk called St Boniface came across some pagans gathering around a sacred oak (Thor’s?) in the process of sacrificing a child. He chopped down the tree and in its place a small grew again. He said this symbolized the Tree of Life and the life of Jesus.
In modern times, we mostly use fir, spruce or pine.
Decorated with garlands of tinsel, ribbons, lanterns, angel hair, figurines, fans and parasols, wire, paper, wood or glass ornaments or anything else: it is what you make of it. Whether you like your tree ultramodern, with its own kaleidoscopic display and blowing its own snow, or traditional, smelling sweetly of pine or fir, it is all up to you, your family and childhood traditions, your community and the country you live in.
“Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind. ” ― Mary Ellen Chase
Consider this: In some schools in parts of the world today, Christmas, with all its concomitant activities, is allowed but Bibles and prayers (mostly Christian) are banned.
“Christmas can be celebrated in the school room with pine trees, tinsel and reindeer, but there must be no mention of the man whose birthday is being celebrated. One wonders how a teacher would answer if a student asked why it was called Christmas.” ― Ronald Reagan
Many celebrate this time as a religious festival; others celebrate because of the birth of an emperor (Japan). For some it is only Constitution Day (Taiwan) and no longer a holiday. Some call it Family Day; others only celebrate Ramadan or Yom Kippur. Whether you are a Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Druid, an agnostic, an atheist or a communist, it is clear that all people have something to celebrate, in a specific way and for a specific reason.
And people NEED to celebrate, to delight and revel, and to feel good once in a while.
“Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.” ― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience
In the light of the fact that such strong and varied opinions are prevalent about our poor, beleaguered Christmas, its customs and traditions, its raison d’être, its future in our children’s lives, perhaps we can learn to think about it differently.
“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” ― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
Whether or not Jesus would approve of the way Christmas is being celebrated today, or on which day it takes place, is not for me to say. With so many nationalities, religions, beliefs, histories and personalities it would be impossible to arrive at one specific event in which all people on earth would find common grounds of observance and commemoration.
BUT: all people, of all nations, have much more in common that they think. We all need love and friendship, recognition, most of us have an innate need to help others, we all need to be able to give thanks and feel gratitude, we all need to laugh and be in the company of others, we all need to feel good inside, at least some of the time. We all need to feel safe and secure. Although we are so very different, we are also so very much the same.
- Perhaps the truer reason to celebrate this coming season would be to see this as the opportune time, at the end of another year, to reflect, to regroup, to encourage, finding time for introspection. This is the time when wrongs and slights and neglects, which so disturb and cause worry, can be righted.
- Perhaps we aren’t meant to take it all so literally – perhaps it is possible to see Christmas as an exceedingly special opportunity to give, to become less selfish, to share what we have with those who have nothing, to comfort, to protect, to do things for others.
- Perhaps we can reach out more to the shy, the lonely, the old and infirm (you will soon get there too, you know), reach out to the abused and those who live under terrible conditions, reach out to those who need food, shelter or perhaps an education.
- It is not so important whether your celebrations include Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz/ Djed Mraz), Grandfather Winter or Das Christkind, it is not so important whether you believe the presents are brought by an angel or by Santa or by Gwiazdor (“star man”), Aniołek (“little angel”) or Dzieciątko (“baby” Jesus) (Poland). It is not so important whether you believe in St Nicholaus and Knecht Ruprecht (Mikulás and Krampusz), It is not so important whether you believe that Santa Claus is all the way from Korvatunturi , (the northern part of Finland, north of the arctic circle), or living on top of Mount Ararat (Armenia.) It is not so important whether you celebrate with ham or with soup, it is not so important whether you celebrate on Dec 25th or on Jan 6th. It is not so important whether you celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas or the Feast of the Epiphany. It is not so important whether you celebrate Christmas with paper lanterns, chains and flowers or with gifts and poinsettia and hyacinths. Important is: we all have something to celebrate, n’est-ce pas?
- Perhaps this year we can organize better in advance to cut the usual stress to the minimum, so what if things aren’t perfect? Much more important is to give of your time, to sit down and listen to your partner/child/parent tell her or his story, to ask them about their day, how they feel and ask their thoughts and input with the holiday planning. Everyone has good ideas. What if we party less, and visit more, what if we eat less and spend more time doing fun things together?
Labelled Christmas tree or ‘holiday’ tree, Christmas time or festive season: call it what you may and make of it what you will. To each his or her own, don’t you think?
“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?”
― Bob Hope
Christmas is a richly woven tapestry overlaid with legends, customs, traditions and superstitions. Let others be, relax, it is not so important that we all feel exactly the same about everything. The Armenian, the Mongolian, the Brazilian, the Haitian, the Swede, the Indonesian – we do NOT all have to be or think the same.
Just be yourself.
May you celebrate this coming season with absolute joy, with joie de vivre, a warm and open heart, to the best of your ability, embracing and celebrating the good in all of us.
May we all, in our own ways, for whatever reason and wherever we are, make a difference.
Now that would be the true meaning of Christmas!
I wish you a blessed Christmas! Frohe Weichnachten!
You can visit BeAnElf.org if you would like to help a needy child directly this Christmas time.
Also feel free to visit:
When German immigrants first immigrated to America, they took their Christmas trees and traditions with them. Pennsylvania was probably one of the first American communities to use a Christmas tree publicly. It was only during the latter 1800’s that the tree was more widely accepted as a Christmas tree, decorated with nuts, cookies, sweets, apples, candles and colored popcorn. Germans and members of the Moravian Church also first brought Christmas pyramids over which were fir boughs on a triangular wooden frame, decorated with toys, marzipan, paper ornaments, fruits and sweets.
Alabama was the first state to recognize Christmas as an official holiday. This tradition began in 1836. In 1907, Oklahoma became the last US state to declare Christmas a legal holiday.
Queen Charlotte at the Queen’s Lodge put up the first British Christmas tree. Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, decorated a tree at Windsor Castle to celebrate their first-born son, with candles, sweetmeats, fruits and gingerbread.
The first electric lights were lit up on the tree by Edward Johnson (Vice President Edison Electric Company) in 1882.
Christmas trees are edible. Many parts of pines, spruces, and firs can be eaten. The needles are a good source of vitamin C. Pine nuts, or pine cones, are also a good source of nutrition.
I n 1752, 11 days were dropped from the year when the switch from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar was made. The December 25, date was effectively moved 11 days backwards. Some Christian church sects, called old calendarists, still celebrate Christmas on January 7 (previously December 25 of the Julian calendar).
Jesus Christ, son of Mary, was born in a cave, not in a wooden stable. Caves were used to keep animals in because of the intense heat. A large church is now built over the cave, and people can go down inside the cave. The carpenters of Jesus’ day were really stone cutters. Wood was not used as widely as it is today. So whenever you see a Christmas nativity scene with a wooden stable — that’s the “American” version, not the Biblical one.
Santa’s reindeer are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen.
Silent Night was written in 1818, by an Austrian priest Joseph Mohr. He was told the day before Christmas that the church organ was broken and would not be prepared in time for Christmas Eve. He was saddened by this and could not think of Christmas without music, so he wanted to write a carol that could be sung by choir to guitar music. He sat down and wrote three stanzas. Later that night the people in the little Austrian Church sang “Stille Nacht” for the first time.