Friday, November 11, 2011

Origins of Christmas

I've been doing a little research... and in all honesty, it's kind of making me feel more than a bit sick. Following are several excerpts pulled from Of the several websites I have looked at, it seems to be clearly written, well documented,with an easy to follow progression of thoughts and is concise enough to read in one sitting. I know nothing about the organization, or it's mission or leadership, and I'm not endorsing it - just offering the link as a starting point for your own research.

"The exact date of Christ's birth is not known. The early Christians did NOT celebrate His birth, because they considered the celebration of anyone's birth to be a pagan custom. The first mention of the observance of Christ's birthday appears about A.D. 200. For many years, several dates were used. December 25 was first mentioned in 336 AD. (December 25 is the date given for the birth of the Roman Sun-God.)

For many years, people observed Christmas as a religious festival only. But they gradually adopted more and more customs unrelated to the Church. Most of the customs originated in cultures that existed before Christianity..." (Worldbook Encyclopedia article "Christmas")

It seems that all the popular customs and traditions surrounding Christmas were celebrated at pagan mid-winter festivals in cultures from all over the world. What we have today is a polyglot of these traditions lumped into one big celebration.

One of the most common customs of Christmas today is bringing home and decorating a 'Christmas Tree.' Where did this custom come from? "Most people have heard that the Christmas tree originates in the tannenbaum and is some sort of vestige of Teutonic vegetation worship. This is partially true. However, the custom of using pine and other evergreens ceremonially was well established at the Roman Saturnalia, even earlier in Egypt. (Coffin, The Book of Christmas Folklore, p. 209)

"The custom of burning the Yule log began with the ancient Scandinavians, who once a year burned a huge log in honor of their god Thor. After the Scandinavians became Christians, they made the Yule log an important part of their Christmas ceremonies." (Worldbook Encyclopedia "Christmas")

And these two customs are even more tightly connected.

"The Christmas tree, now so common among us, was equally common in Pagan Rome and Pagan Egypt. In Egypt that tree was the palm tree; in Rome it was the fir..." both denoting a Pagan Messiah (Baal-Tamar in Egypt and Baal-Berith in Rome). The mother of Adonis, the Sun-God and great mediatorial divinity, was mystically said to have been changed into a tree, and when in that state to have brought forth her divine son. If the mother was a tree, the son must have been recognized as 'Man the branch.' And this entirely accounts for the putting of the Yule Log into the fire on Christmas Eve, and the appearance of the Christmas tree the next morning..." (Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, p. 97) 

"This idea of decorating homes on holidays is both worldwide and age-old... So the Saturnalian laurel, the Teutonic holly, the Celtic mistletoe, and the Mexican poinsettia have all attached themselves to [it]... Many of the plants used at Christmas are symbols of fertility. Holly, with its pricking leaves, white flowers, and red berries symbolizes the male reproductive urge. In fact, in the English carols... the holly is the male and the ivy is the female. This use of the plants was most likely borrowed by the Christians along with other customs of the Roman Saturnalia." (Collins, Christmas Folklore, pp. 22-23)

What about Santa Claus? Even he has a not-so-benign origin. Many people assume that the original Santa Claus was a bishop by the name of St. Nicholas of Asia Minor in the 4th century, but this isn't really the case. Although his name, 'St. Nick,' and some of this good deeds have been borrowed, the tradition of leaving special gifts dates thousands of years earlier. Among Scandinavians, it was Odin (or Woden) who left special gifts during the Yuletide season under an evergreen tree. The evergreen was his sacred tree.

"In newly Christianized areas where the pagan Celtic and Germanic cults remained strong, legends of the god Wodan were blended with those of various Christian saints; Saint Nicholas was one of these. There were Christian areas where Saint Nicholas ruled alone; in other locations, he was assisted by the pagan Dark Helper (the slave he had inherited from the pagan god Wodan). In other remote areas...ancient pockets of the Olde Religion controlled traditions. Here the Dark Helper ruled alone, sometimes in a most confusing manner, using the cover name of Saint Nicholas or 'Klaus,' without in any way changing his threatening, Herne/Pan, fur-clad appearance. (This was the figure later used by the artist Nast as the model for the early American Santa Claus)" (Tony van Renterghem, When Santa Was a Shaman: The Ancient Origins of Santa Claus & the Christmas Tree, page 96).

My mind is reeling...

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