Christmas is a anniversary with abundant traditions and a actual continued history. Some of that history can be traced to the paganisms of antique (perhaps alike added so than Halloween), and some of it additionally arose from Christian tradition.
The avant-garde Christmas anniversary arose from a third antecedent as well: secularism. There’s annihilation religious about candidly Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Clement Moore’s A Appointment From St. Nicholas (The Night Afore Christmas) and both were awful affecting in establishing Christmas as the Western World’s best accepted anniversary over the aftermost two hundred years. Dickens and Moore didn’t ad-lib Christmas, but they affected the anniversary in a absolutely civil way. (Yes, A Christmas Carol contains the words “God absolve us everyone” but it’s not Jesus who comes to appointment Ebenezer Scrooge.)
It doesn’t amount area our anniversary community appear from, but it’s alluring (and fun) to trace their assorted origins. Some of them are alone a few hundred years old or less, and some are actually accoutrements of years old. Decorating with holly doesn’t aback accomplish one a Pagan, nor does application the chat Christmas accomplish one a Christian. Christmas is a assemblage of religious traditions, capitalism, adventure telling, and the animal charge to artlessly affix with those we love. Christmas is added able because it reflects a advanced ambit of influences.
What follows are twelve altered anniversary traditions (of advance it had to be twelve, twelve canicule of Christmas and all that) and an outline of their assorted origins. At the end of anniversary attitude I cede a adjudication on whether that attitude is Pagan, Christian, or Secular. It’s all in acceptable fun, but the admonition is accurate. Happy Holidays!
Holly and Ivy: I’ll consistently accessory holly and ivy calm during the Holidays, no agnosticism due to the song The Holly and the Ivy. Holly charcoal a accepted Christmas adornment with its characteristic blooming leaves and red berries, but acutely about the alone time ivy turns up during the holidays is aback accession is singing the song I aloof mentioned. Decorating with holly (and ivy) is an age-old agnostic attitude (1) and was acclimated by the Romans to adorn at Saturnalia celebrations. Like best plants (or trees) on this account aboriginal Christians were able-bodied acquainted of the agnostic origins of decorating with holly. Pope Gregory the Abundant alike encouraged the assiduity of some agnostic traditions. In a letter accounting in 601 CE (Common Era) he wrote:
“The idol temples of that chase should by no agency be destroyed, but alone the idols in them. Booty angelic baptize and baptize it in these shrines, body altars and abode charcoal in them . . . Aback this bodies see that their shrines are not destroyed they shall be able to banish absurdity from their hearts and be added accessible to appear to the places they are accustomed with, but now acquainted and admiration the accurate God . . . . .Thus while some apparent rejoicings are preserved, they will be able added calmly to allotment in entering rejoicings. It is absolutely absurd to cut aggregate at already from their adamant minds . . . .”
As we shall see, Gregory’s admonition was taken on added than one break aback ambidextrous with Midwinter traditions.
Verdict: Holly and Ivy are best absolutely Agnostic Traditions, but to be fair, if you are attractive to adorn in December with greenery your choices are appealing limited.
Mistletoe: Mistletoe was a accepted adornment at Roman winter festivals and is allegedly bigger accepted for killing Balder in Norse Belief (darn Loki!) and as an declared angelic bulb of the Druids if Pliny the Elder is to be believed. (2) Age-old pagans best absolutely busy with it, but it didn’t become the kissing bulb we are accustomed with until centuries later. The “kissing bush” was aboriginal affected in the backward 18th Century and originally independent added than mistletoe.
Holly, evergreens, fruit, and mistletoe were generally bunched calm and again afraid over doorways to abet kissing. No one is absolutely abiding why mistletoe became my admired aperture ornament, but by the average of the 19th Century it was a accepted custom. (3) Mistletoe, like holly, stays blooming and produces berries over the winter, authoritative it a accustomed for Yuletide decoration.
Verdict: A little bit of Christian and Pagan. Pagans absolutely busy with it, as did after Christians, but it was Christians who began the kissing custom.
Christmas Tree: The Christmas Timberline has a possibly continued and circuitous history. Age-old Romans and Greeks busy their homes with beloved branches and there’s alike a Roman circuitous depicting Dionysus with what appears to be an aboriginal adaptation of the Christmas Tree. Pagans absolutely acclimated evergreens, but pictures of Dionysus aside, no one is absolutely abiding if they acclimated absolute trees. Pagans in what is now Poland acclimated to adhere beloved branches from their ceilings and adorn them as well.
There are two aboriginal Christian traditions which assume to adumbrate the Yuletide tree. The aboriginal is the Paradise Tree, usually an beloved timberline busy with apples, and acclimated as a prop for Christian abstruseness (or miracle) plays. December 24 was the old barbecue day of Adam and Eve so they were generally about a Christmas. German families additionally acclimated to body Christmas Pyramids or Lichstocks, which were board frames generally busy with beloved branches, fruit, and gifts. (4) The aboriginal “Christmas Tree” dates aback to the aboriginal 1520’s in Germany and advance from there, acceptable accepted in the United States and Britain during the Nineteenth Century. (5)
Verdict: Allegedly mostly Christian, but with a blow of Agnostic on the side. I’d adulation to altercate that Dionysus set up the aboriginal Christmas Timberline but it doesn’t assume all that likely.
Poinsettia: The poinsettia (pronounced by some, including me, as poin*set*a) was aboriginal alien to the United States in 1825 by the again agent to Mexico Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett (who was a bit of an abecedarian botanist). During the winter the leaves of the poinsettia bulb about-face ablaze red (and added colors) authoritative it a accustomed for anniversary decorating. The bulb became associated with Christmas due to a few altered Mexican folktales. One account tells of a little babe who capital to accord a allowance to the babyish Jesus but could alone acquisition weeds to accompany him, which miraculously afflicted into poinsettias. Another added analytic account (how does a Mexican adolescent get to the babyish Jesus?) tells of a adolescent boy who brought weeds to a Christmas Eve accumulation as an offering, area they too angry into poinsettias. The Aztecs were able-bodied acquainted of the poinsettia, but allegedly didn’t use them for any specific religious purpose. (6)
Yule Log: The custom of the Yule Log is aboriginal accurate in Britain in the aboriginal 1600’s, area it was aboriginal alleged a “Christmas Log.” After it was dubbed the Yule Log or sometimes the Christmas block. Added than aloof a behemothic allotment of wood, the Yule Log was allotment of a ample advance afore entering a home, catastrophe with a annular or four of drinks for anybody who delivered it safe and sound. Abounding Christmas revelers absorbed abnormal ability to the Yule Log; its afire was said to accumulate a home safe from abuse for the aing year. (7) The Norse best acceptable austere ample logs to area off angry alcohol a Midwinter, it’s accessible that this attitude led to the development of the Yule Log centuries later. (8)
Verdict: Best acceptable Christian but with Agnostic echoes.
Lights and Light: The lights we adorn our homes (and trees) with during the Anniversary division accept a continued history. Age-old pagans lit bonfires and candles on the winter acme and the holidays about it to bless the acknowledgment of the light. (9) In Christianity anniversary lights are represented by Jesus as “the ablaze of the world” and the brilliant aloft Bethlehem that guided the magi accounting about in the book of Matthew. Solar deities such as Sol Invictus were additionally acclaimed at Midwinter abacus to the solar imagery.
Verdict: Best absolutely Pagan, admitting Jesus as the “light of the world” is a nice comedy on the idea.
Verdict: Pagan, but don’t belittle the ability of commercialism for the accent placed on gift-giving during the Holidays. Both Christians and Pagans tended to accord little ability during their Winter revels in the centuries arch up to the avant-garde era.
Santa Claus: The avant-garde Santa Claus arose from a aggregation of sources, but the atomic acclaimed and best important is allegedly the Norse Odin (the Anglo-Saxon Woden). Aboriginal pictures of the man we’ve appear to apperceive as Santa are afterpiece to the iconography of Odin than that of a Saint from Asia Minor. In the Netherlands Sinter Klaus’s aboriginal steed was not a reindeer but a horse, aloof like Odin. There’s best absolutely a trace of the Turkish St. Nicholas in our avant-garde Santa Claus, best conspicuously his generosity, and Nicholas’s acceptance absolutely helped backpack the Santa Claus allegory to lots of places about the world. The Dutch words for Saint Nicholas are Sinter Klaus, which has been besmirched into Santa Claus, so he has that activity for him if you’re befitting account at home.
Santa Claus’s best acclaimed actualization owes actual little to Catholic or Norse myth, and is authentic fairytale. Clement Moore’s A Vist From Saint Nicholas is a absurd and civil booty on the amount and has helped actualization Santa allegory for about two hundred years now. The avant-garde actualization of Santa is a allowance from Madison Avenue.
Verdict: I anticipate Santa is the absolute aggregate of the Pagan, Christian, and civil armament which gave acceleration to the avant-garde anniversary of Christmas. This one is affectionate of a ablution .
Stockings: According to fable Saint Nicholas already helped an old widower accommodate dowries for his three daughters by anonymously casting three accoutrements of bill into some stockings. (12) In accepted myth, that adventure of Saint Nicholas is the acumen why bodies adhere stockings “by the chase with care” today, but the admittance of the stockings are best acceptable a backward accession to the tale. The aboriginal (and in some places still the best common) receptacles for toys at Christmas were shoes. In abounding countries Saint Nicholas still puts presents in hopefully not evil-smelling shoes. Clement Moore wrote about stockings in his composition guaranteeing their bulge in the United States and in some genitalia of Europe.
Verdict: Christian as far as I can tell.
Christmas Cards: The aboriginal Christmas Cards were produced in England in 1843, by the 1860’s the custom bent on and began to advance beyond the pond. The Christmas Card attitude usurped the antecedent attitude of New Year’s cards, a attitude that dates aback to the 1400’s. Christmas Cards additionally concluded up eclipsing the already accepted attitude of sending out cards on Valentine’s Day to bodies added than one’s sweetheart. Aboriginal Christmas Cards generally acclimated Valentine’s Day imagery. (13) Best aboriginal Christmas Cards were absolutely civil in attributes with actual few religious depictions. (14)
Verdict: Secular, and best acceptable a money grab, but it’s commodity we still do at my house.
The Date of Dec. 25: There is annihilation in the Bible to advance that Jesus was built-in in the winter. The alone division hardly adumbrated by the bearing narratives begin in the gospels is possibly bounce due to the admittance of shepherds, but alike that’s aloof speculation. Christmas is acclaimed on December 25 because that date coincided with a accomplished host of agnostic festivals accident about that time of year. In the backward Fourth Century the Christian biographer Scriptor Syrus commented on the date of Christmas:
“It was a custom of the pagans to bless on the aforementioned 25 December the altogether of the Sun, at which they afire lights in badge of festivity. In these burial and revelries the Christians additionally took part. Accordingly aback the doctors of the Church perceived that CHristians had a aptitude to this festival, they took admonition and bound that the accurate Nativity should be solemnized on that day.”
The “birthday of the Sun” accounting about by Syrus was not abundant beforehand than the Christian Christmas, dating aback to alone 274 CE, but there were several beforehand agnostic holidays with access to Christmas. Mid-December through aboriginal January were home to a host of holidays in the old Roman Empire. In accession to Saturnalia there were the Kalendae in January, marked, abundant like Saturnalia, by amusing making, feasting, and the barter of gifts. Assorted groups acclaimed the “Winter Solstice” from December 21-26 as no one was absolutely abiding aback absolutely the beeline day of the year occurred. (15)
Northern Europeans acclaimed Yule (which could beggarly “wheel” as in the caster of the year, or conceivably “sacrifice” or “feast,” all aces affidavit for celebration) at the alpha of Winter with feasting, drinking, and accepted merry-making. Bubbler ability accept been the best important of the observances. A composition about Harald Fairhair (the baron who unified Norway) makes advertence to the baron intending to “drink jul (Yule)” alike aback out of Norway. Ritually casual the bubbler horn was said to affix those bubbler calm to the gods themselves. Best acceptable there were additionally sacrifices to the gods and abundance rites, but admonition is coarse and comes from mostly Christian sources. Eventually Yule became alike with Christmas and now the two words are acclimated interchangeably. (16)
Verdict: Best absolutely Pagan, as aboriginal Christians didn’t bless the bearing of Jesus for centuries.
The Bearing Narratives of Jesus: For abounding bodies Christmas is about the bearing of Jesus as accompanying in the New Testament gospels of Matthew and Luke. While best historians anticipate that Jesus was actual abundant a absolute person, the majority of Bible advisers abode little acceptance in the fabulous narratives complete by the authors of Luke and Matthew (even the antecedent of those two books is up for debate). Matthew and Luke were accounting to accurate assertive apostolic ideas. The aboriginal of those is that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, as such both authors booty pains to put Jesus into affairs they accept were foretold in the Torah. This is why Jesus is built-in in Bethlehem, and why Luke’s columnist had to actualize a demography that never happened to get him there. But there are added elements in the two bearing belief of Jesus that reflect the agnostic religions of the time.
Jesus was built-in in apprehensive affairs (at atomic in Luke) but was built-in due to the assortment of bitter and divine; Jesus had a god for a ancestor and a bitter for a mother, aloof like best age-old agnostic gods who absolved the Earth. There’s annihilation decidedly Christian (or Jewish) about the magi (later they would become the Three Wise Men and be accustomed names) either, and they could be a advertence to the proto-monotheism of the Zoroastrian faith. Aback gods were built-in in age-old belief their accession was generally apparent by amazing occurrences, these occurrences are mimicked in the New Testament with the Brilliant of Bethlehem and angels heralding the bearing of Jesus. This is not to advance that the blow of the gospels characterize Jesus as some array of age-old agnostic deity, they do not, but the bearing belief in Matthew and Luke do, at atomic a little bit.
Verdict: A tie. There are absolutely agnostic elements in the story, but there’s additionally a lot of being accompanying to Jewish apocalypse and alike some aboriginal thinking. The “first Christmas” of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph isn’t abundant altered than our avant-garde ones, a aggregate of abounding things.
NotesI’ve apprehend a abundant accord on Christmas the aftermost twenty years, but for this commodity I consulted two books again in an accomplishment to adduce sources. There are a few items that are not sourced, you’ll accept to assurance that the admonition in my academician is correct.
1. The Stations of the Sun by Ronald Hutton, Oxford University Press, 1996. pages 34-352. Christmas a Candid History by Bruce David Forbes, University of California Press, 2007. folio 1203. Hutton folio 374. Forbes folio 48-505. Hutton folio 1146. Forbes 53-547. Hutton 39-408. Forbes folio 129. Forbes folio 810. Forbes folio 811. Hutton folio 11612. Forbes folio 7013. Forbes pages 118-11914. Hutton folio 11615. Hutton pages 1-416. Forbes pages 11-12
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