No, thesignificance of late December celebrations go back much further than the birth of Christ.In fact, we don’t even know how far. But its roots are pagan, and it’s the pagan echoes ofChristmas that have been passed down to us through the centuries, and which arecelebrated yearly by a lot of people who aren’t even aware of what they are.
By the time of theearly Christians the Romans were busy celebrating December 25 as SATURNALIA, tohonor Saturn, the God of Agriculture. Festivals to the renewal of theearth had been popularfor centuries. In Greece the Greek God, ZUES, begins anew his battle against KRONOS(Time).
A religion instrong competition with Christianity during Roman times was one calledMITHRAS, a religion from India which had moved across the Middle East and hadbeen embraced by the Mediterranean world. Mithras was based on theinter-connectedness of the natural and spiritual worlds, and December 25 wascelebrated as the birthday of the unconquered Sun—the bringer of all life.The Mithras used candles, torches and bonfires as a symbol of the sun in theircelebrations, making it a festival of light. The early church passed edictsagainst them, but they continued to flourish. Finally around 350 AD Pope JuliusI declared December 25 the birth of Christ. Talk about spin. Hepulled off the greatest PR coup of all time.
In December pagansin the north also celebrated—their rituals centered around the WinterSolstice. Norsemen celebrated with bonfires and fir branches; Druids and Celtsused the symbolism of the holly and the ivy–the green (life) and the berry(blood) which survived the freezing winters. Giving gifts was an ancient customin the North. The gifts were thought to stop the evil power of witches whoroamed the countryside during that season.
The firstChristmas tree was reported in the square of Strasbourg, (Alsace, on theFrench/German border) in the early 1600s. It was decorated with fruit andflowers (pagan symbols of renewal) and reflected the use of fir in worshipceremonies dating centuries earlier. The flowers were predominately roseswhich by that time had become a symbol of the Christ child.
The Christmas treemade its appearance in England in the 1840s courtesy of Queen Victoria’sGerman born husband, Albert. The earliest trees were decorated with realcandles, which led to many a celebration going up in flames!
The earliestChristians were thought to be troublesome fanatics (and many probably were!).Public disapproval forced them to hold meetings in secret, and a simple Xmarked the place. Eventually this X became synonymous with the name ofChrist, and thus, in English, took it’s place in XMAS. People now think Xmas tobe a disrespectful abbreviation, when it is, in reality, an earlier, symbolicspelling.
Almost all thecustoms we associate with our Christmas have pagan roots–Christmas carols, theearliest music that survives from popular culture, began in the Medieval Age(800-1200). Traveling minstrels began to compete with sacred music.(SACRED refers to formal church music; SECULAR refers to music in the street,or out of the church). During 1400-1500 bands of carolers roamed the streetsand sang for small payments. Caroling groups of students, for example, couldearn a year’s tuition to their Universities this way. Our carols retainmuch pagan imagery filtered through whatever pagan religion was predominate atthe time. Nordic, Celtic and Druid symbols abound–the holly, ivy, deerhunting, roses, the Christmas toast, Christmas lights, the Christmas tree allbring centuries of pagan celebrations to honor the spiritual life of mankindinto most people’s present day Christmas reality.
Those of you whowish to extract the religious connotations from Christmas, can still feel fineabout celebrating. It’s good to remember that the Northerners, with livessurrounded by starvation, extraordinary hardships, fierce cold, littlesun–found it miraculous to make it through the long winter. Their celebrationmeant something essential—they had survived.
That certainlyseems worth celebrating!