Monday, December 06, 2004

Just What Is the Reason for the Season???!?

A couple of days ago I received an e-mail from a friend of mine complaining about the "blunders of certain city officials and department stores" for trying to celebrate Christmas without Christ. I replied to him with this little bit of history (posted here at Snabby's suggestion):

Actually, the Jul festival ("Yuletide" in English) predates Jesus by hundreds of years. When Christianity came to the Germanic peoples of central and northern Europe in somewhere around the 3rd century, it had trouble gaining ground. To help promote their faith, the early missionaries took the most significant Germanic festival date, Jul (the day after the Winter Solstice, or December 24th), and said, "Hey, what a coincidence! That's also Christ's birthday!" The image and name of Christ were then inserted into the existing Jul traditions and strengthened little by little over the years. Eventually (more like after the passage of almost a full century), people became so accustomed to the presence of Christ in their culture that they were much more open to conversion. The Germanics were then quickly Catholicised.
The funny thing about it is that Christ's birthday wasn't December 24th. Most experts speculate that it was either in late February or early March, which is why the Orthodox church celebrates Christmas then instead of on Jul (like those gullible Catholics and all their subsequent spinoffs). Another funny thing about it is that, until the Christianization of the Jul festival and its widespread promotion as "Christmas", the Roman Catholics never had any celebration commemorating Christ's birth. They didn't really care about it at all until the Christianized Jul that their own missionaries created in the Germanic tribes ended up feeding back into their own culture (ironically, along with many of the original, pagan Jul traditions including gift exchanges, burning a "Jul log", gathering family and friends to share a feast and sing songs together, making spiced cake/bread and spiced wine, kissing under mistletoe, and other things). Easter and Lent had been the only truly important Christian festivals till then, but "Christmas" wound up knocking both of them aside in terms of significance. How ironic that it was a fabrication.
So you see, it's not really hypocritical to celebrate Christmas without Christ. The Jul festival, with many if not most of the same traditions, existed at the same time long before Christ appeared in Bethlehem. When you think about it, celebrating "Christmas" is really paying homage to an ancient Catholic propaganda stunt. Perhaps the Yuletide celebration is a bit more honest, even if it is pagan.
Whatever. Religion is a personal thing, and it should therefore be a matter of personal choice.

If I don't see you people when I'm over there (Dec. 26 - 30), happy holidays (whatever you may call them)!!!!


ladybug said...

Ok, I'll chime in on this one. First of all, as a cradle Catholic, the use of "Catholic" isn't correct, it should be "Christian", as the Church was ONE until the split between the Orthodox churches (Greek, Russian, & Eastern) and the Roman church did not occur until the 12th century. Then of course the Protestant reformation in the 16th Century, which continues splitting even today-(Calvinists, Anabaptists [which turned into modern Mennonites & Amish], Puritans, Quakers, Methodists, Baptists, Jehovah's Witness, etc., etc.,) It gives the impression that the "Catholic" church supports and promulgates "pagan" practices, which, believe me, non-Catholics use as excuse to viciously attack, on a daily basis, Catholics and their beliefs. So please do not use "Catholic" when it should be "Christian", as a whole.
The second part of my post deals with the modern Christamas traditions, a primarily VICTORIAN invention, (i.e. Anglican & Germanic Lutheran)
due to several key factors. First and foremost, most people did not have the wherewithal to even HAVE a Christmas. The gifts, food, decorations and the time needed to procure and prepare all of these items were only found in the upper classes. Remember, only Sunday was "day of rest"!
The modern traditions as we know it consist of a decorated tree (Germanic), the Xmas card (England), Stockings (Germanic-Scandinavian) Food (well, this from whatever ancestral country dominates your family-there are too many to list here), caroling (English, French, Germanic), and Gift Giving (Germanic & Near Eastern). The whole lighting up the house thing is purely a 20th Century US invention (all the French teachers here think it's really pretty and fun-it seems to be catching on in Europe). Also there are many other traditions (Italian, Scandinavian, Russian, Greek, Spanish) which are still celebrated in their home countries and regionally w/in the US (i.e. St Lucia on Dec. 14th, Epiphany Jan 6th or so [3 wisemen as gift givers, rather than Santa claus], Las Posadas, [re-enacting the search for lodging by Joseph & Mary], etc.,)
The decorated tree with lights is directly from Germany, as the English, French, Italians, etc. had other traditions. It was brought to England and popularized by Queen Victoria's German husband, Prince Albert. GO HERE. Previously, the celebration of Christmas in England was rather low key, with an entirely different set of happenings! There was usually an elected "Fool", who ruled over the silly and simple festivities (which ususally centered around drinking) of the poor folk (mostly everybody!). The English-Germanic tradition of "Wassailing" (going around from house to house, w/your own cup, singing for drinks) was eventually the start of Christmas caroling. Saint Nicholas, a Near Eastern Bishop who handed out gifts to the poor, became Santa Claus; Check out the timeline at the bottom here!.
Of course, this holiday as become the retailer's dream come true, and so of course they are happy to promote it! If one doesn't like the commercialization of Christmas (and Halloween, Easter, St. Valentine's Day, etc.,), the most obvious remedy is to not participate at all, or to make simple family guidelines (no gift over $10.00, no xmas tree or lights, give time or $$ to charity instead). Regardless of origins, it's people who give meaning (negative or positive) to any communal celebration (4th of July-have you seen the decorations for that?!). For me personally, I say - PARTY ON! Let's bring on Mardi Gras, St. Patrick's, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Halloween, Oktoberfest, Thanksgiving, Scandinavian Midsummer Festivals, Chinese New Year, Cinco de Mayo, Groundhog Day and FESTIVUS! The more the merrier!

The Moody Minstrel said...

As long as you don't start adopting Japanese Christmas traditions:

If you're an unmarried teenager or adult, Christmas means a man takes a woman out on an expensive date, whereupon the couple drink a toast with expensive champagne, exchange expensive gifts, spend the night together in a (pay by the hour "love") hotel, and then, more often than not, say, "Okay, Christmas is done" and forget about each other the next day.
For everyone else, Christmas means you eat Kentucky Fried Chicken and strawberry shortcake. End of story.

New Year, on the other hand, is another story altogether.

(***sigh*** This is the one time of the year that I REALLY HATE being here...)

The Moody Minstrel said...

Oh, and I guess that, just for the sake of (risking an) argument, it's also not altogether accurate to say the Church was one until the Catholic-Orthodox split. In fact, the Church (capital letter), as it is called, was the institution set up by Emperor Constantine. There were actually several other groups of Christians at the time, many of which had beliefs, views, and aims that were quite different from those of the Roman Church. As a result, many if not most of these groups wound up being branded heretics and either wiped out or driven underground.

I do apologize for any offense that may have occurred as a result of my erroneous use of the word "Catholic". Perhaps I should have said "Roman Christian" instead.

From what I understand (because I know people that practice it), the way pagan Jul used to be celebrated was that an extended family or group of villagers would gather in one place and keep vigil all night during the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year and therefore the time the Powers of Darkness were at their strongest. Of course, it was important to keep a fire burning throughout the night both to keep warm and to keep the evil spirits at bay. This is apparently the origin of the "Yule log". The people maintaining the vigil also drank, ate, and sang together. The next day, Jul (Dec. 24), was a time of celebration, since the most evil night of the year had been passed (hopefully) without incident. However, since everyone was pretty much burned out (and hung over) from the vigil, they tended to just sleep most of the day away and then spend some quiet, quality time together after they got up. Then they busied themselves doing return favors to everyone that had helped with the vigil.

Whatever. Party on! But as far as I'm concerned, music boxes playing "Silent Night", Nativity displays, and sex scenes definitely do not mix. (Don't ask me for an explanation or I'll start frothing at the mouth.)