Monday, December 18, 2017

Christmas History (Part 1)

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December 25th is the day we celebrate Christmas every year all around the world. There's numerous traditions involved with celebrating this holiday. Those of us who are Christian celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ on this date every year. It's become one of America's holiday customs given the fact that America was founded on Judeo Christian principles. There is a lot of controversy surrounding this holiday in regards to the day we celebrate Jesus's birth because most likely Jesus wasn't born on December 25. Many historians believe Jesus was born around the month of September when the weather was warmer. Why would shepherds be tending to their flock with the weather being very cold? Also during colonial history in America many Puritans were opposed to the celebration of Christmas. It was even outlawed in Massachusetts for a period of time. What are the origins of Christmas? Who was responsible for making Christmas a "Christian" holiday?

Most historians believe Jesus' birth occurred in September, approximately six months after Passover. The question was why would shepherds be tending to their flock during the colder months of the year? They wouldn't be out tending to their sheep during the cold Judean winter. The Rome winter solstice was celebrated many years before the birth of Christ. The Romans called their winter holiday Saturnalia, honoring Saturn, the God of agriculture. In January they observed the Kalends of January, which represents the triumph of life over death. The whole season was called Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the birthday of the unconquered son. The Mummers were groups of costumed singers and their dancers who traveled from house to house entertaining their neighbors. As a result, the Christmas tradition of caroling was born. In Northern Europe, many other traditions we now consider part of Christian worship were begun long before the participants had ever heard of Christ. The pagans of northern Europe celebrated their own winter solstice, known as Yule. Yule was symbolic of the pagan sun god, Mithras, being born and was observed on the shortest day of the year.

As the sun grew and matured, the days became longer and warmer. It was customary to light a candle to encourage Mithras, and the sun, to reappear next year. Huge yule logs were burned in honor of the sun. Yule itself means "wheel", being a pagan symbol of the sun. Mistletoe was considered a sacred plant and the custom of kissing under the mistletoe began as a fertility ritual. Hollyberries were thought to be a food of the gods. The tree is the one symbol that unties almost all the northern European winter solstices. Live evergreen trees were often brought into homes during the harsh winters as a reminder to inhabitants that soon their crops would grow again. Evergreen boughs were sometimes carried as totems of good luck and they were often present at weddings, representing fertility. The Druids used the tree as a religious symbol, holding their sacred ceremonies while surrounding and worshipping huge trees.

It's believed that the church chose December 25 as the day to celebrate Christmas as an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. First called the Feast of the Nativity the custom spread to Egypt in 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century. By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia. Today in the Greek and Russian orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated thirteen days after the 25th, which is also referred to as the Epiphany, or Three Kings Day. In 350 Pope Julius I declared that Christ's birth would be celebrated on December 25. Undoubtedly he was trying to make it as painless as possible for pagan Romans to convert to Christianity. At least their feasts wouldn't be taken away from them.

Regardless of the day when Jesus was born Jesus birthday is worth celebrating. It's worth celebrating any time of the year. The seventeenth century Puritans didn't believe in celebrating Christmas for a number of reasons. One of the reasons was that if God wanted us to celebrate the birthday of Jesus, then the Bible would've instructed us to do so. However, without his birth, there never would've been no death, burial, and resurrection. Anything that has to do with Christ coming into this earth is worth celebrating for no other reason because He's the reason why life is worth celebrating.

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