CHRISTMAS HISTORY - Send Christmas Cake, Christmas Gifts,
In the Western
world, the birthday of Jesus Christ has been celebrated on
December 25th since AD 354, replacing an earlier date of
January 6th. The Christians had by then appropriated many
pagan festivals and traditions of the season, that were
practiced in many parts of the Middle East and Europe, as a
means of stamping them out.
There were mid-winter festivals in ancient Babylon and
Egypt, and Germanic fertility festivals also took place at
this time. The birth of the ancient sun-god Attis in Phrygia
was celebrated on December 25th, as was the birth of the
Persian sun-god, Mithras. The Romans celebrated Saturnalia,
a festival dedicated to Saturn, the god of peace and plenty,
that ran from the 17th to 24th of December. Public gathering
places were decorated with flowers, gifts and candles were
exchanged and the population, slaves and masters alike,
celebrated the occasion with great enthusiasm.
In Scandinavia, a period of festivities known as Yule
contributed another impetus to celebration, as opposed to
spirituality. As Winter ended the growing season, the
opportunity of enjoying the Summer's bounty encouraged much
feasting and merriment.
The Celtic culture of the British Isles revered all green
plants, but particularly mistletoe and holly. These were
important symbols of fertility and were used for decorating
their homes and altars.
New Christmas customs appeared in the Middle Ages. The most
prominent contribution was the carol, which by the 14th
century had become associated with the religious observance
of the birth of Christ.
In Italy, a tradition developed for re-enacting the birth of
Christ and the construction of scenes of the nativity. This
is said to have been introduced by Saint Francis as part of
his efforts to bring spiritual knowledge to the laity.
Saints Days have also contributed to our Christmas
celebrations. A prominent figure in today's Christmas is
Saint Nicholas who for centuries has been honored on
December 6th. He was one of the forerunners of Santa Claus.
Another popular ritual was the burning of the Yule Log,
which is strongly embedded in the pagan worship of
vegetation and fire, as well as being associated with
magical and spiritual powers.
Celebrating Christmas has been controversial since its
inception. Since numerous festivities found their roots in
pagan practices, they were greatly frowned upon by
conservatives within the Church. The feasting, gift-giving
and frequent excesses presented a drastic contrast with the
simplicity of the Nativity, and many people throughout the
centuries and into the present, condemn such practices as
being contrary to the true spirit of Christmas.
The earliest English reference to December 25th as Christmas
Day did not come until 1043.
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