Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Myths (BUMPED)

They came to worship Him and got comfortable.

An older blog post bumped up for this time of year.


 This essay was sent to me and it is re-printed with kind permission.

Christmas was placed to moved out Roman holidays and phase in Christian ones

This idea is not a "new" idea as many people think that we have "come to realise this" in our more modern times. It was suggested by German Protestant Paul Ernst Jablonski (does anyone else detect the irony here?) that Christmas was placed on December 25 to muscle out Dies Natalis Solis Invicti. This however would be incorrect.

While there were debates as to when Christ was born (or if we should even mark the date at all), the date being settled upon as December 25 was done in 221 AD. The cult concerning Sol Invictus (the unconquerable sun god) existed during this time, but was small and eventually ceased by 222 AD. While it was celebrated, it was done on December 17. In 274 AD, Emperor Aurelian restored the festival of Sol Invictus and designated December 25 as the date of celebration. This may have been an attempt (to the contrary) to appropriate Christmas. Recall that Christians were still persecuted in this time.

Christians have also been accused of bastardising Saturnalia, another Roman holiday. This argument is flawed as well for several reasons. When the Romans celebrated Saturnalia, it was celebrated from December 17 through December 23. It was not one day. In fact, given the Roman calendar as being as it was, it would be hard to place a Christian holiday on any day in December with out being accused of appropriation. It would be hard to place Christmas on any day of the year with out facing similar accusations. Remember that the Romans had many holidays. Over 120 days of their year had a holiday on it. You could barely go more than 5 days with out celebrating something.

If Christmas was moved to take over Saturnalia, why would an existing Roman holiday be moved to the same day as Christmas? Why not put extra effort into what was already placed there? The two accusations of Roman appropriation clash.

Christmas was placed to moved out pagan European holidays and phase in Christian ones

This idea is also not new, and has been suggested as early as the 17th century by men such as Isaac Newton. However, this idea does not stand to scrutiny.

As already addressed, Christmas was being celebrated in December by the early 3rd century. This predates the spread of Christianity to the Germanic areas of Europe. Christmas is accused of taking over Yule, but history clearly indicates that the Christianising of Scandinavia did begin until (approximately) the 8th century, and in some parts didn't finish until the 18th century.

Still we are brought to the issue of the date itself. With the insurmountable issue of placement to avoid "scheduling conflicts", why place Christmas on the date it was? Unless of course they believed the date to be correct.

Reasons for believing this to be the correct date vary. Many people who made the decision for the placement of Christmas were around when various texts existed, that are no longer extant. Also, much information was considered still part of "recent memory."

Part of the reason for placing Jesus' birth on the 25th (of December), was because there was an ancient Jewish belief that the great prophets were to have an "integral age" (where you die on the same day as either your birth or your conception). Examples of this belief exist in history. It was believed that Jesus was conceived on March 25 (according to some historians, such as Sextus Julius Africanus), so a nine month count would place his birth on December 25. However, modern understand of biology would say that the date could shifted days of even a few weeks one way or the other. This does not negate the fact that ancients people's truly believed this date to be accurate.

Likewise, some traditions traced back from the date ancients people's believed Jesus was crucified. This was believed to have been either March 25 or April 6.

Ultimately the "final decision" was made in the 4th century, but this does not legitimise the claim that it was to ease transition from paganism into Christianity (no one seems to agree which person made the decisions, only that it must have been to force out old ideas), as evidence exists that this practice was already in place. However, Christmas is still celebrated at different times of the year (still in December or January) by various people's world wide.

Christmas is actually a mish-mash of various pagan holidays

Among the reasons for the idea that Christmas is actually pagan in origin, is the belief in Santa Claus. He has been likened to a horned god in the myths of various European faiths. Likening the horned god and the reindeer to Santa is specious as the reindeer are not Santa but the beast of burden used to pull his sleigh. In reality this practice is not uncommon for the cold areas to which reindeer are native. Hence the name reindeer. Reins being the straps used to tie the deer to the sleigh. Similar to the name "sled dog." A flying reindeer however is unheard of.

It should also be remembered, that St.Nicholas was a Turk, not a German. He was a bishop of Myra in Turkey. He was not Germanic figure as modern art depicts him. To liken him to and Germanic gods would be specious. The image of Santa Claus that has been popularised came from the poem "The Night Before Christmas" written in 1822 by Major Henry Livingston Jr. That image sprung up in that time. Saint Nicholas was a very real man, not mythological. People still had beliefs that Saint Nicholas gave gifts on Christmas before the poem was written, though their mental picture of him was different. In fact it was this belief that inspired the poem. St.Nicholas' feast day is December 4. Also we should remember St.Martin who shares similar status as St.Nicholas, but that he has not come under fire equally.

The use of Christmas trees and Advent wreaths also feed into this notion. This is true and these were taken from various customs of pagan peoples, but this still fails to establish "pagan origins" for several reasons:
1) Christmas existed independently from these customs and the peoples who practiced them
2) these customs are not required to celebrate Christmas
3) these customs have no religious significance
4) no culture holds a patent on trees, wreaths or candles

Other religions have also borrowed customs. It was decreed that if possible, the missionaries should allow the converts to keep their old ways, should they not conflict with Christianity. Such as the change from a Celtic Cross to a Celtic Crucifix. Anything that could be kept and Christianised, was. This doesn't change the fact that Christ was born. As such, He would have a birth date.

The Advent Wreath has a debated date of origin, but is is commonly believed to be of German origin. However, when it was originally conceived, it was intended to have a candle for every day of advent until Christmas.

While the use of decorative pines trees with candles existed before hand, it is not a requirement. When this custom was adopted, the use of candles was not included. It was not until Martin Luther (does anyone else detect the irony in this as well?) placed candles on the tree to represent the stars over Bethlehem, that this custom was adopted.

While it is true that traditions from other religions have been borrowed to supplement cultural pass times, these are mere games and decorations. It does not borrow or supplement doctrine. These practices are secular, and are distinguished from Christmas. It is easy to confuse these two when one remains ignorant of what Christmas is about, and what the activities are for.

Christmas is not:
- about trees-
about lights
- about candles
- about winter
- about rebirth (actually, only one birth was needed thanks)
- about frivolousness

Jesus was not some Roman or Germanic hero, Christianised upon the arrival of strange new men who wanted to have words with the local priests, and The Three Wise Men were not members of the Thule.

While we can see that some things are borrowed from the traditions of other peoples, it changes nothing when defining Christmas as truly Christian. Using a wreath concocted by Germanic peoples doesn't change the motivations for using it in the first place. It will not change the fact that Jesus is widely considered to be a historical figure (while the supernatural nature of His being is debated) and as such people would chose to mark the date He was born.

There is also the origin of the word "Christmas" (being Criste-Maesse, or Mass of Christ) first being used in 1038, St. Boniface cutting down a fir tree to prove to Germanic tribes that it was not a god, the decorating of fir trees with apples to mimic Paradise Trees in the Garden of Eden, the census ordered by Caesar Augustus, stars and the fact that feasts like Saturnalia are not only different from Christmas but no longer exist. This essay says quite a lot, actually.

And so does this:

Merry Christmas.


Anonymous said...

Lets not forget, that even saying that the Christmas Tree might have been of Germanic origin could be a bit too generous. There is evidence that it may be another (modified) inheritance of Judaism.

A little editing of my terrible typing might have been in order, but worth reading all the same.

~Your Brother~

Osumashi Kinyobe said...

Thanks for the information which I'm sure has dispelled many a myth, however it may be presented.