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The Cleaver Blogspot: One Christmas, One Empire
Amid the miasma of western cultural customs, no other festival is as widely and dutifully observed as that of Christmas. We are all inevitably exposed to it, with many an occasion to enjoy/endure its peculiar rites and routines. For some, it is a time of excitement, feasting and merriment. For others, it is a time of reverence and holy worship. For others still, there remains an underlying puzzlement and vague suspicion as to just how on earth this anomalous montage of weird symbolism got to be so all-conquering.
Far from being merely a slice of chic festive cynicism, a brief study into the origins of Christmas serves to illustrate just how rapidly a domineering Empire can orchestrate almost total amnesia in its sequestering of historical events, traditions and personages.
First, we look to that ultimate portly icon of Christmas: the red-suited reindeer-riding parcel-deploying old geezer himself - Santa Claus. Or, Father Christmas, depending on where you’re from.
The figure of Santa derives chiefly from an assimilation of two sources: the Norse god Odin, and the Greek Bishop, Nikolaos of Myra.
Norse spiritual traditions celebrated the god Odin, ruler of the higher plane of Asgard, who was associated with wisdom, magic, prophecy, poetry, victory, war and hunting. In the Old Norse poem Völuspá (part of the Poetic Edda), Odin was instrumental in the creation of the first human beings. This enthralling poem contains many elements common to other creation stories from around the world, including: giants of antiquity, the creation of the human world (Midgard), the world-tree, cataclysmic fire and flood, conflict in the heavens and a re-born paradise earth.
Odin’s name derives from the Old Norse word Od, which means furious, mad, vehement, eager. As a noun, it means mind, feeling, song, poetry. In the Old High Germanic language, Odin was known as Wotan, this from the earlier Proto-German word Wodinaz. Notably, Proto-German is the origin of the modern English language (amongst others). Consequently, in Old English, a day of the week became known as Wōdnesdæg, later becoming Wodnesday, until finally in modern times, we get Wednesday. So the influence of Odin is still with us, at least once a week.
In Germanic traditions, during the Yule festival of December, Odin would lead a hunting party through the air, riding his magical horse ‘Sleipnir’ through the sky. Children would place boots filled with carrots, straw or sugar near the chimney for Odin’s flying horse to eat. Odin rewarded these kind children by replacing their offerings with gifts and candy. Over time, German, Belgian, Dutch and Scandinavian traditions of Odin and his exploits became absorbed into the Christianization process. Much of what follows conforms to the same patterning of cultural requisitioning.
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“Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church.”
The first mention of the celebration of Christmas occurred in A.D. 336 in an early Roman calendar
“The observance of Christmas is not of divine appointment, nor is it of New Testament origin. The day of Christ’s birth cannot be ascertained from the N. T., or, indeed, from any other source. The fathers of the first three centuries do not speak of any special observance of the nativity.”
“Inexplicable though it seems, the date of Christ’s birth is not known. The Gospels indicate neither the day nor the month.
The choice of 25 December is considered arbitrary and not based on evidence provided in the New Testament, the Christian text dealing with the life of Christ. Many theories have been put forward for the choice of the 25 December as Christ's Nativity, but that it fell during Roman Saturnalia...It also falls three days after the winter solstice, a date when a number of pagan gods underwent resurrection after the shortest day of the year. This includes Sol Invictus of the Roman state religion during pagan times, a cult associated with the deification of the emperor. Whatever the explanation, it is evident that the early Christian Fathers, in their struggle for political and psychological supremacy, turned the interpretatio romana (the process of romanizing foreign gods) on its ear by expropriating a number of pagan symbols and observances and providing them with new Christian meanings. For this reason, Christmas and especially the foods associated with it represent a fusion of diverse pagan strands varying widely
It is impossible to separate Christmas from its pagan origins...the Romans’ favorite festival was Saturnalia, which began on December 17 and ended with the ‘birthday of the unconquered sun’ (Natalis solis invicti) on December 25. Somewhere in the second quarter of the fourth century, savvy officials of the church of Rome decided December 25 would make a dandy day to celebrate the birthday of the ‘sun of righteousness.’ Christmas was born.”
“The Biblical narrative of the birth of Jesus contains no indication of the date that the event occurred. However, Luke’s report [Luke 2:8] that the shepherds were ‘abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night’ suggests that Jesus may have been born in summer or early fall. Since December is cold and rainy in Judea, it is likely the shepherds would have sought shelter for their flocks at night.”
“The flocks . . . passed the winter under cover; and from this alone it may be seen that the traditional date for Christmas, in the winter, is unlikely to be right, since the Gospel says that the shepherds were in the fields.”
“This date was not set in the West until about the middle of the 4th century and in the East until about a century later.”
The clergy eventually brought the . . . world of the Saturnalia into the Church itself
10And try to learn [in your experience] what is pleasing to the Lord [let your lives be constant proofs of what is most acceptable to Him].
11Take no part in and have no fellowship with the fruitless deeds and enterprises of darkness, but instead [let your lives be so in contrast as to] expose and reprove and convict them.
Keep on making sure of what is acceptable to the Lord; 11 and quit sharing with [them] in the unfruitful works that belong to the darkness, but, rather, even be reproving [them]
That it's origins date back thousands of years into pagan belief is beyond question. That it celebrates the turning of the year from darkness to light is also fairly evident.
That it means something else entirely to Christian belief is also beyond question... It celebrates the birth of the Redeemer of Man.