AAper_(.)(.)_tive : from whence, Christmas ...

Mary Calhoun moriah at preferred.com
Fri Dec 31 15:25:06 JEST 1999

per_(.)(.)_tive from the Administrative Assistant's inbox--

Christmas -- From Whence It Comes

_(^)(^)_ the following seemed worth sharing...

(from Memphis Friends News, January 2000)

    "Christmas is one of four great seasonal festivals in the Northern
hemisphere, like Easter and Halloween, originating long before the advent of
Christianity.  Caroling, carousing, decorating with evergreens, gift-giving,
were all activities arising out of pagan Winter Solstice Festivals.  Such
holidays were celebrations that the sun had finally turned and that the days
would become longer and warmer, despite the present cold.
    "Early church records indicate that honoring the birth of Christ on
December 25th came as a direct reaction to the popularity of two pagan
holiday festivals, even among Christians.  One was the December 25th
"Birthday of the Invincible Sun," the chief religious festival of the
religion "Mithraism," which revered a God of Light and Goodness: another was
the Roman Saturnalia (roughly December 19-26), a time of partying and
    "Church fathers in Rome countered with a celebration of the birthday of
Christ on that day with a special mass.  They admitted there was no
historical or scriptural evidence that Jesus was actually born then or on
any other day, so December 25th was as good a day as any.
    "The Christmas holiday evolved to become a Christian overlay on a set of
pagan rituals.  Traditional activities were given a Christian "spin" and so
a Christian blessing.  What follows is a great oversimplification, but it is
enough to show the transformation:
-- The "Birthday of the Invincible Sun" on the 25th became the "Birthday of
the Invincible Son."
-- Evergreen decorations, originally a way of linking humans to the cycle of
life in nature, became a way of celebrating the eternal life in the Son.
-- Gift-giving was given a Christian precedent, and so sanctioning the gifts
of the Wise Men to the infant Jesus.
-- Wassailing, singing to ensure the fertility of females and safe births
later in the spring, was changed to caroling to celebrate the birth of the
(Carousing was never officially sanctioned, but it was too deep-rooted to be
eradicated, either then or now.)
    "Nevertheless, many English Protestants held that Christmas is a pagan
celebration, since it lacks scriptural warrant.  Puritans in power in
England for more than two decades made it a crime to celebrate Christmas:
e.g., shopkeepers were to remain open on the pain of fines or imprisonment.
The Pilgrims in North America refused to celebrate Christmas and disciplined
those who tried; even later, it was not a general holiday in New England
until the early-to-mid 19th century.
    "But these Christians relented under the growing secularization of
American society in 1830-1840 (around the time of the first holiday greeting
cards and the coming of Santa Claus).  Today Christmas can be celebrated by
all, whatever their "reason for the season."  Its universal appeal, to
Christians and non-Christians alike, is summed up in my final words to
everyone in our community:  'Happy Holidays!'     --Michael Harrington"

Administrative Assistant's note --
    One response to the AAper_(.)(.)_tive series about Christmas noted that
when her child "attended the conservative Catholic school, they had many,
many feast days (many, many school holidays); since much of
the early Catholic feast days were adaptations of holi-days already in
existence, you can see remnants of paganism in modern conservative

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Mary Calhoun, AA

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