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Christmas Finds Roots In Paganism
The Advocate of Truth
Note: The following article about Christmas appeared in The University News, Boise State University, Boise, Idaho in December, 1984
The celebrations of Christmas as we know it is a relatively new holiday. The early Christians did not have a day to honor the birth of their Lord until the fourth century.
December 25 was decided on after much argument between the Roman and Orthodox churches. After this date was agreed upon, it wasn't until 500 years later that the word "Christmas" replaced "Midwinter Feast," because ancient winter celebrations took place before Christmas.
The ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia was held from November through February. This festival celebrated the time when Saturn ruled the world.
The festival of Saturn was filled with feasting and debauchery. During this festival, the masters and the slaves traded places and even clothing for a brief time.
The Norse held a great Yule-feast in honor of their god. The Yule feast consisted of many elements that are still familiar to the Christmas scene: Yule logs, mistletoe, lighted trees, Kris Kringle and feasting.
The Yule log was burned in honor of the Norse solar god, Frey. The Yule log was a phallic symbol and sign of fertility for the coming year.
Mistletoe was also a fertility symbol. Kissing under the mistletoe signified a casual sign of sex and fertility.
Lighted trees and trees in general were places of sacred ritual of the pagans. Pine groves were temples to the Great Mother.
It was the Mother goddess that rested in the winter and the Horned god of light was honored. Since the winter festivals worshiped the vanishing sun, lights in the form of fires or candles were commonplace. Candles were placed on the trees outdoors to honor the god of light.
Kris Kringle was called the father of the wheel of the year by the Norse. This name was later on of the many names given to the Dutch Santa Claus.
Whether pagan or Christian, the male figure played an active role in the Mid-winter feast celebration.
Santa Claus was famous in the U.S. because of the Dutch and German settlers.
This idea caught on in the mid-1800s in Britain. In many other countries like Spain, it is the three kings that brought gifts to children, imitating the three kings that brought gifts to the Christ child.
In Italy, it is a female fairy named Befana that brings gifts to the children.
Another old custom from the ancient Mid-winter Feast is Twelfth Night. Although it is seldom celebrated, Twelfth Night is what ends the Christmas season on January 5. It was believed that there was a parallel between the twelve months and the twelve days of the season.
It was bad luck not to take Christmas decorations down on the Twelfth Night. Twelfth Night used to be celebrated with festivities and special Twelfth Night cakes. A reminder of this celebration can be seen in the Christmas son, "The Twelve Days of Christmas."
Christmas remained a popular celebration in Europe despite its pagan elements.
Christmas did come under attack by the Puritans in the 1600's.
Because of the strong Puritan influence in the U.S. it was not until 1836 that Christmas became a legal holiday.
By. Lisa Monaci