Sunday, 23 December 2012

The Roots of Christmas Part 1


Even when I was a wee one, I have always been full of questions.
"mummie why this, mummie why that?"
The great thing is, my mother loved it; it made for some great discussions.
Mother says that's because I not only read, but thought too much.
But that's  another story.
And many of my questions centred on  Christmas.

I grew up in a Baptist home and for the most part I loved it. It gave me not only spiritual grounding, but a knowing that there was a place and a purpose for me in the world, that I didn't just exist and take up space.
When it came to Christmas, I often asked the following questions: if we are celebrating the birth of the Messiah, why isn't He receiving the gifts? The Scriptures say the shepherds watched their flocks by night, yet why do we say Messiah was born in December? It is cold in Israel that time year. And how the three kings arrive all alone at the house just as Messiah was born?  Etc.
Like many  parents, Mother didn't know the answers. She would just smile and say: why don't you look it up."
 You see, those questions weren't important to her. And she knew one of the best ways to teach a child, isn't to give them the answer, but point them to the answer. If a child, even an adult really wants to learn, they are willing to search out the answers, making the answers their own.
Which is a wonderful way for a child to learn.
Case in point: St. Nicholas of Myra.
"Mummie, where is Myra?"
So Mother and I went to the encyclopedia and looked up Myra, which is in now modern day Turkey.
So it seems St Nick  didn't live in the North Pole after all and I could prove it.
This was just the beginning:
It was in Junior High School I found the founding:
It seems that winter celebrations are nothing new, predating Christianity by thousands of years.
 The Norse folk,  after the autumn  harvest was brought in, would settle in for the long, often brutal winters in their homes. The men would fell long trees and bring in the logs that were known to burn a good 12 days or so (Yule log).  Animals were brought into the home for warmth. Most, however  were slaughter and used for food because there was really no way to house them during the long winter months.  Thus the cause of much feasting.
Families often visit each other as the winter weather  permitted; sharing in games, gifts giving and of course eating.
 Between the scent of Man and Beast filling the air, pine branches were often brought in, not only with the reminder that spring will return,  but to freshen stale air. There were also cults such as the Druids and Asherah that the evergreen tree, mistletoe, holly and the Yule log were part of their worship traditions.

The night rider who has since become known as Santa Claus came from a Norse myth as well. But the Night Rider wasn't an jolly ole elf, but a mean-spirited  being that was known to terrorise the good Northern folk.
 So the Winter Solstice was and still is, a wonderful time to gather with family and one's  community. Having grown up in New England, I know this first hand; a large feast with fresh food and smoked meats, served as a send off to the fruitful autumn months, as people hunkered down, for the winter, telling stories of the night rider and other ghostly tales.
I remember spending part of the winter with family in Montana a few years ago.  Snowy nights where all we did was enjoy hot chocolate, bake bread, watch the telly or tell stories. My sister Jaylene and I talking over the cross-stitch we were working on or laughing over some silly joke.
Just as we do now during Christmas and Hanukkah.
The  winter celebrations took many different forms in different cultures around the then known world, most celebrating the lengthening days and the return of Spring and the return of the sun. Many thought the coming spring would bring the rebirth of the sun itself.
So how did these celebrations become what we know as Christmas?
That will be my next post.
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