Christmastide is Nigh
Topic: Festive Season
Just over four weeks to go until Christmas and I got my first Christmas Card yesterday! It is probably sensible to start writing cards as early as possible, especially if you write more than just 'Best Wishes' and have a lot to send but, please, please, don't post them so early.
Commemorating the birth of Christ on the 25th December probably dates back to 354 AD when it was celebrated on this day in Rome. [See update below]. Originally, Christmas was not among the early festivals of the church and is first mentioned around AD 200, when it was commemorated in Egypt on the 20th May. Others celebrated it on the 19th or 20th April. Some believe that the 25th December was chosen to celebrate the Nativity as that date coincided with existing pagan rituals which the Church wished to absorb. The 19th December was the start of the Roman 'Saturnalia, a festival honouring the god of the harvest, Saturn, and was marked by seven days of continuous feasting and merrymaking. Elsewhere in Europe, there was a similar festival known as 'Yule', when huge logs were burnt in honour of the gods. In 1644, Christmas was 'banned' in Britain by Act of Parliament as the Puritan 'Long Parliament' believed that it should be kept as a day of fasting and seeking the Lord. It returned when Charles II took the throne in 1660 but all the rituals had virtually died out. It was the Victorians who revived them. Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria, introduced the Christmas tree. Carol singing was revived. Christmas cards, the first one produced in London in 1846, became commonplace by the 1870's. Christmas crackers were invented at the turn of the century. Father Christmas himself is a mixture of St Nicholas and the medieval 'spirit of Christmas' but the modern Santa Claus, with sledge, reindeers and a sack of toys, was invented by America in 1868.
So, Christmas as we know it today is mainly a 19th century invention wrapped around a Christian Religious Festival which commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. However, in England, it seems that Christmas has become so commercialised and so stressful, as people exchange cards and gifts with everybody they know, that it has completely lost its true meaning. To keep up their 'status' frantic shoppers use their credit cards to buy ever more expensive presents for all their work mates and friends and then spend the rest of the year paying interest on what they spent. And how many people receive expensive presents they just do not want and never use and then feel obliged to fork out to buy another unwanted gift in return?
In Spain, and probably in other Spanish speaking countries, Christmas is more peaceful. The commercialisation revolves around the 6th January, Epiphany Day or Reyes. That is the day when the Three Kings arrive with all the presents for the children.
Well, Christmas should be for the children but too much emphasis on Father Christmas can also be bad. When my husband was a child he was told that Father Christmas might bring him what he asked for IF he was VERY good. He tried his hardest and was very, very good but Father Christmas hardly brought anything. When he went back to school after the holidays, boys he knew had been quite naughty had superb presents. He was convinced that he must have been so bad somehow and it spoilt his childhood. If only someone had explained that Mum and Dad couldn't afford big presents, he would have understood.
Well, I suppose I had better start sorting out those cards..........
I visited ClipArt.com today for some Christmas pictures and saw that they mentioned that Pope Julius I had declared that Christmas be celebrated on 25th December. Hang on - my version of Encarta said it was Pope Gregory in 354! Who was right? I searched the web. Pope Saint Julius I died in 352, Pope Saint Gregory I was born circa 540. So, it seems that Pope Julius did assign that date before his death. Furthermore, 25th December is mentioned in Rome in the Philocalian Calendar which was compiled in 354, as the day "..natus Christus in Betleem Iudae". So, in Rome, the Nativity was celebrated on 25 December before 354. However, it seems that this date was not accepted immediately by the Churches in the East until 379 and that it wasn't until the fourth century that every Western calendar assigned the Nativity to 25 December.
I never realised that the history of Christmas was so complex and I have removed the reference to Pope Gregory from my original entry. I will be wary of trusting Encarta again.
Christmas The origin of the Word and Early Celebration - a page on the New Advent Website.
Christmas Abolished A page on the Oliver Cromwell website.