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"Saturnalia & Brumalia: The True Origins of Christmas"1

By Lady Silvereyes Andromeda Did you know that Christmas trees date back to Egyptian traditions? I bet that got your attention. Now here's where you think: "Egyptian? But they don't have fir trees!" Yes, that is true, but the ancient pagan cultures of Egypt were the first to decorate trees (usually palm) in celebration of their winter festival, which was one of the many forms of what would later become known as one of the first origins of the Christmas feast. These holidays preceded Christianity and the birth of Jesus by millennia. It was from 16th century Germany, however, where the modern use of an evergreen -or fir- tree became accepted by the masses as a "Christmas" tradition. It was common for the Germanic people to decorate fir trees, both inside and out, with roses, apples, and colored paper. Christmas is the most widely celebrated and revered holiday throughout the world, yet most people fail to recognize it's true origins. Amongst all the traditions that are tied to this holiday, almost every one is of pagan origin or influence. The common conception that "Christmas is the birth date of Jesus Christ" is by all accounts, a distorted view of the truth. December 25th is not the birthday of Jesus, and all scholars agree that his birthday was not in the winter season. When the child was born "there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night" (Luke 2:8). This never could have occurred in Judaea in the month of December. The shepherds brought their flocks from the mountainsides and fields and corralled them no later than October 15, to protect them from the cold, rainy season that followed. The sheep did not go out with the shepherds to the field again until spring. Thus we can deduce that the Jesus was not born in December. The apostles and early Church never celebrated Christ's birthday at any time. There is no command or instruction to celebrate it in the Bible - rather, the celebrating of birthdays is a pagan, not a Christian custom, believe it or not! So why does everyone associate Christmas with the birth of Christ? Why is Christmas celebrated in December? It was not until 320 CE that December 25th was declared the birthday of Christ by the Catholic Fathers in Rome, and in 529 CE "Christmas" became an officially celebrated Christian holiday. The Roman Catholic Church ordered it to be celebrated as an official Christian festival to compete with the Mithraic pagan festivals of Rome; Saturnalia (Dec. 1724) which was topped by Brumalia (Dec. 25), and the Yule festivals of the Celts. The pagan holidays celebrated the Goddess' birth of the sun God, which occurred during the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. This was the time when the darkness was strongest, and thus, new light and hope was reborn, to grow again as the days slowly crept back into strength. It was a time of great feasting and rejoicing, and was not a celebration the people wanted to give up. By incorporating a new Christian holiday, on this same holy day, it was easier for the Church to convert the people, whilst still allowing them to carry on their time honored traditions. Now, instead of worshipping the mother Goddess giving birth to the sun God, they were celebrating the Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Christmas was slow to catch on in America as the early colonists considered it to be a pagan ritual. The celebration of Christmas was even banned by law in Boston, Massachusetts in colonial days. Thus, despite its shaky start (for over three centuries, no one knew when Jesus was supposed to have been born!), December 25 finally began to catch on. By 529, it was a civic holiday and all work or public business -except that of cooks, bakers, or any that contributed to the delight of the holiday- was prohibited by the Emperor Justinian. In 563, the Council of Braga forbade fasting on Christmas Day, and four years later the Council of Tours proclaimed the twelve days from December 25 to Epiphany (January 6th) as a sacred, festive season. This last point is perhaps the hardest to impress upon the modern reader, who is lucky to get a single day off work. Christmas, in the Middle Ages, was not a single day, but rather a period of twelve days, from December 25 to January 6. The Twelve Days of Christmas, in fact. It is certainly lamentable that the modern world has abandoned this approach, along with the popular Twelfth Night celebrations. Of course, the Christian version of the holiday spread to many countries no faster than Christianity itself, which means that "Christmas" wasn't celebrated in Ireland until the late fifth century; in England, Switzerland, and Austria until the seventh; in Germany until the eighth; and in the Slavic lands until the ninth and tenth. Not that these countries lacked their own mid-winter celebrations of Yuletide. Long before the world had heard of Jesus, Pagans had been observing the season by bringing in the Yule log, wishing on it, and lighting it from the remains of last year's log. Riddles were posed and answered, magic and rituals were practiced, wild boars were sacrificed and consumed along with large quantities of liquor, corn dollies were carried from house to house while caroling, fertility rites were practiced (girls standing under a sprig of mistletoe were subject to a bit more than a kiss), and divinations were cast for the coming Spring. Many of these Pagan customs, in an appropriately watered-down form, have entered the mainstream of Christian celebration, though most celebrants do not realize (or do not mention it, if they do) their origins. Many of our other popular Christmas traditions, such as the use of Mistletoe and Holly in our decorations, are also pagan in origin. Over two hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Druids used mistletoe to celebrate the Winter Solstice, because it was considered sacred to the sun. They would gather this evergreen plant that is parasitic upon other trees and used it to decorate their homes. The manner of the gathering, however, was most important. The plant had to be cut from the tree with a "golden sickle" at mid of night, and was not allowed to touch the ground as it would remove
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the plants mystical properties. They believed the plant had special healing powers for everything from female infertility to poison ingestion, and was even considered by some to be an aphrodisiac (don't try this however, as the plant is poisonous if ingested in large amounts). Holly berries were also considered sacred to the Sun God, and were used, along with various wreaths to decorate buildings and places of worship at the Yule feast which took place at the same time as Christmas. The Yule log is in reality the "sun log." ("Yule" means "wheel," which refers to the wheel of the year, and in this case is used as a symbol of the sun.) By lighting it on the Solstice, you were helping the new flame of the sun God to strengthen when he was his weakest before his rebirth, and it was traditional to do so with the remaining piece of the previous years log. Even the lighting of fires and candles is merely a continuation of the pagan custom, encouraging the waning sun god as he reached the lowest place in the southern skies. Perhaps the one aspect of Christmas most commonly thought to be "non-Christian" is the one that stems from Catholicism almost directly, Santa Claus. Where did Santa Claus come from? The original Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, was born in Turkey in the 4th century. He was very pious from an early age, devoting his life to Christianity. He became widely known for his generosity for the poor. The Romans held him in contempt and he was imprisoned and tortured. When Constantine became emperor of Rome, he allowed Nicholas to go free. Constantine became a Christian and convened the Council of Nicaea in 325 and Nicholas was made a delegate to the council. He is especially noted for his love of children and for his generosity. He is the patron saint of sailors, Sicily, Greece, and Russia. He is also, of course, the patron saint of children. There is a legend of his bestowal of dowries on the three daughters of an impoverished citizen, it is from this tale that the old custom of giving presents in secret on the Eve of St. Nicholas (Dec. 6, subsequently transferred to Christmas day), is said to have originated. The Dutch kept the legend of St. Nicholas alive. In 16th century Holland, Dutch children would place their wooden shoes by the hearth in hopes that they would be filled with a treat. The Dutch spelled St. Nicholas as Sint Nikolaas, which became corrupted to Sinterklaas, and finally, in Anglican, to Santa Claus. In 1822, Clement C. Moore composed his famous poem, "A Visit from St. Nick," which was later published as "The Night Before Christmas." Moore is credited with creating the modern image of Santa Claus as a jolly fat man in a red suit. So, now you know the truth about Christmas and it's traditions. Have a merry Yule, and a blessed Solstice night, as we welcome in the new birth of light. Happy holidays!