Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Christmas article by Joseph A. Zuchowski

By Joe Zuchowski, December 24, 2014 11PM

In an hour it will be Christmas day, and millions of believers will celebrate in various and sundry ways. They will believe they are celebrating the birth of their god. Ironically, many of them know that the day of December 25 was actually a Pagan holiday and was co-opted by Christians in the year 336 CE. The name Christmas comes from the words "Christ's Mass" due to the fact that most of the Roman world was still Pagan and it gave them a chance to celebrate without drawing too much attention to themselves. December 25 (using the Old Julian calendar) was the winter solstice, and it was also seen as the midpoint of winter. Starting that day the earth (well the northern part of it) is tilted as far from the sun as it can be, before the gradual return of spring and the lengthening of the days. Another name for this holiday was Yule from the old Germanic word "Ullen" meaning wheel. Hence the significance of the wreath at this time of year. So we see that the date is actually a seasonal celebration which has been celebrated for centuries; we would have had this day no matter who or what was or was not born this time of year. When Christianity came into power in the year 380 CE, the Emperor Theodosius declared that it was the official and only religion with any status in the empire. By doing this the pagan schools and temples were closed, and as Christianity spread it claimed many parts of the Pagan faiths as its own.  For example St. Bridget of Ireland was originally the Goddess Breed before being incorporated into the new faith. Now seguing into the Nativity story: when Christians set up the stable scene, they are recreating a tradition supposedly started by St. Francis in the 13th century. Readings of the two gospels that detail Jesus’ birth tell us the following: in Mathe he was visited by the Magi; the number and mode of transportation is completely unknown. The tradition of the Three Kings was due to the number of gifts given including gold, frankincense and myrrh. Also the visitation was at the home of Mary, Joseph and family. Not the stable as is frequently pictured. Now what about the shepherds? Luke mentions them but not Matthew. Matthew writes of the slaughter of the innocents and the flight into Egypt, but Luke fails to notice these events. Frankly so does every other historian as there is no mention in any chronicle of that time. These are some of the aspects of Christmas we tend to overlook and ignore. But moving along back to some of our traditions, the most well-known is of course the Christmas Tree. This is of Germanic origin. Trees were brought into homes in Germany for centuries, The Christmas Tree was first introduced to England during the reign of Queen Victoria to help he beloved husband Albert feel more at home. This tradition eventually became one of the best known symbols of Christmas. Now one last tradition, that of jolly old Saint Nicholas, aka Santa Claus, aka Kris Kringle. Santa Claus is actually based on a Fourth Century Bishop named Nikolas, possibly of Greek origin though some say he was Turkish or possibly North African. He was known for his compassion and charity; few people know he is also the patron saint of pawn brokers. The three gold balls found as pawn shop signs date back to the story of a poor but proud man who did not have the money to provide for his three daughter's dowries. Hearing this Nikolas came to the man's house and tossed three gold balls (in some stories three bags of gold) down the chimney. The description of him dressed in fur from his head to his toe and smoking a pipe while driving a reindeer pulled sleigh all are traced back to the poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" by Clement Moore. Finally, I would like to touch on a tradition that only hardcore Christmasphiles appreciate. Krampus (from the Old Germanic word Krampen meaning constrained, seized) is a monster who travels behind St. Nicholas leaving lumps of coal or stealing children. For those warned to be good all year, there is a lump coal for those who did not take the warning, and they are taken by Krampus and made to mine the coal for next years' batch. This concludes my brief explanation on some of this holiday's traditions, Hope whatever you celebrate it's a happy one.