This Little Light Of Mine

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Origins of the "Christmas" Traditions

The meal:
The word "Yule" was originally a Scandinavian word (in Finnish: "Joul"). Scholars say that Yule probably means 'feast', and "Yuletide" means the season of feasting. Yuletide was originally a Scandinavian winter solstice tradition. Feasting is a major part of Christmas, probably from Yuletide influence. Usually both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are accompanied by huge feasts of a usually a BIG bird, like a goose (UK) or a turkey (US), possibly ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, candied yams, stuffing, definitely Christmas cookies and pumpkin pie.

Yuletide lasted for twelve days (in ancient times). It began 12 days prior to the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year around December 21st nowadays). According to one source (the Bock Saga), the winter solstice was December 24th (many years ago). There were twelve days of feasting and partying. (Wasn't much else to do in that freezing cold!) ...and it there wasn't much sunlight in Scandinavia in winter, perhaps 4 to 5 hours of sunlight. According to the Bock Saga, the Yuletide culminated on December 24. Then, certain fertility rites were performed and December 25th was the "Birthday of the SUN" (the day when the sun started to "be reborn" and stay longer in the sky each day).

The Yule Log:
According to Scandinavian tradition, a log is supposed to burn all night long on Christmas eve and Christmas day, to re-ignite the sun (invigorate the sun and initiate it's "re-birth"). Why must one keep the Yule log burning all night on the 24th of December? The answer is to re-ignite the Sun. The fallacious fear was that if one did not keep the Yule log burning all night long, the Sun would not be reborn on the 25th of December. As a result, the world would plunge into eternal darkness and all creatures would die.

There is a book by Patricia Montley entitled, “In Nature’s Honor: Myths and Rituals Celebrating the Earth”. In it we learn that the Kalash people of Pakistan had a winter solstice festival called, “Chaomas”. It was observed by lighting bonfires and conducting purification rituals. In the same book we learn that the ancient Zoroastrians of modern day Iran celebrated Sabe-Yalda, or the sun’s birthday, by lighting huge bonfires to insure that the sun stay lit.

The Christmas Tree:
According to an article by Jade Wah’oo Grigori, entitled: “A Time of the Shaman’s Gift Bringing;” the traditional Mongolian winter solstice is a very, very, meaningful and important time for all Mongolians who still follow the old ways.

According to Ms Grigori, the Mongolian village shaman was and still is very central and important to the winter solstice ritual. Villagers gather at the shaman’s ger, a circular tent or yurt. There is a central pole which represents the ‘mother tree’, “ej mod.” It is called other things too, like the “Tree of Life” and the “Pole of Ascension.” There are 81 ribs, representing the 9-times-9 pillars which hold the heavens apart from the earth. The ‘mother tree’ points to the North Star, figuratively of course. So, at the top of the ‘Tree of Life’ sits the ‘Star’. (Most top their trees with a star today). While each human’s spirit has a home on a different star, the North Star is special. It is metaphorically called the “Heart of the eagle” or the “Compassionate heart of purification”.

The villagers gather in the shaman’s tent, having brought gifts of local wares and placing them under the “tree”. In return for the gifts, the shaman undertakes a spiritual journey to the North Star with the help of some mushrooms on behalf of his benefactors-become-beneficiaries. The villagers are laden with spiritual burdens, which span the gamut from grudges to guilt. They want their “sins” to be cleansed from their souls. The shaman acts as an intermediary between them and the Great Spirit of the steadfast, unmoving, unchanging, eternal North Star. He takes the spirits of the unclean to the Heart of Purification where they are cleansed of all unrighteousness, then returned to Earth. Then, the Tree of Life, or Mother Tree, shimmers with the light of each purified soul, reawakened to or renewed by the light of the North Star.

Another reason:
The Christmas tree tradition is very, very old... at least 2,000 years older than Christ. It dates back about four thousand years (according to some scholars). The Torah (Jewish Bible) tells a story of how Nimrod (who was son of Cush, who was son of Ham, who was son of Noah) aspired to build a tower to reach heaven. ...to stand face to face before his maker(s), and be able to converse with him/them as one person converses with another.

But something went terribly wrong and Nimrod died. How he died is not clear. And, he was survived by his mother, who became the reigning Queen. She loved her son so much, that she had an evergreen tree planted at his burial site and decorated it with silver and gold each December 25th, his birthday. Then, one day, she commanded that everyone in her "Queendom" must have a tree in/at their home and decorate it with silver and gold on her son's birthday.

Another reason:
The modern Christmas tree tradition dates back to Western Germany in the 16th century. They were called "Paradeisbaum" (paradise trees) and were brought into homes to celebrate the annual Feast of Adam and Eve on DEC-24. They were first brought to America by German immigrants about the year 1700. Christmas trees became popular among the general U.S. population about 1850.

President Franklin Pierce (1804-1869) arranged to have the first Christmas tree in the White House, during the mid-1850's. President Calvin Coolidge (1885-1933) started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the White House lawn in 1923.

Today, the Christmas Tree has become accepted by most Christians, by people of other faiths, and for those who do not follow an organized religion. It has become a popular late-December tradition and part of our present-day culture. Christmas Trees grace households and office buildings alike.

Mistletoe:
In addition to the Christmas tree, Scandinavian tribes had their Yuletide traditions. Yule means feasting, and tide means season. The Scandinavian tribes have given us the following Yuletide traditions: (1) Feasting, (2) Keeping the Yule log lit all night on the 24th of December, and (3) Hanging mistletoe.

Why do we hang mistletoe at Christmas time? It is because of the Scandinavian myth about Balder and Loki. Balder was the god of truth and light; the personification of the Sun. Loki was the god of mischief and chaos; the personification of darkness and the chaotic cosmic sea. The myth goes like this: Balder’s mother had asked all the plants and animals of earth never to harm her son, Balder, but there was one plant that she overlooked; it was mistletoe. Loki became jealous of Balder’s popularity and he was annoyed by the noise devoted to Balder’s praise. So, he clandestinely disguised himself as an old hag and visited Balder’s mother. Through their conversations, he found out that there was one and only one living thing on Earth that she had not made contract with not to harm her son. Loki then made an arrow out of mistletoe, which he used to kill Balder.

Three days later, after much mourning, Balder’s mother resurrected Balder. Then, she made mistletoe promise to never harm another living thing. This is why mistletoe is used as decoration at winter solstice time. It is the symbol of peace and love and tranquility.

Why does Christmas time usually start the day after Thanksgiving?

But, why do we celebrate Christmas for a whole month, starting with the day after Thanksgiving?Well, that tradition came from the Romans. Before the winter solstice traditions were merged with Christmas, the Romans had a winter solstice tradition called Brumalia. According to Rober Maza’s research, Brumalia was originally celebrated only on the 24th and 25th of December to commemorate the “sol invictus” (the invincible sun). It celebrated the Sun’s victory over death. Later, the holiday became associated with the Roman Sun god Bacchus (same as the Greek god Dionysus) and it was celebrated the whole month of Bacchus (December). In addition to being a Sun god, Bacchus was the liberator of life’s burdens through imbibing and making merry.

Christmas Lights:
Every year, right after Thanksgiving weekend (or during), Americans decorate the exterior (and interior) of their homes with lights, which stay up until after Christmas day (sometimes until New Year's Day). This probably originated with the festival of lights, which occurred in December of each year. It seems to be the general consensus that this tradition came from the Roman winter solstice tradition called Saturnalia.

Christmas Wreaths:
The word wreath comes from the word “writhen” that was an old English word meaning “to writhe” or “to twist.” The art of hanging Christmas wreaths originated from the Romans who hung wreaths on their doors as a sign of victory and of their status in society. Women usually wore them as headdresses as a symbol of pride, and also donned them during special occasions such as weddings. Additionally, the victors of sporting events in ancient Greece were given laurel wreaths; This tradition still being used to this day during the Olympic games in which the medals are engraved with sprigs of laurel.

Christmas wreaths are made by twisting or bending evergreen branches into a large circle which are then decorated with pinecones and a red bow. The circle shape of the wreath is made to represent Christ’s eternal love, his strength, and the creation of new life. Evergreens are commonly used in the construction of the wreath due to their heartiness throughout harsh winters and that they denote strength as well as immortality. Christmas wreaths in the Catholic tradition had four candles – Three of purple, symbolizing penance, and expectation, and one of pink to represent the coming joy. The four Sundays preceding Christmas day are embodied by the four candles that were lit each Friday of Advent at dinner along with a prayer. Similarly to Catholic customs, traditional Pagan wreaths were also evergreen circles consisting of four candles. These candles represented the elements of Earth, wind, fire, and water. Their wreaths were typically used in rituals that would ensure the continuance of the circle of life

Christmas Garland:
Garland has been used since very early times at festivities and used as adornments to celebrate many occasions including worship. A Christmas garland was traditionally a flower arrangement consisting of a circular band of foliage or flowers for ornamental purposes. Christian religious beliefs are symbolized in the Xmas garland. The circular form of a garland with no beginning or no end symbolizes that Christ’s love is never ending and he gives us eternal life. The evergreen foliage represent enduring life. Holly is often used in Christmas garlands which represents the crown of thorns that Jesus wore when he was crucified. The holly’s red berries symbolize the blood Jesus shed.

Modern Christmas Garlands are now often designed in a non-circular shape to decorate the mantel over fireplaces. They consist of a long band of evergreen-type foliage or flowers, decorated with pine cones and ornaments for ornamental purposes. The modern Xmas garlands are usually artificial, so they can be re-used every year. A recent addition to these types of garlands are fairy lights. Longer garlands are also produced to decorate the banister rails on stairways.
Christmas garland history tells us that the early settlers to America brought the custom of Christmas garlands to the country. The garlands are used to decorate the Christmas trees. They are also for other adornment purposes like decorating the room or the house during the Christmas season. Making Christmas garlands added to the family income after the harvesting season is over before Christmas. Selling the garlands fetched a tidy sum, which was spent in buying clothes or other household articles. We find from the Christmas garland history, pine, spruce and cedar trees were used in the making of the Christmas garlands. There were other things used that include cornhusks, orange and scarlet pods of bittersweet, mosses, and dried fruits. The Christmas garlands were not only for home decoration they were used for decorating, churches, business establishments, shops, and hospitals also. The decoration with green garlands made an attractive picture in the background of white snow covered ground.

Holly, Ivy and Christmas Plants:
Holly, Ivy and other greenery such as Mistletoe were originally used in pre-Christian times to help celebrate the Winter Solstice Festival and ward off evil spirits and to celebrate new growth.

When Christianity came into Western Europe, some people wanted to keep the greenery, to give it Christian meanings but also to ban the use of it to decorate homes. The UK and Germany were the main countries to keep the use of the greenery as decorations. Here are the Christian meanings:
Holly
The prickly leaves represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore when he was crucified. The berries are the drops of blood that were shed by Jesus because of the thorns. In Scandinavia it is known as the Christ Thorn. In pagan times, Holly was thought to be a male plant and Ivy a female plant. An old tradition from the Midlands of England says that whatever one was brought into the house first over winter, tells you whether the man or woman of the house would rule that year! But it was unlucky to bring either into a house before Christmas Eve.
Ivy
Ivy has to cling to something to support itself as it grows. This reminds us that we need to cling to God for support in our lives.
In Germany, it is traditional that Ivy is only used outside and a piece tied to the outside of a Church was supposed to protect it from lightning!
Laurel 
Laurel has been worn as a wreath on the head to symbolise success and victory for thousands of years. It symbolises the victory of God over the Devil.
Fir & Yew Trees
Fir and Yew trees are evergreen and so signify everlasting life with God.
Fir is also very commonly used for Christmas Trees.
Rosemary
Rosemary was connected with the Virgin Mary (because it was thought to be Mary's favourite plant) and people thought that it could protect you from evil spirits. It is also sometimes called the friendship plant and it was the most common garnish put on the boar's head that rich people ate at the main Christmas meal in the Middle ages!
It is also known as the remembrance herb and was used at Christmas as this is the time that we remember the birth of Jesus.
In the late 1700's a special Christmas Rosemary Service was started in Ripon Cathedral School where a red apple, with a sprig of Rosemary in the top of it, was sold by the school boys to the members of the congregation for 2p, 4p or 6p (depending on the size of apple!).
Kissing Boughs or Kissing Bunches
In the UK, before Christmas Trees became popular and dating back to the middle ages, another popular form of Christmas/mid winter decoration was the Kissing Bough or Bunch. These were made of five wooden hoops that made the shape of a ball (four hoops vertical to form the ball and then the fifth horizontal to go around the middle). The hoops were covered with Holly, Ivy, Rosemary, Bay, Fir or other evergreen plants. Inside the hoops were hung red apples (often hung from red ribbons) and a candle was either put inside the ball at the bottom or round the horizontal hoop. The bough was finished by hanging a large bunch of mistletoe from the bottom of the ball. (For a simpler bough you could also just have a horizontal hoop decorated and hung with apples and the mistletoe.)

Christmas Caroling:
Wassailing [UK] or 'Christmas Caroling' [US] involved singing and making merry. Currently, in America, Christmas caroling is done by Christian groups as a form of proselytizing... or... in some cases... just for the fun of it.

The tradition of Christmas caroling for food/drink (as in the traditional carol: "We wish you a merry Christmas") comes from the Celtic tradition of Wassailing. Wassailing apparently was the practice of singing to wish fellow farmers well in the upcoming planting season, for which they were rewarded by a cup of wassail (an alcoholic drink).
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So, in short people, Christmas has been holy and celebrated long before Christianity was born. When Christianity was a fledgling religion, it needed to bring more followers into the fold. So, they just took their beliefs and timed them with other religious beliefs similar to theirs to make this new religion more palatable and easier for the converts. It makes sense...why not bring in beliefs that have been there for centuries, take your similar beliefs and associate it to their's and put it to their timelines? It doesn't hurt your beliefs and you gain some converts which strengthens your religion.

So the next time any of you Christians hear...Happy Holidays, or Blessed Yule...be more tolerant of it and don't see it as an attack to take Christ out of Christmas...they just may be celebrating this season as they believe it to be, which was LONG before Christianity was even thought of and before this time got named Christmas! Why not say both...Merry Christmas AND Happy Holidays! That way, everybody is happy and the reason for the season is truly observed for all!

 Resources: 
Wikipedia, Wikipedia 
Leon's Planet
Wilson's Evergreen
Religious Tolerance
Reindeer Land
Christmas Carnivals
Why Christmas

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