The celebration of christmas


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A brief history of Mid-Winter Celebrations and common pagan custom

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The celebration of christmas

  1. 1. THE CELEBRATION OF CHRISTMAS A brief history Cameron Kippen
  2. 2. Introduction Celebrations in mid winter predate Christian times by millennium and whilst Christmas became a Christian festival many of the original superstitions of pagan times are still observed.
  3. 3. The Egyptians Evergreens were cherished because they symbolized the season to come. Greenery featured prominently in mid winter décor. Four thousand years ago, the Egyptians (3110- 30BC) celebrated the rebirth of the Sun with a festival that lasted 12 days to reflect the 12 divisions in the sun's calendar. Palms with 12 shoots were used to decorate their houses.
  4. 4. Zoroastrian Tradition The Babylonians (1750 – 529 BC) celebrated renewal of the year and the same festivities were later adopted by the Persians (529BC - 637AD). The Romans continued the custom.
  5. 5. The Festival of Saturn (Saturnalia) In Roman times people decorated their homes with greenery but the usual order of the year was suspended and grudges and quarrels forgotten. Wars were interrupted or temporarily set aside and merriment of all kinds prevailed. The Roman mid-winter ‘festival of misrule,’ when social order was temporarily subverted and masters and slaves exchanged places. The same practice continued throughout the Middle Ages during other festivals such as The Festival of Fools.
  6. 6. Saturn and Mithras The 25th December was used to honour Saturn (God of Harvest), and Mithras, (God of light). Pagans prepared special food, decorated their homes with greenery, and joined in singing and gift giving. Once Christianity became the religion of the Romans, the celebrations and pagan customs became part of the Christian way. Mithras
  7. 7. The Festival of the Dead (Samhain) According to Celtic myth Lugh, the Sun God was defeated by his dark side and become the Lord of Misrule. Good folk needed the comfort of their own kind and protection from the evil forces of the dark. The Festival of the Dead (Samhain) was celebrated on three levels. It was a time of plenty as the live stock were returned from the hills before the severe winter ahead; it was a time of great kinship, as the hill dwellers came to the gathering; and was the time of year when the darkness of night prevailed over the lightness of the day.
  8. 8. Festival of Light Samhain was an unreal time, when one year turned into another. A twilight zone where the spirits of the dead and those not yet born, walked freely among the living. Halloween or the beginning of the Festival of the Dead and Hogmanay , the end as beginning of the New Year. Many rituals and superstitions from that time still prevail and are incorporated into modern Christmas customs. Christmas was called the Festival of Light in the Western or Latin Church. Lighting candles and lamps helped return the light and warmth as well as chasing away the spirits of darkness.
  9. 9. The Birth of Christ Christmas was not observed in Rome, until about 300 years after Christ's death. In 274 C.E., the Roman Emperor Aurelian established a feast of the birth of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), on December 25. Christmas. There is no evidence to support Christ was born on December 25, but it is generally agreed as the date was already popular in pagan religious celebrations it was a deliberate compromise.
  10. 10. Christmas Day Christians have celebrated Christmas Day since AD 336 and the earliest known Christmas Day celebration in England was in the city of York in AD 521 by King Arthur. By the twelfth century Christmas had become the most important religious festival in Europe. The obsolete feasts of antiquity were gradually adapted to the main events of the life of Christ. Merriment and religious devotion were not associated in the early church, ultimately they were incorporated due to political pressures.
  11. 11. The Three Wise Men ‘Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, behold, there came wise men (Magi) from the east of Jerusalem.’ Mathew 2:1
  12. 12. Nativity Scene Unlike the modern interpretation of the Christmas Nativity, it appears only shepherds were present immediately after the Birth. Most of the nativity scenes were painted in the 15 & 16th centuries. Gerard van Honthorst (1590 – 1656), The Adoration of the Shepherds (1622) Christmas cards depicting the nativity become popular only in the 19th century.
  13. 13. Twelve Days of Christmas To promote universal celebration of Christ's birth the main churches eventually agreed to accept Twelve Days of Christmas. In the Western Church this ran from Christmas Day Until Epiphany, (January 6th).
  14. 14. Puritans banned Christmas In 1644 the English Puritans forbid any merriment or religious services by Act of Parliament. Consider to be heathen practice, The Puritans ordered Christmas to be kept as a fasting day. Charles II revived the feast, but the Scots adhered to the Puritan view and did not celebrate Christmas for several centuries.
  15. 15. Modern Christmas Queen Victoria enjoyed the German style decorated tree and insisted in having one in Buckingham Palace at Christmas. She and Prince Albert decorated it for the Royal children. The Royal couple were so popular loyal subjects took to the new Christmas custom and every home in England had a Christmas Tree . Initially the trees were decorated with flags of the Empire but when Woolworth's offered coloured lights, these were used instead
  16. 16. Scots and Christmas The celebration of Christmas was banned in Scotland after the Reformation. Presbyterian ministers visited their flock to check they had no festive foods in The house. Many viewed Christmas as an attempt to emulate Hogmanay. Cynics viewed it as a time for Victorian ‘do good’ers’ to exercise charity to the less privileged. Christmas was just another day with Faint echoes of bonfire ceremonies, More related to pagan sun worship than celebrating the birth of Christ. Christmas in Scotland did not become a public holiday until 1958.
  17. 17. Colonial Christmas At first Christmas was a time for colonists to link with their homes and families. Scottish tea planters in the east ate plum puddings and turkey dinners long before their relatives gave recognition to Christmas Day. The first official Christmas celebrated in Australia was Dec 25, 1788 at Sydney Cove. No Christmas cheer was shown to the prisoners on that day with the exception of Michael Dennison who had been sentenced to 200 lashes. In the spirit of the season the prisoner was given 150.
  18. 18. The Christmas Tree The Christmas tree come from Germany when St Boniface was converted to Christianity. After he came upon a group of Pagans worshipping at an oak tree he cut it down and when a fir tree sprung up from the roots this was taken as a sign. By the 16th century fir trees were brought into the home and it is Reputed Martin Luther was the first person to decorate the tree with candles. The lights which decorate the Christmas tree was a remnant of paganism.
  19. 19. Electric Christmas Tree German settlers are thought to have taken decorated trees to North America when they emigrated. In the early 1800s when the first lit tree was erected outside a church, many parishioners Protested because they felt the action was pagan. The introduction of electricity meant it was much safer to illuminate the tree. Soon every town community council had civic displays, all trying to compete with each other.
  20. 20. Tree Decorations Horns and bells were traditionally used to decorate the trees. Later these ornaments took on a Christian message i.e. heralding the birth of Christ. Originally fairy like figures were used on the trees but these later became angels. The common belief a spider spoke to the baby Jesus is thought to be the reason why tinsel was commonly used as a tree decoration. A spider's web on the Christmas tree was thought to be a sign of good luck.
  21. 21. Carols (songs of joy) Families sang carols and clapped their hands to keep warm. The custom started in England and most carols were written in the nineteenth century. These scenes were graphically depicted in the works of Charles Dickens’. For the first eight years of the author’s life it snowed in London. This was quite unusual but clearly left a lasting impression with scribe.
  22. 22. Christmas Fare The English enjoyed Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day whereas many European countries feast on Christmas Eve . It is thought King Henry VIII may have been the first English monarch to have turkey for Christmas although goose was the predominant roast until the Victorian era. For Catholics fish pie became popular after the Reformation and later ham also enjoyed common. Wartime rationing meant sausages became usual Christmas far. Post war the rising cost of goose saw chickens and turkey rise in popularity Christmas pudding dates from medieval England.
  23. 23. The Yule Log Pagan festivals included many superstitions which eventually became part of the Christmas tradition. The Yule log was a Norse custom and burning of the Yule was a celebration of the sun during the winter months. According to tradition it was extremely unlucky for a barefooted woman or a squint eyed man to see the yule log; and a flat footed visitor to the house whilst the log Was burning was a very bad omen. Superstitious people kept a piece of the log from the previous year as a lucky talisman.
  24. 24. Christmas Crackers Christmas crackers were an attempt to make a log shaped novelty similar to the Yule log. They first appear in the mid 19th century. At first cracker bon bons contained sugar almonds and love messages were placed on the table. Later the 'snap' was Invented to emulate the sounds of a burning log. These became popular and were used in all manner of celebrations but later they became exclusive to Christmas.
  25. 25. Christmas Cards The first Christmas cards appear in England (1843). Sir Henry Cole, director of The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, became weary of hand penning Christmas greetings and commissioned illustrator John Callcott Horsley to design a printable card. The card caused an uproar and cost about one week’s pay at one shilling. The postal act of 1840 brought about the Penny post, which allowed mail to be sent anywhere in England for a penny. Cards became even more popular in the UK When they could be posted in an unsealed envelope for one halfpenny. Religious themed Christmas cards were popular.
  26. 26. Christmas Gifts "If you do not give a new pair of shoes to a poor person at least once in your lifetime, you will go barefoot in the next world." This belief may be the reason why Christmas gifts were exchanged by the middle classes so as to avoid poverty. Many people gave presents to the poor and miniature shoes became popular gifts for good luck from the 18th century onwards. One reason why miniature shoes were given instead of the real thing might be because superstitious people believed if you give a friend new shoes then they would walk away.
  27. 27. Mistletoe During the Feast of the Dead (Hogmanay) Druid priests cut down mistletoe from sacred oaks with golden sickles. These were used to help Infertility and may explain why, to this day, we kiss under a sprig of mistletoe.
  28. 28. Trolls, Kallikantzartoi and Julenisse Trolls Kallikantzartoi Julenisse
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