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Christmas – An Ancient Festival

A Little Christmas History

To understand the true meaning of the festival we now know as Christmas we need to delve into the mists of antiquity.

Once, December 25 was the day on which people celebrated the birthday of the Phyrgian Sun God, Attis, said to have been born in the country now known as Turkey.  However, Attis was superceded by another God, with a very familiar story… This new God, Mithras, was born on the same day as Attis, in impoverished circumstances to a virgin mother,  He died and was subsequently resurrected.  The tenets of his faith included the notion of the brotherhood of man and the promise of eternal life in return for adherence to a pure moral code.

Despite meaning “Christ’s Mass” this holiday is celebrated all over the world (in one form or another) whether people are Christian or not. December 25 is for most the zenith of festivities, although the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar has resulted in a 14-day anomaly, and for some January 6 is the “true” Christmas.

Prior to Christianity the Anglo-Saxons called this mid-winter festival geol, the precursor to Yule.  Some of the customs of geol still prevail, most notably the Yule Log.  Although its appearance these days is more likely to be a log-shaped cake, with holly and a bird decorating it, the original was much more imposing.  It was a gargantuan chunk of a tree, which had to be found rather than chopped down.  This tree was then dragged to the largest fireplace in the area where it burned for the duration of the festivities, a symbol of light and heat in the darkness and a welcome remind of the Sun.

As well as emulating earlier Anglo-Saxon traditions, Christmas revelries owe a great debt to the Roman festival of Saturnalia. This was the time that Saturn, the God of Time, was loosened from his shackles, gifts were exchanged and the world turned upside down as servants and masters swapped places, a quaint custom adopted as the the Lords of Misrule. Saturn effectively reappears in the starring role of Father Christmas, benevolent dispenser of gifts to all and sundry but to children in particular.

The enthusiasm for Christmas celebrations waned from the period of the Reformation due to the puritanical Church authorities frowning on their excesses as being “papist.”  Christmas  was actually banned in England in 1647, and though there were areas of defiance, the celebration dwindled. By the early 19th century there was a very real possibility that the festivities might be forgotten entirely. However, they were revived by Charles Dickens, whose story A Christmas Carol is still considered by many to be the very epitome of the Christmas message3, a concentration on goodwill to all men, a time for families and generosity of spirit.

From the book :  The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols by Adele Nozedar

More Christmas Traditions:
 Superstitions About Christmas
About Mistletoe?
About the Symbolism of the Christmas Tree
The Joy of Celebrating with a Little Home-Spun Ritual

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