So Christmas is upon us yet again. Didn’t this just happen last year? This holiday is so polarized that I’m surprised there hasn’t been a march down Main Street proclaiming the right way to celebrate.
Oh, wait, there has been. Every year there is the put-Christ-back-in-Xmas campaign. These are the folk who don’t like and don’t understand the origin of Xmas.
The X is the Greek letter Chi, the first letter of the Greek word for Christ. The mas is the Old English word for mass. Xmas is a legitimate, religion-based word for this holiday. So, protestors? Stick a the candy cane of factual information in your mouth and shut-up about it.
Unless you are devoutly Christian and live by your beliefs every waking second of your life, you probably don’t immerse yourself in the celebration of your Christ’s birth by spending the day in prayer and attending sacred services. It’s okay. Throughout the history of the holiday, this has not been the way Christmas was celebrated by the masses.
Originally when the date was chosen by the Pope Julius to represent the birth of Christ, they opted for December 25 because they could merge Christianity into the Pagan celebrations of Saturnalia (Juvenalia in Rome), and Yule. This was a wise marketing move. By coupling Christmas at the same time as Pagan solstice festivals, the Church hoped it would increase their chances of attracting more converts.
At first it was called the Feast of the Nativity. By 425 CE, the celebration spread to Egypt, then to England and beyond. By the 8th century, Christmas was nearly everywhere. Celebrators of Christmas would go to mass then let loose in raucous fun. Drinking, dancing, singing, revelry helped the hard-working folk let off some steam. The poor were often catered to by the rich to “atone” for misdeeds.
Well, this couldn’t go on forever and the staunchly religious decided that enough was enough. “Fun? Brother Jeremiah. Christmas isn’t for fun. No. This cannot be.” Oliver Cromwell, in 1645, outlawed Christmas, altogether. Fortunately, this didn’t last and Charles II brought it back when Cromwell was defeated.
With their noses out of joint, the English Separatists took off across the ocean blue to America to get away from the evil of Christmas. Anyone caught celebrating it was fined five shillings. Still, all was not lost. In Jamestown the holiday still in full swing. Thank you Captain John Smith. And, after the American Revolution, Christmas was popular once again but not an official holiday until June 26, 1870.
So, in the 21st century we still have a mixture of devout and party-on attitude. Fewer people are going to church in this age but the congregation increases at Christmas. For the most part, though, it is more about decorations, shopping, gifts, and food. Oh, yes, food.
Christ? Mostly on the periphery of the mind. Some things are there to remind us that this was an artificial date chosen to celebrate the Christian’s belief in the birth of a savior. There may be a school play with little-ones stumbling through their lines about the miracle of the Star of Bethlehem or struggling inside the camel costume. You might give more freely to the person on the street-corner ringing the bell. The shops are all decorated, seasonal music is everywhere. You might hear Silent Night right before Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer being played in shops or on the radio.
For many years after I quit being a believer I still put out a beautiful ceramic nativity scene. I think the myth is a beautiful one so that’s what I celebrated. The hope of tomorrow being better than today.
Although there are still some of the old traditions still with us, most of them have been greatly altered. Christmas isn’t a static holiday, we have transformed it by creating some of our own traditions. After all, every tradition and ritual was made-up by someone at some time in history. I give you Kwanzaa, which, for me, makes more sense than a lot of Christmas. See http://www.history.com/topics/kwanzaa-history for a good look at how Kwanzaa came about in 1966.
Christmas, however, is here to stay. Most people decorate a tree, buy and give gifts to those they love and care about, or to stay in standing with work colleagues and administrators.
Too many of us are controlled by the myth of “family” and feel obligated to buy things for every strand of DNA that has a claim on kinship with us. Christmas for most of normal-folk is about family. Maybe really close friends are also a part of the picture. Often it’s the only time of year we see some members of our tribe. Ever think, there’s a reason for that? Hmmm. But, I digress.
As far as celebrating the sacredness of Xmas, you might attend a church service or Mass, opt to watch someone on TV pounding the “Good Book,” watch a religious-themed Christmas special on the telly. Perhaps you just listen to Christmas Carols. Then there’s the obligatory gawd-awful Christmas-themed sweater or jewelry.
No, I didn’t forget football. It seems that in the U.S., anyway, this Romanesque game of war is a part of nearly every major holiday. Some love it, some hate it, but it has woven itself into the fabric of holiday cheer in many a home.
Christmas, even for Atheists is often a time for having a lavish meal together—cooked by loving hands at home, brought in from an eatery in giant boxes, or by sitting down at a restaurant for that special meal.
When I was a child, this holiday was a rare time when my parents weren’t screaming at each other and my dad was sober for a few hours. We had the sparkly tree and my mother made sure that my brother and I had a lot of gifts to rip open on Christmas morning. She fixed the traditional meal with her own loving hands and made each year memorable in a good way. For a tear in your eye and a smile or two, read Of Santa and Christmas Past
I no longer celebrate Christmas since I don’t have family that I care to be with, except for hubby and bestie, David. Plus there’s no time or disposable income to throw the lavish parties I used to for friends who are alone at this time of year. I’ve scaled down.
The last Christmas I spent with my mother before she became so incoherent she didn’t understand what was going on around her, was a disaster. She was venomous in her tirade of insults and rantings. She was mean, and loud.
At the lavish breakfast that I had prepared for the occasion, I remember snapping as her voice pounded in my head about what a horrible person I was. I threw my napkin onto the table, announced that I didn’t need to take this then grabbed my husband’s hand and said, “We are outta here.” I left my amazing friend David with her (she needed full-time supervision) and Allen and I stormed out the door. It was a marvelous day for Allen and me. Poor David. I beg his forgiveness.
How do you celebrate Christmas—or not? What are your quirky, or beautiful traditions? Is it a joyful time or a stressful gotta-just-get-through time?
Perhaps you don’t do Christmas at all. Maybe you rally around the Festivus pole? Uh-huh, Festivus is now a real holiday http://festivusweb.com/ complete with the Airing-of-Grievances.
Maybe you gather with loved ones for Kwanzaa. This beautiful celebration of sharing and gratitude runs from December 26-January 1.
December 21 is Humbug Day. This is an actual, copyrighted holiday created by Thomas and Ruth Roy at welcat.com http://www.wellcat.com/december/humbug_day.htm. It’s a day to vent frustrations. Twelve humbugs allowed.
An age-old tradition is Boxing Day, December 26. It was originally a time when a priest would place a wooden box on ships. The sailors would drop coins into the box to ensure a safe return from sea. Guess who got the coins. Nope. Not the sailors. In the late 18th century, the tradition changed to the well-to-do boxing-up leftover food for the poor. For more ways to celebrate Boxing day http://www.wincalendar.com/Boxing-Day.
I know you have fascinating, stories about your holiday traditions. What is it that makes this time of year special for you? What family traditions are unique to your clan?
Post, comment, or email your story to me.