History, Origins and Traditions of Christmas

The sunlight and Christmas at first glance would seem the two extremes. From the luminous splendor of the day and the silvery light of the moon in winter, it is the triumph of nature. December is illuminated by the rays of the sun and the cold silence of Advent, the winter solstice, santa claus and the myth of the birth of jesus christ.

We all know that the origins of Paganism was from the Palaeolithic period dating back to 25,000 years ago. It is much older than Christianity. The Catholic Church chose a sly way to promote its expansion in Europe. It included the construction of Catholic churches on pagan places of worship, the manipulation of the festivities, and the spread of fear and persecution.

The festivals of our calendar are nothing more than the consequence of what the church has done over the centuries to eradicate paganism. The year has developed and grown according to the needs of the Christian community, and those who governed it. Christianity led by the Popes and Bishops massacred a millennial culture. It imposed itself by force also on the calendar celebrations like Christmas, Halloween, All Saints' Day, Easter, and many other minor festivals, which are nothing but the shadows of ancient rites.

Christmas as the birthday of Jesus Christ was born in recent times, around the fourth century AD in order to coincide with the festivities of the winter solstice. The birth of the Sun was celebrated since time immemorial in Syria and Egypt. The Gospels made no reference to a possible date of birth. The Church, which originally did not celebrate the birth of Jesus, decided to set a date to celebrate it to stem the pagan cults and possibly incorporate them into their own celebration.

Yule, the ancestor of Christmas is a celebration of the winter solstice in the pre-Christian West.

Following the same logic of syncretism for the Saturnalia and the Sol Invictus, Yule was associated with the festival of Christmas in the Nordic countries before the Christianization of the people.

In Norse mythology, Yule was the time of year when Heimdall returned to visit children. He visited each home to reward those who have done well during the year and leave a present in their socks. Those who acted wrongly saw their socks full of ashes at dawn. Yule was also a party where people met to share a meal, stories, songs and dances. This festival was synonymous with the celebrations of Diwali, which has been shifted back at later times to an earlier period.

Yet the roots of Christmas is really a festival dedicated to the Sun. It was celebrated during the winter solstice when the days got longer and more daylight outweighed the darkness of night. It later changed from a pagan festival of the Sun to commemorate the birth of Jesus. The sun, then, till the winter solstice arrives at its weakest phase in terms of light and heat, apparently plunging in darkness, but then returns to life from around December 25, when it seems to be reborn.

This astronomical interpretation may explain why December 25 is a celebratory date present in cultures and countries so far apart. Everything starts from a careful observation of the behavior of the planets and the sun. Though it may seem surprising, the ancient people were well aware of the tools that allowed them to observe and describe the movements and behavior of the stars.

Christmas literally means birth. The feast of Sun God was celebrated as the rebirth of the sun at the time of the year when the length of day began to increase after the winter solstice. At that time the darkness of the night reaches its maximum extent with the minimum light of day. And then occur the longest night and shortest day of the year. Immediately after the solstice, daylight gradually increases and the darkness of night shrinks until the summer solstice, in June, when we have the longest day and the shortest night.

The emperor Constantine, after having embraced the Christian faith in 330 made the Christian celebration of the nativity of Jesus official for the first time. By a decree he made it coincide with the pagan festival of the birth of Sun God.

Constantine favored Christianity. Without the Edict of Milan that criminalised the freedom of religion throughout the empire, Christianity perhaps would have never reached the popularity and diffusion that is reflected in the whole world. Another decisive factor in the development of Christianity was the well-functioning organization of the Catholic Church. At the end of the first century it had assumed its backbone and was able to make an efficient apostolic mission.

And when the Emperor Theodosius exalted Christianity as the state religion, the victory of the star, Jesus, was now sealed, banishing virtually every other cult. Followers of many other religions existing in the Empire, who were from time to time accused of paganism and heresy, were subjected to cruel persecution. Constantine thus paved the way to Theodosius, the luminous path that led to the victory of Christianity. The step from Sun God to Jesus Christ was short, and his passing by Constantine was certainly the result of a dubious decision.

Like any head of state, Constantine was primarily cold, because by an irony of fate, the new privileged religion of the Emperor supported power plays. It one day contributed to the breakup of the empire itself. The Christians were certainly not the empire's gravediggers. But one thing is clear that the Roman Empire had its roots in a relationship of trust between cults and religion.

Towards the middle of the fourth century Pope Julius I made the date of Christmas by the Catholic Church official. December 25, as the birthdate of Christ was definitively fixed in Rome. In about 204, Hippolytus of Rome fixed it at 25 December.

The decision, however, to standardize the date of the celebrations to 25 December may have been established largely for political reasons to join and overlap with pagan festivals of Saturnalia and Sol Invictus. During these festivals the exchange of gifts took place and lavish banquets were held as men and women wore garlands around their necks. People also sacrificed a mannequin symbolically representing a young man.

The announcement of the arrival of the Son of Justice, which concludes the Tanakh, was interpreted by Christians as a prophetic announcement of the birth of Jesus. The solar symbolism is much common among early Christian writers who distinguished themselves as the true Sun reverent against that worshiped by the pagans. The symbolism was also stimulated by the story of the resurrection, of which the sunrise can be considered a metaphor.

The decision to celebrate the birth of Christ to coincide with the winter solstice also gave rise to many disputes, given that the dates of birth of Jesus from the Gospels was inaccurate and difficult to interpret. Clement of Alexandria shows different dates celebrated in Egypt, which seemed to coincide with the Epiphany or the Paschal period.

Befana, the lexical corruption of Epiphany was a traditional festival linked to the Christmas holidays. It was an original tradition in which an elderly woman on her flying broom, distributed gifts to those who have been good and punishes those who held bad behavior. Originally the day of the festival was linked to pagan rituals, especially with reference to mother nature, a symbol of the rebirth of the production cycles of the earth.

The origin was probably connected to a set of propitiatory heathen rites, dating back to the X-VI century BC. There were seasonal cycles related to agriculture, elapsed year's crop, a year almost ready to be reborn again, ancient Mithraism and other similar cults like Celtic, related to winter Borealis.

The overlap between the solar cult and Christian worship has given rise to much controversy, so much so that some have claimed that Christianity has been heavily influenced by Mithraism and the cult of Sol Invictus, or even find in them its true roots. This thesis is formed during the Renaissance but has spread in recent decades, as to be considered, if not accepted even in the most progressive circles of the Christian churches.

According to the liturgical calendar, it is a solemnity of higher importance to Ascension and Pentecost, but lower than the Easter, the most important Christian festival. It is still the most popular event among Christians. However, in more recent times it has also been linked to the exchange of gifts, the family reunion and the folklores of Santa Claus.

They are closely related to the tradition of the nativity scene and Christmas fir tree, decorated with small colored objects, especially balls of different colors, lights, garlands, sweets, small wrapped gifts and more, both of medieval origin, and the second most linked to the countries of Northern Europe with the Christmas elves, the mother Christmas, sometimes a Father Christmas who agrees to pose for pictures.

The origins are usually traced back to the German world in the sixteenth century, on the basis of pre-existing Christian and pagan traditions. Towards the XI century, it spread to northern Europe. Santa Claus, present in many cultures, is a white-bearded old man who distributes gifts to children, usually on Christmas Eve. It derived from the historical figure of St. Nicholas of Bari. Outside the home, it gives rise to the lighting of streets, houses and shops, and organization of Christmas markets.

Charged with bringing gifts, Santa is represented as an old man with a long white beard and a red coat. This image is accompanied by an entire folklore of sled wheel pulled by reindeer, gift request letter from him, his bag filled with toys, etc.

Krampus, the popular anthropomorphic figure with horns, described as half-goat and half-demon is another symbolic deviation of Pan. Saint Nick in the Nordic and Germanic versions that can often be seen along with Krampus. They are the two halves of the same symbol. Krampus, whose name is derived from the German word krampen, meaning claw, is said to be the son of Hel in Norse mythology. The legendary beast also shares features with other fearsome and demonic creatures from Greek mythology. It appears with a chain and bells, and a bunch of branches with which it strikes the children who have behaved badly.

During the Christmas season, Krampus punishes the children as the kachina of Hopi Indians called Sakwa Hu, who arrives at the winter solstice or Soyalang-eu to do the same. A group of approximately thirty official kachinas, called Mong Kachinas, participate in five major ceremonies celebrated during this period. Soyalang-eu (Winter Solstice Ceremony) in December, and Pamuya in January, when the Sun seems to move north again.

During Soyal, which lasts nine days, sacred rituals are performed in chambers called kivas. Many ceremonies involving dances and songs take place. Kachinas can even bring gifts to children.

Gävlebocken is a traditional Christmas event erected annually in Slottstorget in central Gävle, Sweden. It is a giant version of a traditional Swedish figure Goat Yule (Pan) made of straw, which often is lit as bonfires.

Many Christmas traditions are ultimately related to music like Christmas carols as O Come, All Ye Faithful, Glad You Came, Christ Was Born In Bethlehem, Jingle Bells, Angels, We Have Heard on High, Silent Night, O Tannenbaum and particular plants like the holly, mistletoe, Christmas star and sweet dishes like pie, panettone, pandoro, cake and other Christmas sweets and savories like zampone, cotechino and gingerbread.

Christmas, and in particular the scene of the Nativity of Jesus, is one of the major themes of Christian art from its origins. In the last century, the festival has continued to inspire numerous works that include, in addition to traditional paintings and sculptures, including films, sacred music, and novels.

It was the custom of the pagans to celebrate the birth of the sun on December 25th, in honor of whom they lit fires as a sign of festivity. Christians also took part in these solemnities. When the scholars of the Church noticed that Christians were too tied to this festivity, they decided in council that the real Nativity was to be proclaimed on that day.

Christmas is probably the most significant example of how a pagan tradition has been absorbed by Christianity and has taken on new meaning. Among modern Christmas symbols that appear to derive from the Germanic pagan and Celtic traditions appears, among other things, the decorative use of Mistletoe and Holly and the Christmas tree. Present, both indoors and on the streets, they give a festive air. They are often bright to be lit at nightfall.

However, the tradition of a decorated tree is much older. The Celts already decorated a tree, symbol of life at the time of the winter solstice. The Scandinavians had the same for Jul Festival, held at about the same time as Christmas. The installation of this tree is also considered a pagan practice until the mid-XXth century by the Catholic Church.

Also during this time of year, in the Scandinavian countries, just before the solstice, the people went into the forest and cut down a fir tree. Once brought home, they decorated it with garlands and small objects made by themselves. With the arrival of Christianity, however, the tree was interpreted as Christ. In ancient Egypt, the fir tree symbolized the Nativity. In ancient Greece, the silver fir was sacred to the goddess Artemis, who was the goddess of the moon, hunting, and births. Moreover, in the Celtic calendar, the fir tree was destined to the cult of the day of the birth of the Divine Child.

According to other sources, however, it could come from the Yule, associated with a Nordic pagan festival, which lasted twelve days, whose branch was burned outdoors.

In Iceland, the celebrations of the winter solstice continued to be celebrated throughout the Middle Ages, until the time of the Reformation. In other regions, the overlap between the ancient pagan worship of the sun and the celebration of the Christian Christmas persevered until at least the end of the twelfth century.

The debate over the birthdate of Jesus, revived in the twentieth century, allows us to offer an alternative perspective or complementary hypothesis of the institution of Christmas to replace the pagan festival of Sol Invictus. Given that, according to biblical accounts of Christmas, the herds are out with their shepherds, we can deduce that Jesus' birth was certainly not in winter.

The celebration of Christmas is not present in the early lists of Christian holidays, for example in that of Irenaeus, and in that of Tertullian and Origen recalls that in the Scriptures sinners alone celebrated the birthday date. Long before the advent of Christianity, the time of the winter solstice already included many pagan beliefs concerning fertility, motherhood, procreation and astronomy. It, therefore, gave rise to many events. These ancient traditions have many points of similarity with the Christian festival.

In the Mithraic cult that appeared in Persia, the largest party of the Mithragan take place every year on the day of the winter solstice, a day celebrating the birth of the deity and the victory of light over darkness. It is possible that an older tradition, and origin of Mithra, with the mother as Anahita has also influenced the early Christian writers.

The early Christians did not celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as do Christians today. Theologically, the kingship of Christ is not of this world, as some as Origen refused to celebrate the birth as it was and did at the time for a temporal ruler. For nearly three centuries, Christians seem to have no other celebrations other than Easter. Gradually will appear the desire to historicize the birth of Jesus Christ.

It took more than three and a half centuries for Christmas to became an official religious holiday and two more centuries for this festival to be widespread. Many churches do not celebrate Christmas, likening it to a pagan festival.

The period around Christmas is called holiday season and end of year festivities or simply the parties in Europe if we include the New Year celebrations. On the evening of December 24 for the Christmas Eve, all family members place shoes at the foot of the tree with a meal consisting of a Christmas turkey and traditionally ends with the Christmas cake or a Yule log.

This ritual is also reflected on the scale of a local population with the decoration of the streets and shop windows of stores in towns and villages from the beginning of December, for the coming of Father Christmas markets or in kindergartens. The so-called Twelve Days or Twelve Nights is the religious and festive period between the Christmas and the Epiphany.

The scholars of folklore often attribute the Twelve Days of Christmas as pagan origin, derived from the Germanic festival. But it seems it simply is an attempt of the Church to unite the Christmas to Epiphany. According to religious rules, the Twelve Days of Christmas should be a period of absence from work and fun. The period is related to many traditions and popular superstitions.

In Germany, the twelve night period is called Twelve smoky nights, characterized by the appearance of evil spirits, noise and, in fact, the power of fumigations. Also in the German context, it is further believed that on these nights came along the so-called furious row led by Odin. In Greece instead, known monsters like kallikantzaroi make their appearance.

In Luxembourg, a festival of the fire was celebrated annually with great bonfires to welcome the rebirth of the sun. Typical of this day is the meaningful exchange of small figures in the form of birds called peckvillercher. In the past, the exchange of figures was mainly between couples but nowadays even parents and children participate in the event. The food, drinks, games, and attractions make it the favorite time for infants who enjoy folkloric dances in the company of their family. Without a doubt this festival can be enjoyed by both children and adults alike.

As well as the Emaischen, the Burgsonndeg is also significant among the inhabitants of Luxembourg. The streets are decorated with a picturesque carnival style celebrating the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The event consists of the burning of a structure made of wood with a kind of wheel in the center.

The celebration of the Winter Solstice took place regardless of their individual names given by each pagan tradition such as Yule, Brumalia, Chawmos, Goru, Inti Raymi, Lohri, Sankranti, Sewy Yelda, Soyal and more.

In the darkness of a winter like many others, we seek the light within ourselves. The air we breathe, the beauty of nature and of all the wonders around us are divine around us. Now we can celebrate Christmas without bias, as we celebrate the night before the return of light.

Rudolph the red nosed little reindeer, garlands, decorated trees, mistletoe, exchange of wishes, Christmas music, roasted chestnuts and Santa Claus are all things that are associated with this holiday. Each of them brings a sense of warmth.