Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Keeping the 'X' in X-MAS

Today is Solstice, the longest night of the year, when candles and sacred fires were lit by our ancestors to keep away the dark and to hope for the return of the sun. For those of the Jewish faith and tradition it is Chanukah, which they too celebrate with a festival of lights.

Today is the first day of Winter, and by now the feasting of Harvest and Samhain is forgotten. The foods preserved for the long winter season are now unpacked and a feast is held for the people will eat little but preserves until spring allows for new growth and the season of planting. It was also a time of sharing even with the lowest and poorest.

The annual renewal festival of the Babylonians was adopted by the Persians. One of the themes of these festivals was the temporary subversion of order. Masters and slaves exchanged places. A mock king was crowned. Masquerades spilled into the streets. As the old year died, rules of ordinary living were relaxed.

Amongst the ancient Romans this was the Season of Saturnalia when slaves were freed and the Emperor was mocked by a fool king. Twas a festivity that we now often celebrate at New Years, when drag and cross dressing occured much like that which occurs during Mardi Gras. The Carnival, the reversing of the social roles, where the poor were uplifted and the high and mighty buffoned. These were the pagan feast days before the advent of Christianty which appropriated them for their own mythology. For a very funny cartoon about the Pagan Origins of Christmas check this out.

The Saturnalia was the most popular holiday of the Roman year. Catullus (XIV) describes it as "the best of days," and Seneca complains that the entire city is in a bustle (Epistles, XVIII). Pliny the Younger writes that he retired to his room while the rest of the household celebrated (Epistles, II.17.24). It was an occasion for celebration, visits to friends, and the presentation of gifts, particularly wax candles (cerei), perhaps to signify the returning light after the solstice, and sigillaria. Martial wrote Xenia and Apophoreta for the Saturnalia. Both were published in December and intended to accompany the "guest gifts" which were given at that time of year. Aulus Gellius relates in his Attic Nights (XVIII.2) that he and his Roman compatriots would gather at the baths in Athens, where they were studying, and pose difficult questions to one another on the ancient poets, a crown of laurel being dedicated to Saturn if no-one could answer them.

During the holiday, restrictions were relaxed and the social order inverted. Gambling was allowed in public. Slaves were permitted to use dice and did not have to work. Instead of the toga, less formal dinner clothes (synthesis) were permitted, as was the pileus, a felt cap normally worn by the manumitted slave that symbolized the freedom of the season. Within the family, a Lord of Misrule was chosen. Slaves were treated as equals, allowed to wear their masters' clothing, and be waited on at meal time in remembrance of an earlier golden age thought to have been ushered in by the god.

Today some complain that the Christ is missing in Christmas, and complain about the loss of sacredness in this. But the Christmas tree has nothing to do with Christ but with ancient Gallic, Celtic and Germanic winter festivities around Solstice for through out the dark winter it stays green, the very source of eternal life and hope for the return of the Sun.

This belief was adapted by Christianity to equate the Sun, with the Son, of god. Hence Roman Emperor Constantine accepted Christianity and made it the State Religion of Rome, orginially worshiped Sol In Victus, it was not to much to change his Sun worship into the worship of INRI, the Son of God. And so Christianity went from the religion of slaves, and thus lost its connection with its Judiac origins, and became Romanized, the State Religion. Once it became a state religion it no longer spoke with the voice of the Rebel Jesus.

The fourth-century Roman emperor Constantine, who first moved the celebration of Christmas to December 25. The authors claim that Constantine followed the cult of Sol Invictus, a monotheistic form of sun worship that originated in Syria and was imposed by Roman emperors on their subjects a century earlier.

"His primary, indeed obsessive, objective was unity -- unity in politics, in religion, and in territory. A cult or state religion that included all other cults within it obviously helped to achieve this objective...In the interests of unity, Constantine deliberately chose to blur the distinctions among Christianity, Mithraism [another Sun cult of the time] and Sol Invictus..."
That's why Constantine decreed that Sunday -- "the venerable day of the sun" would be the official day of rest. (Early Christians before then celebrated their holy day on the Jewish Sabbath -- Saturday.)

That's also why -- by his edict, the book claims -- the celebration of Jesus' birthday was moved from January 6th (Epiphany today) to December 25, celebrated by the cult of Sol Invictus as Natilis Invictus, the rebirth of the sun (confused yet? don't be!)

And are you wondering about the concept of the 12 Days of Christmas? The midwinter festival of the ancient Egyptians celebrated the birth of Horus (the prototype of the earthly king) son of Isis (the divine mother-goddess). It was 12 days long, reflecting their 12-month calendar. This concept took firm root in many other cultures. In 567 AD, Christians adopted it. Church leaders proclaimed the 12 days from December 25 to Epiphany as a sacred, festive season.
Later protestant sects such as the Calvinsts and some Lutherans see in the celebration of Christmas and the Christmas tree, heathen paganism, and will not have a tree in their houses. Some churches and sects such as the WorldWide Church of God, with their Back to the Bible hour, refuse to celebrate Christams as a heathen pagan rite as do the Jehova Witnesses and other Anabaptist sects.

Is Christmas a Sin?

Some Christians believe that Christians should not observe Christmas. Some object to the commercialism of the holiday; others object to its origins. Until 1995, we in the Worldwide Church of God did not approve of Christmas. Our approach now is much more favorable.

In order to understand our approach to this subject, it is helpful to trace some of the history of Christmas avoidance, particularly its roots in Puritanism.

The Puritans believed that the first-century church modeled a Christianity that modern Christians should copy. They attempted to base their faith and practice solely on the New Testament, and their position on Christmas reflected their commitment to practice a pure, scriptural form of Christianity. Puritans argued that God reserved to himself the determination of all proper forms of worship, and that he disapproved of any human innovations – even innovations that celebrated the great events of salvation. The name Christmas also alienated many Puritans. Christmas, after all, meant ``the mass of Christ.'' The mass was despised as a Roman Catholic institution that undermined the Protestant concept of Christ, who offered himself once for all. The Puritans' passionate avoidance of any practice that was associated with papal Rome caused them to overlook the fact that in many countries the name for the day had nothing to do with the Catholic mass, but focused instead on Jesus' birth. The mass did not evolve into the form abhorred by Protestants until long after Christmas was widely observed. The two customs had separate, though interconnected, histories.

As ardent Protestants, Puritans identified the embracing of Christianity by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the early 300s as the starting point of the degeneration and corruption of the church. They believed the corruption of the church was brought on by the interweaving of the church with the pagan Roman state. To Puritans, Christmas was impure because it entered the Roman Church sometime in this period. No one knows the exact year or under what circumstances Roman Christians began to celebrate the birth of their Lord, but by the mid-300s, the practice was well established.

No evidence exists that the Christian leaders who began this practice consciously wanted to compromise with paganism. They may simply have wanted to celebrate the birth of Jesus. However, modern scholars generally agree that the date they chose for Christmas was influenced by a pagan celebration on or about that same date honoring the "Invincible Sun." Consequently, many customs unrelated to the birth of Jesus that commonly characterize modern Christmas celebrations were also present in pre-Christian pagan celebrations. This syncretistic character of most forms of Christmas celebration was enough for Puritans to avoid the holiday as a compromise with the pure exercise of Christian faith.

Today, there are no churches that call themselves Puritans. Yet their theological descendants – Presbyterians, Congregationalists and many Baptists – remain. Gone, except among their most fundamentalist offspring, is any concern about Christmas. Yet their history of attitudes toward Christmas is important for understanding our own story.

So not all Christians celebrate the Solstice Season as the birth of their god. So when some American Protestants want to put the Christ back in Christmas they do not speak for all Christians, nor is it just the 'liberal' ACLU that opposes Christmas, so do their own religious sects.

What 'War on Christmas'?

By Ruth Marcus
Washinton Post
Saturday, December 10, 2005; Page A21

I've been hearing about this "War on Christmas," so I headed to the Heritage Foundation the other day for a briefing from one of the defending army's generals: Fox News anchor John Gibson, author of "The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought." Gibson -- and Bill O'Reilly, his comrade in the Fox-hole -- see this as a two-front war: Assaulting Christmas from the government end, they say, are pusillanimous school principals, politically corrected city managers and their ilk, bullied by the ACLU types into extirpating any trace of Christmas from the public square. Battering the holiday from the private sector are infidel retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart, which balk at using the C-word in their advertising in favor of such secularist slogans as "Happy Holidays." The assault, Gibson told the Heritage crowd, has reached a "shocking level this year."

Christian bloggers answer the question 'What War on Christmas?'

Their rantings against Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings are equally falacious. Holidays is Holy Days, and certainly this is the season of Holy Days, Solstice, Chanukah (the festival of lights, Kwanzai (a new Afro American celebration of Solstice) and Christmas.

O'Reilly retreats in "war on Christmas," declaring: " 'Happy Holidays' is fine'

Summary: On The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly apparently reversed his previous position that the phrase "Happy Holidays" is offensive, stating, " 'Happy Holidays' is fine, just don't ban 'Merry Christmas.' " O'Reilly has previously claimed the term "Happy Holidays" is offensive to "millions of Christians" and 'insulting to Christian America."

And Happy Yule is just as fine to say, as it was the term for the season in Scandinavia and later used in Christian England and amongst the Christianized Saxons and Slavs, such as King Wenceslas. Listen to the carol.

Under attack from the politically correct, Christmas finds an ally in Trevor Philips, Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, I am baffled after reading about the recent "bans on Christmas" by companies and local authorities across the country. A ban on Christmas isn't just silly and offensive to those who profess to be Christians. Most people of other faiths are bemused that we should even question it.

So Merry Christmas from a Heathen Pagan. Tis the season of solidarity and communalism, of fraternity and sharing, and that is what makes it holy, not the diety that it may be named for. It is a celebration of community. And even the Rebel Jesus would have approved.

The Rebel Jesus

Jackson Browne

Original recording from the chieftain’s album the bells of dublin

All the streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants’ windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
As the sky darkens and freezes
They’ll be gathering around the hearths and tales
Giving thanks for all god’s graces
And the birth of the rebel jesus

Well they call him by the prince of peace
And they call him by the savior
And they pray to him upon the seas
And in every bold endeavor
As they fill his churches with their pride and gold
And their faith in him increases
But they’ve turned the nature that I worshipped in
From a temple to a robber’s den
In the words of the rebel jesus

We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel jesus

But please forgive me if I seem
To take the tone of judgement
For I’ve no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In this life of hardship and of earthly toil
We have need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel jesus.

1 comment:

RP. said...

Yes, and a Happy Solstice to ye as well!