Andy's Art and Whatever

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Fun Christmas Facts

I thought it would be fun to post some facts about Christmas on Christmas Day. Originally I thought it would be simple things like the origin of the tree and santa and stuff. But the more I read about some of the origins, the more compelling it was. Christmas is infinitely more bizarre than even I could imagine.

Now, some of this might be a bit mean sounding. It’s based on facts, and I tried my best to translate the facts without indulging in social commentary too much. I found them from a variety of sources online, but mostly from a Jewish website. Remember, I’m not hating on Christmas (Read the end of my journal for proof on that). So without further ado, here are some fun Christmas facts that might surprise you:

*****Saturnalia*****

Between December 17th to the 25th, Roman courts would be closed and a law which stated that no one could be punished for damaging property or injuring people during this week long period gave rise to the holiday Saturnalia.

Much like the “Feast of Fools” in the Hunchback of Notredam, the Roman authorities began the celebration by choosing an “enemy of the Roman people” and nicknaming them the “Lord of Misrule.” Each community selected a victim and encouraged the person to indulge in food and pleasures during the week. At the end of the week (December 25th) the Roman Authorities came back and would brutally murder this man/woman as a sacrifice. The idea being that they were destroying the forces of darkness and evil.

Other fun customs of Saturnalia included going from house to house singing naked. Frequent accounts of Rape and deplorable sexual activity. And consuming human-shaped biscuits (a symbol of the sacrifice to come).

*****Christianity Takes Over*****

Around the 4th century CE, Christian leaders imported the Saturnalia festival in an effort to convert the large pagan masses. They promised the pagans that if they converted to Christianity, they could continue to celebrate Saturnalia. However, there was nothing intrinsically “Christian” about Saturnalia. So to remedy this, they named the concluding day, December 25th, to be Jesus’s birthday. This was met with mixed success as it did indeed convert the Pagan masses to Christianity, however the holidays continued to be celebrated with excess drinking, sexual indulgence, and singing naked in the streets for years to come.

*****Warped Customs*****

Many of the pagan customs were adopted by the Christians. Singing in the streets turned into Caroling. The Pagan worshiping of trees turned into Christmas Tree decorating. The human shaped sacrificial effigies consumed during the holiday turned into gingerbread men.

Even the use of Mistletoe comes from Druid mythology: The god Balder was killed by a mistletoe arrow by his rival god Hoder while fighting over the female Nanna. The druids use to poison their human sacrifices with Mistletoe. The Christian custom of “kissing under the mistletoe” is a later synthesis of the sexual indulgence of Saturnalia.

One of the most depraved customs of Saturnalia was intentionally revived by the Church in 1466. Pope Paul II, for the amusement of his Roman citizens, forced Jews to race naked through the streets of the city. An eyewitness reported, “Before they were to run, the Jews were richly fed, so as to make the race more difficult for them and at the same time more amusing for spectators. They ran… amid Rome’s taunting shrieks and peals of laughter, while the Holy Father stood upon a richly ornamented balcony and laughed heartily.”

Also the most common “Lord of Misrule” sacrifice tended to be Jews. And after the conversion of the pagan holiday into a Christian one, Jews continued to be the brunt of many festive activities (like the run mention above). So remember that December 25 was a day on which Jews were prominently shamed, tortured, and murdered.

(I’m sorry that last line sounds very lecture like, but I can’t express it any other way. It’s sick and it’s sad, but it’s true and I wish it wasn’t)

*****Christ’s Birth date*****

Christ was not born on the 25th. There have been many attempts to solidify his actual birth date, but with little success. Some have placed it around March, others around September. The 25th was chosen, as mentioned above, as part of the Saturnalia conversion and also to correspond with the winter solstice.

*************************

Now I wrote a lot of that just to give some interesting facts that I found out about Christmas. I’m not saying that you can’t celebrate Christmas or enjoy it. Christmas IS a wonderful time of forgiving and understanding and it’s very satisfying to know how far it’s come from these rather unsettling roots.

I personally LOVE celebrating Christmas, despite what some of you might think over that stupid “Seasons Greetings” cartoon. While I did grow up Atheist at home, we celebrated Christmas along with everyone else. We had a custom of opening 1 present on Christmas Eve, which just enhanced the expectations of the day to follow. I remember fondly of waking up early and looking through my stockings and waiting for everyone else to wake up. We wouldn’t open presents until my brother awoke, which tended to always be late for some reason.

After opening our presents we would chill for a few hours until the rest of the family arrived. My job was to go around and sort the presents brought by relatives and make huge piles of gifts for everyone. My mom and my Aunt would go prepare food during this time. When there was no more work to be done in the kitchen, we proceeded to open all of our presents. There was no order to this, we all just opened willy nilly and the end result was usually a huge clutter of paper on the floor.

After the second present opening, we would adjourn to the dinning room and have our 1-2pm meal, which usually included a Turkey, Cranberry from a can, A HUGE portion of stuffing (mostly for me), mashed potatoes, greens, squash, and probably some other food I’m forgetting. Once that was over with, we all proceeded to just enjoy the satisfying full feeling. Some of us, like my grandpa and me, would take quick naps.

So I have nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas. I enjoy it. It is, however, still fascinating to learn the origin of Christmas. I knew that a lot of customs were from pagan practices, but I wasn’t prepared to find some of the stuff I did. I didn’t know about the sacrifices or the debauchery. And it also gives me a greater insight into why, if you’re Jewish, you might rightly be offended by the continued use of “Merry Christmas” day in and day out. I don’t want to start another “seasons greetings” argument, but you gotta admit that this gives a very good reason to back up my statement.

Either way, Christmas is a time when pretty much everyone comes together and celebrates, Jews too occasionally. People from all over the world of different backgrounds celebrate Christmas. I think I mentioned before that Japan, which is not a predominantly Christian country, celebrates Christmas because it’s fun and enjoyable. You’ll find many Manga and Anime which celebrate the spirit of Christmas, rather than the whole Christ is born thing.

I hope that didn’t put too much of a damper on all of your holiday spirits. I just thought it was interesting. Everyone have a happy holiday. Merry Christmas and Happy 5th day of Hanukkah!

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