Every year, letter-to-the editor writers expound on the fact that Christmas grew from pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. Christians yawn. Although this evolution is generally ignored, Christians do know about it.
Christmas originated in two separate pagan festivals — the Yule-feast of the Norse, and the Roman celebration of the god, Saturn (The Saturnalia).
The early church tried unsuccessfully to suppress midwinter fêtes. Finally, in AD 350, realizing the way to handle things was to adopt the holiday as Christianity’s own, Pope Julius I declared December 25 as the birth date of Jesus. It took another 500 years before the festival was called “Christmas” rather than “Midwinter Feast.”
Neither Julius nor anyone else, then or now, could say what year or calendar date Jesus was born.
Despite its long history as a Christian festival, Christmas continues to be attached to pagan customs, ideas, and superstitions.
Kris Kringle (Christkindl in German) is another name for Santa Claus. Germans believed an angel riding a tiny deer loaded with gifts and toys visited families Christmas Eve.
Italian children got their gifts from an old hag on a broomstick. Befana gave presents to good children and lumps of coal to bad ones. She also made her journey not on December 24, but on Epiphany Eve, January 5.
A crone known as Frau Gaude, surrounded by a pack of demonic dogs, supposedly crept into Austrian villages at Christmas. Anyone who left a door open was at risk because if Frau Gaude sent her animals in, nothing could drive them away.
In Europe’s far north, when the winter sun hid from human eyes, Norsemen sent scouts to the highest mountains to keep watch until the light returned. When, finally, light was again seen, the great Yule feast began.
In Russia, on Christmas Eve, an elf-maiden dressed in white traveled from house to house by sleigh. Called Kolyáda, she distributed treats to children who sang carols to her.
Household elves in Norway and Sweden lived in attics and stables most of the year. They emerged at Christmas to hide gifts throughout the house.
The Three Kings brought gifts to Spanish children at Epiphany.
Many Britons tell ghost stories on Christmas Eve, because it’s believed that family ghosts return to their old homes at Christmas. Also, in Britain, you get a happy month for every piece of mince pie you eat.
Once, a little Mexican boy with no money, brought wild flowers to the infant Jesus in the church crèche. When he placed them under the altar, the flowers turned a beautiful scarlet colour. These were the first poinsettias.
It’s said, “A green Christmas means a full churchyard; a white Christmas means a happy year.”
To dream of Christmas when it isn’t the Christmas season, means happy times ahead. Also, good luck is in your future if you dream of holly. Dreams of evergreens are also good omens.
Wherever Christmas gifts come from — Kris Kringle or household elves —Christmas presents are here to stay.
Good for Pope Julius I. He was wise to usurp the pagan Midwinter Feast and make it a Christian Christmas celebration.