I will not insult my reader’s intelligence by suggesting they are ignorant of the facts to follow; I merely question why my interpretation of the myths and legends of our ancestors differ from that of many of my contempories.
Almost Two thousand and eleven years ago Judaea had been under Roman occupation for a couple of hundred years. The territory had at various times been troubled by armed revolts and skirmishes with both armed and unarmed demonstrators. Dozens of sects flourished. So what was so different about, what was to become, the largest sect of ‘dissidents’ who survived, almost long enough, to see the end of that great empire?
John the Baptist was said by his cousin Jesus to have been the greatest of all the prophets. “The voice crying in the wilderness” and “The man sent from God,” Some six months older than jesus one wonders how he survived the infanticide ordered by Herod, no mention is made of his parents leaving the temple in Jerusalem and fleeing to Egypt. Now in his late twenties John began preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, and baptising his followers — including Jesus himself — in the River Jordan. His message was that people should repent because the kingdom of heaven was at hand. In common with most sect leaders of the time he was eventually arrested and executed. John had no trial because of a trick: when Salome had so delighted Herod by her dancing he agreed to grant her any wish. At the urging Herodias, her mother, she insisted on receiving the head of John the Baptist. This was duly granted to her. Herod must have spent most of his life either wringing his hands or washing them! John the Baptist was renowned for his preaching of virtue and repentance; this, coupled with his willingness to suffer martyrdom rather than betray his duty to his Master, made him a fit candidate for Patron of the Order of Freemasonry. Although we know of one major defector, Andrew, for a couple of hundred years after his death, his followers outnumbered those of Peter. So what went wrong? Well I guess it was all down to spin. Power whether secular or religious even then was the name of the game. Two of jc’s men, Peter and Mark had been executed in Rome. It became the political base of that sect. In the year 350, Pope Julius 1st. declared that “Christ’s birth” would be celebrated on December 25th.
There is little doubt that he was trying to make it easy for Pagan Romans (who were the majority at the time) to convert to Christianity. The new religion was a bit easier to swallow, knowing that their feasts would not be taken away from them. The Emperor Gratian (367-383 AD), in a final attempt to maintain control of the decaying Roman Empire outlawed pagan Mithraism and adopted christianity as the state religion. This was a direct result of him ending a run of defeats in battle and having run out of roman gods to dedicate a win to, chose the latest option from the east. Had he chosen the God of the Forests, tree hugging would now be more in fashion and we would not be felling the rain forests with such blind enthusiasm.
Or had the catholic church made the empire its first conquest? So it came to pass the Pagan festivals for Mithras, the celebration of the winter solstice, Saturnalia and the January observation of the Kalends, [which represented the triumph of life over death], became the new period dedicated to Advent, the birth of Jesus and Epiphany.
Let us not forget Mithra was born on December 25th as an offspring of the Sun. Next to the gods Ormuzd and Ahrimanes, Mithra held the highest rank among the gods of ancient Persia. He was represented as a beautiful youth and a Mediator. Reverend J. W. Lake states: “Mithras is spiritual light contending with spiritual darkness, and through his labors the kingdom of darkness shall be lit with heaven’s own light; the Eternal will receive all things back into his favor, the world will be redeemed to God. The impure are to be purified, and the evil made good, through the mediation of Mithras, the reconciler of Ormuzd and Ahriman. Mithras is the Good, his name is Love. In relation to the Eternal he is the source of grace, in relation to man he is the life-giver and mediator” (Plato, Philo, and Paul, p. 15).: “Mithras seems to have owed his prominence to the belief that he was the source of life, and could also redeem the souls of the dead into the better world … The ceremonies included a sort of baptism to remove sins, anointing, and a sacred meal of bread and water, while a consecrated wine, believed to possess wonderful power, played a prominent part.”
After all it is recognised fact that jesus was born nearer springtime than in the deep mid winter. Shepherds tend not to sit in snow covered fields with sheep in december. At this time of year livestock were usually herded as near the settlement as possible. Making them more easily accessible for slaughter. At this time Bethlehem was what we would call a hamlet – too small even to have a hostelry. The ground floor of an ordinary dwelling was for the animals. People lived on the first floor. With a relatives house full, a pregnant teenager an older ‘partner’ turning up for the census, would have been given a place in the stable to sleep.
With the church calendar being formulated around the age old pagan festivals, customs and practises it meant that in the the 5th Century, Advent began on (St Martin’s Day) and took the form of a six week fast. During the 6th century, Advent was reduced to its current length and later the fasting was dropped. Advent begins on the Sunday nearest to 30th November [St Andrews Day, he being of course the very first disciple of jc], and lasts until midnight on Christmas Eve. Advent Sunday is the first of the four Sundays before the 25th December. It would be another thousand years before Christ’s mass became Christmas and was introduced by the Lutherans, a German catholic sect. During the roman festival of saturnalia, and well into the 17th century, mummers, groups of costumed singers and dancers, would travel from house to house entertaining their neighbours, from this; the tradition of carolling was born. In northern Europe it was customary for live evergreen trees to be brought into the homes as a reminder to inhabitants that soon their crops would grow again. Sprigs of mistletoe symbolizing fertility and everlasting life were placed at cave entrances and evergreen boughs were often carried as totems of good luck and were often present at weddings, representing fertility. The druids used the tree as a religious symbol, holding their sacred ceremonies while surrounding and worshipping huge trees. Legend, yes another one, has it that the modern Christmas tree and it decorations, was first introduced to these shores by Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort. Only two years after the introduction of the penny black in 1840, the first Christmas card was sent. Just like Christmas (Germanic Yuletide), the Christmas tree was more or less accepted by the Roman Catholic Church because it could not prevent its use.
The giving of a present has continued down the ages, even before the Romans and their feast of Saturnalia. Tradition had it that these presents were exchanged on St Stephens’s day. Incidentally he was the Christian sect’s first martyr, stoned to death by a mob at the supreme court of ancient Israel and as the fledgling sect grew in strength his dedicated day was moved to December 26th. His present to his god was his life! A final saturnalia tradition has been imitated in the last couple of centuries, when Christmas day became the only holiday that domestic staff were allowed throughout the year.
Apart from the growth of the card industry, the first act of commercialism at this time of year was an unnamed drink ‘stealing’ the image ‘SANTA’ and making him the centre of their advertisements. Let us reflect on the man, not the myth of St Nicholas and his mark on the modern winter festival. In the fourth century St. Nicholas was the bishop of Myra, in Turkey. Legend says he saved his town from starvation. He is also said to have revived three dead children, and to have offered gifts of dowries to poor girls. He would eventually become symbolic to many different kinds of people including pawnbrokers, who use the three gold bags (balls) as their identifying symbol. His name inspires legends in Russia, Greece, Northern France, Germany, Belgium and Holland. In Holland, for example, his legendary gifts of dowries to poor girls led to the custom of giving gifts to children on the eve of his feast day, 6 December. [He died in 343 AD]. Children can put their shoes in front of the fireplace. During the night St. Nicholas visits all the houses by travelling over the roofs on his traditionally a white horse, (called “Scheme” in Dutch), to put little presents in the children’s shoes. Sometimes the children put straw, carrots and water near the shoe for the horse. Here in England, Father [of] Christmas or Santa Claus visits all the children on the eve of Christmas day distributing presents. ‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St Nicholas would soon be there.’ From April until November, in the depths of Lapland, he supervises his elves in the production of all the toys that he will carry on his reindeer drawn sleigh.
In 24 hours he circumnavigates the world. Through American spy satellites you can plot his journey at:
I think Charles Dickens in “A Christmas Carol” reflects my thoughts:
“There are many things from which I have derived well, by which I have not profited.”
“I dare say.” Said the nephew.
“Christmas, being among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come around, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time that I know of, in the year long calendar, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and think of people below them as if they really were fellow – travellers to the grave and not a race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
Unlike one blog I have read recently I would never impose the fairy tales from my childhood on other’s fortunate enough not to have been so indoctrinated. Now I recognise that this truly is how we should celebrate the winter festival of light and rebirth. It is St Nicholas/ sinterklaus/ who has kept the true meaning of this winter festival alive throughout the ages of religious oppression. Without any fuss or impossible promises he arrives every year on the dot, with your hopes fulfilled. This truly is a Saturnalia, a time to feast, share presents with loved ones and to make merry. As our ancestors did, we give thanks to the old year and to show a light to herald in a new year and renewed belief in Mother Earth.
I listened to stories of our Pals holding an unofficial armistice on christmas day in 1915. my question was: If both sides believed in “god” why did ‘god’ allow such carnage ? I attended a Billy Graham revivalist meeting in my home town when I was 16 maybe 17 years old. Two of my friends joined the throng to accept his peculiar form of indoctrination. What I saw was no different to the queues of ‘communist’ children avowing allegience to stalin, mao and other political dictators. Twenty years later I also tried to understand why my brother in law died a lonely death on a deserted midlands road ,on christmas eve, while I was with my family in our local church at midnight mass. Apart from weddings, christenings and funerals I have never set foot in a church since.
Jewish,catholic and muslim zelots preach false messages of peace to all mankind; instead these religious and political purveyors of evil encourage terrorism and meyhem.
Finally a conundrum:
When is a terrorist not a terrorist?
A: When he is in the israeli army killing innocent Palastinian children with bombs donated by the american taxpayer.
I WISH YOU ALL A HEALTHY AND PEACEFUL FESTIVAL AND A PROSPEROUS 2011