25 December 2011
I first learned in high school Latin that for several centuries, the exact day of the birth of Christ was not precisely known. Originally his birth was celebrated on January 6, the day of epiphany. Later, in a move calculated to win converts, the date was officially moved to December 25 in order to coincide with the Roman festival Saturnalia, as well as with the pagan Scandinavian festival Yule, both of which approximated the winter solstice and the gradual return to longer days and shorter nights. Thus was Christmas born.
The customs and trappings which we associate with the holiday similarly are rooted in distinctly non-Christian origins. The video The Unwrapping of Christmas ~ Its History, Myths and Traditions casts light on why we give gifts, decorate Christmas trees, light Yule logs, hang mistletoe (my favorite), and why we teach our children to believe in Santa Claus. The Wikipedia article also looks at the holiday's origins and history, including controversies surrounding the holiday. (One of those controversies centered on the very name Christmas, or 'Christ mass', an inference which deeply offended early Puritan Protestants. Another controversy arises from the secular holiday shopping hysteria which has come to attend gift-giving, seemingly forgetting any focus on the spiritual message of peace and good will toward all peoples. Yes another controversy addresses the emphasis on the Christian holiday, to the exclusion of equally important non-Christian traditions such as Kwanzaa, Hannukah, Samhain, Festivus, and other winter festivals.
Here is a lovely alternative way of looking at the season ~ Carl Sagan's narration of A Universe Not Made For Us. His soothing voice and gentle application of intellect are a refreshing breeze, taking us back to a broader perspective on being human. You listen, you watch, and you can't help thinking, "Oh yeah, that's right. I'd forgotten."
Winding up on a lighter note, here's a brief Marx Brothers clip, The Sanity Clause. Cheers.