As we’re now a week away from the most important holiday of the year for the largest religion in the world, as well as the one day that is the underpinning for my country’s economy, I thought it would be amusing to take a look at the real origins of Christmas and why we celebrate in the fashion that we do. I will give you a warning right now that if you actually think Christmas exists to celebrate the birth of Baby Jesus and that he was actually born on December 25th 4BCE, then well, sorry. You’re in for one shitter of a shock.
I. Where the Name Comes From
Christmas is actually a contraction of the words Christ (meaning the Christan Godson) and Mass (religious ceremony). There is a further contraction of the word with X-mas. X has been a substitution for the word Christ for Centuries. This abbreviation is because the English letter X resembles the Greek Letter X, which was/is “Chi.” And no, not chi like the life force channeled by martial artists and Dragon Ball Z characters. Chi/X is the first letter in the Greek version of Christ, spelled ÃƒÆ’Ã…Â½Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â§ÃƒÆ’Ã‚ÂÃƒâ€šÃ‚ÂÃƒÆ’Ã…Â½Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¹ÃƒÆ’Ã‚ÂÃƒâ€ ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã‚ÂÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…Â¾ÃƒÆ’Ã‚ÂÃƒ…’ÃƒÆ’Ã‚ÂÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…Â¡ (I’m really hoping that Insidepulse displays Greek characters. If not the closest it looks like in English letters is Xprot’oc.) If you’re curiopus how to pronounce ÃƒÆ’Ã…Â½Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â§ÃƒÆ’Ã‚ÂÃƒâ€šÃ‚ÂÃƒÆ’Ã…Â½Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¹ÃƒÆ’Ã‚ÂÃƒâ€ ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã‚ÂÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…Â¾ÃƒÆ’Ã‚ÂÃƒ…’ÃƒÆ’Ã‚ÂÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…Â¡, it’s actually very simple. it’s just Christos.
II. The origins of the celebration
It’s funny, but if you ask most religious leaders or people who eschew the commercialism of the holiday and want to get back to the original meaning of the holiday (praising Jesus), you’ll find they don’t actually know when Christians began celebrating Christmas, or why.
The problem is that some texts will tell you that Christmas was started by Emperor Constantine (who you can thank for a lovely They Might Be Giants song) in the fourth century. Constantine’s dying wish was to create a feasting holiday that brought together Christians and Pagans and have them find common ground in their beliefs. As lovely as this sounds there’s one big problem with this story: there’s no historical evidence to back it up. The first written recording of Christmas being celebrated comes from 350 AD in a document currently held by the Vatican , but there is no mention of Constantine in the document heralding its celebration. As well, the first feasting holiday version of Christmas is recorded occurring in Constantinople. However this occurred in the year 379, and thus Constantine was dead and buried, and it was Emperor Gregory Nazianzus in the throne of Rome at this time. So the only thing right about the popular but erroneous origins of Christmas is that the Holiday began in the 4th century, but it would not be until the 19th century when Protestants would accept Christianity as a holiday. One of the big breaks between the Protestants and Catholics is that because Christmas began as a Pagan holiday filled with “base/evil/satanic” rituals, they would not celebrate a Holiday that seeks to corrupts Christians under the guise of being a holiday of the faithful.
Christianity’s biggest holiday is actually a Pagan celebration? I’m afraid so. And in fact, this pattern follows for MOST Christian holidays. You’re just kept in the dark about it. But those holidays are for another time.
III. What Was Around Before Christmas
Before the 4th Century, there were two Holidays. Let’s tackle the Christian one first.
When is the last time you heard of a Christian celebrating the Holiday known as Epiphany? Probably never, but before Christmas was accepted throughout the Catholic Church, early Christians engaged in a holiday under this name. This holiday (which is still celebrated in Spain and Latin America ) occurred on January 6th. This holiday is to celebrate the Three Wise Men (Magi) visiting Christ and lavishing gifts upon him. Even back then however, the Church was quick to point out Jesus was not born on January 6th. it was just a holiday to celebrate his birth and existence. But much like with our own modern Christmas, there are people you couldn’t get to understand this simple fact.
When Christmas took hold finally, there became a schism between the Catholic church of the East and the West. Western Christanity took to the December 25th date chosen by the Holy Roman Empire (because Jesus had to be born before the Magi visited him after all…). The Eastern branches refused to accept this new holiday and continued to celebrate Jan 6th as the birth of Jesus. Eventually, this little tift between when Jesus was “born” gave way to a compromise. In fact, they even wrote a song about it. You know it as, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Basically the holiday became a 12 day celebration patterned after the Jewish “Festival of Lights,” just with better presents. Some countries went even further with wanting a good time, and extended the holiday season out FOURTY days instead of twelve, with the holiday officially ending on Candlemas (Feb 2nd aka Groundhog Day).
Epiphany is still around, although it is primarily celebrated only in Catholicism. Until the 1970’s, both the Anglican and Western Catholic Church celebrated Epiphany as an eight day feast still beginning on Jan 6th. which would end with the Jan 13th holiday known as “The Octave of Epiphany.” However the feast was changed to the Sunday after the first Saturday in January, replacing another Holiday known as “The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.” The only exception I can find to this is that in England, Epiphany still falls on the 6th of January.
There’s also a Shakepeare play that takes place on Epiphany. Can you name it?
IV The Pagan Bits
Now before the Roman Empire embraced Christianity, they had another religion. And it just so happened around the same time of the year we would be celebrating Jesus popping out in a manger, there was a more Pagan celebration going on.
December 17th was the holiday of Saturn, the Roman God of the Harvest and Agriculture, whom the ancient Greeks called Cronos. This holiday was called the Saturnalia, and was for celebrating the time when Saturn was the big cheese of the Gods, before Jupiter/Zeus took him down. This festival entailed a weeklong feast that would eventually end with the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. Now this was during the Julian calendar, not the Gregorian we now use. And the solstice would inevitably fall on…December 25th (Under the new calendar system it is Dec 21st.). Funny that.
Saturnalia was noted as a time of great peace. Business and commerce would stop, any fighting or wars would immediately cease and have a truce during this time, and people would exchange gifts with their friends, family, and loved ones.
A few centuries later, Sol Invictus, would become the major religion of the Holy Roman Empire. Three different times. With three different distinct variations.
Sol Invictus (meaning “The Unconquerable Sun”), was first the worship of the Sun god Elegabal. This version only lasted during the reign of Emperor Elagabalus. The second form was under the reign of Aurelian, in which this form of Sol Invictus was closely mirroring Mithraism (a Zoroastrian mystery religion). It was during this time that on Dec 25th, 274 AD that Aurelian dedicated a temple to Sol Invictus and declared a festival called, “The Birthday of the Invincible Sun.” This Holiday was intended to celebrate an eternal rebirth of the Roman Empire. It is this holiday that Christianity would eventually turn into Christmas as can be proven by the writing of Syrus in the 4th century AD talking about why Christmas eventually fell on the same date as a Pagan holiday.
“It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25 December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day.”
In fact much of the Sol Invictus relgion was eventually taken and adopted into Christianity. In early painting and depictions of Christ, the sun-ray crown Jesus would be shown with was the Sun-crown of the Sol Invictus religion. As well very early Christian doctrine and writings would refer to Jesus as the, “Sun of Justice.”
Finally, during this time Constantine (who never actually converted to Christianity as many would have you believe. The Christians actually killed the emperor, threw a coup and then covered up most traces of the coup and claimed Constantine converted to Christianity on his deathbed.) declared the day of the Sun (Suinday) as the day of rest and worship of Sol Invictus. This was taken and adapted by Christianity, even though the Sabbath for that faith is supposed to be Saturday.
Finally, the third phase of Sol Invictus would last from Aurelian until 390AD with Theodosius I and his decree that only Christianity would be allowed as a religion from now on within the Empire. And that’s the end of that save for the parts that were absorbed by Christianity to keep claim more members for the flock.
So really, we celebrate Christmas on 12-25 for a combinations of reasons. it had to be before Jan 6th, AND it needed to replace the major holiday of the religious it had basically murdered. There’s lots of falsities as to why, ranging from John the Baptist examining the Dead Sea Scrolls and determining this is when Jesus was born, to St. Hippolytus in his Commentary of Daniel claiming Dec 25th was Jesus’ birthday. But you know the truth. Politics = when we celebrate Christmas. And really, is anyone surprised by this?
It’s not just Sol Invictus that was absorbed. Let’s start with the Yule Log. Yule aka Jul is the Germanic midwinter Holiday. In fact, in Scandinavia, Jul is still their word for Christmas. Christian Missionaries, much like with what happened re: Sol Invictus, absorbed these Pagan beliefs in order to more easily convert people. “See, we have the same God. You should call yourselves Christians.” The Christmas tree, having ham on Christmas, holly, mistletoe, and other aspects of the Winter Solstice celebration were all eventually turned into happy aspects of Christmas. T
This absorbing of Pagan beliefs into Christianity is why so many sects of Christians ban or do not practice the celebration of the holiday. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, early Puritans, the Amish, Mennonites, and the like view Christmas as a corruption of Christianity, and not an attempt to help Pagans understand and want to join their faith.
I could go into a lot more detail about things like Santa Claus, the Christmas Tree, how various countries celebrate the holiday, and so on, but there are many books on the subject that can cover it in more detail that I can with a simple internet column, so I strongly encourage you, if you are interested, in going to your library or local book store and getting a book on the origins of various holidays.
I have a bit of a thing for catfish as you might have noticed. Recently I received an email from the Catfish Institute thanking me for covering catfish a few times in Nyogtha and asked if I’d do it again. Me? I’m sitting here wondering how they knew/why they cared, but hey, I oblige my readers whenever I can. So direct from Indianola, MS, here’s a recipe from the…Catfish Institute. Who knew they had their own awareness organization?
Classic Fried Catfish
4 “US Farm Raised” Catfish fillets, about 6 oz each (Man, you can tell this is government based…)
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Vegetable oil for frying
1. Combine cornmeal, flour, salt, cayenne pepper and garlic powder in a bowl.
2. Coat both sides of the catfish with mixture, shaking off excess.
3. Fill a large heavy skillet half full with vegetable oil (Alex’s note. BE CAREFUL. This much oil can lead to splattering and tiny annoying burns). Heat the oil to 350 degrees.
4. Add the catfish in a single layer, lining the bottom of the skillet. Fry the fish until golden grown, about 5-6 minutes. Turn and repeat. Remove the catfish from the oil and drain on paper towels. Serve once the oil is soaked up.
That’s it for this week. I’ll be back next week with more folklore shit.