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Christmas tradition

 
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Sue



Joined: 11 Oct 2003
Posts: 945
Location: Australia

Posted: Sun Dec 19, 2004 10:52 am    Post subject: Christmas tradition Reply with quote

I've started a new thread here as we seem to have digressed. Tom's quote beolw comes from the nativities and general astrology forum in the thread on 'house system preference'.

Quote:
I think the West's celebration of Christmas owes as much to Charles Dickens and C. Clement Moore (Author of "Twas the Night Before Christmas, if memory serves) as anything else. The Church always emphasized the importance of Easter on the litugical calendar.



Iíve been thinking about this in the last couple of days. You are right, of course, Tom. The Church did always seem to believe Easter to be more important. Symbolically, it is far more important to Christianity. Without the Resurrection, Jesus would but just one more rebel who was executed. I donít know a lot about this topic but its something I am interested in.

Originally, Christmas was not important at all in the early Christian communities. In fact, at one point in the New Testament, (I canít remember where exactly) St Paul admonishes people who care more about this than the true meaning of Christís mission. In the early days of Christianity, however, no one cared much about recording this stuff because they truly believed that Jesus would return in their lifetime. The earliest dates proposed for Christís birth come from around 220CE and put it in April. Christmas originally wasnít a date to be marked in the calendar because it would not be a recurring event to be celebrated.

Christmas wasnít celebrated as a Christian event until more than 300 years after Jesus supposedly died. Most people know that Christianity overcame pagan religions of that time. However, rather than destroying the existing religions, Christians simply used syncretic methods in order to shift the thinking away from pagan religions and onto Christianity. It was a much cleverer way of doing it and was most effective. The more the new religion could offer that was similar to the old, the more likely people would be to make the transition. This is how ĎNatalis Invictií became Christmas. Sir James Frazer describes an interesting ritual at winter solstice in Egypt and Syria. A group of celebrants would gather in a cave. At midnight they would emerge with an infant crying out ĎThe Virgin has brought forth. The light is waxing.í The Christians simply chose the same date that people had been celebrating for centuries and adapted some of the customs.

During the early centuries of the Common Era, it was Mithraism that was the more popular religion. It is from this religion that Christianity gets most of its ideas. But Saturnalia was always celebrated and people used to decorate their houses with Mistletoe, Ivy and Holly during Saturnalia (the twelve days before Winter Solstice). The commonly accepted belief for this practice was to keep witches and evil demons from their homes. At some point in the Middle Ages, Mistletoe was banned as being symbolic of paganism and witchcraft. However, what I find interesting is that Mistletoe is under the dominion of the Sun according to Culpepper (and it is the Unconquered Sun whose birth we are celebrating) and Holly and Ivy are under the dominion of Saturn (the feast of Saturnalia). Sounds perfectly appropriate that these should be used, apart from the nature of the plants themselves being able to stand the extreme cold.

But even the Christian idea of Christmas has had a chequered past. Not everyone has been happy at the inclusion of this festival into the Christian calendar. The Puritans, who dominated the English Parliament at the time, decided to ban it in England in 1647 because its history had too many pagan connotations. The ban lasted many years. The same thing happened in certain colonies of North America. A 1659 law was passed by the Massachusetts Bay colony and remained in force until 1681. In fact, Christmas didnít become really big in the US until about the 1860ís. Even now, particularly in the United States, you will find Christian groups who will refuse to celebrate Christmas because of its pagan ancestry. Given that only a little over 30% of the population of the world is Christian, it is an event that pervades our lives each year, particularly in the western world where most Christians live. However, the fastest growing group of Christians comes from Africa. (Islam is the fastest growing religion at present.) It would be interesting to see what Christmas is like in Africa.
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Tom
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Posted: Mon Dec 20, 2004 2:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Sue,

Great post.


Quote:
The earliest dates proposed for Christís birth come from around 220CE and put it in April.



Actually, the very earliest date for Christ's birth is May 20! In fact, there probably isn't a month in the current calendar that doesn't hold a suggested date for Christ's birth. Springtime is a popular season though. In fact, the most interesting speculation I've read regarding the birth of Jesus is in Michael Molnar's The Star of Bethlehem; the Legacy of the Magi -- Rutgers University Press, 1999. Molnar, a university professor of astronomy, uses what he believes to be the astrology/astronomy of the time to deduce the celestial conditions that would have attracted the attention of the Magi. He gives a date of April 17, 6 BC.


One of the more interesting arguments against all this comes from John Frawley. If one believes Christ to be the Son of God, then a celestial event is unnecessary as a miraculous one can be provided or none at all, and no amount of searching ancient ephemeri will give us an answer.
Quote:


"[W]e are concerning ourselves with an event of utter singularity. It cannot then be right to look for an astronomical phenomenon that repeats itself every few years; even if 'few' is every several hundred years."

-The Astrologer's Apprentice No. 16 page 4


So, if we believe Christ is Divine, then the hunt for the real date is irrelevant. If we don't believe that, then we can search the heavens, as Molnar has done. combine it with Scripture, and come up with a plausible argument for a date.

The celebration itself is another matter. The most exhaustive research I've come across on the subject can be found here

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03724b.htm

The author of this piece (found in the online Catholic Encyclopedia) aruges that although the selection of the Dec 25 date has pagan origins, Saturnalia is not among them. He says the winter solstice has as much claim as the pagans do to the 25 December date. Like Sue says Natalis Invicti has a reasonable claim to the date:


Quote:
Natalis Invicti. The well-known solar feast, however, of Natalis Invicti, celebrated on 25 December, has a strong claim on the responsibility for our December date. For the history of the solar cult, its position in the Roman Empire, and syncretism with Mithraism, see Cumont's epoch-making "Textes et Monuments" etc., I, ii, 4, 6, p. 355. Mommsen (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, 12, p. 338) has collected the evidence for the feast, which reached its climax of popularity under Aurelian in 274. Filippo del Torre in 1700 first saw its importance; it is marked, as has been said, without addition in Philocalus' Calendar. It would be impossible here even to outline the history of solar symbolism and language as applied to God, the Messiah, and Christ in Jewish or Chrisian canonical, patristic, or devotional works. Hymns and Christmas offices abound in instances; the texts are well arranged by Cumont (op. cit., addit. Note C, p. 355).


Sue writes:

Quote:
Given that only a little over 30% of the population of the world is Christian, it is an event that pervades our lives each year, particularly in the western world where most Christians live.


Yes, but no other group can claim more than 30%. In fact, I would be surprised if any single group comes close to 30%. Roman Catholicism, by itself, is the largest single religion in the world, including Islam. The term "fastest growing" can be misleading. If one has a small group and attracts several members, it can be argued that it is faster growing than a larger group who attracts more members in number but whose growth is less in percentage. As anecdotal (the worst) evidence, just last year my wife had an easier time finding a Lenten service conducted during the time frame she had available in Mainland China, than she did in Italy. If we can find, without too much difficulty, a Christian Church openly celebrating the Easter season in a communist country, the scope of its influence is far greater than a 30% number, by itself, might indicate.

But all of this is beside the most important point. This is, for whatever reason, a special time of year. Yes, it's probably overly materialistic and commercial, but it is also a time to share with one's loved ones and others, the fruits of the year's labor, and to enjoy each other's company. Without it, those things would be postponed indefinitely to the rare occasion when everyone could get together at the same time. In other words, it wouldn't happen, and that would be a great loss.

So to everyone on this list and to your familiies and friends I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and a very Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year.

Tom
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Sue



Joined: 11 Oct 2003
Posts: 945
Location: Australia

Posted: Mon Dec 20, 2004 10:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Tom,

We could argue about statistics all day and never get anywhere because statistics can mean anything you want them to mean in any given situation. But what I have is that Christians are 32% of the world's population (2 billion) and Muslims are at 22% (1.2billion). Islam is growing at a faster rate and has doubled since 1970. The next highest religion is Hinduism at 15%. Roman Catholicism is the only Christian religion that is going backwards. In other words, it is growing at a smaller rate each year than the increase in the global population. It is the born again Christians (33% of all Christians worldwide but much higher in the US) and the Pentecostal churches that are swelling in numbers. When I was growing up, I thought everyone was Roman Catholic. I remember being extremely shocked when the boy next door told me he didn't believe in God. I was convinced he was going to hell.
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Tom
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Location: New Jersey, USA

Posted: Mon Dec 20, 2004 5:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Sue,

I knew about the "fastest growing" religion was Islam. I wasn't aware of the other statistics. What is interesting is the Catholic statistic since there is so much growth, economic and population in Latin American countries which are predominantly Catholic.

Another interesting statistic to look at: I've been told that Roman Catholics are growing rapidly in number in the US due to immigration of the above mentioned Latins. This is an example of what I said earlier. As a group, Roman Catholics are a definite minority in the US, so that the fact (if it is one) that Roman Catholicism is "fastest Growing" in the US is not terribly significant since the total number, compared to the total population is not that great in the first place. It is the sort of thing politicians pay attention to, though.

Thanks for the information.

Tom
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