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The History of Christmas: Day 1 – Celebration in Ur (2000 BCE) December 20, 2012

Posted by Yarnspnr in History of Christmas.
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The History of Christmas
Day 1: Celebration in Ur – 2000 BCE

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Two thousand years before the birth of Christ, late in the month we refer to as December; a twelve day celebration took place in the ancient city of Ur, located in modern Iraq.

Ur, held as the cradle of civilization and located by the original source of both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, had been birthed by the Ubaid peoples who farmed the alluvial plain of southern Mesopotamia.

As the city grew, the festival of Zagmuk began to take place around the time of the winter solstice. It celebrated the triumph of Marduk, the patron deity of Ur, over the symbolical forces of Chaos. The simulated battles raged for twelve days, with the king, En, playing Marduk and his son playing Nabu, his rescuer and the god of writing.

The battle, as acted out in the High Court, had En enacting the rite of the Sacred Marriage with Entu, a specially chosen High Priestess. Sexual intercourse between En and the virgin Entu played out the regeneration of the cosmos through their reenactment of the primordial coupling of An, the god of the night, with Ki, the goddess of the Earth.

On the twelfth night of the ceremony, a substitute playing the role of the En ran through the streets of Ur with a crowd of battlers. After his run, the mock king would be killed in order to do battle at Marduk’s side while another prisoner would be set free.

*

In the lower portion of Ur, near the river Euphrates, lived Pauldin, a dealer in grain, and his wife, Onita. The couple prepared for the twelfth day of the holiday with their children, four year old Sharona and Beniel, who neared the age of seven.

Beniel chopped wood outside their dwelling. Sharona carried the splintered pieces to Pauldin, who made preparations for a large bonfire. “Father,” she asked. “Why do we build a fire in the street this day?”

Her father smiled and answered, “Do you not remember the images of the Monsters of Chaos I carved yesterday?”

“Those ugly things, yes, father. You said they are fighting against Marduk, who will save the world from death.”

“That’s right, and we will help Marduk defeat them by burning those images in this bonfire. This will purify us of the evil that our sins of the past year have brought upon us. It will renew our strength for the coming year. Then we can celebrate Marduk’s victory over evil later tonight and a new year will begin.”

“What is mother doing?”

“She is inside preparing costumes for us. We will dress up as fighters in Marduk’s army and parade down the streets of Ur by the light of these fires. Beniel and his friend Mardin will be taking part in an enactment of the great battle with the dark powers of the deep.”

“Will I be able to watch?”

Her father smiled. “If you don’t fall asleep like you did last year. When we get home there will be a feast and wondrous gifts for everyone.”

Little Sharona’s eyes went wide and thoughts of gaiety and gifts filled her young mind.

*

Bonfires, feasts, gifts, costumes, and even substitute kings would be symbolic of the season for thousands of future celebrations at this time of the year.

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