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The History of Christmas: Epilogue – Time Was Is NOW December 20, 2012

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The History of Christmas
Epilogue: Time Was, Is Now

 

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My twelve day look at the History of Christmas is over. Obviously, there are many other significant entries I could have made and you might be wondering why I chose what I did and left out other seemingly more important features of this wondrous holiday.

I included what is here because these articles contain a connecting thread that I feel is significant in the celebration of the Christmas season. That thread is the awe and wonder and even the spiritual fulfillment that the human race has experienced over the years from the dawn of mankind up to and including our own time.

I chose to express my history in the form of conversations and letters. I’ve always felt a more personal approach to history allows it to be embraced, appreciated, and more easily understood by the majority of people. Call it my ‘style,’ if you will. Hopefully, it didn’t detract from your enjoyment.

Some may wonder why I did not include the nativity, or as it is called ~ the Christmas Story. Although it has produced an awe and wonder of its own, it has done so at the expense of the true history of the holidays. While I have nothing against the Christian expression of Christmas as the birth of the Christ child, you have to agree that much of the story has simply been tacked on to a season of joy that predated Christ’s birth by thousands of years.

Had the Christian church been willing to join in the age-old celebration and embrace the traditions of the past, I would have included it. But the honest truth is the church has tried to capture the wonder of the season and pass it off as its own. It has “Christianized” many of the traditions and stories that started elsewhere and claimed their expression of them as holy and righteous. Then it has turned around and vehemently attacked the original traditions claiming them heretical and labeling them as pagan evils in the eyes of God.

No one knows the date of Christ’s birth.  The Bible is mute on the issue, just as it doesn’t suggest anywhere that the birth of Jesus should be celebrated.  But since the story tells us that shepherds were tending their flocks outside at night it stands to reason that the birth month would have been in October or March.   During the bitter cold of December in Palestine, it is highly doubtful that Jewish shepherds would have been outside with their charges.

What I’ve tried to show above all else is that Christmas has been and always will be many things to many people. It is as complicated as the love it engenders. It’s a time for joy, peace and happiness. Yet, at the same time, it is a period of high stress and depression for many.   The truth is – the wonders of the season are most evident in homes where the holiday is celebrated as both a secular and spiritual festival.

The celebration of the season has always been somewhat commercial, more secular than sacred. Merchants from the beginning of time have profited from its merriment. Yet, without doubt, there has always been a touch of the sacred, whether by myth or miracle, that has always been included in the festivity.

Thank for stopping by and reading. I wish you all the best in the New Year.

Your host,

Erick Emert

 

Short Bibliography:

The Origins of Christmas by Joseph F. Kelly

4,000 Years of Christmas: A Gift from the Ages by Earl W. Count, Alice Lawson Count, and Dan Wakefield

Where Did Christmas Come From? by Al Remson

Christmas in America by Penne L. Restad

There Really Is a Santa Claus: The History of St. Nicholas & Christmas Holiday Traditions by William J. Federer

Christmas: A Social History by Mark Connelly

The Trouble With Christmas by Tom Flynn

Christmas in America by Antonia Felix

History, Legends & Folklore of Christmas by Judy M. Rouse

Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub

The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nissenbaum

Also, many websites too numerous to mention were researched concerning the history of Christmas.

The History of Christmas: Day 2 – Brug na Boine (1950 BCE) December 20, 2012

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The History of Christmas
Day 2: Brug na Boine – 1950 BCE 

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Near the bend of the river Boyne, in what is now the county of Meath in Ireland, stands the ancient mound of Newgrange or Brug na Boine. Constructed over 5,000 years ago, the great circular mound of stone and turf stood capped by a white quartz and granite entryway. Surrounding the mound are massive standing stones. The entry leads to a long passage within, which culminates in a grand chamber with a corbelled roof. The crown rises sharply to a height of twenty feet. At the winter solstice, the sun shines through a small, specifically located roofbox, which sets directly above the entrance. Then it travels down the passage without stopping until it strikes the back wall of the chamber. The light can be seen for approximately seventeen minutes.

*

Young Cathbad tended a large fire in the dead of night. Our calendar would place this time between the days of December 20th and 21st – the time of the winter solstice.

Cathbad has performed this specific task for the past month, an important job. Keeping the flames alive meant the sun, harbinger of all life, would be kept alive as well. Darkness would not permeate the Earth forever.

On this particular night, the entire village remained awake as well. Cathbad watched as men and women danced to ancient music in an effort to bid the sun return so it would not disappear perpetually. Some dancers wore carved masks; others shed tears as the energy of their dance strained their emotions.

Many of Cathbad’s family had spent the night before, the sixth day of the moon, gathering mistletoe that grew on the sacred oak trees. This rare and spiritual decoration would adorn the participants of this night’s ritual as would sprigs of various local evergreens.

Four priests, seated in front of a long house near the mound of Brug na Boine, stood and raised their hands. The dancing ended. In silence, family groups came together. Cathbad joined his father Ono and mother Miluchra. His older brother Tages and his younger sister, Aoifa, carrying the baby, Geal, came with them as well. At a signal from the priests, the families started walking slowly and silently toward the entrance to the great mound.

They filed past the huge standing stones, and Cathbad marveled at the dancing reflections his fire made on the quartz outer wall of the mound. Moving around the entrance stone with its uniquely carved swirls, the community entered a passage that led upward into the earth.

At the end of the passage, families sat huddled together in the middle of a large hollow. With everyone inside, the priests mumbled a few prayers and then nothing but darkness and silence existed within the chamber. Only the muffled sounds made by small children and babies could be heard. Cathbad wondered if his fire has been strong enough to keep the sunlight alive. The minutes passed and you could feel the tension of the surrounding inhabitants. Everyone’s eyes focused on the eternal blackness of the stone slab at to the rear of the chamber.

Consider the dark,
mysterious as the womb,
unvoiced as afterdeath.

Aoifa grasped Cathbad’s hand. Her fist tightened with impatience. Suddenly, a single ray of sunlight struck the slab.

A pinprick of light
wedges through gloom;
an iota of optimism;
a small speck of promise
maturing on a stone slab wall.

Ever so slowly it widened, much like the eyes of those beholding it.

Muffled reverberations of awe
strike the ear.
Speck grows to spot;
spot becomes splash;
light smothers the slab wall.

The light entered the dark womb of the earth, climbing upward, illuminating a number of mysterious carvings – circles, spirals and zigzagging patterns, all with religious significance to the families who watched.

Shouts of appreciation
joyous dancing
God is rejoined.

Sighs of relief mixed with adulation arose from the community as the light brought with it the promise of warmth and life to come.

*

The fact that this celebration does not take place on the 25th of December makes it no less a Christmas celebration. Festivals relating to Christmas as we celebrate it today have started as early as December 6th and as late as the middle of January. The promise of a new start arrives; another chance; god is born again. Who could deny the premise of the delight of these people?

Also present can be found intricate carvings and patterns, similar to the way we decorate our homes for the holidays. And let us not overlook the use of sprigs of evergreen and mistletoe. The existence of plants and trees that did not succumb to the ravages of snow, sleet and freezing cold fascinated Cathbad’s people. They could not only be construed as festive in appearance, but brought with their use the promise of immortality. They represented continuing life during the time of winter’s deep sleep of death.

So you see, we celebrate the birth of the Son with the same joy of spirit that the ancients rejoiced in the rebirth of the sun; a familiar touch at the hand of the living God.

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

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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.

History of Christmas: Prologue – A Gift of the Ages December 20, 2012

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The History of Christmas
Prologue: A Gift of the Ages
prolog

It all started some 4,000 years ago, when that first person became aware that the light from the great giver of life, the sun, dwindled away on a daily basis after crops had been harvested and the cold weather settled in for the winter . Then, by some miracle, the light started to regenerate itself and circumstance gave birth to religion.

The people of these times had a connection to the Earth they lived upon. When good things happened, they noticed it and tried to repeat the circumstances so the good thing would happen again. This is much like a baseball player who hits a game winning home run and then wears the same socks and underwear for the next ten days trying to keep the good fortune going.

But for the ancients, the shortening hours of daylight could not be left to chance. This situation had to be reversed or surely death and destruction would follow. The problem was seen in various ways. To some, the Evil had stolen the light and God had proclaimed a war upon it to regain control of the sun. Others saw only the simplicity of needing to placate God with gifts, dancing, and song in order to conciliate him into granting rebirth to the dying light.

Whatever the case, the days surrounding December 25th became an important time on many western calendars. Celebrations of one type or another grew up all across the Middle East, Europe and the Americas. Even the birth of the Christian Son became attached to the pagan day of the Sun’s rebirth. And the traditions of this celebration, even those from the earliest times, have stayed with us even to today in our celebration of Christmas.

This book will contain twelve chapters –  short vignettes from a different time and place concerning the trail taken by our Christmas as we celebrate it today. I will post one chapter daily, starting on Christmas Day.

Please don’t be upset that this book does not start with the Nativity of Jesus. History has been quite clear that the birth of Jesus was NOT on December 25th. Even the Bible does not mention this date. Sadly, Jesus is not the reason for the season, as so many like to say. The traditions we celebrate at this time of year come from many peoples and cultures, each every bit as interesting and unique as the story of the birth of Christ.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

Your Host,
Erick Emert

Worldbuilding 3 – Maps July 30, 2009

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Erde1

So now I’ve nailed down how my story will begin.  A survivor of a Bermuda Triangle story ends up in a mirror world called Erde.  I’m pretty sure I’m going to use disappearance of the captain and crew of the Mary Celeste.  That gives me a start date of early December 1872.  This means that 4,873 years have passed on Erde since the first OutSider appeared.  It also means that our present date would sit at 5,009 years passed.  The Erde of my story will take place during that 136 year stretch.

It’s time for a map.  Hey, map making is fun.  My first attempt at a map appears above.  I drew it by hand on graph paper.  It gave me some idea of what I wanted to do, but in no way was it compatible with my story.  It looked a bit like Australia, but Erde is larger than that.  It’s about the size of both Europe and Asia together.  So back to the drawing board.  This time I gave up on my freehand version because I now owned a computer with a major art program on it.  The final map of Erde looks like this:

erde2

Remember, this is the Erde of 1872 our time.  It is not ancient Erde, which would have looked much different.  For instance, the large forest would have stretched from the mountains, westward to the coast running from north to south.  The woodlands would rescind as time moved forward.  I needed some names for what I was looking at.  The southern ocean area I called ‘Rigga Sea.’  I used the term ‘Weald’ for the forested area.  ‘Weald’ is an old English term for ‘forest.’  For the long mountainous area, the continental divide, I used a native term – ‘Corrins.’  I was happy.  Things were starting to flesh out a bit.

Now I needed to think about countries.  I knew that countries and borders would have changed over the years, much like the forest did.  I needed to outline a history now so I could see how Erde had progressed from wilderness to the sophisticated ‘rejoinders’ found in Erde in 1872.  An outline would have been good enough.  It would allow me to drop my characters into any time and place and maintain the continuity. When it came time to flesh out an area with a story, I could slip the stories into dated files that would allow me to refer to characters or places at any future time.

Now it was time to tuck the OutSiders, their kin, and the Natives into Erde.  We’ll cover this next week.