The mythological stories abound of our Wintry Holy-day season.. Santa.. Rudolph.. Frosty.. Jack.. Jesus.. Drummer boys.. Wise men.. Decorated trees.. Yule logs.. Blinking lights.. And so on..
But where did all of these folktales originate? Which ones are based on REAL factual events, and which are just creative marketing ideas? We may have basic ideas, but hey, I’ll take a casual look at ALL of this ( not to offend anyone, just to absorb the data more readily, I’ll be using my regularly modern speech and try to refrain from using Latin, Ye Olde English and so forth! )
As for me I tend to walk the middle path. I was raised Christian by both parents, but also learned about my own cultural history (on my father’s side, we come from a Scottish highland clan, those who were druids and practiced other religions of old, and on my mother’s side was Native American and Germanic peoples, so I am well seasoned on other cultures and their religions.)
On my own, I studied Buddhism and Hinduism, as well traveled to Egypt and other countries to observe and experience ancient paganism and Muslim practices first hand.) I was born in the US, yet am proud to have travelled to Canada and Mexico, as well other countries abroad … so with that, my world view may be vastly different from many who have lived in a cave or never traveled beyond the limits of their local county or region.
Most everyone spends these times in their own way; This is a time of family, friendship, faith, and food! Merry or cranky, it is what we make of it.. Or not make of it..
So what of Turkey dinners, candy canes, fruitcake? All elements of the season? Tinsel, garlands, ornaments, toys, reindeer, and elves? I can’t think of any other time of year we are inspired to go on wild shopping sprees or otherwise be outwardly festive and giving.
So then, what is the TRUE meaning of Christmas? Through the course of this post, we intend to find out fictional and factual origins, from the most ancient mysteries to present day rhetoric.
First, we’ll start simple – the day itself. Our (mostly) celebrated “Christmas” date falls on December 25th. The origin of the word would lead us to believe it is primarily Catholic, taking the words “Christ” and “Mass” which we see often abbreviated as Xmas. Hmm, perhaps the X is symbolic of deity? Though, we’d expect to see “Christian” abbreviated as “Xian” eh? Well, as time-saving it may be to use 4 instead if 9 letters, it seems to be rarely done. Heck, just for fun I’ll say xian and xmas for the rest of this article! 😉
Traditionally, xians celebrate the following events (not exactly in this order, but all related to the same story): We have a bright star in the sky, 3 wise men (apparently oriental royalty of some sort), a little drummer boy, and a young couple who happen to produce a child while doing a bed, barn and breakfast tour through Bethlehem.
Thus, we often see religiously approved “nativity scene” dioramas complete with the aforementioned cast of characters, a manger, camels, hay, livestock, and other accessories available for purchase at the local bigbox store 🙂
As a pastor I knew once said, “Every Jewish mom wanted their son to be the Savior,” so just as common to the Spanish who chose the name today, the popular name of “Jesus” (meaning ‘savior’ allegedly!) was chosen for an Israeli boy, surname “Christ”, thus born via immaculate conception to one virgin Mary and her (impotent?) husband Joseph.
The story goes thusly: Sometime during xmas eve, Mary gives birth, immediately followed by a lavish baby shower of unimaginable riches, incense, and gifts galore. Simultaneously, the event is heralded by a throng of winged human-like Angel beings (one perhaps may be the kid’s biological father, by some biblical accounts) and a bright sphere of light (ok, a star) in the sky which hovered and shined over the whole thing (like a searchlight perhaps to any good Hollywood premiere).
We have about a million verbal legends and a few historical written accounts of the event which exist today, along with many tourist destinations claiming to be the very spot (or near enough) where it all went down.
- Xmas forensic examination time! *
Sure we can have blind faith and say it all happened the way it was written, but it’s way more fun to find verification 🙂
Granted, we can expect any events happening over 2000 years ago to have a few details changed, added or lost over time, for any reason or no reason whatsoever..
Well, guess what? Same is true for these accounts, though the reasons for it are understandable. I’ll just touch on a few facts I’ve found interesting:
#1 – Historical accounts place Jesus’ birth around the year given, however per astronomical details and other ancient writings, his birth actually happened around June 17th, nearer to the Summer Solstice, and nowhere near December 25th.
So why do we put it in the middle of Winter? The reason is a political and religious one — the invading xians needed to convert more people to their dogma, so, like Easter, it was easy enough to change the story a bit to ensure a significant Holy-day fell around the time of the people’s established religious practices. In this case, piggybacking on Winter Solstice, which traditionally fell on December 21st, a sacred day was celebrated as the darkest/shortest of the year, so the xians, having no holiday of their own at that time of year, figured it best to follow suit and thus changed the date!
A shocking revelation for many? Perhaps, but to the educated theologists among us, not surprising.
Scribes, priests, and others under the employ of the church were known to plagiarize old legends, poems or sacred texts from other faiths, modifying or assimilating their practices, evolving them into what became our collective present-day Christian dogmas.
We can see the merging of old ways with newer models in various places (e.g., Celtic paganism, South American voodoo, Coptic and Greco-Roman Orthodox sects mixing ancient ritual with prayers or practices..
Old temples or sacred sited were often converted to the conquering tribe’s faith, indeed even non-Christian sites, for example, many of the Muslim mosques in Egypt today are built upon ancient places of worship, once homage to earlier Gods and Goddesses- how’s that for recycling? Re-use, renew.. Though it does throw a bit of a wrench in the eyes of archaeology, eh? Nothing like keeping the land as you found it, or leaving sacred sites and native peoples as you found them, but this is true of many religions, and let’s face it, if the crusades didn’t invade all over the place, there would be a lot more people practicing their native historical faiths and a lot less Christians in the world eh?
Before I get too off on that tangent, let’s return to the topic of stories or texts and give examples how faith took existing legends and tweaked them to fit their pantheon..
For example, the Egyptian priest-king Ahknaton (one of the first Pharaohs to acknowledge the existence of a Supreme being, “Aton”, the Egyptian equivalent of God the Father) — his hymns were copied almost word-for-word and became the “Psalms”
Theological comparisons are often made between the (also Egyptian) creation story of Isis and Osiris, which pre-dates Christianity by hundreds if not thousands of years, and the accounts of Adam and Eve given in the Old Testament’s book of Genesis.
However, with the varied practices of plagiarism and adaptation, the writers have created for themselves oodles of inconsistency problems with the bible, and one can reason parts of it (if not most) were written in symbolic style, as was often done to protect a mystery school’s content from prying eyes, or to intentionally obfuscate the text away from weaker mind who would read any information as literal.
Most of the books of the New Testament were written a century or more after Jesus’ listed death, thus were subject to much persecution and debate. Apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each gave accounts of similar events, often corroborated and other times of differing opinion. I would say that is normal– bring four guys to a hockey game and then have each one describe some of the key plays, and you’ll likely get differing opinions or highlights.
Though it goes beyond the scope of this rant, if there were 12 apostles, and each one could write at least a few books of their own, one could wonder what happen to the other 8 books or ask why the church decided to prune them out of the compilation. I suspect the subjects may have been taboo or sacred for the commoner to have access (such as now-missing chapters on reincarnation or Jesus’ teen years, which are cross-referenced in other books) as well contents of discovered texts such as “the dead sea scrolls”, obviously edited before transliteration was completed for the masses).
Moving along though..
#2 – The three wise men. On most accounts, using the star of Bethlehem for navigation (since GPS and Google street view wasn’t invented yet) came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Some songs say silver and gold, and we can guess oriental spices (turmeric? rock salt?) as well other incense (sandalwood? ylang-ylang?) may have been in the mix.
Granted, Joseph was a carpenter so he could make cribs, dressers, and those folding baby gate things you block off doors with.
But really, is it just me thinking these were unusual gifts for a baby? I mean, wouldn’t diapers, clothes, and parenting gear be more practical? Who gave swaddling clothes?
Anyway, who were these wise guys? Were they oriental kings? Speaking of kings, was Herod in alliance with them?
“We three kings of orient are..”
..hmm, I don’t recall any verses where they are mentioned by name..
“bearing gifts from lands afar..”
Nope, no idea who they were. It wasn’t 3 men and a baby, not Curly, Larry, and Moe.. How about Ahab, Shihab, and Abendigo? Nah, that’s another story.
(never mind that “Christ” is a French surname whose descendants trace back to Jesus, either.. That doesn’t help.)
Remember that newage channeling craze of the 1980’s where mediums would speak in tongues and pass messages from the beyond? Well, about that time, the (cult?) xian church universal & triumphant states one of the wise men was “Ascended Master” (aka notable dead guy) El Moyra Khan, and certainly the available info of said aged holy-man fits the profile..
However, lucky for me and you, there are references from other places which name the three kings (referred to as the “Magi” sometimes, which I find amusing since it’s a Greek term meaning Priest of Zoroaster, and this is also the apparent origin for the word “Magic” hehe, so 3 magic astrologers walk into a barn.. ahem..), and have the following variations to who they were: Melichior (of Persia), Caspar (of India), and Balthassar (of Arabia). Wow, and I always thought Balthassar was one of the coneheads? That would be coming from VERY afar hehe.. Wikipedia gives us more info on the Magi.
As I mentioned before, from several historical accounts we know Jesus spent much of his teen years in India, living in monasteries and studying the Buddhist 8-fold path along with other mysticisms, however, in the bible there’s quite a gap of “missing time”, wheras details of this teaching was intentionally removed from the biblical texts. In said Buddhist monasteries in India, Jesus was likely to learn things such as how to heal the sick (using the Tibetian “medicine buddha”), turn water into wine (simple alchemy?), teachings of “the word” (aka Surat Shabd Yoga, which is still practiced today and holds lineage traceable back to Jesus’ original teachings) and other things he brought back home to educate the masses afterwards.. Speaking of afterwards, there are historical writings about Jesus’ post-crucifixion times, where he returned to India, having about 120 apostles over time and lived to a ripe old age of 65. (Erm, those would be post-resurrection years, unless he never actually died on the cross, and was just tortured and released like Barrabas and other criminals were on the Roman holiday, but that’s another story eh?
Besides, people like to think that they can slough responsibility on Jesus because he died for their sins and the sins of the world, what a shocker it would be to find out at the end you were actually responsible and couldn’t blame Jesus or Satan for goodness and badness eh?
Not a cheery thought! We do know Christ died for us, whether it was literal or figurative (like a shamanic death, which would still count! dead is dead!)
Oh, where was I? Oh yeah, so, given that, I wonder if one of those 3 kings was a Tibetian or Nepali monk or some such wise man? Maybe the monks predicted his birth and made the trek to check out the story in person, like they do whenever the new Dali Llama is born.. Just a thought.
Lastly, certain rumours abound that one of the three Magi was of Chinese decent. Well, I gather song phrases like “We three kings of orient are..” contribute to that idea, though the sentence structure sounds like something Yoda would just as easily say.. I’d like to imagine Yoda and two members of the Jedi council came bearing gifts, but then we know these events happened recently, not long long ago.. and it was here on Terra firma, not by aliens nor lolcats in a galaxy far far away..
I’ve beat that dead camel enough, let’s move on to someone else..
#3 – The Little drummer boy.. A boy treks through the desert to play his drum to the baby (pa-rump-pah-pah-pum) since he had no gifts to give. Huh? That seems a bit unrealistic! Think about it, you have the resources to obtain the needed provisions for such a journey, knowing people would come bearing gifts, yet lack the foresight or inspiration to come up with a suitable gift? No sir, I don’t buy that. Therefore, I think the boy had ulterior motives, knowing if he could play his drum in the company of the three wise men, the immaculate conception, and gathered throng of people, he would thus achieve some level of instant fame, regardless of how innocent or noble the task may initially seem, indeed people are still singing his legendary tale some two millennia (is that a word?) later.. Just a thought.. However, beside my jaded view I wanted to check the original source of this story, and found that it was based on some earlier tales, however, from all accounts is likely just created for artistic purposes 😛
“The story is somewhat similar to an 12th century legend, retold by Anatole France as Le Jongleur de Notre Dame (Our Lady’s Juggler)..”
Well, that’s a bit of a stretch. The song, originally titled “Carol of the Drum,” was based on a traditional Czech carol. In 1957, the hitherto obscure song was re-arranged by Henry Onorati for a recording by the Jack Halloran Singers on Dot Records, but this version was not released in time for xmas. The following year, 20th Century Fox Records contracted Onorati’s friend Harry Simeone to make a xmas album, for which Onorati cut a deal with him and poof it was re-arranged and re-titled as “The Little Drummer Boy” — the rest of the story and subsequent cover tunes and movie are history 🙂
#4 – Star of Bethlehem
When asked what the star on the top of a xmas tree is, most people would say, oh, that’s a reference to the Star of Bethlehem, aka the xmas star. It was this star that revealed the birthplace of Jesus to the traveling Magi, since it led them to the spot. Of note, it is said to first appear over Jerusalem, then later appeared again (or moved, like stars and UFOs tend to do) over Bethlehem. On the star’s first top, the 3 wise men met with King Herod of Judea, and asked him where the king of the Jews had been born. Herod didn’t know, so asked his advisers, who answered Bethlehem, and quoted an earlier prophecy by Micah about the stars and what not. So like a TomTom GPS in the sky, the magi followed the star and it let them to the exact location. They then did their thing about praising and gift-giving and all that before returning home. The exact time this happened after birth isn’t clear, some say it happened right after birth and other accounts show a few years had passed before the wise men came to visit, it really depends who you ask and what religion or lack thereof they may be.
Let’s move along, far from the little town of Bethlehem, and look at other notable xmas people:
Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, et al. — based on a REAL person, yes, Santa is real, or was real. Is there a Santa today? You decide. There are several Santa-like people found around the world, with similar stories to the popular American cultural icon, some are Christian in nature, while others are more ancient figures which survived conquering and were retained by the people as near to the original tradition as permitted.
Frosty the snowman — yeah, just a song. It was written by Walter Rollins and Steve Nelson, first recorded by Gene Autry in 1950. Why? Well, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was so popular, they figured why not! )
May as well do Rudolph next. Yep, Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer is just a fabricated story, sorry. Rudolph first appeared in a 1939 booklet written by Robert L. May and published by Montgomery Ward (department store). The idea took off like wildfire so a book and movie deal came later, and the rest of it, well it went down in history 🙂
Jack Frost — Mr. ice and snow, a variant of Father Winter, Jack brings in the Winter. Mostly from British Isles folklore, he appears as a elf-like personification of the cold weather. Some believe he originated in Germanic folklore though you’ll find similarities in the Norse, Russian, and others, Jack Frost is traditionally responsible for leaving frosty or fern-like crystal patterns on windows on cold mornings. There’s a German story of a sort of gift-giving Father Christmas that leaves presents for young children at their doorstep, which is somehow tied to Jack Frost, though, I don’t quite know the details 😉
Carolers –This is a long-standing tradition, which originally was performed by a group of Serbian and Bulgarian young men to wish health and happiness to the neighborhood, where certain songs would be sung and some stageplay and magic performed for households (look up the “koleda” custom for more). Today it is more so people standing outside singing the start of a holiday-themed song in such a way to beg for money or treats in exchange for a continued performance of said melodies. If the homeowner likes what they hear, they give, and if not, they simply shut the door or decline in some other way.. in rare cases the carolers are invited inside the house to partake of the xmas feast or festivities before moving along to the next home.
Krampus – he’s like the anti-Santa. Germanic or German of some sort, he takes naughty kids to the underworld to punish them for being so bad. Some say he just eats them while others say he returns them later as a warning to do better the following year…
Speaking of eating, all this typing is making me hungry. Let’s talk about holiday food.
Xmas Dinner – As the wiki says, Christmas dinner is the primary meal traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. In many ways the meal is similar to a standard Sunday dinner. Christmas feasts have traditionally been luxurious and abundant. It often includes Turkey (which was the US national bird before the eagle was later chosen) and is a long-standing tradition in many countries.
Candy Canes – Ah yes, great wiki gives us some good history on the candy cane. “In its early form, the candy cane began as a simple white stick of sugar for children to eat – there was no “cane” shape or stripes to speak of. While it is uncertain where the first canes originated, it is clear that by the mid-17th century, if not earlier, its use had already become widespread across Europe..” Candy sticks, bent to a hook so that you could hang them on your Yule tree or other places (hehe..) well there are two schools of thought, one is the xian idea “..The distinctive “hook” shape associated with candy canes is traditionally credited to a choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral in Germany, who, legend has it, in 1670 bent straight candy sticks into canes to represent a shepherd’s crook, and gave them to children at church services…” and the other variation seems more believable to me, “..It is also possible that, as people decorated their trees with food, the bent candy cane was invented as a functional solution..”
Yule Logs and Cheese Logs – Yes, obvious that it may be, they are related.. “A Yule log is a large wooden log which is burned in the hearth as a part of traditional Yule or Christmas celebrations in several European cultures. It can be a part of the Winter Solstice festival or the Twelve Days of Christmas, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or Twelfth Night. The expression “Yule log” has also come to refer to log-shaped Christmas cakes, also known as “chocolate logs” or “Bûche de Noël”. The Yule log is related to other Christmas and Yuletide traditions such as the Ashen faggot.” The Ashen faggot (or bundle of Ash sticks) is thrown into a fire and when the sticks pop, magic things happen. You can read more about that on the linked words to the wiki 😉
I did find a great posting about the Mid-Winter’s Eve Yule, here at wiccanwood in the UK. They make some nice wood objects as well have some interesting texts worth reading 😉
I will quote it word for word as it touches upon many of the things I have included in this blog/rant but also the subject is primarily about YULE which is were we get the thing “yule log” of course 😉 And I quote.. (PS: If this is copyrighted material and not okay to post just let me know and I’ll remove it.. heh..)
[begin quoted text] “Our Christian friends are often quite surprised at how enthusiastically we Pagans celebrate the ‘Christmas’ season. Even though we prefer to use the word “Yule”, and our celebrations may peak a few days before the twenty-fifth, we nonetheless follow many of the traditional customs of the season: decorated trees, caroling, presents, Yule logs, and mistletoe. We might even go so far as putting up a ‘Nativity set’, though for us the three central characters are likely to be interpreted as Mother Nature, Father Time, and the baby Sun God. None of this will come as a surprise to anyone who knows the true history of the holiday, of course.
In fact, if truth be known, the holiday of Christmas has always been more Pagan than Christian, with its associations of Nordic divination, Celtic fertility rites, and Roman Mithraism. That is why John Calvin and other leaders of the Reformation abhorred it, why the Puritans refused to acknowledge it, much less celebrate it (to them, no day of the year could be more holy than the Sabbath), and why it was even made illegal in Boston! The holiday was already too closely associated with the birth of older Pagan Gods and heroes. And many of them (like Oedipus, Theseus, Hercules, Perseus, Jason, Dionysus, Apollo, Mithra, Horus, and even Arthur) possessed a narrative of birth, death, and resurrection that was uncomfortably close to that of Jesus. And to make matters worse, many of them predated the Christian Savior.
Ultimately, of course, the holiday is rooted deeply in the cycle of the year. It is the winter solstice that is being celebrated, seedtime of the year, the longest night and shortest day. It is the birthday of the new Sun King, the Son of God—by whatever name you choose to call him. On this darkest of nights, the Goddess becomes the Great Mother and once again gives birth. And it makes perfect poetic sense that on the longest night of the winter, “the dark night of our souls”, there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred Fire, the Light of the World, the Coel Coeth.
That is why Pagans have as much right to claim this holiday as Christians. Perhaps even more so, since the Christians were rather late in laying claim to it, and tried more than once to reject it. There had been a tradition in the West that Mary bore the child Jesus on the twenty-fifth day, but no one could seem to decide on the month. Finally, in 320 C.E., the Catholic fathers in Rome decided to make it December, in an effort to co-opt the Mithraic celebration of the Romans, the Yule festival of the Saxons, and the midwinter revels of the Celts.
There was never much pretense that the date they finally chose was historically accurate. Shepherds just don’t “tend their flocks by night” in the high pastures in the dead of winter! But if one wishes to use the New Testament as historical evidence, this reference may point to sometime in the spring as the time of Jesus’ birth. This is because the lambing season occurs in the spring and that is the only time when shepherds are likely to “watch their flocks by night”—to make sure the lambing goes well. Knowing this, the Eastern half of the church continued to reject December 25, preferring a “movable date” fixed by their astrologers according to the moon.
Thus, despite its shaky start (for over three centuries, no one knew when Jesus was supposed to have been born!), December 25 finally began to catch on. By 529, it was a civic holiday, and all work or public business (except that of cooks, bakers, or any that contributed to the delight of the holiday) was prohibited by the Emperor Justinian. In 563, the Council of Braga forbade fasting on Christmas Day, and four years later the Council of Tours proclaimed the twelve days from December 25 to Epiphany as a sacred, festive season. This last point is perhaps the hardest to impress upon the modern reader, who is lucky to get a single day off work. Christmas, in the Middle Ages, was not a single day, but rather a period of twelve days, from December 25 to January 6. The Twelve Days of Christmas, in fact. It is certainly lamentable that the modern world has abandoned this approach, along with the popular Twelfth Night celebrations. Of course, the Christian version of the holiday spread to many countries no faster than Christianity itself, which means that “Christmas” wasn’t celebrated in Ireland until the late fifth century; in England, Switzerland, and Austria until the seventh; in Germany until the eighth; and in the Slavic lands until the ninth and tenth. Not that these countries lacked their own midwinter celebrations.
Long before the world had heard of Jesus, Pagans had been observing the season by bringing in the Yule log, wishing on it, and lighting it from the remains of last year’s log. Riddles were posed and answered, magic and rituals were practiced, wild boars were sacrificed and consumed along with large quantities of liquor, corn dollies were carried from house to house while caroling, fertility rites were practiced (girls standing under a sprig of mistletoe were subject to a bit more than a kiss), and divinations were cast for the coming spring. Many of these Pagan customs, in an appropriately watered-down form, have entered the mainstream of Christian celebration, though most celebrants do not realize (or do not mention it, if they do) their origins.
For modern Witches, Yule (from the Anglo-Saxon yula, meaning “wheel” of the year) is usually celebrated on the actual winter solstice, which may vary by a few days, though it usually occurs on or around December 21. It is a Lesser Sabbat or Low Holiday in the modern Pagan calendar, one of the four quarter days of the year, but a very important one. Pagan customs are still enthusiastically followed. Once, the Yule log had been the center of the celebration. It was lighted on the eve of the solstice (it should light on the first try) and must be kept burning for twelve hours, for good luck. It should be made of ash. Later, the Yule log was replaced by the Yule tree but, instead of burning it, lighted candles were placed on it. In Christianity, Protestants might claim that Martin Luther invented the custom, and Catholics might grant St. Boniface the honor, but the custom can demonstrably be traced back through the Roman Saturnalia all the way to ancient Egypt. Needless to say, such a tree should be cut down rather than purchased, and should be disposed of by burning, the proper way to dispatch any sacred object.
Along with the evergreen, the holly and the ivy and the mistletoe were important plants of the season, all symbolizing fertility and everlasting life. Mistletoe was especially venerated by the Celtic Druids, who cut it with a golden sickle on the sixth night of the moon, and believed it to be an aphrodisiac. (Magically—not medicinally! It’s highly toxic!) But aphrodisiacs must have been the smallest part of the Yuletide menu in ancient times, as contemporary reports indicate that the tables fairly creaked under the strain of every type of good food. And drink! The most popular of which was the “wassail cup”, deriving its name from the Anglo-Saxon term waes hael (be whole or hale).
Medieval Christmas folklore seems endless: that animals will all kneel down as the Holy Night arrives, that bees hum the 100th psalm on Christmas Eve, that a windy Christmas will bring good luck, that a person born on Christmas Day can see the Little People, that a cricket on the hearth brings good luck, that if one opens all the doors of the house at midnight all the evil spirits will depart, that you will have one lucky month for each Christmas pudding you sample, that the tree must be taken down by Twelfth Night or bad luck is sure to follow, that “if Christmas on a Sunday be, a windy winter we shall see”, that “hours of sun on Christmas Day, so many frosts in the month of May”, that one can use the Twelve Days of Christmas to predict the weather for each of the twelve months of the coming year, and so on.
Remembering that most Christmas customs are ultimately based upon older Pagan customs, it only remains for modern Pagans to reclaim their lost traditions. In doing so, we can share many common customs with our Christian friends, albeit with a slightly different interpretation. And, thus, we all share in the beauty of this most magical of seasons, when the Mother Goddess once again gives birth to the baby Sun God and sets the wheel in motion again. To conclude with a long-overdue paraphrase, “Goddess bless us, every one!” [end of quoted text]
Fruitcake – I have rarely had a good fruitcake in my 40+ years, and in that time I’ve tasted a plethora of bad or stale fruitcake. “..The earliest recipe from ancient Rome lists pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and raisins that were mixed into barley mash. In the Middle Ages, honey, spices, and preserved fruits were added, and the name “fruitcake” was first used, from a combination of the words “fruit” (Latin: fructus, Old French: frui), and “cake” (Old Norse: kaka, Middle English: kechel)..” People generally serve it at Weddings or xmas time, though I can’t say I’ve ever eaten fruitcake at weddings, I’ve certainly met many fruitcakes at weddings LOL.. anyway..
Hot cross buns — These have worked their way into the xmas story, though traditionally they are eaten around Spring Equinox and fertility festivals (aka Easter). A hot cross bun, or cross-bun, is a sweet, yeast-leavened, spiced bun made with currants or raisins, often with candied citrus fruits, marked with a cross on the top. The cross can be made in a variety of ways including: of pastry; flour and water mixture; rice paper; icing; two intersecting cuts. There are a few stories about their origins, of course the xians claim they invented it though several others lay claim to pre-Christian (pre-xian just looks weird LOL) .. times. Personally I like the story that buns marked with a cross were eaten by Saxons in honour of the goddess Eostre (the cross is thought to have symbolised the four quarters of the moon).. Howwwwwlllllzzzz!
And finally, what’s with the decorations? We’ll take a look at the familiar sights of xmas time (other than the nativity scene which we touched on earlier)
Boughs of Holly — We see them all over at holiday times, but the meaning for them is lost to wikipedia as well most people perhaps, unless you follow that old religion or the newer WICCA you have no idea of the origins or practical and superstitious uses for Holly. Of course, the red berries are poisonous so you don’t want to go eating it. However, I found a herb site online that gives us some of the magical uses of it.. “…Holly, with it’s warrior-like bristles, is known as an herb of protection. Cast it about to repel unwanted animals and spirits. Sprinkle newborn babies with “holly water” (water in which holly has been soaked, especially if left under a full moon overnight) to keep them happy and safe. Holly is one of the evergreens brought into the home by Druids. It symbolizes a willingness to allow the nature spirits to share one’e abode during the harsh, cold season. Planted near a house, holly repels negative spells sent against you. A bag of leaves and berries carried by a man increases his ability to attract women. Carry to promote good luck..” See there now, need to attract women? Who needs expensive cologne and drop-dead gorgeous looks? Just go get some holly leaves and berries and walk into your neighborhood pub, meet a woman or two. LOL..
Tinsel – originally strands of shredded silver, then other metals of a shiny sparkly nature were used to adorn statues, trees, or hung just about anywhere. Our modern tinsel began around the year 1610 in Nuremberg, Germany.
Garlands, Ornaments, and Xmas trees – Basically, as the wiki will also say, originally garlands were made of flowers or leaves. Its a long tradition in India where flower garlands has an important role in every festivals that the deities decorated with full of garlands made from different fragrant flowers and leaves, but also fruit, vegetables, or even currency notes are worn as thanksgiving or to show respect to an individual person or statue. That sounds pretty tame, eh? Sure.
Let’s get to the original reason garlands were wrapped around the xmas tree though, eh? Much more interesting Germanic history here (from the O.T.O. Newsletter of December 1989, written by Bill Hendrix; The O.T.O. doesn’t worship Christ, Satan or the Devil; so this might be considered a disinterested perspective.)
“…The Goths and other ancient Germanic Tribes lived in very rough country from an unknown time in antiquity. They definitely had an idea of evil spirits capable of defying the un-summoned will of higher deity. You try living in winter in a very cold primeval forest full of starving wolves and worse. It can definitely make you paranoid of the dark!
Julius Caesar had some negative reports about these and other Germanic people that may be more than just war stories. According to one account, kids had to keep away from Papa in some of these tribes. If the kid got in the way, Papa would kill the kid!
There are human sacrificial victims in Northern European bogs going back 12,000 years, mostly young people. When the Roman Galba was captured by some of the neighbors of these people, he was tortured by having his sexual organs burned off with a torch. Because Galba didn’t cry out, the tribesmen decided Romans were regular folk after all, and they capitulated.
Our modern tradition of the Christmas Tree comes from these Germanic tribes. The original was a little different from our present version, however. Old Germanic law, according to Frazer in “The Golden Bough”, had this interesting penalty. Charge: “…dared to peel the bark of a standing tree.” Penalty: “The culprit’s navel was to be cut out and nailed to the part of the tree which he had peeled, and he was to be driven round and round the tree till all his guts were wound about its trunk.” Would I kid you about a thing like that? Of course, our modern Xmas Trees just symbolize this by winding “garlands” around the branches. Human sacrifice to Germanic tree spirits also included decoration of the tree with severed human body parts, and these are the other ornaments we see symbolized in more tasteful form today. It’s one hell of a holiday these Christians celebrate!”
Silver bells — Thus inspired by the imagery of Salvation Army bell-ringers standing outside department stores during the xmas season. The original song title was “tinkle bells” however was quickly changed to “silver bells” LOL.. As far as I know there is no mystical or historic significance to silver bells (in reference to xmas anyway) so will just leave it as another song title.
Reindeer –Also known as Caribou, reindeer don’t generally fly, however they are known to pull sleds and are often seen in arctic climates (e.g., the North Pole) so that all sort of makes sense.
Wreaths – Many cultures use wreaths for varied purposes. The most commonly held traditions are to present victors or heroes with adornment, and in the Greco-Roman world, wreaths (most commonly made of laurel) could represent a person’s occupation, rank, their achievements and status. In the xian world wreaths generally symbolize the advent calendar, and of course popular culture has us put wreaths on doors or what-not during the holiday seasons for no other reason than they just look nice.
So, is there some point or finale this whole blog of snippets is going to arrive at? Hmm, not quite! But let’s wrap things up now anyway because I am tired of typing and cutting and pasting and other things that end with ‘ing 🙂
The true meaning of our Wintery holiday may be different things to our cultural heritage. Having researched the most commonly seen things found (around North America at least) we have a good understanding of their origins, and hopefully have a greater sense of appreciation, and welcome with a kindred tolerance what another person may find sacred to their heart, even if we have no deep reverance for the same mythos or history ourselves;
As human beings of planet Earth, I have come to feel the embodiment of the holidays is:
- To recognize one’s own personal expression, beliefs or sentiments.
True, having no cultural or religious ideals can be enjoyed by atheists just as much as any fervent spiritualist sings praises to their chosen god, gods, or Jedi force which binds their universe together. Satisfied and secure of our beliefs (or absence thereof) we respect others’ beliefs, and acknowledge that these may be quite different from our own. That is to say, Holy-day enjoyment and genuine sharing means we aren’t celebrating for the sake of imposing our beliefs upon others, nor using it as a platform to recruit converts to our faith, and we look beyond the retail madness and capitalism of the season, otherwise we are just providing empty lip-service and placating rhetoric (though, the unscrupulous do that, in spite of showing disrespect and intolerance towards others)
Epilogue: The Scrooge and other archetypes
As there are many generally unhappy people living in regret or loss (all year long, yet this is somehow amplified at the end of the year), some are craving a family or loved one, yet choosing to separate themselves or remain detached for whatever internal torment suitable.
Some will attempt to propagate their mental disease by reaching out in a malevolent way, that is, either harming themselves or others, to rationalize a self-fulfilling prophesy of their internal pain. Knowing others are open and happy, a person may use the holiday opportunity to catch a unsuspecting naive person off guard, and (for attention or selfish reward, usually) convince them to feel bad, guilty, poor or idiotic for being so celebratory at such a dark time of year– the verbal accusation heard? “Bah, Humbug!” of course.
Scrooge’s plan was to amass material wealth and then use it as fodder to make others feel insignificant, a shadow of Scrooge’s own remorse. At the end though, he eventually came around.
Suicide rates are higher at the most wonderful time of the year, but that is because people are full of too much rum in their eggnog. They don’t know how to concentrate, let their mind wander, and purposefully allow themselves to be caught up in it all. It may be a subconscious decision sometimes, but it is essentially a choice they have made, so regardless of external influences and events, they will find no other cause or source than their own thoughts and how they have decided to deal with or not deal with it- they must claim responsibility and not fall to scapegoating or blaming others or outside forces for any pleasures or woes. It’s very easy to give your power away and blame deity, demon, or a woman, yet like Jimmy Buffett knows, it’s your own damn fault. We create, we reap what we so, it is up to us, who got our self into this mess, to now get yourself out and return to real life.
Sad because you have nobody to love? Well duh, then quit bitching and go get someone. If you have unrealistic goals or don’t even know exactly what you think you’re missing, then sit and evaluate what your crying about, then change your thinking and get over it.
Upset because your family is miles away? Again, duh. Go visit them. Can’t go in person? Then either invite them to come to you or do what you can to make a connection some other way, accept what you have and find a way to reflect, honor and appreciate it.
Lost a dear one who passed? Wherever they are, they don’t want you wasting your life sobbing about their death. What good does that do for anyone? Accept they have transitioned and decide to continue living. Sure you can grieve and miss them and love them, honor their memory and be thankful of all the time you spent with them, even if it was arguing or unpleasant, the universe worked out so that time was spent with you- of the billions of people and years of history on Earth, how amazing is it that we have shared moments with anyone? That’s pretty awesome stuff, be happy you had what you did, of the many people who never touch your path, you have something special with those that did.
Too poor to give gifts? Then be like a drummer boy; Give the things money can’t buy- a hug, a kiss, a friendly hello, a note, something you created with your own hands that won’t break your bank and they’ll appreciate. Pickup your telephone or headset and send a call of your voice to theirs, and then get off your arse and make your own world a better place so you can give even more next year.
Generally unspecific sorta depressed and emo? Ask yourself why you feel that way, how did you end up there, and then ask yourself if you like feeling this way. If you do like it, then embrace it and stop whining. If you don’t like to be so unhappy, then decide that you will do something to make yourself happy again. You don’t need a fantastic reason or plan for ultimate happiness, just tell your mind you refuse to remain depressed and emotional any longer.. You’ll figure it out.. Until then just be numb, complacent, innocuous, horny, whatever but at least not you aren’t depressed. Anger is a secondary reactive emotion. It’s dumb to just be filled with anger and anarchic angst for no concrete reason (“angry at the world!” is a lame excuse). Ask yourself what causes you to arrive there, there is something about you that you aren’t acknowledging or dealing with.
If you don’t like what’s on your mind, you just need to change your thinking. Like Dr.Art Guline says, there’s many things in life that cause us stress, but the stress doesn’t have to make you sick. It’s not the stress, but how we deal with stress (good or bad) that makes us who we are. There’s lots of simple things we can do to deal with daily life better if we just pause for a sec and pay attention to how our body, mind, and spirit are doing, and read what sort of messages or signs we may be getting.
To that, as much as xmas is a time for gatherings and multitudes of celebratory people it is also a time to reflect on one’s own health mentally, spiritually, physically, emotionally.. what a great gift that is to behold. We do this sort of self-evaluation as a wind-up for the new calendar year, and if you have resolutions you want to plan for 2011, seize the day and get started on them now!
With blessings and merriment of the season,