I have loved Christmas for 80 years. That love has changed of course. As a child the excitement comes from the magical tree and lovely, wrapped packages to open. As an adult I found joy in two things, finding items that might bring a smile, a chuckle or a tear to the recipients eye, and lights filling the dark streets with color. Yes, it is presented as a
celebration of Christ’s birth, but I have known that to be something of a myth since my teen years. It is a historically accepted fact that the Christ child was not born in December. He made his entrance, by all accounts, sometime between March and September. Biblical evidence seems to back that up with references to shepherds watching there flocks, and the time of year a census would have been taken. Actually, as I am sure many of you know, the early Christians stole their celebratory practices from multiple countries, cultures and religions.
One can start with the date that was chosen for the birth story. The Roman Saturnalia was probably celebrated on or around December 25th…coincidence? There were many communities that celebrated mid winter with gatherings and festivals. The winter was dark and dreary, with agriculture on hold for spring. Light and fire was a natural counter point to that, with communal gatherings, feasting and exchanging gifts a way to connect and bring joy to the season. Gift giving apparently was a New Year’s tradition, until the Victorian era when the Queen gave gifts to her family on Christmas Eve, which changed the trajectory of gift exchanges!
As for the war on Christmas, that began centuries ago. The Puritans banned Christmas from New England for a quarter of a century, and under Cromwell all celebrations of saints were banned in Britain, including Christmas. According to this administration we can now say ” Merry Christmas ” again…very strange, since I do not remember a year in which I felt constrained in that respect!
It is true that Christmas has changed, and in ways I am somewhat sad to see. During the last recession Christmas lighting seemed to take a down turn and the lovely, lit homes I so adored began to recede into darkness. Happily this year has seen a slight resurgence in outdoor home displays.
Over the years finding the popular sold out gifts and enticing sales have taken a front seat to finding joy and love. Anxiety and chaos now reign in a season that should be fun and relaxed. We often find gifts all year long which we hold until the big day, which helps take the stress out of last minute shopping. Unfortunately my family mandated a few years back that we would no longer exchange gifts. Since I live so far from my brothers, and delighted so in finding objects which I thought they might enjoy, that was and remains a disappointment.
I use the word season deliberately, because in my mind, call it what you will…Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Solstice, Hanukkah, Midwinter Festival or another name you may choose, to me it is always a time for lights and caring for each other,
including the vulnerable among us. To the Christians it should mean helping the less fortunate since Christ considered that his mission, and surprisingly many other religions also see that as an attribute. For myself, I was raised on Christmas, and myth or not it will always be framed by lights and love, hopefully bringing awe to children’s eyes and joy to the hearts of all.
Happy New Year to everyone, may it bring you happiness and lead into another wonderful midwinter celebration of Christmas!