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Saturday, December 18, 2004

Chrismahistory

By: Michael Akerman


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'Twas the week before Christmas
And all through the web
People kept saying
That Christmas was dead
"It's just made up anyway,"
The Slashdotters said.

"The dates are all wrong
And Christ's story ain't said.
It's all about shopping
For presents and gifts;
About telling kids Santa
Will fulfill their lists."

But a voice out of nowhere
Reminded them this,
"God so loved the world
That he gave us his son,
Such that those who believe,
Have lives never done."

The Slashdotters went silent.
They thought upon this.
Perhaps they hadn't seen,
'Neath the presents and gifts,
That God's love still resided,
Christ's story was told.
Parents still told the tale
Of God's gift to his fold.

And it's true what they thought:
Through commercialism's veil,
Kid's still learn the story,
Parents tell the grand tale.
Christmas still lives,
It's heart still beats strong.
Those who worry for the season
Have their worries placed wrong.

Know this, my friends,
Christmas still lives on.
Through the ribbons and bows,
Under carols and songs,
Children still learn of,
Yes, people still know,
About that holiest child
Born long ago.




Yes folks, it's the week before Christmas: the one day of the year when Jesus rises from the dead, and we have to soothe him back into the grave by singing Christmas carols.

Umm... seriously, though, people worry about the overcommercialization of Christmas. They say we forget about Jesus. I think my poem sums it up nicely: they're wrong. People haven't forgotten. People still go to church, they still remember Jesus. The only thing that reducing the commercialization would bring is removing something that brings joy to many people.

Incidentally, some Christmas history:




People think that Christmas date is arbitrary. Well, largely, it is. Christmas is on the 25th in, as one may be surprised to know, a pagan tradition. Precisely, the Christian leaders of 336 A.D. wanted to eclipse the then-popular Roman Pagan holiday, Saturnalia, as well as several other prevalent pagan events based on the winter solstice. Not knowing Jesus' true birthday anyway, Christmas was set as the date of his celebration. Originally, this was a simple mass. No pomp, no circumstance, no tree.

Over time, Christmas grew more popular (like Microsoft) and absorbed several nearby competitors (like Microsoft). The Christmas tree came from a German tradition, but is reported to have been popular as far back as ancient Egypt. Mistletoe is associated with Frigga, the Scandinavian goddess of love, which is where the kissing tradition came from. Mistletoe was banned by the Christian church due to its idolatrous nature toward Frigga, and the church recommended the use of holly, for which they made up the symbolism that the red berries symbolized Christ's blood, and the pointed leaves his Crown of Thorns. Interestingly, holly itself was pagan before its acceptance in the Church.

The Yule Log came from a tradition of bringing luck upon the family by bringing in a large block of oak, which would sit in the fire and glow through the 12 days of Christmas (I'll get to that in a moment). If the log successfully burned throughout the 12 days, it was said to bring good luck.

Some traditions, of course, sprang from others. The Christmas tree tradition gradually spawned a tradition of decorating the tree. According to legend, Martin Luther was the first person to put candles on the tree. The twelve days of Christmas, similarly, spawned from the celebration of Jesus' birth, purportedly to commemorate the arrival of the Magi (who supposedly showed up 12 days later). By the way, the 12 days of Christmas do not start 12 days before Christmas, but rather, on Christmas itself. Christmas is the first day of Christmas, so you haven't yet missed 5 days of Christmas.

Christmas carols came out of medieval dances (also called carols) that were assimilated by the Anglo-Saxons into small choirs who stood in the town green singing for passerby. This became a Christmas tradition which eventually evolved into the roaming carolers we have today. Christmas carols, of course, created Christmas music, of which "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby (sung by Bing, rather. Written by Irving Berlin) is considered the most popular of modern times ("I'm dreaming of a white Christmas/With every Christmas card I write," and so forth). And Christmas music is played constantly in nearly every store because we've been psychologically conditioned to open our wallets when we hear it (I'm making that up, by the way).

Gift giving really got into full swing in the late 1800s, again to commemorate the Magi, but also because of an interesting marketing story. Gift giving really picked up after the modern Santa Claus evolved, practically overnight. Of course, St. Nick was originally a man who was exceedingly generous and performed several miracles centering on this generosity. However, he had no sleigh, no reindeer, no belly-shaking-like-a-bowl-full-of-jelly, and he didn't come down the chimney until one man wrote a short story for his children. In 1822, Clement Moore wrote "The Night Before Christmas," in which all of these facets appeared. Santa was later developed more fully by Harper's Weekly in a series of engravings showing Santa's workshop, elves, and Santa making his list and checking it twice.

Santa's red and white suit, by the way, are based on the traditional robes of a bishop.

Rudolph also came about from a short poem, handed out by the Montgomery Ward chain in 1939. Again, Rudolph appeared practically overnight.

There you have it. A short aggregate of Christmas history. Most of this, by the way, is drawn from How Stuff Works, and no, I didn't simply plagiarize it.

So, this Christmas, celebrate Jesus, but remember the rich history of the modern Christmas. Commercialism's a good thing. Enjoy it.

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

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