The pagan origin of Christmas

christmas2010_375longwood

Christmas tree in the Conservatory at Longwood Gardens Pennsylvania USA

 

When I was an undergraduate, and reading T.S. Eliot’s ” Waste Land” for the first time, I sought out The Golden Bough for help in understanding his references.  That book was, and still is, a gold mine for me.  Here is what it says about how Christmas came to be celebrated on December 25:

“J. G. Frazer in The Golden Bough notes the pagan origin of Christmas: “It was a custom of the heathen to celebrate on the 25th December the birthday of the sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day … Augustine exhorts his Christian brethren not to celebrate that solemn day like the heathen on account of the sun, but on account of him who made the sun.” (p. 472). Frazer argues (pp. 833 & 842) “If the heathen of ancient Europe celebrated, as we have good reason to believe, the season of Midsummer with a great festival of fire, of which the traces have survived in many places, it is natural to suppose that they should also have observed with similar rites the corresponding season of Midwinter; for Midsummer and Midwinter, the summer solstice and the winter solstice, are the two great turning points in the sun’s apparent course through the sky, and from the standpoint of primitive man nothing might seem more appropriate than to kindle fires on earth at the two moments when the fire and heat of the great luminary in heaven begin to wane or to wax … Indeed with respect to Midwinter celebration of Christmas we are left to conjecture; we know from the express testimony of the ancients that it was instituted by the church to supersede an old heathen festival of the birth of the sun, which was apparently conceived to be born again on the shortest day of the year, after which his light and heat were seen to grow till they attained their full maturity at Midsummer … In modern Christendom the ancient fire-festival of the winter solstice appears to survive, or to have survived down to recent years, in the old custom of the Yule log.””The definition of a Harvest Moon is: the full moon closest to the fall equinox.  The Harvest Moon was thus named because it rises within a half-hour of when the sun sets.  In early days, when farmers had no tractors, it was essential that they work by the light of the moon to bring in the harvest.  This moon is the fullest moon of the year.  When you gaze at it, it looks very large and gives a lot of light throughout the entire night.  No other lunar spectacle is as awesome as the Harvest Moon.”
–  
The Midwinter Festival of Yule 

 

 

 

Published by ahiggins2013

poet, birder, senior citizen, cancer survivor, Catholic sister. Eight books of poetry published: At the Year’s Elbow, Mellen Poetry Press 2000; Scattered Showers in a Clear Sky, Plain View Press 2007; chapbooks: Pick It Up and Read, Finishing Line Press 2008, How the Hand Behaves, Finishing Line Press 2009, Digging for God, Wipf and Stock 2010, Vexed Questions, Aldrich Press 2013, Reconnaissance, Texture Press 2014, and Life List, Finishing Line Press, 2015.

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