elsewhere in the world, December 25 is celebrated in India too as
the nativity of Jesus Christ with traditional joy and gaiety. In fact,
it cuts across the limits of the Church to spill over into the streets
for all to participate. It is a time for merry-making and exchanging
gifts in India, for Christmas is also about cakes and puddings.
Santa Clause has come To Town:
The market places are all embellished with tinsel and buntings and
people masquerading as Santa stalk customers, particularly children with
gifts in the big cities. Bedecked and glittering Christmas trees are all
over the place.
For the devout, the celebrations begin on Christmas Eve. Carols
are sung and various churches organize the midnight Mass. The service on
Christmas Day is attended by Christians dressed in new clothes. After
the morning congregation is over, people assemble in their homes for the
History of Christmas:
The history of Christmas dates back over 4000 years. Many of our
Christmas traditions were celebrated centuries before the Christ child
was born. The 12 days of Christmas, the bright fires, the Yule
log, the giving of gifts, carnivals (parades) with floats, carolers who
sing while going from house to house, the holiday feasts, and the church
processions can all be traced back to the early Mesopotamians.
Many of these traditions began with the Mesopotamian celebration of New
Years. The Mesopotamians believed in many gods, and as their chief god -
Marduk. Each year as winter arrived it was believed that Marduk
would do battle with the monsters of chaos. To assist Marduk in his
struggle the Mesopotamians held a festival for the New Year. This was
Zagmuk, the New Year's festival that lasted for 12 days. The
Mesopotamian king would return to the temple of Marduk and swear his
faithfulness to the god. The traditions called for the king to die at
the end of the year and to return with Marduk to battle at his side. To
spare their king, the Mesopotamians used the idea of a "mock" king. A
criminal was chosen and dressed in royal clothes. He was given all the
respect and privileges of a real king.
At the end of the celebration the "mock" king was stripped of the
royal clothes and slain, sparing the life of the real king. The Persians
and the Babylonians celebrated a similar festival called the Sacaea.
Part of that celebration included the exchanging of places, the slaves
would become the masters and the masters were to obey. Early Europeans
believed in evil spirits, witches, ghosts and trolls. As the Winter
Solstice approached, with its long cold nights and short days, many
people feared the sun would not return. Special rituals and celebrations
were held to welcome back the sun.
In Scandinavia during the winter months the sun would disappear for many
days. After thirty-five days scouts would be sent to the mountain tops
to look for the return of the sun. When the first light was seen the
scouts would return with the good news. A great festival would be held,
called the Yuletide, and a special feast would be served around a fire
burning with the Yule log. Great bonfires would also be lit to celebrate
the return of the sun. In some areas people would tie apples to branches
of trees to remind themselves that spring and summer would return. The
ancient Greeks held a festival similar to that of the Zagmuk/Sacaea
festivals to assist their god Kronos who would battle the god
Zeus and his Titans.
The Roman's celebrated their god Saturn. Their festival was called
Saturnalia which began the middle of December and ended January 1st.
With cries of "Jo Saturnalia!" the celebration would include
masquerades in the streets, big festive meals, visiting friends, and the
exchange of good-luck gifts called Strenae (lucky fruits). The
Romans decked their halls with garlands of laurel and green trees lit
with candles. Again the masters and slaves would exchange places.
Some legends claim that the Christian "Christmas" celebration was
invented to compete against the pagan celebrations of December. The 25th
was not only sacred to the Romans but also the Persians whose religion
Mithraism was one of Christianity's main rivals at that time. The Church
eventually was successful in taking the merriment, lights, and gifts
from the Saturanilia festival and bringing them to the
celebration of Christmas. The exact day of the Christ child's birth has
never been pinpointed. Traditions say that it has been celebrated since
the year 98 AD. In 137 AD the Bishop of Rome ordered the birthday of the
Christ Child celebrated as a solemn feast. In 350 AD another Bishop of
Rome, Julius I, choose December 25th as the observance of