Sunday, 25 December 2011

Modern Day Christmas Meets Ancient Customs

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Every year it seems that Christmas is returning more and more to its original roots! Consider the headline by NBC Nightly News on November 25th: "Black Eye for Black Friday".[1] On that date, 10-15 shoppers were pepper-sprayed by an angry fellow shopper in line to snag the best deal first. A grandfather's face was bloodied and bruised because authorities thought he was shoplifting, when he was only trying to protect his grandson from being trampled by a crowd of crazed shoppers. One shopper was shot in a Wal-mart parking lot in South Carolina and another critically injured during a robbery outside a California Wal-mart. It appeared that the Christmas season was appropriately kicked off in the true nature from which it was derived: with violence and disregard for law and order. What? Isn't "Jesus is the reason for the season"? It's next to impossible to believe that those who pummeled and pepper-sprayed their fellow man in order to "get stuff" were acting in anything but the name of selfishness and greed.
 
Go back in time to approximately 350 AD when December 25 was selected as Jesus' birth date. Chosen not because that actually was his birth date, but because it coincided with the culmination of the celebration of the Winter Solstice in ancient Rome, and church officials saw the date as expedient for promoting Christianity. The Christmas celebration is in fact derived from the celebration of the original Roman observance of Saturnalia; a celebration marked with lawlessness and a time when normal life was suspended in favor of eating drinking and gift-giving.[2] The ancient observance of the Saturnalia actually bequeathed many of its original elements to the Christmas celebrations that are common today.

Winter Solstice marked the shortest day of the year, as well as the point at which the days gradually grew longer, and symbolized for the Romans re-birth and new growth. The celebration of Saturnalia has probably contributed the most to modern day Christmas traditions, and was observed by feasting, merry making, adornment with greenery and gift giving.[3] It was the Roman pagans who introduced December 17-25 into their law as Saturnalia and, during that period of time, Roman courts were closed and the law dictated that no one could be punished for damaging property or injuring people during the week long celebration.[4] In addition to feasting and drinking, the Romans expressed good will toward one another by exchanging gifts. Other popular customs included various kinds of informal masquerades in which men and women cavorted in the clothing of the opposite sex, engaged in drunken excesses and caroused the streets during the time of the festival.[5]

As Christianity spread, the Roman Catholic Church of the day became alarmed by the continuing practice of its converts indulging in pagan customs related to the festival of Saturnalia. At first, church leaders prohibited this type of revelry, but to no avail. Eventually, a decision was made to "tame" such celebrations and make them into more secular observances, supposedly suited to honor the Son of God, rather than the Roman god Saturn. The use of greenery to decorate homes continued to be prohibited as pagan idolatry and Druidic tree worship, but over the centuries, this too became an accepted custom of the festivities.[6]

Even though the exact date of Jesus' birth has never been chronicled with any degree of accuracy, there is no scriptural evidence to support December 25th as being the correct date. Most historians and serious Bible scholars agree that the event did not take place in December.

Do some research on the history of the Christmas celebration and consider how many of these modern-day practices mirror the old pagan customs. While many argue that Christmas is "just for the kids" or justify it by saying it is celebrated with Jesus in mind, do you sincerely believe that the Son of Almighty God would derive pleasure from an observance--supposedly in his honor--that is rooted in commemoration of false gods and so often marked by greed, carousing and even violence? While many people would not even consider the prospect of not celebrating Christmas for fear of resentment or ridicule from family members, friends or acquaintances, it should be noted Peter wrote in 1 Peter 4:1-6 about not living to the "lusts of men, but to the will of God", even though a person will likely receive some persecution for doing so. The apostle Paul said, "Do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of God." (Galatians 1:10) Some food for thought.

[1] http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/11/25/9012057-black-friday-violence-2-shot-in-armed-robberies-15-others-pepper-sprayed?ocid=ansmsnbc11
[2] The Roman Winter Festival of Saturnalia: Discover the Origins and Customs of a Roman Midwinter Festival | Suite101.com http://natasha-sheldon.suite101.com/saturnalia-a35729#ixzz1exwZDzVm
[3] http://allan-m-heller.suite101.com/modern-christmas-ancient-rome-a37434
[4] http://thetruthandlight.wordpress.com/2008/12/25/saturnalia-the-real-roots-of-christmas/
[5] http://christmas-celebrations.org/220-saturnalia.html
[6] http://www.novareinna.com/festive/xmas.html
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