Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas: Of Days Gone By

As we surround ourselves with the good cheer of the season, its difficult as a writer of historical fiction not to ponder on Christmases of years past. As I have a knack for picking events that seem to occur during warm weather months (most definitely a Freudian coincidence), it seems fitting to delve into the winter months and the crowning glory of the season.

As any devotee of history knows, it is more than likely that Jesus was born sometime in May, not December, but this is knowledge gathered in modern times with devices and techniques unavailable until a few decades ago. It leaves one to wonder, then, how did December 25th come to be the celebration date of that momentous birth. The most logical explanation brings one to the Mithric Mysteries.

An enigmatic religion practiced most popularly from the 1st to the 4th Centuries in the Roman Empire, the name of Mithras appears to represent that given to their one god. The religion itself, while highly complex and distinctly popular with the Roman Military, shares a great many coincidences with Christianity. Baptism, communion, guardian angels are just a few of the similarities. But their celebration on December 25, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun, is almost a mirror image of traditions still in practice today. Believed to be born of a virgin woman, the myth of Mithras includes resurrection after death and the ascension to heaven in human form. It is all this, and more, which no doubt induced Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicea to choose this date in 325 AD to commemorate the birth of Jesus.

While it’s probably a good bet that fine spirits of the liquid variety have always been a part of these celebrations for times untold, the activities themselves have evolved in a number of ways. The early celebrations of Christmas, in Italy and all through Europe, more readily resembled Twelfth Night and the luxuries discussed in the Twelve Days of Christmas, a festival lasting from December to the Epiphany, on January 6. As these days were also fraught with the constant battle and persecutions between the Protestants and the Catholics, it’s safe to assume that there were many years and many families who kept such celebrations on a quiet, more intimate tone, though even the Medicis themselves were known to take part in the festivities at various times, playing the parts of the Magi in the Mystery Plays.

The one constant from the Renaissance era and the celebrations of Twelfth Night that remain today (dare I say almost to our detriment) is the custom of gift giving, a tradition instituted to mirror the gifts of the Magi given to the baby Jesus. Christmas Carols began in the 15th Century by Saint Francis of Assisi, who also introduced the tradition of a Manger when he created his own with the use of living livestock.

However you may celebrate, from wherever your traditions may come, may we all remember the true message of the season…Peace on Earth, Good Will toward All Beings.

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