Never a Christmas Morning…….Never the old year ends
But someone thinks of someone, Old days, old times, old friends—-Anonymous
My Christmas cards several years ago had that poem on them. It was unattributed and when I have tried to find the name of the author I have not been successful. I love the succinct way those few lines can make me nostalgic, maudlin, sad, and full of fond memories all at the same time.
Christmas was a big deal at our house when I was growing up in Xenia. My father was a deacon at Zion Baptist Church so one of our first jobs, I was his able assistant, was to buy the Christmas tree for the Sunday school area. We then had to put it up and decorate it so it would be ready to amaze and please the Sunday school crowd on the Sunday closest to Christmas. I enjoyed it enormously because it was like being the magician behind the scenes.
I also fondly remember the annual trip to Dayton to see the animated display in Rike’s Department store window. It was a big deal and it always seemed like the lights were brighter and the trees were more fragrant and the bows were more elaborate at Christmas in department stores. There are those who rail against the commercialization of Christmas and shake their fingers at us to remember the reason for the season. Unfortunately, a lot of them seem to be unaware that at its core Christmas was invented for commercial, or at least semi-commercial reasons.
The celebration of the birth of Christ, Christmas was not established as being in late December until 336 CE. The first Christian Emperor of the Roman Empire Constantine generally gets the credit for it. In historical terms this makes the celebration relatively young. Historians set the birth of Jesus Christ as sometime six months on either side of Easter, which makes it either September/October.
The decision to set it as December 25th or close to the Winter Solstice, which actually was the 25th on the Roman calendar, was determined for several reasons:1) Winters were long and hard and cold and a celebration in mid-winter was needed to keep the peasants and serfs from getting unruly, and to give the ruling classes a legitimate reason to kill and eat stuff and drink a lot. In other words it broke up the winter blahs and doldrums. 2) It helped legitimize and make popular with the surging number of Christians old Druidic and other pagan cultural celebrations associated with the solstice like the Roman Saturnalia— which by the way was celebrated by bringing in evergreen boughs along with other less wholesome practices–sound familiar? 3) it sold a lot of candles and oils for lamps, and eventually gifts for people, kind of like a precursor to Black Friday for the shop keepers.
So, my religious friends who are so quick to draw yourselves up and chastise us pagans for worshipping at the feet of Macy’s, aka Memnon, rather than more sacred ways of celebrating the birth of Jesus, you actually co-opted a pagan celebration to associate with the birth of the King of Kings. That does not, of course, mean you cannot use the day to reflect and worship and give praise and thanks, but it does mean you might want to chill out on using that phrase “ the reason for the season.” I am afraid the original reasons for the season were far less pure than honoring the birth of Jesus Christ.
I do wish everyone a Merry Christmas, no matter how you celebrate!
Cookie Newsom is a Greene County resident and guest columnist.