Little Bits of History

Christmas

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 25, 2015
Nativity scene

Nativity scene

December 25, 354: The earliest record of Christmas is included in the Chronography of 354. Also called the Calendar of 354, it was an illuminated manuscript made for Valentinus, a Roman Christian. The original no longer exists, but at least fragments survived through Carolingian times. At that point, many copies of the calendar were created, some with and others without the illustrations. There were sixteen sections to the entire codex which include Part 6 which was the actual calendar for the year. Also included were images of the emperors, images of the seven planets, the signs of the zodiac, lists of important Roman politicians, and in Part 12, commemoration dates for martyrs. Included in this section was the Latin phrase, “VIII kal. Ian. natus Christus in Betleem Iudeae” which translates to “Eighth day before the kalends of January (which would be December 25), Birth of Christ in Bethlehem Judea”.

The early Christian ecclesiastical calendar usurped many pre-Christian festivals. The Roman feast of Saturnalia and the birthday of Mithra for the Zoroastrian calendar were both considered in the creation of the feastday known as Christmas. The Roman celebration of the birth of Jesus was celebrated in December, closer to the older celebration of Saturnalia. However, the Eastern Orthodoxy chose to celebrate the event in connection with the Epiphany on January 6. This is the date on which Christians commemorate the arrival of the Three Kings or Three Wise Men and their gifts to honor the newly born King. The method of celebration of Christmas has morphed over time and some Christians have even gone so far as to ban it citing concerns with paganism and no Biblical authentication.

Before Christ was born and even into the early Christian era, there have been celebrations revolving around the winter solstice. These festivals were often the most popular of any held through the year. There may be a few reasons for this. First of all, people were free to celebrate as the work in the fields was greatly reduced because of the seasonal nature of agriculture. Another reason for the popularity of the celebrations was the simple fact that the weather was bound to begin improving, at least in regards to the amount of daylight available. In a time before electric lighting, the gloom of winter was not easily cast aside and even a few more minutes of daylight was appreciated. Parties included a Yule log and special foods.

The reason for making December 25 be Christmas is debatable, but some theories exist. Perhaps the date was chosen to Christianize the Roman pagan festival of the “birthday of the Unconquered Sun” which was begun by Roman Emperor Aurelian and supported by Constantine. A Syrian bishop from the 12th century believed the date was simply an overwriting of the already Pagan celebration for the birthday of the Sun which early Christians also participated in. Rather than try to get rid of a good party date, early Church authorities simply changed the meaning of the festival. This has been hotly repudiated by other Christians over the centuries. However the date was decided, Merry Christmas to all.

It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas, though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and Mankind. – H. P. Lovecraft

A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together. – Garrison Keillor

There has been only one Christmas — the rest are anniversaries. – W. J. Cameron

From a commercial point of view, if Christmas did not exist it would be necessary to invent it. – Katharine Whitehorn

Also on this day: Mastodons – In 1801, the first complete mastodon skeleton was discovered.
Scone Stone – In 1950, the Stone of Scone was stolen.
It Is Finished – In 1991, the dissolution of the USSR was completed.
Arrival – In 1941, Admiral Nimitz arrived at Pearl Harbor.
White House Visitors – In 1974, Marshall Fields invited himself to the White House.

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