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The Origins of Christmas in Nature
by Adrien Blanchette

Trees and SnowfallAs we go through the hectic preparations for Christmas we often feel overwhelmed with the enormity of the "task" with which we are faced. The preparations seem to go on and on; sending greeting cards; keeping in touch with friends and family, often renewing contact with people far away some of whom we communicate with only at Christmas time; buying gifts for loved ones and friends; preparing the Christmas decorations of green boughs with red berries and tinsel; lighting Christmas lights everywhere; setting up and decorating the tree; attending all those Christmas get-togethers and parties; eating and drinking until we feel that we are about to burst like an over-stuffed turkey!

At times the feeling is so overwhelming that we feel that we are losing control...everything is being done to excess...... the season and its exuberant need to celebrate at this time is taking over our lives and we are almost powerless to resist the urge to spend too much, eat and drink too much, celebrate too much. We say to ourselves that's it!!! Enough is enough! Right after the holidays I'm going to stop all this nonsense....no more eating and drinking....no more partying....no more spending money....I'm going to deny myself every indulgence and fast until I'm back in shape and ready to face the world as a new person. I might even make a list of New Year's resolutions to help me resolve to be a renewed person!

Little do we realise as we repeat this ritual every year that we are acting on primitive urges that go back to the dawn of our evolving as human beings. But the need to celebrate at this time of year followed by a period of denial is so deep-rooted that, in spite of many attempts to abolish the practice, it has lasted for ages and has become the most universally accepted event throughout the Western World.

This practice goes back to the time when mankind first began to make attempts to control his own environment. It would seem that mankind evolved first as hunters and gatherers....hunting for animals in the land around them and gathering whatever edible plants, berries and fruit available from the natural environment around them. And of course the seasons of the year naturally provided a good supply of game in summer and an abundance of food in the autumn of the year followed by a period of want during the winter season.

You can imagine our early ancestors first attempts to preserve food in order to get them through the winter months of scarcity. Grains, vegetables, dried fruits and berries, gathered during the autumn harvest would be stock-piled to provide food through the winter. So this ritual of gathering and stock-piling an excess of food became associated with autumn and the waning of the power of the sun which began immediately after this season.

Our early ancestors soon realised that if the sun continued to get weaker and did not recover its full strength that they were all doomed. So it seemed only right to pray that whatever forces existed which could weaken the sun's power should be appeased and begged to restore it. It seems only natural to believe that goodness is rewarded and wrong-doing is punished.....we have all experienced this in our own child-hood.

So the connection between the withdrawing of the power of the sun and mankind's "wrong-doing" is soon made.....if mankind did "wrong" they are punished and the sun's power will be denied to them.....if they do "good" and repent of their "wrong-doing" they will be rewarded and the sun's power will be restored. Could it be that the stock-piling of food for one's self is somehow responsible in part for that wrong-doing?

We can only imagine the conditions that existed for our earliest ancestors who had to gather enough food for themselves to last throughout the long winter months....overcoming weaker neighbours and stealing their food would certainly be a part of the process. So stock-piling food for one's self while others are in want and the taking of food belonging to others, leaving them to starve through a long winter, would soon become associated with the denial of the power of the sun in the minds of these primitive peoples. Mankind would feel to be in the grip of powers beyond it's control....the seasons of the year dictating their actions and forcing them to react in ways which would bring punishment on them later on. It is easy to see how mankind would begin to feel the need for a "redemption" from their wrong-doings and the need for this "redemption" would be most keenly felt at this time of the year.

As mankind progressed they made more and more attempts to control their own lives and their environment....evolving from the "gathering-hunting" stage to a more domesticated agrarian life where they could begin to cultivate plants and husband domesticated animals....the beginning of farming as we know it. In all of this, mankind was faced with new problems and decisions. The domestication of animals such as cattle, pigs and fowl was possible during the summer months when the animals could find food for themselves in the fields but it was not yet possible to sustain them over the winter months because the animals would be competing for the very food that was stock-piled for the farmer's needs.

So began the practice of slaughtering all of the excess animals in the late autumn or early winter when they were no longer able to feed themselves in the fields. This slaughter would naturally be followed by great feasting where everyone ate as much as they could with the knowledge that they would soon be going through a period of denial and want throughout the winter months. The harvest of fruits and vegetables at this time also created a surplus of food stuffs adding to the festivities and the excesses of the season. The slaughter of animals also became associated with the appeasement of the power that was denying the sun to mankind, for didn't the sun begin to regain its power shortly after the animals were slaughtered? As the days grew shorter and colder there was a need for fire to provide the light and heat which the sun was denying us. The practice of lighting fires and even the sacrificing of animals and foodstuffs in the fires themselves became acts symbolic of feeding the sun to restore its own power to benefit mankind.

As mankind progresses this cycle repeats itself over and over again in ever widening circles. The ease of summer followed by an abundant harvest followed by great feasting and excesses of consumption, combined with the knowledge that others are in want while we revel in abundance, followed by feelings of guilt and a need for redemption followed by a period of self-denial and atonement for the "wrong-doing".

Knowing all of this, it is easy to draw parallels with our own practices today.

It is no co-incidence that the birth of Jesus Christ Our Redeemer is celebrated precisely at this time. Jesus calls Himself "The Light of The World"; He is recognized as "The Redeemer" who has come to atone for all of man's wrong doing. The 21st day of December being the shortest day of the year is precisely that point at which mankind is most in need of the restoration of "The Light" and in need of a "Redeemer" and so the Son (Sun) of God is born at that time.

Differences in calculation of the shortest day of the year have brought it to today's date of the December 25, but no matter, it is still close enough to satisfy that deep need which is naturally rooted within each one of us; a need to celebrate in excess and abundance in order to drive away the darkness, followed by a need to repent of our excesses. Consider the following comparisons: We send greeting cards and contact friends and loved ones - our ancestors sent out messengers to call all the members of the clan back to the family so that they could protect one another and survive the winter together as a unit.

We give and receive gifts - our ancestors shared the fruits of their labours within the clan to establish friendships and alliances as well as to enable the clan to survive with its many varied skills of hunter, defender, nurturer, etc.Christmas Tree

We put up Christmas decorations of green boughs and red berries and decorate Christmas trees etc. to make us feel good about Christmas - they brought evergreen branches inside with their winter berries as a reminder that life still survived even the coldest and harshest of winters.

We put up Christmas lights and light candles and yule logs - they lit fires to ward off the darkness and cold and to restore the power of the sun.

We get together at Christmas Parties and celebrations - they gathered together for warmth and protection; experience taught them that in the unity of friends and family there is strength. We eat and drink to excess and feel correspondingly guilty afterward - they slaughtered their animals and feasted til they felt the need for atonement.

We feel that we are losing control when faced with all the activities of the season such as shopping, partying, etc., etc. - they felt that they were powerless in the face of events over which they had no control such as the dying of the power of the sun.

We attend church services, worship God, confess our sins, pray for ourselves and others, and celebrate the birth of Christ whom we believe brings us redemption and restores light to our lives and to the world darkened by sin and wrong-doing - they sacrificed animals and foodstuffs, lit fires and denied themselves in order to redeem themselves and atone for their "wrong-doings".

We celebrate lent during which we fast and abstain from over-eating and drinking and prepare ourselves for the re-birth of spring and the redemption of Easter - they sufferred through a long winter of self denial with the hope that their sacrifices would sustain them until spring-time brought new life and a renewal of the cycle of life.

In reality we are still not much further ahead of our early ancestors...life is life for all that....and mankind is still mankind even in the second millenium since the birth of Christ.

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Highway7 E-zine, a publication of Hatch Media, is an electronic journal with a focus on commercial, historical, cultural and ecological issues concerning the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia in Canada. Topics include a growing resource of currently more than 300 articles. More articles and image galleries are added frequently as new material is brought to our attention. With Highway7.com, our primary aim is to serve, inform and reflect the rural communities on the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia, as well as to acquaint new residents, visitors, tourists, and investors with the special beauty and enormous potential of our region.
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