| The Origins of Christmas in
by Adrien Blanchette
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
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.
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
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
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
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.