Saturday, December 27, 2014

SURPRISING ORIGINS OF HOLIDAY TRADITIONS by Vijaya Schartz



As I researched my medieval series, The Curse of the Lost Isle, I was reminded of old holiday traditions, and discovered a few had surprising origins.

Whether we celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, the Saturnalia, the new year, or any other holiday tradition, we usually believe the origins are specific to a religion or simply marking the passage of time. Not so. Our traditions are an amalgam of many Druid, Pagan, Norse, Celtic, Greek, Roman and other old traditions, passed on and adapted to the changing beliefs of the time.

Historically, fifteen thousand years ago, well before Christianity, our ancestors celebrated the winter solstice shortly after December 21st. Not just in Europe, but all over the northern hemisphere. When they noticed the darkness receding as the days grew longer, they celebrated their hope for the return of long, sunny days. That was enough to rejoice, although many superstitions and traditions were added to the celebrations. Archeological digs near Stonehenge revealed a multitude of animal bones believed to be the remnants of sacrifices to the gods, and extensive feasting involving gatherings of thousands of people for the winter solstice.
The rise of Christianity proved laborious, often imposed at the point of a sword. Many older cultures already entrenched in their own customs, refused to abandon their cherished traditions in the name of the new religion. Unable to prevent the newly converted Christians from celebrating their old Pagan holidays, the Church leaders in the fourth century instituted a new holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus (the existence of whom many Christians tended to refute) on December 25th, so it would stand at the heart of the formerly Pagan celebrations. Thus, the old traditions remained, in the name of a different god.

Scholars have long ago determined that according to the seasonal details in the scriptures, Christ would have been born during the spring, when the flocks of sheep pastured in the hills. Besides, according to the astrologers of the time, Jesus brought forth the age of the Pisces (the fish is still a strong Christian symbol), and according to the Zodiac, would have been a Pisces himself, consequently born in March.


Other customs, like decorating houses with lights and hitting the shopping malls, are quite recent. Queen Victoria started the trend of gift giving at Christmas, and in the Twentieth Century it gave birth to an entire industry. She also promoted the Christmas tree.

As for the Christmas tree, Norse and other Pagan cultures used to cut boughs of evergreen in winter and move them into the home or temple, then decorated them. Modern-day Pagans still do. An English monk who'd traveled to Germany, brought the tradition to England in the Seventeenth Century. When I was a child in France, the local priest forbade his parishioners to have a decorated tree, as it was considered a heathen tradition. Only a Nativity scene graced our home at Christmas time.
In my father's family in Western France, Santa Claus or Pere Noel (Father Christmas) was also forbidden to good Catholics well into the 1960s. The myth of Father Christmas dashing through the sky in his sleigh derives from old Pagan spirits flying through the sky at mid winter. My cousins were told that Jesus himself came through the chimney at night to bring presents to well behaved children. Even the good St. Nicholas (who eventually became Santa Claus) was shunned by the Church for centuries for its Pagan overtones. The early Puritans of the East coast also banned the Christmas celebrations for centuries because of their Pagan roots... and the heavy drinking and excesses usually accompanying the festivities.

Kissing under the lucky sprig of mistletoe is a Greek Saturnalia tradition. Mistletoe was sacred to the Greeks and the Celts as well as the Druids. It also had magical powers, and was the center of many fertility rituals. But it didn't correspond with the New Year at the time.

The New year started on March 25, until Pope Gregory XIII instituted the new calendar in 1582. If you look closely at our modern calendar, the names of the months are all wrong. While the first months wear the names of Roman gods and emperors, September (according to the Latin roots) means the seventh month, October the eighth month, November the ninth month, and December the tenth month. This is because as Pope Gregory changed the date of the new year and promoted January to the first month of the year, the names of the calendar months remained the same.

This said, I believe the holidays should be a time of rejoicing, celebrating all the traditions of Earth's many rich cultures. After all, with the explosion of cyber-media, we will soon be one people embracing all traditions, coming together with love and forgiveness at year's end, each making resolutions of becoming a better person for the benefit of all. I wish you the best of holidays this year, and lots of happiness in the New Year.

Vijaya Schartz
Blasters, Swords, Romance with a Kick
http://www.vijayaschartz.com

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Friday, December 26, 2014

Tricia McGill asks, “Who loves Boxing Day?”



It is Christmas morning as I finish writing this, but by the time you read it Christmas Day will have been and gone. I hope you all had a wonderful time with your loved ones. Here in Australia it is a warm day and the forecast is mid 20s, just right, not too hot and certainly not cold.

I don’t know if it’s something to do with growing older but one can’t help reminiscing about Christmas’s past at this time of the year. There will always be some that stand out of course. 
  
Because I was the youngest in a large family most of my Christmas’s as a child were memorable, but one stands out from the rest. I can still relive that feeling of wonder when I awoke while it was still dark. In London that was more than likely about 6am but I guess I imagined it was still the middle of the night. The wonder was that once again Santa had been and I had slept right through his visit. I was probably about six. My sisters were still snoring alongside me. I peeped over and there by my bed was a cot for my new doll. There were various other small gifts but the cot was the stand out. This wasn’t one of those fancy ones the kids of today would receive, but a simple wooden frame with fabric stretched across it (a miniature bed really). I found out much later that one of my brothers made it. 

Most of my toys were made by a brother or sister or my mother. The doll lying on it was one of those old fashioned types with a rag body and a china head. I also realized a long time later that my mother made these. The head would be bought and she would fashion the body and stuff it. The heads of these dolls had hair painted on them. Some girls would be lucky enough to receive a doll with fake hair, and my dream was to own a doll with long hair that I could actually comb. The nearest I got to this was a rag doll about 12 inches high that my two older sisters made. She had hair of cotton and the beauty of this was that it could be trimmed, or even cut really short, then when the mood took me I would simply wind yellow cotton (always yellow as my doll had to be golden haired) around a book until I had the right thickness then these strands could be sewn onto her head. I had that old rag doll for quite some time, and her hairstyle changed numerous times.

But back to Boxing Day. As much as I loved Christmas Day itself there was always something special about the day after. This was leftovers day. As I grew and all my older siblings married and left home to go their separate ways it was tradition that they come to eat the leftovers on Boxing Day. After a large lunch the men would doze while the womenfolk cleared away the mess left behind. Come evening there would be another party. We would gather around Aunt Flo’s old piano while she banged out a tune. Each member of my family had a song they called their own. My favorite was and will always be my mother’s. It went: "You wish me to forget you, you say 'tis best we part; When all my life I've loved you in return you break my heart ...”  I can still hear her clear voice. No great singer; but she knew every word of this beautiful ballad, and touched our hearts with her rendition.

The tradition remains in our family—Boxing Day is still special. Most of my family have passed on sadly, but I will always have memories to treasure and hope you are making wonderful memories at this special time of the year.

I wish you a Wonderful New Year and as we all do wish for peace in our world.

Tricia McGill's books can be found here:
or on her web page:

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