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Home : About Christmas : Christmas History

 

Christmas is a time for family re-union....a time for love, joy and peace. It is one of the most widely celebrated event round the year,. The celebration of christmas dates back to some 4000 years. Earlier christmas was celebrated on 6th January, but later on since 354 A.D the birth of Jesus Christ has been celebrated on 25th December. Thus the story of Christmas begins with the birth of a babe in Bethelem or what is otherwise called in Old English as "Cristes Męsse" ~ meaning the 'mass of Christ'.

Although the exact month for the birth of Christ was not known, yet December was chosen for the celebration so that the pagan festivals and traditions of the season, that were basically practised in many parts of the Middle East and Europe could be done away with and replaced with the Christian one. A host of mid-winter festivals were celebrated in ancient Babylon and Egypt and Germanic fertility festivals also took place at this time. The birth of the ancient sun-god Attis in Phrygia was celebrated on December 25th, as was the birth of the Persian sun-god, Mithras. The Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a festival dedicated to Saturn, the god of peace and plenty, that ran from the 17th to 24th of December. This occassion was celebrated with great zest. Places were decorated with flowers. People exchanged gifts and candles.

Many of the celebrations for Christmas started with the Mesopotamian celebration of New Years. The chief God of Mesopotamia was 'Madruk' who was believed to do battle with the monsters of chaos, and in the process was assisted by the celebration of "Zagmuk" or the New Year celebration that lasted for 12 days. According to the traditions, the Mesopotamian king had to visit the temple, and swear his faithfulness to the God. It also called for the king to die at the end of the year and then return with Madruk to battle at his side. The mesopotamians used a "criminal" dressed as a mock king, who was given all the privilege and respect of a king and was slaughtered in the end, therby sparing the life of the real king.

The Persians and the Babylonians celebrated a similar festival called the Sacaea. Part of that celebration included the exchanging of places, the slaves would become the masters and the masters were to obey.

Another impetus to celebration was provided by the celebration of Yuletide in Scandinavia as opposed to spirituality. During the winters when sun was nowhere to be seen, scouts were sent to look for the return of the sun. With the first ray of sun, the scouts would return with a good news and there was a huge celebration called Yuletide. A special feast would be served around a fire burning with the Yule log. Great bonfires would also be lit to celebrate the return of the sun.

The ancient Greeks held a festival similar to that of the Zagmuk/Sacaea festivals to assist their god Kronos who would battle the god Zeus and his Titans.

The Romans celebrated Saturnalia as a tribute to their God Saturn. The celebrations started from the middle of December and continued till january 1st. It was a great event which included the cries of "Jo Saturnalia", masquerades in the streets, massive feasts,exchanging of gifts, visiting friends and relatives and so on. Their were grand decorations for halls and the tress were all lit with lights.

Although Saturnalia was celebrated with zest and vigor, but with the spread of christianity, the celebration of pagan customs and Saturnalia among their converts became a big question mark. In due course of time, the merriment, lights, and gifts from the Saturanilia festival were extracted to the celebration of Christmas.

In the late 300's, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. By 1100, Christmas had become the most important religious festival in Europe, and Saint Nicholas was a symbol of gift giving in many European countries.


 
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