Saturday, December 24, 2011

Repost for Christmas

I published this on December 24th, 2008. It still sums up my feelings about the holidays. Merry Christmas all! Happy Hanukkah! Sensational Saturnalia! and all the other holidays out there. May you be surrounded by friends, family, love, warmth, and light.

Any of my friends will tell you, because I've said it often myself, that I'm a recovering Catholic. I was raised Catholic, attending Catholic schools, and went to mass every week. (during school twice a week) At 16 I decided I wasn't going to church anymore. I just no longer believed. My mother persuaded me to continue until I was 18 and then she would never mention it again. I went until 18 and she has never said a word about it again. I love her for that.

So Christmas is an odd time for me. I love the festivities and the cheer of Christmas. I'm not huge on the commercial side of it but I do love wrapped gifts. I'm not a shopper but I actually like buying gifts for people. But the religous part of the whole holiday kind of escapes me. Over the years I've paid it less and less attention. I just love getting together with family and spending time.

So this year I'm focusing on what I do love about the season. Strangely it's the same thing that the pagans used to love about this time of year, the lengthening of days. Jeff and I joke that we are phototropic. We love the sun. And particularly love the warmth (Yes I still have no idea why I'm in the midwest in winter. Makes no sense to me). So the sun's return is a reason to celebrate. The ancient pagan religions of early Rome celebrated Saturnalia to honor Saturn, the god of sowing. The holiday was to bring about the return of the sun and the return of agriculture. A statue of Saturn, which was bound throughout the year was untied. It was a seven day festival (Dec 17-23) that included visiting family, gift-giving (particularly gifts of candles), and decorating. In Rome it was a week of sheer debauchery: feasting, drinking, dancing, gifts, and merry-making.

Over the decades the worship of Saturnalia changed to Sol Invictus (meaning Unconquered Sun) which was celebrated on December 25th, which is the first day the lengthening of days can be noticed. Many of the traditions of Saturnalia moved to this new holiday including gift giving, decorating the greenery, and candles. When Christians began to rise in power they wanted to find a day to celebrate Jesus's birth. Since no one knew exactly when that was, the early Christian leaders set it for December 25th. They figured that since people were already celebrating, then it would be simpler to add new (more Christian) traditions in. This worked, slowing ending Saturnalia and Sol Invictus, and bringing about the modern ideas of Christmas.

So this Christmas, as I celebrate with family and friends, it will be the return of the sun (son, hmmm) that I am thinking of. My idea is that we are either moving away from summer or towards it. Tomorrow I celebrate that we are visibly moving towards it. Merry Christmas all. And Happy Saturnalia.


Fumiko said...

In Japan,everybody crazy about Christmas even we are not Christians.This is one of the strange thing about our culture,Japanese people love festivals just for fun,but for me just buy some gifts for people who I care,that is enough,not big fun of crazy partys...It was my first time to hear about Saturnalia,it is interesting! I hope you will have a happy new year.

Cat B said...

Happy New Year to you as well Fumiko! I hope the new year is filled with wonderful surprises and happiness for you.

I'm glad you found the information on Saturnalia interesting. I am fascinated by how so many of the Christian holidays "borrow" from the earlier religions. Giving gifts is a nice part of the holidays but my favorite is spending time with family.