Christmas isn’t about the kids and it isn’t about spending lots of money, that’s a modern marketing ploy.
Christians decided to celebrate Christ’s birth at this time of year because people have always celebrated at this time. The Winter Solstice occurs a few days before the date on which we celebrate Christmas. People say it is the shortest day, but in fact it is the night which has the longest hours of darkness which is why the solstice sometimes falls on 21st and sometimes on 22nd. Then we have the Solar Standstill, three or four nights where the hours of darkness do not change, followed by 25th December, the first night on which sunset is measurably a few moments later. This is the Solar Return, the rebirth of the sun, the true turning of the year.
Myths abound for this time of year. The most recent prior to Christianity, was the Roman cult of Mithras. This god was mainly worshiped by Roman soldiers but little is really known about it as it was an initiatory mystery cult. What was done at the ceremonies was not written down. It is said that they recognised the birth of Mithras on 25th December, but this is open to doubt.
Suffice to say that in the dark days of winter people have real reason to celebrate the return of light and all that represents, especially people living in Europe where the further north you are the longer the hours of darkness are.
There is huge symbolism in celebrating the return of light, and no matter what religion you follow, or none, we can all relate to this.
Advent, the four weeks prior to the celebrations, is a time of anticipation and preparation. While we are all busy shopping, writing cards, planning the food and the parties, and eating chocolate from our advent calendars (or consuming other strange things that seem to be in them now) that is not really what the preparation was meant to be. Just as Lent is a time of abstinence and reflection as we prepare for the Easter celebration so Advent is our time to mentally and spiritually prepare for Christmas / Yule / the Solar Return. You do not have to believe in Christianity to do this. It behoves us all to take time out to relax and to think, especially when life is as manic as it can be at this time of year.
A lot of traditions have been tagged onto what we now call Christmas.
Santa Claus is St Nicholas, a Turkish or Greek saint with links to the Norse god Odin.
This from the International Business Times web page…
St. Nicholas is commonly linked to Odin, the ruler of Asgard, one of the major gods in Germanic mythology who was depicted as a white-bearded man with magical powers. However, Odin’s ties to Santa Claus may be more pronounced. The winter solstice, also known as Yule, was a time when Odin led a hunting party, known as the Wild Hunt, in the sky with an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir. The 13th century Poetic Edda said the mythical horse could leap great distances — a trait reindeer possess. Children would leave their boots by the chimney filled with carrots and hay to feed Sleipnir. Legend has it that whenever Odin flew by he would leave gifts by their boots.
Bringing evergreens indoors – the Holly and the Ivy, mistletoe, the Christmas tree – are obvious ways of celebrating impending spring and rebirth. During the Winter Solstice Norse pagans would bring entire evergreen trees into their homes. These massive evergreens were called Yule trees, and it was believed that the spirits of the trees would inhabit their home and bless its inhabitants. This practice was as much Winter Solstice tradition as it was mystical protection from night-faring spirits during the darkest times of the year.
It’s all a mish mash
Like everything traditions evolve and change and much has changed even in the past forty or so years. Who goes carol singing door to door any more? Was partying in fancy dress as popular in the 1980s? For some present buying has become a chore, we are not giving gifts to loved ones with love but trying to outdo one another on how much we spend and how many people we buy for. We buy presents out of guilt. We buy presents for people we don’t really care about because we think we should. Does Great Aunt Minnie that you never see really need that scarf, or would she in fact be much happier with a card containing a hand written letter with news and photos? Or even a visit? Do the children really need several hundred pounds worth of toys bought from multi-national businesses via Argos or Amazon?
Come to that, where do the gifts come from? If your family tradition is that everything comes from Father Christmas then how do the children thank granny for the present she bought? And how do you explain that they can’t have such and such because you can’t afford it, or maybe actually don’t think they should have one?
Have your family traditions come down from your parents and grandparents to your children and grandchildren? Was there tension when you first had children because your partner did Christmas stockings differently in their family, and of course, both of you are right.
In our household from the time I was a child and now continuing to my grandchildren Father Christmas brought small presents that were put into the stocking overnight. Inexpensive stuff, novelties, sweets , the obligatory chocolate gold coins and an orange. In my childhood our stockings were one of dad’s long socks and were hung at the foot of the bed. When I had children my mother made them each a stocking from red fabric and as we have a big fireplace my children chose to hang their stockings on the hearth, and leave the sherry and mince pie for Santa and a carrot for the reindeer.
The presents from family and friends collected under the tree as they arrived and many happy hours were spent in the last few days before Christmas day feeling the packages and trying to guess what was in them.
With so many ideas and traditions surrounding the mid winter festival it really doesn’t matter which ones you follow, or if you make your own as long as you and your family all share the love.
Whatever you do, however you celebrate the season, I wish you joy and Season’s Greetings.