In the Middle Ages, that is not so long ago and it’s better that you remember how easily men fell into those darkened times, the Christian faith more or less united Europe under the guidance of the Catholic (which means Universal) Bishop of Rome.
Charlemagne became the Father of Europe, having united most of Europe under his reign and he was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in on Christmas Day that is the 25th of December, 800 … quite an auspicious day and already celebrated as the day Jesus was born.
But you might say, and quite rightly too, no one knew when Jesus was born, so why then?
That day was probably chosen because many of the former pagan beliefs were still very much felt and celebrated during the winter. The coldest darkest part of the year, was the time when men sought reassurance that life would be renewed and that spring would return (feasting overcame winter depression as well). So, Saturnalia, Yule and other winter festivities were still being celebrated despite the “Christianizing” of Europe.
Christmas is officially designated as December 25th in the Western Christian communities some time in the fourth century being adopted by the Easter Christian communities only later. In the early Church the first three days of Christmas were to be days of fast and prayer, to distinguish them from the pagan holidays which were orgies of frolicking and folly, later in the Middle Ages, Christmas day remained a day of prayer and in some cases fast. It was not a time of gift giving or frolicking but a time to remember that the man who would become the Savior and be sacrificed for the world, was born.
Officializing December 25th became necessary also because some of the earlier churches had decided that January 6th was Christmas … and other early father’s of the Church were definitely against any sort of feasting the Birth of Christ as it was too close to some of the other ancient rites celebrating some other god’s birthday (Mithra for example or indeed like certain Egyptian gods). It was finally decided that Christmas was not to be the celebration of the birth of God, but the birth of Jesus, the man. Subtle though the difference might seem to us, we should try to remember that in the end Jesus is/was believed to be the manifestation of God in human form.
So, Christmas day was born and it often marked the beginning of the Christmas feasting period or the Twelve Days of Christmas. Christmas Day being a day of prayer, fasting and atoning the first feasting, the actual partying began the next day on the 26th that is with the Feast of Saint Stephen (Boxing Day for the British) if you’d like to, you can re-listen to the first song which tells the tale of one such feast day. (King Wenceslaus The Story Behind the Carol)
This was a fast free period culminating on the 6th of January (Epiphany) which for some was the day the Magi came to worship the Lord and which others considered Jesus’ naming day.
The 28th was Childermas Day or the Day of the Innocents (when people remember the baby boys which King Herod killed when he was trying to find and kill the Baby Jesus.)
The 31st was San Sylvester, for us New Year’s Eve and the 1st of January was considered Mary, Mother of Jesus Day and as I said above the 6th is Epiphany, the evening of the 5th is when Italian children put up their stocking so that the Befana, an old lady who flies around on a broom during that night, will bring gifts to good children and coal to the bad ones, she also sweeps away all the Christmas festivities.
The Twelve Days of Christmas … that is the song was written as a cryptic catechism song during the persecution of Catholics in England (click the link to see the meaning of the song).
Thanks for reading … Seshat.
I’d like to thank our guest writer Seshat the Wise for dropping in from the Akashic Library today to tell us a little of what’s behind the holidays and carols we are celebrating and singing during this period in the so-called Western World. Hope you’re having fun!
dusty tomes teach
kept at bay deadly cold
and hope’s light in men’s hearts
(c) G.s.k. ’14