I love having children this time of year… being Pagan I do wonder about whether or not it is right to celebrate Christmas, but as so much of it is pagan in origin and so much has come from other religions or cultural practices I think December 25th is, as much as anything else, for most people now a chance to simply celebrate. Personally, we tend to refer to the tree as our Yule tree, presents as Yule presents and the cards that we write don’t usually contain the word “Christmas” unless the recipient is a practicing Christian. We do celebrate Yule on 25th, partly because this is the norm and partly to save the children having to explain to people that we don’t celebrate Christmas. Perhaps that will change as they get older.
We still keep up the belief in Father Christmas (anyone who says he doesn’t exist is WRONG – of course he does!) for the children and every year we read lots of stories about his adventures, morals and what people do around the world. We also like stories about his origin and the origins of other Christmas traditions.
This year Toby has taken quite an interest which has meant digging out lots of books and finding things that would be of interest to him.
There is an old story about tinsel. Legend has it that a poor woman could not afford to decorate her family’s Christmas tree. She tried as hard as she could but the tree still looked bare and the woman went to bed feeling woeful that her children would be disappointed when Christmas morning came.
During the night, spiders, which were nested in the tree, covered it in sticky spider webs, spoiling it even further. So the story goes, the young Christ child saw this and pitied the woman. He turned the spider webs into the purest silver and when the family awoke their tree was the most beautiful sight they had ever seen.
Tinsel was actually made from fine strands of silver from the early 1600s and is thought to have originated in Germany. Though it was durable it was hard to keep it shining as it has a tendency to tarnish but the experiments with other metals proved unsuccessful. It wasn’t until very recent times that, with the invention of plastic, silver stopped no longer used.
This story led us onto talking about where the Christmas tree came from. Most people know how during the Mid-Winter solstice people would bring evergreens into the home, either in tree form or as branches or Logs (Yule Logs). I find it rather magical how oceans didn’t seem to stop this practice, before the advent of global travel… you can understand it passing through large land masses before travel became relatively easy, but way before this was possible, while we were dragging these boughs into our homes in Europe very similar practices were also being carried out in Egypt.
Evergreens were representative of rebirth, eternal life and were used in almost a similar way to the carved pumpkin, or Swede, to ward off evil and protect the home.
In Germany Suring the 16th century, the tree, rather than simply a bough began to play a big role in most homes. It is believed to have then gradually evolved into the tree we know now.
By the 18th century Northern German began to see candles in their trees, placed on the branches on December 24th. Very similar to the Roman festival of Saturnalia where candles were placed upon their evergreens.
There is a concept that to Christians, the Christmas tree was representative of the very tree in the Garden of Eden from which Eve plucked her apple. It is believed by some that the apple tree did not only grow apples, but wondrous flowers and by decorating the tree it represents the fact that the tree in Eden only blooms around the time of the birth of Christ.
Some believe that it was in fact Martin Luther that first thought to decorate the tree; that, on a cold winter’s night he spied the stars twinkling through the branches of a pine tree and was inspired to return home, to place candles upon his tree in ode to the stars.
In the UK the first “Christmas” tree was given to Queen Charlotte by her husband, George III. The tree was a Yew, and decorated with dried fruits, nuts and toys and lit with tiny candles.
It was in 1848, during the reign of Queen Victoria that the Christmas tree truly took off in the UK, as a result of a photograph of the Queen and her family beside their tree. The photograph was soon in every newspaper across Britain (nothing new there then) and by the next year every high society butterfly was doing her best to outshine the next with more lavish and extravagant decorations. Within only a few years no home was complete without one.
The first mass produced electric lights appeared in 1890.
Does it really matter how we chose to celebrate at this time of year? The time of the winter solstice/Christmas is known to be a time of giving to the less fortunate, a time for caring and forgiveness. A tradition in our house is to take food and blankets to animal shelters, in preparation for the many animals who sadly end up there during the weeks following Christmas when families realise that their new puppy/kitten/ rabbit is too much hard work. Others donate toys to charities who distribute them amongst poorer families or countries of poverty. A friend is giving to the local food bank. So does it matter which religion is responsible for this urge to give?
Whatever your beliefs, religion or customs this year, have a magical time.
Happy Winter Solstice –Christmas- Saturnalia- Eid Al Adha – Hanukkah – Kwanzaa to name but a mere few
Catalan: Bones Festes!
Croatian: Sretni praznici!
Dutch: Prettige feestdagen
Gaelic: Beannachtaí na Féile
German: Forhe Feiertage
Hawaiian: Hau’oli Lanui (pronounced how-oh-lay la-new-ee)
Italian: Buone Feste!
Indonesian: Selamat Hari Raya!
Japanese: Tanoshii kurisumasu wo! (Have a happy Christmas)
Mandarin: Jie Ri Yu Kuai
Romanian: Sarbatori Fericite!
South African (Xhose): Ii holide eximnandi
Slovenian: Vesele Praznike
Turkish: Mutlu Bayramlar!
Welsh: Gwyliau yn Hapus