Maspeth living room is transformed into a Thanksgiving
dining room that can seat visiting family. Tribune
photo By Brian M. Rafferty
Christmas Has Roots In Pagan Rites
By Melissa Plata
At the end of every year, millions of homes across America are decorated with pine trees, stockings, gifts and everything Christmas. Most Christian children eagerly anticipate the day of year when Santa flies through the cold wintry night and gifts are generously exchanged, smiles are a dime a dozen.
Families and friends that haven't seen each other all year long come together as if no time has lapsed. Airports may be overcrowded but the spirit of Christmas somehow warms the very core of travelers who are hypnotized by the Yule Tide - unlike shopping centers that are jammed pack with last-minute shoppers where parking gets progressively worst as the day nears and tensions explode. The retail bombardment that goes hand-in-hand with this ancient holiday seems to be initiated sooner each year.
Long before the Bible and the universal icon named Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth during the brutal days of winter. Christmas, celebrated on Dec. 25 as a birth date for Jesus, is merely traditional. The actual date of the birth of Christ is a subject that has been debated for 2,000 years.
During the pre-Christian era people rejoiced during the darkest time of the year knowing that the worst of the winter was behind them and the predictable longer days and extended hours of sunlight were just around the corner. The end of the year was an ideal time for festivity in most of Europe because routinely cattle were slaughtered, sparing valuable feed. For many, it was the only time of year when they had a fresh supply of meat and wine and beer that was made during the year was finally fermented and ready for consumption.
Long before the introduction of Christianity evergreen plants and trees had a mystical meaning for people exposed to the harsh elements. Before the soothing smell of indoor trees saturated living rooms ancient people used to annually decorate with pine, spruce and fir trees by hanging green foliage over their doors and windows.
In many countries it was alleged that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits and even illness. As late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not acknowledged by most Americans.
Just like the Christmas tree, Santa Claus can also be traced back to his roots which point to a monk named St. Nicholas who was born around 280 A.D. He became the subject for many legends because of his generous and benevolent reputation. Legend has it that he traveled across the countryside helping the poor and sick as he gave away his inherited wealth to those in need, he became known as the protector of children.
According to the Greek Orthodox Shrine Church of St. Nicholas at 196th Street in Flushing, the remains of the actual saint are held at the church.
Today, many people celebrate Christmas by shelling out billions and retailers grab anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of their annual sales during the winter-holiday shopping season making this the most expensive holiday all year long.
Of course the origin is considerably simpler. It celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, whom many believed to be the son of God. For Christians, he is their salvation. For others, he represents the hope of mankind.
Perhaps the best description of what Christmas is all about came from a commercial venture - "A Charlie Brown Christmas," when Charlie Brown, in frustration yells, "Can't anybody here tell me what Christmas is all about?"
His friend Linus chimes in, take the stage, asks that the lights be dimmed, and begins to speak:
"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the lord shone round about them, and they were so afraid."
"And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you this day is born in the City of Bethlehem, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.'"
"And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude
of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying,
'Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace,
good will toward men.' That's what Christmas is
all about, Charlie Brown."