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The Origins of Christ-Mass:
Alexander Hislop, in his monumental Two Babylons, goes even further back--
"The Christmas tree, now so common among us, was equally common in pagan Rome and pagan Egypt...The festivals of the Roman Church are innumerable, but five of the most important may be singled out for elucidation, viz:
CHRISTMAS, Lady-day, Easter, the Nativity of St. John, and the Feast of the Assumption. Each and all of these can be proved to be Babylonian.
"It is admitted by the most learned and candid writers of all parties that, within the Christian Church, no such festival as Christmas was ever heard of till the third century, and that not till the fourth century was far advanced did it gain much observance...
"This tendency on the part of Christians to meet Paganism half way was very early developed. We find Tertullian, even in his day, about the year 230, bitterly lamenting the inconsistency of the disciples of Christ in this respect, and contrasting it with the strict fidelity of the pagans to their own superstitions. 'By us', he says, 'the feasts of January, the Brumalia, and the Matronalia are now frequented, gifts are carried to and fro, and sports and banquets are celebrated with uproar. Oh, how much more faithful are the heathen to their religion, who take special care to adopt no solemnity from the Christians.'
"Upright men (continues Hislop) strove to stem the tide, but in spite of all their efforts the Apostacy went on till the Church, with the exception of a small remnant, was submerged under pagan superstition...THAT CHRISTMAS WAS ORIGINALLY A PAGAN FESTIVAL IS BEYOND ALL DOUBT."
SATURNALIA: CLIMAX OF ROME'S YEAR
This period of the year was one of great festivity for the pagan Romans. First came the celebrated Saturnalia, beginning Dec. 17. This feast of the god Saturn, the Roman deity of seed and sowing, finds much mention in all commentaries on Christ-Mass. One says--
"The Roman Saturnalia was characterized by processions, singing, lighting candles, adorning houses with laurels and green trees, giving presents."
Again from the Religious Encyclopedia--
"The Saturnalia provided the model for most of the merry customs of Christmas. The time was one of general mirth. All classes exchanged gifts, the commonest being candles and dolls. Christmas inherited the general merriment: games, giving of gifts, abundance of sweetmeats, and--as to the more ceremonious elements--the burning of candles."
The Encyclopedia Britannica relates similarly--
"Christmas customs are an evolution from times that long antedated the Christian period: a descent from seasonal, pagan, religious, and national practices ... The god Saturn's great festival was the Saturnalia. Business, public and private, was at a standstill, schools closed, presents were exchanged, the traditional ones being candles and dolls."
Likewise the Encyclopedia Americana--
"At the commencement of this festival, a great number of candles were lighted in the temple of Saturn... no business was transacted, schools kept holiday, law courts were closed. Jests and freedom everywhere prevailed, and all ceased from their various occupations."
Campbell, in The Story of Christmas, further says--
"The Romans adopted from earlier folk-customs the rituals which appear in their Saturnalia which have been CARRIED OVER INTO THE OBSERVANCE OF MODERN CHRISTMAS. There was giving of presents, feasting, drinking, and decorating with evergreens."
Auld says again, in his Christmas Traditions--
"Much of the spirit of this old Roman festival of the Saturnalia passed into Christmas celebration. The early Puritans, witnessing the jolly antics of grotesque fools (the 'Lords of Merry Disport'), never had any doubt in the matter... That transient [that is, shallow and passing] feeling which blossoms at Christmastime OWES AS MUCH TO THE KIND GOD SATURN as to the loving Son of Man... This is the Christmas which--mixed with a LITTLE, sentimental Christianity, lies so pleansantly in the genial pages of Dickens."
BUFFOONERY AND BLASPHEMY
A major feature of the pagan Saturnalia festival was the reversal of all order and dignities: a mock turning everything upsidedown. This was carried to great lengths at Christmastime in the Church in the Middle Ages. In England it was customary to appoint a "Lord of Mirule" or "Abbot of Unreason" who presided over the blasphemous foolery. The Encyclopedia Britannica says--
"Merrymaking came to have a share in Christmas observance, evenwhile emphasis was on the religious phase... A Lord of Misrule and his jester directed the revels, and kept them uproarious."
The Schaff-Heroz Religious Encyclopedia adds this--
"In England an 'Abbot of Misrule' was chosen in every large household; in Scotland, and 'Abbot of Unreason'. During the term of the festival he was the master of the house."
We discover, with shock and surprise, that it was quite customary for even the clergy to let down all barriers of restraint within the Church itself at the Christmas season. Crippen relates (which seems almost unbelievable)--
"At Vesters [the evening prayers], at the end of the Magnificat [hymn of praise to God], the whole service was turned into burlesque. Dice were cast, and black puddings [blood sausage] were eaten, on the alter, ludicrous songs were sung, and old leather was burned as mock incense. In some places an ass was led into the Church, in whose honor a mock hymn was chanted, with a bray for a refrain."
The Encyclopedia Americana confirms this, saying--
"On St. Nicholas' Day, a 'Boy Bishop' was elected, who exercised a burlesque episcopal jurisdiction, and parodied ecclesiastical functions and ceremonies."
Such is the height and stability and value of a religion grounded on sentiment and superstition. Auld adds--
"All through the Middle Ages the two rivers of RIOT and RELIGION flowed together."
SIGALLARIA AND BRUMALIA
Following the Saturnalia in Rome was the Sigallaria, or Doll Festival, another obvious link with modern Christmas. Then on the great day, December 25th itself, came the Brumalia (from bruma: "shortest day")--the religious observance of the sun-worshipers. This was known also as Natalis Solus Invicti: the "Birth of the Unconquerable Sun"--the date when the day began again to lengthen. It is significant that the Catholic Encyclopedia itself says--
"The well known solar feast of Natalis Invicti, celebrated on Dec. 25, has a strong claim for the responsibility of our Christmas date."
On this point, the Encyclopedia Americana says--
"In the fifth century the Western Church ordered Christmas to be celebrated forever on the day of the old Roman feast of the birth of Sol."
And Everyman's Encyclopedia declares--
"The observance which especially influenced the Christian Church was probably the Roman festival of the Winter Solstice, celebrated on Dec. 25."
Then came the Kalends of January, and finally the Juvenalia (Children's Festival), both of which have contributed their share to the modern Christ-mass. With very odd logic, but typical of the thinking of the flesh, Crippen remarks--
"Surely it was well that all these should be COMBINED IN ONE GREAT CHRISTIAN FEAST, and their ancient significance transferred in the light of the Gospel. Many customs obtained a new lease of life.
"In Egypt, as in Rome, the new festival would coincide with the birthday of the Sun-God. And the northern barbarians would find it practically coincident with their own Yule. It seems to have been the festival of the god Thor."
Again from Auld--
"After the barbarians were Christianized, all the customs and SUPERSTITIONS which had belonged from time immemorable to their own Yuletide began to CLUSTER ABOUT CHRISTMAS. When the season calls up in the mind crackling fires on the hearth, lighted candles, rooms adorned with evergreens, bright berries and flowers, feast and frolic--these are the GENUINE PAGAN ELEMENTS."
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