Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas Traditions

For the remainder of the Christmas season I am boycotting politics (unless Donald Trump get even more outrageous) and will think atheistically happy thoughts. The English language has a staggering array of words for the winter solstice season and traditions.

Yule comes from the Norse word jol, and like much of northern European religious celebrations has a pagan origin. The Norse jol celebrated the passing of the winter solstice and the slow return of daylight to the cold north.

It was a 12 day celebration and the source for the Twelve Days of Christmas tradition that is inexplicable under the Catholic calendar. There was drinking, feasting, and probably more than a little whoring.

No one knows the exact origin of the Yule Log but it probably came from the tradition of lighting a fire to keep warm. Sometimes the simplest answer is the correct one.

Another pagan Norse tradition cleaved onto a Middle Eastern religion. The jol celebrations included songs sung to Thor and Sunna, the Sun goddess. Early Christians worked tirelessly to replace the joyful Norse tunes with turgid Latin hymns. In 17th century England the humorless evangelicals of their day, the Puritans, banned the singing of carols along with any other Christmas celebrations. Caroling went underground, whispered in the privacy of home and hearth, until those fun loving Victorians made wandering minstrel shows of carol singing.

Boxing Day
Traditionally a day when employers give their employees gifts in celebration of the season. This is basically a British concept that, in the United States, is considered by bosses an obscenely evil act of generosity tantamount to theft of millionaire property.

In recent years, influenced by American businesses, Boxing Day has been turned into a Black Friday-like shopping day when low income workers are encouraged to go into staggering debt buying useless garbage to the greater profit of their bosses.

Nativity Creche
The first nativity scene was made by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223. He was holding a Midnight Mass in the Italian town of Greccio and wanted an attraction to boost attendance. He gathered a few farm animals and put a actual baby in a feeding trough filled with hay and a Christmas tradition was born.

Wander most neighborhoods in America and you will find all sorts of nativity scenes - religious themed, cartoon character themed, serious representations and comic displays. In Sycamore, Ohio, a man designed a front yard nativity where the shepherds and and wise men were skeletal wraiths and baby Jesus was a demonic child. The local government has declared the creche a "zoning violation" even though similar but more reverent depictions are given a pass. He is being fined $500 a day for his blasphemy.

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