Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ancient Christmas Customs and Modern Celebrations

The Winter Solstice

At about the same tiome as the Winter Solstice, the Christmas Holiday season is celebrated. This is because religious leaders felt that celebrating the holiday season at this time would allow more people to celebrate. However, many celebrations of pagan origins were also carried over and celebrated during the relios-based Christmas holiday celebration period.

“The Lord of Mis-Rule”

Using one example, people would engage in drunken revelries, debaucles which were similar in nature to Mardi-Gras-types festivities after they had attended church. A “pordiosero”, "miserable" or “beggar” would often then be coronated as “The Lord of Mis-rule”. People would then take part in a series visits to the estates of the rich to ask for portions of food, clothing and drink. Wealthy patrons who refused to “participate” would then be subject to acts of mischief, vandalism and other pranks. Others of the wealthier classes of society would contribute offerings of food, drink, items of clothing and small gifts left outside for the poorer classes during the Christmas holiday season.

Even centuries before the birth of Christ and Christmas, celebrations were held during the mid-Winter season such as celebrations of birth and light during the darkest days of the year. The Winter Solstice meant that the coldest part of that season was now past, so the days would now continually get longer and warmer.

Yule tide Celebrations of Scandinavia

Yuletide celebrations were held from the 21st of December through the first 21 days of January by the Norse people of Scandinavia. Part of this celebration included the men bringing home a yule log which was burned until it was finished. This could last up to twelve days depending on the thickness and length of the log. An extensive feast was held during this time. When the yule log was finished, the feast and celebration were ended. For each spark from the yule log fire the Norse believed that a new calf or pig would come during the new year according to their tradition.

With food, grain and grazing supplies in short supply during the Winter months, especially from the end of December through January and into early February, many cattle were killed to avoid having to feed them. This meant large quantities of meat and beef were available to fuel lavish feasts which included generous portions of the wine, beer and spirits fermented or brewed earlier during the year.

The Tradition of Sinter Klaus, Jultomten and Pere Noel

From about the 1700s in Germany and Switzerland, well-mannered children would receive a gift from Christkind, which means Christ child, or Kris Kringle (aka. Sinter Klaus or Santa Claus). He was originally thought to be an angel-like person who traveled with St. Nicholas (pictured) delivering Christmas gifts. Jultomten was a jolly elf who delivered gifts from a goat- pulled sleigh in Scandinavia. Pere Noel filled the shoes of children in France with presents, treats, goodies and sweets at Christmas. An elderly Russian woman named Babouschka gave the three Wise Men wrong directions so they couldn’t find the baby Jesus. Regretting her actions, she couldn’t then find them to correct her mistake so she visits children on the day before Epiphany, Three Kings Day on January 5th, to lay gifts beside their bed hoping that one will be the baby Jesus who will pardon her.

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, author and speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 135 countries worldwide. Get your FREE, pdf format report on CD or via e-mail, "If You Want to Teach English Abroad, Here’s What You Need to Know" by requesting the title at:

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