Yesterday evening we gathered to decorate the Christmas tree. This annual happening is restricted to our family and few close friends. Tired children tend to become hyperactive and in a state of perpetual motion. With much noise and banter they participated in placing ornaments on the boughs. Flaming logs crackled in the fireplace and libation flowed freely. Of course we had to sing about a reindeer who had a shiney nose as well as other musical reminders of the season. For us, the decorating of the tree inaugurates our celebration of the holiday season.
Of all religious holidays, Christmas seems the most joyful, possibly because much of its revelry is rooted in pagan antiquity. Scholars agree that the date of Christ’s birth is unknown. They also agree that it is highly unlikely to have occurred on December twenty-fifth. The early church did not celebrate it as an holiday. Christ’s mass was first celebrated by pope Julius 1 in the fourth century AD. Many are also surprised that the celebration of December twenty-fifth was not unique to Christianity. The date was the identical day of the pagan celebration of Brumalia, the Saturnalia as well as the holy day to the Persian god Mithra. The early church found it easier to attract converts by not tampering with their festive days. Thus, worship of the sun god was replaced by homage to the birth of the son of God. The new holiday retained the identical day of celebration as the old. Rarely do we give credit to the pagan origins of one of our most important Christian holidays.