Christos - the anointed - the Messiah
The true meaning of Christ’s Mass or Christmas often gets lost in our consumer-oriented society, which is why it is interesting to think about the origins of one of Christianity’s highest holy days - the birth of Christ, and according to the Pagan tradition, the return of the sun.
A celebration of the Roman pagan holiday, Saturnalia (in honor of Saturn, the God of Agriculture), which lasted from December 17-25, seems to be how the celebration of Christmas started. Saturnalia, was a time where people demonstrated goodwill, it was a time to feast, and it also was a time to offer gifts to others. Saturnalia began more than 200 years before Christ was born.
However, it was Pope Julius I who officially designated Christmas to be on December 25. Some say that this was precisely 9 months after the Annunciation, which is March 25. While history is necessary, it also lights a path to our traditions including caroling, the Christmas tree and the candy cane.
Pagans used to sing songs during the winter solstice while they danced around a stone circle. The word “carole” originally meant “round dance with singing” and is based on old French/Latin "choraula." Early Christians began using Christmas songs as early as the year 129. Most were written in Latin in the Middle Ages. It was St. Francis of Assisi who started the tradition of presenting carols in the native tongue of the people through his nativity plays that were in Italian.
The evergreen tree, representing life eternal, was used in the Saturnalia celebrations. Other cultures brought plants inside, such as hawthorn or cherry, hoping that they would bloom/flower at Christmas time. However, the first tree may have been erected in a town square was probably in either Latvia or Estonia in around 1510. Germany is credited with giving us St. Nicholas/Father Christmas.
The history and symbolism of the candy cane is also interesting coming from a choir master who wanted to keep children quiet through a nativity service. He made candy shepherd hooks that also looked like a “J” when turned upside down. The “J” standing for Jesus that also represented a shepherd’s staff. Some say the red of the candy cane represented blood, and the white the purity of Christ.
Our Christian history is extremely rich and symbolic. Let us take time to revel in our traditions and celebrate with understanding the intertwining beauty of our Pagan and Christian roots.