Monday, December 18, 2006

The Jeremy Crow Christmas Countdown 2006 #8

So we all think we know a little something about Christmas do we? I have a bunch of lunatics in my family, and I don’t mean the side of my family tree that looks like a pole either, but that side that thinks tradition is the way to go. I often look back at the family that pretty much abandoned my subset which I think is still because my father had married outside the family, but I do remember those Thanksgiving rumbles that we always had. I mean if tradition is what people want as it pertains to Christmas then we should seriously take a look into what it looked like for about 19 of the centuries before this past one that we seem to call tradition. In realistic terms the half of my family that always seemed to start off with good intentions, and always seemed to end it off in the front yard beating the shit out of each other was more “traditional” than the crap I deal with now.

There are the two camps on Christmas really. You have the “Pagan Holiday” crowd, and the “Birth of Jesus” crowd who both lay claim to the holiday, but in reality they are both wrong, and I never make any friends by pointing this out. I’m not exactly a “friend magnet” anyway so allow me to elaborate. Most Europeans celebrated “Winter Solstice” because it had been long noted that they had made it through the brutal winter at that point, and the days were only going to get longer. It was for the most part a sun festival that marked the beginning process of rebirth. The Norse celebrations of Yule gave us most of the traditions that we incorporated into Christmas. Most notably the 12 days that are a direct descendent of the 12 days of Yule, which was the usual amount of time that the party “log” burned for. It was also the time of the year that the wine was ready and the cattle had to be slaughtered so that they didn’t have to be fed throughout the winter. That definitely fits the “flagpole” side of my family.

Of course the Romans celebrated Saturnia on December 25, and another festival around that time called Juvenalia as well, that carried the festivals of Christmas throughout the world for the next 17 or 18 centuries. The last of the Roman demi-Gods that dominated the time of the year was Mithra {The God of the Unconquerable Sun} who’s birthday was apparently on December 25. Of course the hodge podge of traditions that these Roman deities celebrations brought was nothing like what we call traditional today, but as I said it’s the difference between 17 centuries and barely more than 1. During Saturnia the slaves and the masters’ switched places and that one carried throughout Europe for most of the centuries as the poor would invade the homes of the nobility and eat and drink all of their food. Come to think of it that’s what my family does to me now damnit! Realistically though, the Christians really didn’t care much about the birth of Christ for a very long time. They were more concerned with the Easter holiday as the whole concept of Jesus as the “Savior” was through his death and rebirth. Pope Julius 1 decided to make the “official” birth of the Christ during the winter solstice despite the common belief that he was born in the Spring. By co-opting the festivals that were already set out he was able to simply bring everyone into Constantine’s dream of a Holy Roman Empire.

People did start going to church on Christmas as it was wished upon by the Catholic empire, but then immediately left and went on with the debauchery that had been instilled in them for the centuries previous. Raucous behavior, drunken partying and thievery were the only way that they knew to celebrate the time of the year and that wasn’t about to change any time soon. Again we are looking more towards the inbred side of my family when it comes to traditions, but more will be revealed as we go. I’m sure that most people are reading this and saying, “Damn, how come my Christmas is all boring and full of bad music and in-laws I never want to see then,” which of course leads me to the changing factor for Christmas in general. It had nothing to do with the church really because as with most churches, they were just happy that the people were walking in and dumping the cash in the till every Christmas. When Britain was reclaimed by Charles 2 the religious reform took place and Christmas was stripped of all decadence, except for the underground that would always defy King and Country. The pilgrims that left Britain for America were far more Orthodox than even than Oliver Cromwell, and outlawed Christmas outright. They never saw it as the birth of their God and more as the festival of debauchery that it really was. Christmas wasn’t even declared a federal holiday in the United States until 1870 and was a congressional workday up until then. Again we ask “What changed all of this?”

It was a few well known writers {unlike me} that changed the way people felt about Christmas, and they did it quite radically as a matter of fact. The centuries of having a “Lord of Misrule” and his subjects ravaging the houses of everyone had gotten pretty old even if it did make the Upper Class feel better about their debt to society letting the poor steal from them. As a matter of fact it was America that reinvented Christmas to what it is today. In 1828 it was a Christmas riot that forced New York to create a police force to deal with the issues of the day. Washington Irving had written “The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon” about a decade before, which celebrated a wonderful series of tales about a made up Christmas that was centered on a Squire who let all of the peasants into his home for Christmas. People were clamoring for this type of fantasy in America, and it became a best seller once again, but it was the English author Charles Dickens that finally set the tone with his classic holiday tale “A Christmas Carol” that everyone remembers. The tales of Ebenezer Scrooge became part of the American Lexicon and so did the spirit of Christmas that was outlined in the tale. This really was nothing like what Christmas was, and the amusing part of it all was that America had now changed Christmas into what we supposedly had as traditions. My family seems to think that they do a traditional British Christmas, which makes me laugh because I couldn’t get half of them to read this in the first place to see that they are a little off, but since I cook the food anyway it doesn’t taste British even. Probably the correct way of saying it is that it doesn’t “Lack Of Taste” British. Throw in the fact that none of us really get along to begin with, at least most of the family stopped getting “shitty” drunk on the holiday; we really have nothing traditional left, aside from the chaos ;8o)