Sunday, December 23, 2012

Why do people feel so confused over whether to have a Christmas tree or not?

For those who do not know me, I am Reverend Alaina Damewood, and I have been studying religions for more than eighteen years. One of my favorite areas of study is the myths around the holiday traditions.

For all who have a Christmas tree up in your house at this time of the year and have wondered how it fits into the holiday or why we use the tree to represent the birth of Christ, we must go back and look at the history and the heritage behind how our calendar was created.

The calendar we use in today’s time is based off the one created by the Catholic Church of Rome in a time period where the church was dealing with issues related to the pagans in their lifetime.
But how is that relate to our holidays? During the time period in question, the pagan traditions of the early Roman Empire had four major and four minor holidays.

The minor holidays marked the solstices for the seasonal year in celebration for being one step closer to the end of the year. The spring solstice celebrated the growth of the harvest. The summer solstice celebrated the beginning of the summer season. The fall solstice celebrated the change of summer to fall and the time of saving food for the coming winter. The winter solstice celebrated the coming of the new season. We recognize those on the calendar as the days which mark the beginning of spring, summer, fall and winter.

The major holidays were Beltine, which was celebrated for the warm weather that came from the change of spring to summer, Östra, the goddess of fertility, the time mother earth creates life from animals to people, samhine, the day of the dead or what we know as Halloween, and Yule, the end of the calendar year, also the birth and death of the oak king in winter to be reborn in the spring.

The Catholic Church of early Rome recognized the traditions of the pagans practiced in their time, and to get them to convert over to the religion of the Catholic Church, they decided to design their calendar to have the same celebrations.

The most famous example of this is Christmas, the day of Christ’s birth when Mary found out she was pregnant at the feast from the immaculate conception on December 8th. Because the Catholic church could not determine Christ’s actual birthday, they made it the same as the pagans Yule celebration and then adapt the celebration of the death and birth of the oak king for a Christian purpose. Since the burning of the log would not work for celebrating the birthday of Christ, the church stole a portion of a ceremony from the pagan faith again to represent the Norish day of the dead. 

In the same way family members would decorate their tree with ornaments to represent memories of their dead loved ones, Christmas is done the same way, except hanging the ornaments and giving presents to each other is to represent Christ’s birthday.

And since then, this has been the on-going tradition for the season to show respect to God’s birth and death no matter which religion you view it from. Whether you decide to put up a tree though, that is up to you.