Last night I was on a Wikipedia Rabbit Trail. You ever been on one of those? You look up one thing then as you read you click on something else and before you know it you’re off on all sorts of tangents.
Well I do it sometimes and it’s kinda fun. I run across all sorts of interesting things as I piece together a bigger picture.
Last night it was about Christmas. Actually it started with ‘xmas’. I was looking for confirmation of my memory that it’s actually a ‘normal’ way to do it since X is our English version of the Greek letter chi which is the first letter in the word Christ. So X-mas is really shorthand for “Christ’s Mass” or the celebration/festival/service for Christ…and xians have been writing it like that for centuries!
Then I read about Yule. It’s the ‘pagan festival’ that Christmas ‘adopted’. In the Scandinavian area after the harvest was done and the days were short, they picked a time to have a winter festival usually starting around December 25. They started by burning a huge log and when the fire burnt out, the festival stopped. Often it took 12 days. During that time they exchanged gifts, sang, danced, decorated pine trees and used other evergreens like holly and mistletoe as decorations. When Christian missionaries went to the area, instead of telling them to stop the celebrations, they instead used the traditions as illustrations to tell the story of Jesus.
Something else I found interesting is how international our western Christmas traditions are. The Christmas tree is German, Santa Claus is Turkish (well, St. Nick was a Turk), Poinsettias are Mexican, and mistletoe is Scandinavian (though I think we came up with the Grinch).
It was the German, Martin Luther who first put candles on a Christmas tree (really, what was he thinking putting fire on a dead, dry tree?!?!). But protestants at the time didn’t celebrate Christmas much. They thought it was too Catholic. The Puritans in England took it to the extreme and so when they came to the New World in the 1600’s, they banned Christmas in Boston among other places. In fact, Christmas in both the Colonies and in England started to decline in popularity and it really wasn’t until two pieces of literature published in the early to late 1800s brought Christmas up out of the doldrums: the book A Christmas Carol and the poem Twas The Night Before Christmas.
I purposefully didn’t provide any links in this post. It’s all from memory from what I learned clicking around Wikipedia.
Try out your own Wikipedia Rabbit Trail. If you do, blog what you learn and track it back here.
Wikipedia Rabbit Trails can be fun!