A tale as old as time
Scrabbling to prepare for that one day, when you stuff yourself more than the succulent turkey glistening on an obscenely decorated table, that the whole family traditionally squash around.
As you laze sedated from excess, you try to find distraction from the monotony of cabin fever and annual squabbling. Conversation drifts to the meaning of Christmas. I bet, presents are the first thing that springs to mind... Gift-giving; believed to stem from the three Wisemen, could be an adaption from the Roman winter festival Saturnalia. Separately, Santa Clause could be an Americanised encapsulation of multiple European cultures. Santa himself is heavily Influenced by the greek Bishop St. Nicholas. Iceland’s ‘Yule Lads’ may have inspired the elves while Mrs. Clause from the Germanic female gift giver “Christkind” or Russia/Ukraine’s Snow Maiden “Snegurochka” who accompanies Father Frost “Ded Moroz.” Italy’s good witch “La Befana” who delivers presents to children may have introduced the concept of coal for bad children. In Santa’s home country Finland, children traditionally are visited by a Yule Goat named “Joulupukki” a spirt linked to the Norse God Odin. Joulupukki would travel around by a reindeer pulled sleigh, knocking on doors seeking out well-behaved children and delivering presents. Finally coming down the chimney was coined by Washington Irving’s 1809 book “Knickerbocker’s History of New York” who probably based the idea on folklore where chimneys were believed to be access points for witches and fairies to invade the home.
By now the rants of your overly religious relative turns to the secularisation of Christmas. The reality; much of our traditions predate the Christianised version of Mid-Winter festival. A fact you can bring to the table; The date of Jesus’s birth is unknown. December 25th was chosen in the 3rd century to coincided with Saturnalia and Yuletide. Be prepared for that relative to bring up the fact December marks nine months from the celebrated feast of the conception of Jesus.
So why twelve days? It's believed this was the duration between Jesus’s birth and the arrival of the three wise men. Interestingly Yuletide which begins on the Winter Solstice is also a twelve-day feast and Christians are known to be adaptable when converting the pagans. Something that relatives of yours should try sometime.
However tensions have heightened at the table, and all you want to do is keep the peace, long enough until the bars open at midnight. So let's try some humor. Day eight of Christmas is New Year's day and a symbolic day for Christians. Jesus was Jewish and under Jewish law, every boy eight days from birth must be circumcised. This day marks the formal naming of Jesus and the first day the blood of Christ is shed. Known as the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ some branches of Christianity celebrate all night on December 31st while others have... shall we say... rebranded the feast.
Hows that turkey digesting? You can thank the Americans for popularising this as the traditional dish. In Ireland, older traditions included Goose for the posh and chicken, ham or beef for everyone else. If everyone is still on talking terms, it might be a good time to suggest some Yule log for dessert. This tradition is of Celtic and Germanic origins who would burn yule logs to ward off evil spirits.
By now the Christmas spirit should have returned to the table. If not, you’ll find it in ‘the local.’ Go now... be merry and enjoy being part of an ever-evolving festival.
Prodiced for Graffiti Magazine December 2019