Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

Home Main Menu Order Support About Search



Share page  


Previous Contents Next

CHRISTMAS
pagan festivals, the customs of which will be dealt with in detail in Part II.
The names given to the feast by different European peoples throw a certain amount of light on its history. Let us take five of them—Christmas, Weihnacht, Noel, Calendas, and Tule—and see what they suggest.
I. The English Christmas and its Dutch equivalent Kerstmisse, plainly point to the ecclesiastical side of the festival ; the German Weihnacht 4 (sacred night) is vaguer, and might well be either pagan or Christian ; in point of fact it seems to be Christian, since it does not appear till the year iooo, when the Faith was well established in Germany.5 Christmas and Weihnacht, then, may stand for the distinctively Christian festival, the history of which we may now briefly study.
When and where did the keeping of Christmas begin ? Many details of its early history remain in uncertainty, but it is fairly clear that the earliest celebration of the Birth of Christ on December 25 took place at Rome about the middle of the fourth century, and that the observance of the day spread from the western to the eastern Church, which had before been wont to keep January 6 as a joint commemoration of the Nativity and the Baptism of the Redeemer.*
The first mention of a Nativity feast on December 25 is found in a Roman document known as the Philocalian Calendar, dating from the year 354, but embodying an older document evidently belonging to the year 336. It is uncertain to which date the Nativity reference belongs ; f but further back than 336 at all events the festival cannot be traced.
From Rome, Christmas spread throughout the West, with the
Whether the Nativity had previously been celebrated at Rome on January 6 is a matter of controversy ; the affirmative view was maintained by Usener in his mono­graph on Christmas,6 the negative by Monsignor Duchesne.? A very minute, cautious, and balanced study of both arguments is to be found in Professor Kirsopp Lake's article on Christmas in Hastings's " Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics,"8 and a short article was contributed by the same writer to The Guardian, December 29, 1911. Professor Lake, on the whole, inclines to Usener's view. The early history of the festival is also treated by Father Cyril Martindale in "The Catholic Encyclopaedia" (article "Christmas ").
t Usencr says 354, Duchesne 336.
20
Previous Contents Next