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  • Open Dialogue and Inclusive Action in the Uniting Church in Australia, and with friends of the UCA

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    The History of Christmas

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    Definition[ edit ] A political map of Britain c. Wood stated, using the term "pagan" when discussing the Anglo-Saxons forces the scholar to adopt "the cultural constructs and value judgements of the early medieval [Christian] missionaries" and thus obscures scholarly understandings of the so-called pagans' own perspectives.

    Shaw has however warned pagan dating site australian many of these sites might not have been named by pagans but by later Christian Anglo-Saxons, reflecting spaces that were perceived to be heathen from a Christian perspective. The scholar Michael Bintley cautioned against this approach, noting that this "'Germanic' paganism" had "never had a single ur-form" from which later variants developed. Whether these represent clear pagan identity or not is however debated among archaeologists. But folk practices were all-pervasive in everyday life.

    The animistic character of Germanic belief prior to Christianization, with its emphasis on nature, holistic cures, and worship at wells, trees, and stones, meant that it was hard to counteract on an institutional level of organized religion The synthesis of Christian and Germanic ideas gradually transformed these practices, undoubtedly at the local level In this way Christianity ultimately penetrated the homes and daily lives of the various Germanic peoples in the centuries after the arrival of the first missionaries.

    For instance, writing in the s, Henry Bourne stated his belief that the winter custom of the Yule log was a leftover from Anglo-Saxon paganism, however this is an idea that has been disputed by some subsequent research by the likes of historian Ronald Huttonwho believe that it was only introduced into England in the seventeenth century by immigrants arriving from Flanders.

    The antlers used in the dance belonged to reindeer and have been carbon dated to the eleventh century, and it is therefore believed that they originated in Norway and were brought to England some time in the late Mediaeval period, as by that time reindeer were extinct in Britain. Germanic pantheon and Female spirits in Germanic paganism "The world of the Anglo-Saxon gods will forever remain a mystery to us, existing just beyond the reach of written history.

    This pagan world sits in an enigmatic realm that is in many respects prehistoric, an alien headspace far removed from our own intellectual universe.

    Situated within a polytheistic cosmos, clouded from us by centuries of Pagan dating site australian theology and Enlightenment rationalism, we can discern the existence of a handful of potential deities, who though long deceased have perhaps left their mark in place-names, royal genealogies, and the accounts of proselytizing monks.

    It has been suggested that the hammer and the swastika were the god's symbols, representing thunderbolts, and both of these symbols have been found in Anglo-Saxon graves, the latter being common on cremation urns.

    Germanic poetry A depiction of Beowulf fighting the dragon, by J. In pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon England, legends and other stories were transmitted orally instead of being written down; it is for this reason that very few survive today. The story it tells is set not in England but in Scandinaviaand revolves around a Geatish warrior named Beowulf who travels to Denmark to defeat a monster known as Grendelwho is terrorising the kingdom of Hrothgarand later, Grendel's Mother as well.

    Following this, he later becomes the king of Geatland before finally dying in battle with a dragon. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it was commonly believed that Beowulf was not an Anglo-Saxon pagan tale, but a Scandinavian Christian one; it was not until the influential critical essay Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics by J. Tolkiendelivered inthat Beowulf was established as a quintessentially English poem that, while Christian, looked back on a living memory of paganism.

    The poet may have known that his heroes were pagans, but he did not know much about paganism. It is possible that some of these names had pagan religious origins, perhaps referring to a sacrificed animal's head that was erected on a pole, or a carved representation of one; equally some or all of these place-names may have been descriptive metaphors for local landscape features. Take holy water and sprinkle it in these shrines, build altars and place relics in them.

    For if the shrines are well built, it is essential that they should be changed from the worship of devils to the service of the true God.

    When the people see that their shrines are not destroyed they will be able to banish error from their hearts and be more ready to come to the places they are familiar with, but now recognizing and worshipping the true God.
    For a critical Christian response to these claims, see: The ancient polytheistic religions of Egypt, Persia, Babylonia and eventually Rome increasingly consolidated their pantheons of deities under a single primary god, usually a Sun-god.

    Humans could choose between good light or evil darkness and on judgment day be sent to Heaven or Hell based on their choices. Mithras was identified as the redeemer prophesied by Zoroaster: As an adult, Mithras healed the sick, made the lame walk, gave sight to the blind and raised the dead. Before returning to heaven at the Spring Equinox Mithras had a last supper with 12 disciples representing the 12 signs of the Zodiac.

    This militaristic black-and-white morality including a final judgment affecting an afterlife of heaven or hell probably accounted for the popularity of Mithraism among Roman soldiers. Mithraism was like an ancient fraternity: Commodus became the first Roman emperor to be initiated into Mithraism. The attempts by Diocletian to impose the state religion on everyone led to the last and most terrible of all persecutions.

    But many people saw the Roman State as a greater enemy than the Christians, who were respected for their willingness to die for their beliefs. Despite the intense persecutions of Christians in the Roman Empire, Christianity continued to win many converts from paganism. Many of the former pagans were unwilling to relinquish their traditional winter solstice celebrations.

    Constantine sought to unify Sun-worship and Christianity into a single monotheistic state religion. Although Constantine was baptized on his deathbed, this was not an indication of his insincerity — it was a common practice of early Christians to delay baptism so as to die without sin.

    Although the Bible sanctifies Saturday as the Sabbath, many Christians regarded Sunday the day of the resurrection of Christ as the new holy day — especially because this distanced Christianity from Judaism. Constantine made Sunday rather than Saturday Saturn's Day the weekly holiday of the state religion of Sun-worship. Christian art began to adopt the pagan practice of depicting holy figures with crowns of sun pagan dating site australian the crown of Mithras or Sol invictusor with a halo.

    The Statue of Liberty wears a crown of sun rays. Constantine regarded himself to be the supreme spiritual leader of both the Sun-cults and of Christianity. Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople, a city he immodestly renamed after himself.

    Constantine called himself "first of the apostles" and he did not recognize the papacy of the bishop of Rome. Constantine called the first Council of Nicea Nicaea to resolve controversy and establish Christian orthodoxy.

    The Council of Nicea was the first ecumenical conference of Christian bishops, the nucleus of the institution which was to become the hierarchical Roman Catholic Church, dominated by celibate male priests. Celibate priests had not been part of the teachings of Jesus — many of his apostles, including Peter, were married. The Council sanctioned the efforts of IrenaeusEusebius and others who were establishing certain scriptures as the infallible canon of the New Testamentwhile declaring other scriptures to be heresy — notably Gnostic Gospels such as the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Thomaswhich support the idea that Mary Magdalene was an apostle and that salvation is possible without a church.

    With orthodox Christianity incorporated into the monolithic state religion, Christian "heretics" were heavily persecuted. The Church was pushed by political forces and pulled by the desire to co-opt a popular pagan holiday, despite a lack of evidence that Christ was born in December.

    Constantine built the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, one of the oldest continually operating churches in the world currently administered by a coalition of Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox clerics. Gnostics believed that spiritual is more important than physical, that the knowledge Christ brought to the world is far more important than his physical birth or crucifixion and that pagan dating site australian personal experience of God is of greater importance than churches or other institutions.

    The rebirth of the Greek god Dionysus had been celebrated on January 6th. Epiphany for Western churches means the visit of the Magi, whereas for the Eastern churches Epiphany is the anniversary of Christ's baptism. At age 30 he became the bishop of Myra now the city of Demre on the south coast of Pagan dating site australian near the beginning of the fourth century.

    Soon after his appointment, the government of the Eastern Roman Empire jailed all Christian bishops who did not publicly sacrifice to the gods of Rome.

    Nicholas remained in prison for nearly ten years until Constantine conquered the East — ending the persecution of Christians. So many Christians had defected that the sacrament of confession was created, so that the "traitors" could cleanse their souls before re-entering the Christian Church.

    Nicholas was a vigorous opponent of Arianism, the belief of the Alexandrian bishop Arius that Christ was created by God and therefore independent of God and inferior to God — a form of polytheism intended to explain how Christ could be both human and divine.

    Nicholas reputedly not only attended Nicea, but physically accosted Arius there. The Nicene Creed supported the unity of God, Christ and the Holy Ghost as a single Being with God and Christ equally divine, but of the same divine substancethereby affirming the monotheism of Christianity.

    Constantine exiled Arius and ordered his books to be burned. Physicist Isaac Newton was probably secretly an Arianwith Newton regarding the worship of Jesus Christ as God to be sinful idolatry. Saint Nicholas became the subject of many legends. A sailor who fell overboard was reputedly saved by Nicholas when the saint walked on water, retrieved the sailor and carried him back to the ship.

    Nicholas took pity on a poverty-stricken family with 3 daughters who faced the threat of being forced into prostitution because they had no wedding dowries. For two daughters he crept-up to their house at night and threw bags of gold through a bedroom window. For the last daughter, he threw a bag of gold down the chimney — which landed in a stocking she had set by the fireplace for drying. The bones of Saint Nicholas lay in his tomb in Myra until The Basilica di San Nicola was completed in the middle of the 12th century where the crypt was located.

    The legend of Nicholas made him so popular that more European churches bore his name than that of any of the apostles. He was made patron saint of Greece and Russia. The 3-ball symbol of pawnshops represents the three bags of gold he threw as dowries. On February 14, the Pope removed Nicholas from the calendar of saints — there are no records of Nicholas ever having been canonized.

    The Eastern Orthodox Church continues to recognize the sainthood of Nicholas. The fact that the date coincided with the completion of farm-work, the slaughtering of animals for the winter and a period of idleness, abundant food and celebration may actually be the real reason why it was celebrated with such enthusiasm.

    But the feast of Saint Nicholas was abolished in many European countries as part of Martin Luther's effort to stop the veneration of saints. Amsterdam has historically been a great seaport, and Saint Nicholas Sinterklaas as the protector of sailors has been its patron saint. In Germany the assistant of St. Nicholas was Knecht Ruprecht, a "wild man" who was condemned as a manifestation of the devil by the Catholic Church.

    In Washington Irving, a member of the New York Historical Society which promoted a Dutch Saint Nicholas as its patron saintcreated a tale of a chubby, pipe-smoking little Saint Nicholas who road a magic horse through the air visiting all houses in New York. The elfish figure was small enough to climb down chimneys with gifts for the good children and switches for the bad ones.

    Moore may have been inspired by the Finnish legend of Old Man Winter, who drove reindeer down from the mountain, bringing the snow.

    Following Irving's example, Moore's St. Nick was more an elf than a bishop. Unlike the earlier St. Nicks, this one brought no birch switches, only presents.

    And it was Moore who established that St. Nick brings presents on the pagan dating site australian before Christmas rather than on Saint Nicholas Day or any other time. Nast transformed Santa into a full-sized human who somehow retained the ability to climb through chimneys, but who had a team of elf assistants. By Nast had drawn Santa as a large man with a white beard in a red suit trimmed with white fur.

    Thirty-five years of annual advertising by the Coca-Cola company using Sundblom's Santa solidified the contemporary image of Santa Claus pagan dating site australian without the Coke. The first department store Santa Claus was at J. Parkinson's store in Philadelphia in Kriss Kringle dramatically came down a chimney for the children and Parkinson's became "Kriss Kringle Headquarters".

    The second department store to feature a Santa was in Massachusetts in By dozens of American department stores had Santas. In the s Gimbel's department store in Philadelphia, Macy's in New York, Hudson's in Detroit and many other department stores sponsored Thanksgiving parades that featured Santa Claus.

    As a compromise, a act of Congress established Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday in November. The story was patterned after The Ugly Duckling, turning a genetically defective glowing nose into a foggy-night navigation asset. Originally distributed to children as an illustrated story, a decade later it became the theme of a song which was sung by Gene Autry, the "Singing Cowboy".

    Katherine Lee Bates who wrote the song " America the Beautiful " is credited with the invention of Mrs. Santa Claus in a poem written in Since that time Mrs.

    Claus has often been depicted as a cheerful portly woman who spends her time at the north pole preparing Christmas foods. In England, as elsewhere, many churches had been dedicated to Saint Nicholas, but with the elimination of Catholicism "Father Christmas" reverted to associations with a green-clad elfish figure associated with pagan mid-winter festivals.

    Father Christmas did not distribute gifts and he was often the master of ceremonies for mummer's plays. Francis Church, one of the Sun's editorial writers wrote a "Yes, Virginia" reply which has become a classic example for adults fostering children's belief in Santa Claus. As children begin to question how Santa can visit every house, how a large man can fit in a chimney, how Santa can be in so many shopping malls at the same time, etc — many parents resort to increasingly strained explanations to maintain the fiction.

    The uncritical belief of children can be touchingly cute. The temptation to build a poetic fantasy-world in formative minds — removed from the harsh realities of life — can be great. Potential damage can result from erosion of trust when parents seriously try to convince their children that Santa Claus is a fact rather than a fairy tale.

    But if a parent can experience sentimental enchantment and love attached to the "game" of Santa Claus it would be hard to find pagan dating site australian intention to deceive when no effort is made to mislead a child who begins to question.

    Some Christians can become uncomfortable with the God-like qualities of Santa Claus. He is all-knowing, has magical powers and distributes reward or punishment but nearly always reward, irrespective of how good or bad the child has been. For parents to lie to children to encourage them to believe in a false god in a red suit is viewed as a blasphemous substitute for recognition of the true God.

    Men interested in playing Santa Claus at Christmas-time are coming under increasing scrutiny. In some cases Santa is prohibited from being in the company of a child without a third adult apart from the parent being present. Santa must not make promises to a child. Santa must keep both hands in plain view at all times. And Santa must not straddle a child on the knee — or perhaps not touch a child at all.
    Roman Green Man c.

    Roman architecture sometimes features ornate leaf masks, which are usually taken as showing the close interdependence between man and nature, and as describing the deities of Pan, Bacchus, Dionysus or Silvanus, and the mystery religions that grew up around them. Indeed, Dionysus is often considered one of the most likely precursors to the Green Man of the Middle Ages, especially given his usual portrayal as leaf-crowned lord of the wilderness, nature and agriculture - it was only later that he became associated with wine, ecstasy and sexual abandon - and his parallel role in the guise of Okeanus as a god of the underworld, of death and rebirth.

    However, there are similar figures represented in ancient cultures which had little or no Roman influence. There are many examples of leaf masks from ancient Constantinople such as those now kept in the Archaeological Museum in Istanbulalthough this appears not to have been a tradition carried on within the later Eastern church. Disgorging Green Man on the tomb of St.

    Just as early statues of the Virgin Mary and her child particularly the Black Madonnas which were popular in Europe in the early medieval period were clearly variations of earlier representations of similar pagan myths e. Isis and Horus, Cybele and Attis, Aphrodite and Adonis, etcearly portrayals of the Green Man were largely based on older models from antiquity.

    In an interesting cross-cultural exchange, some sculptures of leaf-masks were plundered from older Byzantine buildings and re-used intact in Christian churches, as seems to have occurred in Trier Cathedral in German in the 6th Century CE. However, other leaf masks at Trier the oldest city in Germany date back to the 2nd or 3rd Century CE. Although the leaf-mask or foliate head had been copied since Roman times, perhaps the first example of the disgorging form of the Green Man occurs on the tomb of St.

    Abre, now in the church of St. This type of Green Man image appears to have no real precedent in Roman or Celtic art even the somewhat similar Indian disgorging head in Rajasthan actually dates from some three centuries laterand its origins are altogether more mysterious.

    Open Dialogue and Inclusive Action in the Uniting Church in Australia, and with friends of the UCA

    What could be salvaged or used from the old pagan beliefs was co-opted by Christianity as far as possible, and what was considered too disruptive or dangerous was strenuously repressed. Although the popular practice of tree worship could not be permitted - many sacred trees and groves were cut down or torched by over-zealous priests during this period - the use of the image of the Green Man allowed a relatively safe nod towards the old practices, while at the same time bringing it under the umbrella of the new Church.

    To some extent, the Green Man became an instrument of harmony between the pagan past and the new Christian order. Having said that, though, the number of occurrences of the Green Man during this period was relatively small, and the Dark Ages largely represents a time of abeyance for the Green Man phenomenon, almost as though he were biding his time until the conditions were right for his resurgence.

    High and Late Middle Ages: Green Man or Beast c. From the 11th and 12th Century onwards, Green Men are often seen incorporated as a carved decorative ornamentation on British, French, German and other European churches and other buildings both ecclesiastical and, less commonly, pagan dating site australian. There was a huge revival in ecclesiastical building during this period, in what was seen by many as a time of hope after the bleakness of the Dark Ages.

    But, critically, this was also a time of greatly increasing prosperity, during which the Church expanded its influence and its riches many-fold, and during which rich and powerful feudal lords were keen to ingratiate themselves with the mighty Church. The intricate Romanesque and Gothic architecture of the High Middle Ages provided a perfect vehicle for the inclusion of all manner of oddities on church buildings.

    Grotesques of many kinds were introduced, superficially to exemplify passions and desires that pious men needed to overcome, and Green Men were perhaps just one example of the mythical beasts, demons and other pagan symbols which began to be licensed, even encouraged, by church builders of the time.

    Sheela-na-gigs figurative carvings of naked women displaying an exaggerated open vulva, sometimes considered a Green Woman, the female counterpart of the Green Man and sirens or mermaids with divided tails were just some of the other recurring motifs to be found along with the Green Man. The interwoven Romanesque leaf decorations provided an easy linking theme between such images, and some quite large-scale carvings of naked men and women caught up in the tendril of vegetation are found on major church buildings of the period such as the cathedrals at Lincoln and Chartres, for example.

    It was also around this time that exhibitionist figures, with exaggerated genitalia and indulging in all kinds of deviant sexual practices, began to crop up in Spanish, French and British churches, supposedly in an attempt to teach the deplorable effect of lust.

    In the wake of the Christian victories in the Crusades, many Muslim craftsmen began to be employed in church architecture and ornamentation particularly in France and Spain, and especially in churches of the Cluniac orderbringing a Moorish influence and sensibility, and the Green Man is a notably popular figure in many of these buildings.

    Around the 13th Century, the French style of foliate mask began to prevail, although the disgorging style of Green Man was more predominant in England. Both main types flourished thoughout France, Britain and Germany, though. Chartres Cathderal, widely considered one of the masterpieces of Western art, features up to 70 Green Men, in a whole variety of different forms, including leaf masks, disgorgers of vegetation, and human figures in the midst of plants and fruit.

    Good examples of medieval Green Men can be found in cathedrals, abbeys, minsters and humble parish churches throughout Britain particularly in rural counties like Devon, Somerset, Oxfordshire, Norfolk, etcFrance and Germany. A selection of photos is included in the Photo Gallery of this website. Bronze door bell in the form of a Green Man on the island of Murano, near Venice, Italy Source From the Renaissance onwards, the Green Man and other variations including animals began to appear with even greater regularity in manuscripts, metalwork, bookplates and stained glass, as well as in churches and cathedrals, although often for purely decorative effect.

    It seems that some of pagan dating site australian symbolism had been lost by this time, and the Green Man had become more of a decorative motif than a symbolic one. Interestingly, other than few examples of geuinely old Green Men in Milan, Bologna and the Bari area of southern Italy, there is relatively little Green Man imagery in the medieval and Gothic architecture of Italy, but with the Renaissance it finally makes an appearance.

    With the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century, the Green Man experienced something of a new, and largely secular, resurgence, as he became associated somewhat paradoxically with the drive for productivity and dominion over Nature.

    His image appeared on furnishings, embroideries, panelling, chimneypieces, and even on cannons and pistols. The advent of mass-produced printed works saw his image used on the title plates of many books, from Bibles to theological treatises to secular works.

    There are several 16th Century pictures apparently associating Martin Luther in particular with the foliate head of the Green Man, and many of his works published in Wittenberg bear the image of the Green Man on their title pages.

    References, albeit largely indirect, appeared in the written works of Rabelais, Shakespeare, Milton and Marvell. But the frequency of his appearances during this period is certainly much reduced compared to earlier centuries and, arguably, some of the depth of symbolic meaning has been lost by this time.

    Leaf-covered Green or Wild Men had been appearing in town pageants for centuries, possible as live representations of the Green Man of church architecture, but the first attested appearance of Jack-in-the-Green was as recent as Indeed, one might have expected the Green Man to disappear completely in this age of science and rationality, and for a time he seemed to pagan dating site australian done just that.

    But he never entirely faded away. The motif gained some renewed popularity with the Gothic Revival and Arts and Crafts movements of 19th Century Britain, as well as in America and the British colonies during this same period. The Victorian version of the Green Man makes an appearance on many important building such as the Palace of Westminster, St. The Green Man has continued to make appearances in more modern architecture and pagan dating site australian, from brick-built terraced houses and suburban villas to pubs, banks, factories and other commercial buildings.

    Many modern Neo-Pagan, New Age and Wiccan organizations and practitioners have incorporated the Green Man into their artwork and symbology, and he is sometimes used as a representation of the Horned God which is itself a syncretic deity inclusive of several ancient pagan gods such as the Celtic Cernunnos and the Greek Pan. In recent years, the environmental or Green movement and various other campaigns and commercial organizations have also latched onto some might say hijacked the Green Man as a marketing tool, and he has begun to emerge once more as something approaching an environmental icon, as can be seen from the variety of companies and organizations taking advantage of his image see the section on The Green Man in Popular Culture for some examples.

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