Birth of the Sun:Christmas and the winter solstice have more in common than you think. The birth of Jesus was assigned to various dates for more than 300 years, but never much celebrated.
In the fourth century A.D., Roman Emperor Constantine moved the holiday to Dec. 25. The Julian calendar used at the time erroneously considered Dec. 25 to be the winter solstice. Many early civilizations, including Ancient Rome, believed the winter solstice – the year’s longest night – symbolized the birthday of the sun and the return of the light. The annual event was extremely important for these early cultures – depending as they did on the natural elements to survive. The solstice seemed an appropriate day to celebrate Christmas.
Photo copyright Kevin O’Connor
The Giving Tradition: Today, it’s hard to imagine Christmas without gifts. But it wasn’t always so. The tradition dates back to the Ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, held on the days leading up to the winter solstice. Kalends of January – the New Year – was another important gift-giving time.
As the Greek Libanius explained, “The impulse to spend seizes everyone … a stream of presents pours itself out on all sides.”
This was why the early Church considered gift giving to be a pagan holdover. And they frowned upon the practice for centuries. Instead, gifts were given on Twelfth Night (January 6) instead.
Since that’s not the case now, here are last-minute gift ideas from theNest in Style podcast.
“At Christmas we banquet, the rich with the poor,
Who then (but the miser) but openeth his door?
Thomas Tusser, 1524-1580
A Slow Start: Christmas ranked low as a holiday for centuries. Many traditions had pre-Christian roots and the early Church wasn’t keen to accept them. It wasn’t until the late Middle Ages that Christmas became popular.
Towns and cities often appointed a Lord of Misrule, who presided over the Christmas entertainment. (Santa didn’t come until later.) This Lord of Misrule was typically dressed in colorful clothing and directed elaborate processions, plays and festivities. Their services were an important part of Christmas and these “lords” were hired by such royalty, as the English kings Edward VI and Henry VIII.
The largest Christmas feasts often included roasted peacock and swan … painted with saffron and “refeathered” right before serving. In 1289, a boar’s head served as a stylish centerpiece for the bishop of Hereford.
Want something easier for your holiday party? Here are last-minute entertaining tips from Nest In Style podcasts.