What do we imagine when we think of Christmas? A rosy-cheeked white grandfather who promises you your wildest dreams wrapped in paper decorated with snowmen and candy canes? Waking up to the smell of baked goods, excitement bouncing in your hearts? For some, even the smell of fresh cut pine or carolers pestering you at the door, yule logs burning, stockings hanging, shadows reflecting in the flames. Many see Christmas as a celebration of the birth of Jesus or as a marketing myth to increase winter sales for corporations. Though others understand that it is inspired by old “pagan” traditions, people usually do not learn where the traditions came from originally.
Before Christmas as we know it, Norse and Germanic people celebrated a holiday called Yule, which is where pine trees and yule logs came from. This also is where we get half of Santa Claus’ identity — originally the Norse god Odin and his wild hunt. But that was Christianized with Nicholas Sinterklaas, an old catholic saint. These two characters eventually morphed into the Santa Claus we know today. But let’s be honest, don’t reindeer sound Norse?
Similarly, Romans had Saturnalia. Like Yule, Saturnalia celebrates the winter solstice. Instead of lasting one day, it lasted lasted about a week. Instead of these days being saintly and family friendly, these were celebrations of debauchery. In fact, at one point Christmas was banned by the “Christian Amerikkka.” Saturnalia was the time of year when wealthy men were expected to assist the poor, however the gift giving really didn’t find its foundation until later.
In England, people marked Christmas by getting utterly faded in the streets, having a debaucherous party very similar to Mardi Gras. People would find someone begging and crown them the Lord of Misrule. During that celebration, they would march from one wealthy person’s house to another demanding their best food and drink. And if the wealthy man refused, they were liable to be drug into the street and attacked. This would continue through the day until the poor were satisfied. It’s is interesting to see that the “good will to all men” was not given but taken by those under the yoke of the bureaucrats, the wealthy, and royal families.
It seems Christmas has come a long way, but has it lost its inherent value? We are in a time when this holiday is more a homage to consumerism than a celebration of good will, or even respect of the poor. Some days it feels like just another way people can use their money to one-up each other. Who was able to buy the best or most expensive gift? Who can have the best decoration or cook the best pie?
I’m glad children and family get to feel appreciated during the this time, but to me we all should live in a world where we can feel appreciated all the time. That includes the houseless. Those folks who, instead of huddling around a Christmas tree, get to huddle around the center of their tents, trying to keep warm while so many of us are sitting around opening presents, laughing, drinking hot chocolate, bathing in childlike nostalgia. Now imagine if we were to stick to the old tradition: While you’re unwrapping your brand new iPod, you hear a knock — no, a pound — at the door. Once you open, a large crowd of houseless and poor people demand to eat with you and drink your eggnog. Walking in, taking over your living room, eating your fresh turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, even helping themselves to your holiday mints. I think it would be a beautiful show of community.
Because that isn’t going to happen, can we try to find new priorities during this holiday season? For example, we could all spend time sharing food with the houseless. Instead of spending all your money and gifts for people you know, take time to support those who are liable to not have a holiday. Let’s take time to get to know a new person, especially one who is living through some major struggle. Share some food, give a gift, even if it seems small and insignificant it may do more than could be imagined.
Featured Image: “Rosie in the dark in front of the fireplace, Christmas, wreath, red ribbons, lights, candle, red wall, Broadview duplex, Seattle, Washington, USA” by Wonderlane is licensed under CC BY 2.0.