Sunday, December 22, 2013

Did Romans Invent Christmas?

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Is the Roman celebration, Saturnalia, what we're really celebrating when we celebrate Christmas?  Gift giving, mistletoe, and even the Christmas tree all come from Vikings and Saxons.

"Christmas in December is a Western, Roman idea..." says Dr Matthew Nicholls, senior lecturer in Classics at the University of Reading in England.  Romans, he argues in this BBC article,  spent seven days from mid December partying. It was a celebration called Saturnalia  "Homes were decorated, parties held and slaves became masters - at least for one banquet." Simon Sebag, who hosts the clip above, explains that pagan ritual and Christianity coexisted for decades after the conversion of Constantine the Great.

Some historians, like Nichols, believe that Christianity simply merged pagan traditions with the the new religions.  For example:
  • kissing under the mistletoe probably came from the Viking goddess Frigg. 
  • Vikings and Saxons worshiped tress and that worship may be the origin of the Christmas tree. 
  • And the Sigillari which, according to the article, "- held on the 23 December - was a day of present-giving in ancient Rome."

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