Monday, December 20, 2010

Christians, the Original Clever Marketers

If you were going to start a new religion, what would you have to have?  Certainly a few miracles would help...things like "virgin births" for the object of your worship; and "resurrecting" after being pronounced "dead" wouldn't hurt;  and then, you'd probably need some of those miraculous heavenly occurences such as fortuitously timed eclipses and meteor showers and a Star in the East...and, of course, over this year's celebration, we have all of the above.  It's a bonanza of symbolism!

But those elements alone --especially in the face of so many other religious choices that were concurrently proclaiming the same thing and simultaneously campaigning for supplicants--clearly would not be enough to entice the numbers of followers sought and dreamed of. 

No, indeed.  You would need something to set your religion apart--something for everyone- or a lot of "somethings" to attract followers and pull them away from their "pagan" beliefs.  The Christians decided over time, having tried and failed many times to coalesce the general population into a unified whole in support of this new religion, that adding selective pieces of other religions, might help.

First, the Winter Solstice offered a reason for the season....choosing the DARKEST day of the year, Christians could look forward to seeing "more light" from that point on in the year and thereby offered a more festive mood for the general populace.  The symbolic  juxtapositioning, too,  was irresistible, with it's "enlightened" approach.

Next, you would need some kind of "feast" and it just so happened that the Roman Feast of Saturnalia coincided with the Winter Solstice.    From the website, Time and Date

"In Ancient Rome the winter (December) solstice festival Saturnalia began on December 17 and lasted for seven days. It was held to honor Saturn, the father of the gods and was characterized by the suspension of discipline and reversal of the usual order. Grudges and quarrels were forgotten while businesses, courts and schools were closed. Wars were interrupted or postponed and slaves were served by their masters. Masquerades often occurred during this time.

It was traditional to offer gifts of imitation fruit (a symbol of fertility), dolls (symbolic of the custom of human sacrifice), and candles (reminiscent of the bonfires traditionally associated with pagan solstice celebrations). A mock king was chosen, usually from a group of slaves or criminals, and although he was permitted to behave in an unrestrained manner for seven days of the festival, he was usually killed at the end. The Saturnalia eventually degenerated into a week-long spree of debauchery and crime – giving rise to the modern use of the tern saturnalia, meaning a period of unrestrained license and revelry."

But the religion still seemed lacking in that there wasn't anything for the pagan Norse, so Christians decided--over time-- to reach out to those Vikings, and toss in a few "bones" of their traditions to sweeten the pie.  In this, there was a nod to the various sects of witches and ancient clusters of various genre of worshippers--not wanting to forget the Druids, after all. 

Again from Time and Date:

"The Feast of Juul was a pre-Christian festival observed in Scandinavia at the time of the December solstice. Fires were lit to symbolize the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun. A Yule or Juul log was brought in and burned on the hearth in honor of the Scandinavian god Thor.

A piece of the log was kept as both a token of good luck and as kindling for the following year’s log. In England, Germany, France and other European countries, the Yule log was burned until nothing but ash remained. The ashes were then collected and either strewn on the fields as fertilizer every night until Twelfth Night or kept as a charm and or as medicine.

French peasants believed that if the ashes were kept under the bed, they would protect the house against thunder and lightning. The present-day custom of lighting a Yule log at Christmas is believed to have originated in the bonfires associated with the feast of Juul.

Christmas is also referred to as Yule, which may have derived from the Norse word jól, referring to the pre-Christian winter solstice festival. Yule is also known as Alban Arthan and was one of the “Lesser Sabbats” of the Wiccan year in a time when ancient believers celebrated the rebirth of the Sun God and days with more light. This took place annually around the time of the December solstice and lasted for 12 days. The Lesser Sabbats fall on the solstices and equinoxes."

And, of course, the traditional colors from the Roman Feast of Saturnalia were co-opted for good measure--red symbolizing blood and, hence, life, and green symbolizing growth for the coming year. Greenery and red berries were traditionally brought indoors and were used to decorate (honor) for those gods that were responsible for fertility and continuity of life.

Of course, historically speaking,  it took hundreds of years to put all these puzzle pieces together, but gradually, the picture evolved to become one of the the most popular religions in the world--a religion with all the "right stuff," containing the best ingredients, each lifted from other popular religions over eons, and each element designed to attract the widest possible audience using tools like astronomy, gastronomy, economy, and agronomy.  And from its humble beginnings, just look how far it's come!  

Photo by Nicolette Neish


  1. I love your photo today. That's a great photo! Thanks for posting it!

    Carolyn H.

  2. Hey, Carolyn!
    Thanks so much! I grabbed that shot just as I was on my way to milk the cow last night! One of those photographic "gifts" that surprise!

    Have a lovely holiday season! I remember your lovely pictures from last year when we had all that snow! And you, tucked away in your cabin!


  3. An interesting post. While teaching my children about the meaning of Christmas (and including my radical view that non-Christians should celebrate something else, possibly mid-winter)and leave Christmas for Christians. I am always careful to tell them of the links to the mid-winter solstice though I think they are a bit young to be introduced to Saturnalia! I know that I long for the sun and celebrate the fact that the nights will be getting shorter. I don't tell my kids that there probably wasn't a donkey and the number of kings is debateable. But then I don't tell them Santa isn't real either. Some traditions are just there to be enjoyed. You know I don't think my boys believe that Santa fills their Christmas stockings but woe betide if they didn't appear on Christmas morning!

  4. Elora -- Great research on Christianity. Many folks do not realize that much of it came from the bits and pieces of other religious thoughts -- especially paganism. My problem with some religions is that they do not practice humanism or are not compassionate for all life in general only rules and regulations of a conjured-up doctrine. Traditions are fine as long as there is not negative bias or bigoted judgments contained within them. Your moon photo was superb! -- barbara

  5. I think most of us Christians are aware that Jesus wasn't born on December 25 and are also cognizant of the pagan origin of many of the Christmas traditions. Speaking for myself, all those "trappings" mean very little to me. What matters to me as a Christian is my core belief that Jesus came into the world to teach the value of living with love, kindness, peace, and compassion. Christmas is merely the time chosen to celebrate that, to symbolize a moment that is holy to those of us who choose to believe in it. And even though many of the events chronicled in the Bible are historically supported, I'm not here to argue that. Because, really, FAITH is the basis of my beliefs---faith in what I perceive to be true, a deep and profound supernatural certainty in a Higher Power. And because Jesus taught tolerance, I've always respected the rights of others not to believe what I do. But I do hope for that same tolerance in them and hope that they would not ridicule my beliefs simply because they feel differently, especially at a time that symbolizes an event holy and sacred to us.

  6. Perfectly spoken, Beth! Thanks for your comment(s)! I so appreciate them, and also appreciate your sensitive and loving personality. You have such a winning way with us all...

    I haven't gotten notice of a continuing persimmon story...??? Did I miss something? It's been hard of lately to get to the blogs I love with the Internet being so slow due to kiddies at home from closed schools because of weather. But I hope your story continues...I am waiting for the second chapter!

    Hope you and your family have a lovely Christmas! And thanks again!


  7. Ruta,

    Exactly. Celebrating "something else" or just taking responsibility for some continuing charitable effort might be the best way of expressing the joy of the at being alive (seeing the moon-shadows on the driven snow) at having love....we can all widen our scope and our way of "seeing things" can't we!

    Thanks for your comment(s)! Have a very Happy Christmas with your wonderful family!


  8. Good post, Elora! Christmas means different things to to different people. And surely the Joy and Peace on Earth aspect of the celebration can be embraced even by non-believers like myself.