WE are reaching the time of the year when the whole Christian world is
preparing to celebrate the most noted of its solemnities--the birth of the
Founder of their religion. When this paper reaches its Western subscribers,
there will be festivity and rejoicing in every house. In North Western
Europe and in America the holly and ivy will decorate each home,
and the churches bedecked with evergreens; a custom derived from
the ancient practices of the pagan Druids "that sylvan spirits might
flock to the evergreens, and remain unnipped by frost till a milder
season." In Roman Catholic countries large crowds flock during
the whole evening and night of "Christmas-eve" to the churches,
to salute waxen images of the divine Infant, and his Virgin mother, in her garb of "Queen of Heaven." To an analytical mind,
this bravery of rich gold and lace, pearl-broidered satin and velvet,
and the bejewelled cradle do seem rather paradoxical. When one thinks
of the poor, worm-eaten, dirty manger of the Jewish country-inn,
in which, if we must credit the Gospel, the future "Redeemer"
was placed at his birth for lack of a better shelter, we cannot help
suspecting that before the dazzled eyes of the unsophisticated devotee the
Bethlehem stable vanishes altogether. To put it in the mildest terms, this gaudy display tallies ill with the democratic feelings and the truly
divine contempt for riches of the "Son of Man," who had
"not where to lay his head." It makes it all the harder
for the average Christian to regard the explicit statement that--"it
is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for
a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven," as anything more
than a rhetorical threat. The Roman Church acted wisely in severely
forbidding her parishioners to either read or interpret the Gospels for
themselves, and leaving the Book, as long as it was possible, to proclaim its truths in Latin--"the voice of one crying in the wilderness."
In that, she but followed the wisdom of the ages--the wisdom of the
old Aryans, which is also "justified of her children";
for, as neither the modern Hindu devotee understands a word of the
Sanskrit, nor the modern Parsi one syllable of the Zend, so
for the average Roman Catholic the Latin is no better than Hieroglyphics.
The result is that all the three--Brahmanical High Priest, Zoroastrian
Mobed, and Roman Catholic Pontiff, are allowed unlimited opportunities
for evolving new religious dogmas out of the depths of their own fancy,
for the benefit of their respective churches.
To usher in this great day, the bells are set merrily ringing
at midnight, throughout England and the Continent. In France
and Italy, after the celebration of the mass in churches magnificently
decorated, "it is usual for the revellers to partake of a
collation (reveillon) that they may be better able to sustain
the fatigues of the night," saith a book treating
upon Popish church ceremonials. This night of Christian fasting
reminds one of the Sivaratree of the followers of the god Siva,--the
great day of gloom and fasting, in the 11th month of the Hindu
year. Only, with the latter, the night's long vigil
is preceded and followed by a strict and rigid fasting. No reveillons
or compromises for them. True, they are but wicked "heathens,"
and therefore their way to salvation must be tenfold harder.
Though now universally observed by Christian nations as the anniversary
of the birth of Jesus, the 25th of December was not originally
so accepted. The most movable of the Christian feast days,
during the early centuries, Christmas was often confounded with
the Epiphany, and celebrated in the months of April and May.
As there never was any authentic record or proof of its identification,
whether in secular or ecclesiastical history, the selection of
that day long remained optional; and it was only during the 4th
century that, urged by Cyril of Jerusalem, the Pope (Julius
I) ordered the bishops to make an investigation and come finally to some
agreement as to the presumable date of the nativity of Christ.
Their choice fell upon the 25th Day of December,--and a most unfortunate
choice it has since proved! It was Dupuis, followed by Volney,
who aimed the first shots at this natal anniversary. They proved
that for incalculable periods E before our era, upon very clear
astronomical data, nearly all the ancient peoples had celebrated
the births of their sun-gods on that very day. "Dupuis shows
that the celestial sign of the VIRGIN AND
CHILD was in existence several thousand years before Christ"--remarks
Higgins in his Anacalypsis. As Dupuis, Volney,
and Higgins have all been passed over to posterity as infidels,
and enemies of Christianity, it may be as well to quote,
in this relation, the confessions of the Christian Bishop of Ratisbone,
"the most learned man that the middle ages produced"--the Dominican,
Albertus Magnus. "The sign of the celestial Virgin rises above
the horizon at the moment in which we fix the birth of the Lord Jesus
Christ," he says, in the Recherches historiques
sur Falaise, par Langevin prêtre. So Adonis,
Bacchus, Osiris, Apollo, etc., were all born
on the 25th of December. Christmas comes just at the time of the
winter solstice; the days then are shortest, and Darkness
is more upon the face of the earth than ever. All the sun
Gods were believed to be annually born at that epoch; for from
this time its Light dispels more and more darkness with each succeeding
day, and the power of the Sun begins to increase.
However it may be, the Christmas festivities, that were
held by the Christians for nearly fifteen centuries, were of a
particularly pagan character. Nay, we are afraid that even
the present ceremonies of the church can hardly escape the reproach of
being almost literally copied from the mysteries of Egypt and Greece,
held in honour of Osiris and Horus, Apollo and Bacchus.
Both Isis and Ceres were called "Holy Virgins," and a
DIVINE BABE may be found in
every "heathen" religion. We will now draw two pictures
of the Merrie Christmas; one portraying the "good old times,"
and the other the present state of Christian worship. From the
first days of its establishment as Christmas, the day was regarded
in the double light of a holy commemoration and a most cheerful festivity:
it was equally given up to devotion and insane merriment. "Among
the revels of the Christmas season were the so-called feasts of fools
and of asses, grotesque saturnalia, which were termed 'December
liberties,' in which everything serious was burlesqued,
the order of society reversed, and its decencies ridiculed"--says
one compiler of old chronicles. "During the Middle Ages,
it was celebrated by the gay fantastic spectacle of dramatic mysteries,
performed by personages in grotesque masks and singular costumes.
The show usually represented an infant in a cradle, surrounded
by the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, by bull's heads,
cherubs, Eastern Magi, (the Mobeds of old) and manifold
ornaments. The custom of singing canticles at Christmas,
called Carols, was to recall the songs of the shepherds at the
Nativity. "The bishops and the clergy often joined with the
populace in carolling, and the songs were enlivened by dances,
and by the music of tambours, guitars, violins and organs.
. . " We may add that down to the present times,
during the days preceding Christmas, such mysteries are being enacted,
with marionettes and dolls, in Southern Russia, Poland,
and Galicia; and known as the Kalidowki. In Italy,
Calabrian minstrels descend from their mountains to Naples and Rome,
and crowd the shrines of the Virgin-Mother, cheering her with their
In England, the revels used to begin on Christmas eve,
and continue often till Candlemas (Feb. 2), every day being
a holiday till Twelfth-night (Jan. 6). In the houses of
great nobles a "lord of misrule," or "abbot of unreason"
was appointed, whose duty it was to play the part of a buffoon.
"The larder was filled with capons, hens, turkeys,
geese, ducks, beef, mutton, pork, pies,
puddings, nuts, plums, sugar and honey."
. . . "A glowing fire, made of great
logs, the principal of which was termed the 'Yule log,'
or Christmas block, which might be burnt till Candlemas eve,
kept out the cold; and the abundance was shared by the lord's tenants
amid music, conjuring, riddles, hot-cockles,
fool-plough, snap-dragon, jokes, laughter,
repartees, forfeits, and dances."
In our modern times, the bishops and the clergy join no more 'with
the populace in open carolling and dancing; and feasts of "fools
and of asses" are enacted more in sacred privacy than under the eyes
of the dangerous argus-eyed reporter. Yet the eating and drinking
festivities are preserved throughout the Christian world; and,
more sudden deaths are doubtless caused by gluttony and intemperance during
the Christmas and Easter holidays, than at any other time of the
year. Yet, Christian worship becomes every year more and
more a false pretence. The heartlessness of this lip-service has
been denounced innumerable times, but never, we think,
with a more affecting touch of realism than in a charming dream-tale,
which appeared in the New York Herald about last Christmas.
An aged man, presiding at a public meeting, said he would
avail himself of the opportunity to relate a vision he had witnessed on
the previous night. "He thought he was standing in the pulpit
of the most gorgeous and magnificent cathedral he had ever seen.
Before him was the priest or pastor of the church, and beside him
stood an angel with a tablet and pencil in hand, whose mission
it was to make record of every act of worship or prayer that transpired
in his presence and ascended as an acceptable offering to the throne of
God. Every pew was filled with richly-attired worshippers of either
sex. The most sublime music that ever fell on his enraptured ear
filled the air with melody. All the beautiful ritualistic church
services, including a surpassingly eloquent sermon from the gifted
minister, had in turn transpired, and yet the recording
angel made no entry in his tablet! The congregation were at length dismissed
by the pastor with a lengthy and beautifully-worded prayer, followed
by a benediction, and yet the angel made no sign!"
"Attended still by the angel, the speaker left the door of
the church in rear of the richly-attired congregation. A poor,
tattered castaway stood in the gutter beside the curbstone, with
her pale, famished hand extended, silently pleading for
alms. As the richly-attired worshippers from the church passed
by, they shrank from the poor Magdalen, the ladies withdrawing
aside their silken, jewel bedecked robes, lest they should
be polluted by her touch."
"Just then an intoxicated sailor came reeling down the sidewalk
on the other side. When he got opposite the poor forsaken girl,
he staggered across the street to where she stood, and,
taking a few pennies from his pocket, he thrust them into her hand,
accompanied with the adjuration, 'Here, you poor forsaken
cuss, take this!' A celestial radiance now lighted up the face
of the recording angel, who instantly entered the sailor's act
of sympathy and charity in his tablet, and departed with it as
a sweet sacrifice to God."
A concretion, one might say, of the Biblical story of the
judgment upon the woman taken in adultery. Be it so; yet
it portrays with a master hand the state of our Christian society.
According to tradition, on Christmas eve, the oxen may
always be found on their knees, as though in prayer and devotion;
and, "there was a famous hawthorn in the churchyard of Glastonbury
Abbey, which always budded on the 24th, and blossomed on
the 25th of December"; which, considering that the
day was chosen by the Fathers of the church at random, and that
the calendar has been changed from the old to the new style, shows
a remarkable perspicacity in both the animal and the vegetable! There
is also a tradition of the church, preserved to us by Olaus,
archbishop of Upsal, that, at the festival of Christmas,
"the men, living in the cold Northern parts, are suddenly
and strangely metamorphosed into wolves; and that a huge multitude
of them meet together at an appointed place and rage so fiercely against
mankind, that it suffers more from their attacks than ever they
do from the natural wolves." Metaphorically viewed,
this would seem to be more than ever the case with men, and particularly
with Christian nations, now. There seems no need to wait
for Christmas eve to see whole nations changed into "wild beasts"--especially
in time of war.
Theosophist, December, 1879