Pagan Orgies to Human Sacrifice: The Bizarre Origins of Christmas
Christmas was not, as it turns out, miraculously handed down as a fully formed holiday, complete with wrapped gifts and blinking lights. R...
Why December 25th?
One likely explanation is that early church leaders needed a holiday to distract Christians from the many pagan revelries occurring in late December. One of the revelries was The Saturnalia, a week-long festival celebrating the Romans' favorite agricultural god, Saturn. From December 17 until December 23, tomfoolery and pagan hijinks ensued, and by hijinks we mean gluttonous feasting, drunkenness, gambling and public nudity.
Pileus (roughly translated, "Freedom Hat").
The actual saint was not, in fact, famous for making dispirited public appearances at shopping malls. Rather, he was known for throwing purses of gold into a man's home in the cover of night so that the man wouldn't have to sell his daughters into prostitution.
So, back then Christmas wasn't "get a new Xbox day." It was, "you don't have to become a filthy whore day." While it could be argued that this basically makes Nicholas the anti-pimp, we prefer to think of him as the Bible's answer to Travis Bickle.
Later, Martin Luther invented his own Christmas symbol, Kristkindl, as part of his rejection of all things Catholic. What he came up with is by far the gayest of all Christmas symbols, as Kristkindl is portrayed as a "blond, radiant veiled child figure with golden wings, wearing a flowing white robe and a sparkling jeweled crown, and carrying a small Christmas tree or wand."
Writers at the time were still calling Santa an "elf," including Clement Clark Moore in his famous poem The Night Before Christmas. Perhaps the image of a dwarf-sized intruder seemed less threatening than a Chris Farley-sized version, but we're pretty sure we'd be more likely to piss our pants if an overly jolly costumed dwarf magically appeared and started hopping around our living room floor. The little person might just end up with a bullet in the head. Not that there's anything wrong with frolicking little people with a propensity for wearing elf garb, of course. Except that there totally is.
Making out under the mistletoe
First of all, we'd love to know who actually puts up mistletoe in the first place. Everybody knows about it, but does anybody actually do it? We only see it in sitcoms and the occasional Hall and Oates Christmas video, but we're 99 percent sure no one actually uses it in the 21st century.
Nevertheless, people who have enough sickening Christmas spirit to purchase the plant, then find a nail, then grab a chair, then remember they forgot to get the hammer, go retrieve the hammer from the freakin' garage, and then hang the mistletoe, might be less likely to do so if they knew the origins of the plant. The word "mistletoe" may be derived from the old German "mist," for dung, and "tang," for branch. That's right, the shit stick. As in, "let's go kiss under the shit stick, baby."
So how did people ever make the connection between the shit stick plant and romance? It goes back to the pagan belief that the white, sticky goo from the berries was the semen of the gods.
There was also a Norse tradition that if two warriors should meet under some mistletoe in the forest (it's a parasite that grows on tree branches) that they would lay down their arms and declare peace for the day. History does not indicate if this included sweaty, Norse man-kissing so we're forced to assume it did.
Both the Celts and the Druids used the plant as in ceremonial rituals, and as antidotes to poison, which was unfortunate, since mistletoe is, in fact, poisonous. But, it was the English who finally made mistletoe part of the holiday tradition. They used to cut a sprig of it from the previous year's holiday greens, then hang it in the house in some sort of voodoo attempt to ward off lightning and evil spirits.
Somehow all of that ridiculousness combined to create the "girl has to kiss you" tradition as it exists today (again, mostly on sitcoms). The invaluable American addition to the tradition is, of course, the drunken male placing the mistletoe over his crotch.
Again, give it another couple centuries and that'll be the standard.
Decorating a tree
Question: What customary Christmas holiday decoration bases its origins in ritualistic human sacrifice?
Answer: What, you can't read the heading? It's the Christmas tree, you lazy bastard.
Back in the pagan day, all inanimate objects were fair game for worship. Trees, rocks, mountains, funny shaped sticks that look like phalluses, whatever. So supposedly some of the Norsemen got it in their heads to worship a thunder god named Thor by ritualistically sacrificing humans and animals at the tree they designated "Thor's Oak."
Little did they know that Thor was too busy fighting the Incredible Hulk to notice the messy sacrifices.
You know who did notice? Christian missionaries. They notice everything. So, one missionary of the Christian persuasion, Winfred (aka Saint Boniface), came upon an imminent sacrifice and sternly disapproved. He took an ax and chopped down Thor's freaking oak, which in itself should make him some sort of god by default. Of course, because of his boring ass monotheistic beliefs, instead of declaring himself the god of thunder, Winfred focussed on a tiny little fir tree that grew from the hacked trunk. And as all Cracked readers likely know, the fir trees' triangular shape represents the Trinity, and voila, a Christian tradition was born.
However the tree did not, according to legend, spring out of the ground with little blinking lights and tin foil on it's branches. The thing with decorating the tree goes as far back as the 16th century, when people in Germany used to decorate their trees with apples, a tradition we can only assume stemmed from some crooked tree salesman who ran out of apple trees one year and wouldn't admit it. Other decorations included nuts and cheeses which again appears to be the same salesman testing the gullibility of his clients.
A guy brought the tradition to America in the 1800s, and when we say "a guy" we literally know who it was: a German immigrant named August Imgard. He was the first to stick little candy canes on it, and to put a star at the top. Whatever German strand of mental imbalance caused him to do that, this guy's spur-of-the-moment decoration idea now utterly pervades the imagery of the holiday. He was just a very bored German dude that needed a place to hang his candy canes.
We can go on and on about how different Christmas would be without him, but of course his contribution pales in comparison to St. Boniface. Without him, when little Timmy runs down the stairs this Christmas the only present he would find would be the gift of human sacrifice.