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Christmas — A Time of Joy and Reflection!

Like the months of the year and the days of the week, whose names come down to us from ancient and antediluvian times, many of the symbols of Christmas predate Christian times.

Christmas, “Christ’s Mass,” in our calendar represents the feast of the nativity of Jesus Christ, which according to Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 215) took place on either December 25 or January 6. That is why in some countries, like Spain and in Latin America, gift-giving takes place at Epiphany (January 6) rather than on Christmas Day as in most English-speaking countries. And yet, in ancient Rome, pagan priests celebrated the Saturnalia, dedicated to the god Saturn, from December 17 to 23, while December 25 was extolled as the renewal of Sol Invictus (“Unconquered Sun”). The northern tribes across the Danube celebrated the winter solstice (Dec. 21) as the Festive of Yule.

St. Gregory the Great (Pope, A.D. 590-604) encouraged Christian priests to adopt and reinterpret local customs while Christianizing people in foreign lands.

For ancient Germans, holly, pine branches, and other evergreens possessed magical power for their ability to remain green through the inclement winters of the northern regions, becoming symbols of eternal life. The Christmas tree, “Christ-tree,” originated in Germany, as “paradise trees,” decorated pine branches, and were carried in processions announcing miracle plays based on the lives of holy saints.

It was not until the nineteenth century, after Queen Victoria (and her family) appeared in a picture in The Illustrated London News around a large Christmas tree with many little candles and brilliant decorations, that Christmas celebration achieved overwhelming popularity.

Carols and noel came down to us from the Latin natalis, “the birthday,” thence the Spanish Navidad, the French Noël, the English Noel and “Christmas carol.” These songs of joy originated in France – perhaps sung by the romantic, knight-errant troubadours. The nativity scene, the crèche, originated around 1200 in Alpine Italy from where it spread to Germany and the U.S.

The gift-giving tradition originated in pagan Rome where citizens exchanged presents in the New Year. Centuries later in Spanish-speaking countries, including Cuba before the Revolution, the children went to bed the night before anticipating the many gifts they would receive on the morning of January 6 from the Magi — Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar, the “Three Wise Men of the East” — reflecting the tradition of bringing the precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Baby Jesus.

In Greece, St. Nicholas (of Myra) dropped gifts down chimneys on December 6. St. Nicholas became our jolly Santa Claus (Claus being the diminutive form of the German Nikolaus), first popularized in New York City in 1809 by the writer Washington Irving. Gift-giving, though, only became commonplace on Christmas Day in the U.S. late in the nineteenth century.

Sadly, Christmas has been criticized as a time of excessive merry-making; for excessive commercialization and “profit-making”; and when its symbols are displaced in public places, inveighed still by others for breaching the alleged “wall of separation of church and state,” a clause that does not appear anywhere in the U.S. Constitution or any of our founding documents.

If the tough Romans of pagan times banned wars during the Saturnalia, can we at the very least, reach out to each other in friendship and beneficence during the holidays?

Religious or not, we all have reasons to be grateful and to celebrate this Christmas, a transcendental time of reflection that warms the heart and uplifts the soul, a time of joy and forgiveness, a time for family and friends.

Written by Dr. Miguel Faria

Miguel A. Faria, M.D. is Associate Editor in Chief in neuropsychiatry; socioeconomics, politics, medicine, and world affairs of Surgical Neurology International (SNI). Author of Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise (2002). This article is excerpted, updated, and edited from his book, America, Guns, and Freedom: A Journey Into Politics and the Public Health & Gun Control Movements (2019).

This article was originally published in the Macon Telegraph, December 29, 2002.

This article may be cited as: Faria MA. Christmas — A Time of Joy and Reflection!, December 20, 2021. Available from:–a-time-of-joy-and-reflection/.

Copyright ©2002-2021 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.

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1 thought on “Christmas — A Time of Joy and Reflection!”

  1. I’m already imbued with the Christmas spirit and & hope you are too! We are celebrating Christmas time with FB in Florida 2 years ago. (Note: In our state of increasing PC and ignorance, I hope, nevertheless, that most Christians know what they are celebrating and it is not just gift exchanging!)

    My Jewish friends will also celebrate Hanukkah, which commemorates the recovery of Jerusalem and rededication of the Second Temple, as the Maccabeans began their revolt against Antiochus IV Epiphanes, King of the Seleucid Empire of Syria (Hellenistic ) in the 2nd century BC.

    You have heard of the expression, to “draw a line in the sand.” Well here is the story: It goes back to the same King Antiochus IV and the Roman consul Gaius Popillius Laenas. In 168 B.C., the Seleucid King was about to invade Alexandria and Ptolemaic (Egyptian) territory with a large army. The Ptolemaic kingdom was a friend of Rome and you don’t mess with Rome’s friends. Both Livy and Polybius tell the story. In any event, the Roman envoy Laenas with a few other Roman dignitaries approached by foot to the frontier, drew a line or a circle around King Antiochus, and handing him a note from the Roman Senate and the Roman People (SPQR), warned him about entering Egyptian (Ptolemaic territory, a nation friendly to Rome) Laenas told him not to move out of the circle or cross the line, until he had considered the consequences. Antiochus Epiphanes hesitated momentarily but then immediately withdraw his army and returned to Syria. The power of Rome was so great and feared that a Roman envoy without an army was enough to deter a powerful king with a large body of troops from invading another nation—just by drawing a line in the sand! Our Senate was fashioned after the Roman Senate but, alas, the caliber of the occupants is not the same as in the time of the Roman Republic! 😎

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