Friday, December 2, 2016

Falsely Accused? Christmas Trees Were Christian Theater Props

In our last post, we delved into some pagan traditions that some authors - independent of COG-favorite Alexander Hislop - claim gave rise to the Christmas tree. We also explained the problems with these claims and showed why they probably are not the source for the Christmas tree tradition.

But if Christmas trees didn't come from pagan tree worship, where did they come from?

Mystery Plays

Many historians believe that Christmas trees came from the traditional medieval “mystery plays” that European Christians used to teach bible stories to the largely-illiterate population. These plays are also called “miracle plays” and “paradise plays” (although the paradise play technically refers to the performance that told the story of Adam and Eve's sin). German author Bernd Brunner explores this claim in his book, Inventing the Christmas Tree (translated by Benjamin A. Smith).
“A link can be made between the ritual of our Christmas tree and the paradise play, which had existed since the Middle Ages, even before the nativity play,” Brunner writes (p. 15-16). “At a time in which many people couldn't read and books were a valuable possession, biblical stories were dramatized as mystery plays, illustrating doctrinal episodes from creation to damnation to redemption.”
These performances can be traced back to liturgical plays performed at Christmas, Easter and other church festivals, according to “Everyman” with Other Interludes, Including Eight Miracle Plays (p. 10). This early 1900s volume, by Ernest Rhys, includes research about the history of miracle plays, as well as several popular plays themselves. Rhys' research shows that the plays developed concurrently in French/Norman and English/Saxon culture. Not surprisingly, the French and Norman plays developed similarly, while the English and Saxon plays closely resembled each other.

The earliest discovered fragments of these liturgical plays date to around 967 A.D. and were written in Latin, according to Rhys (p. 10). They were part of Church liturgy and were performed within the church building, during the specific times of year the ecclesiastical calendar proscribed. (p. 19). The paradise play was traditionally performed the day before Christmas to explain why the world needed a Savior and to set the stage for His entrance.

The paradise play included a green “tree of paradise” decorated with apples and communion wafers, according to Brunner (p. 15-16).
“Human sin was connected to the enjoyment of a fruit – a bright red apple or a pomegranate – and its atonement is set into motion by the birth of Christ. Jesus reaches for the apple that Mary offers him and takes upon himself the sins of the world – a common motif in medieval art,” Brunner says.
Scripts from these plays themselves confirm Brunner's statements. One script from York, England, compiled in 1415, gives us these opening notes for actors in the “paradise play” segment:
“Adam and Eve with a tree betwixt them; the serpent deceiving them with apples; God speaking to them and cursing the serpent, and an angel with a sword driving them out of paradise.”

In fact, apples were the original ornament used to decorate Christmas trees, Brunner says. Glass ornaments first appeared in the 17th century, when a drought destroyed the apple harvest in the Alsace region. In 1858, glassblowers in the French village of Meisenthal made red glass spheres to replace the apples on local Christmas trees. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Over time, “the first Adam” became traditionally associated with December 24th  in Orthodox Christian traditions as a way of foreshadowing the coming of the "last" Adam, who is traditionally associated with December 25th.

(1 Corinthians 15:45-47) So it is written, "The First man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven.

 The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates a festival remembering Adam and Eve on Christmas Eve. This never happened officially in the Roman Catholic Church, but many Catholic resources tell us that the historical association with Adam remained. Further, the liturgical plays began before the Great Schism of 1054 A.D., so the traditional association is almost certain in the west as well.

The Guilds

Then, in the late thirteenth century, the plays began migrating out of the church. They first moved into the church yard, then onto a nearby street, and finally out in the town, where open space made more props and equipment possible (Rhys, 12). The clergy kept a hand in the scripts, but the rising town guilds supplied the actors, giving the plays new character and relatability. (Guilds were the associations of artisans or merchants who controlled the practice of their craft in a particular town. Guild apprenticeship and memberships were a matter of pride and prestige).

When the Council of Vienna established the Festival of Corpus Christi in 1311 A.D., it helped to make the jump from liturgical dramas to guild plays official. The festival was held on a Thursday in June and featured mystery play performances rather than quotations from scripture (Rhys, 20). Corpus Christi was scheduled during one of the few times in northern Europe when moderate temperatures and long periods of daylight made lengthy performances possible. These conditions were key because, over time, friendly competition between the guilds led to elaborate plays lasting from sunrise until nightfall. Corpus Christi cemented the connection between the guilds and the plays  – they first asserted their importance by having members march with their guild banners during the festival procession.

Some believe the church was eager to transfer responsibilities to the guilds, Rhys said (p. 22). There had been internal objections to religious dramas within the church for some time. The church was probably happy to jettison the financial burden and responsibilities for crowd control. Of course, the church required the guilds to maintain their scripts, and exerted influence over their doctrinal accuracy. We will later see this authority used to subtly bring the plays to a halt during the Reformation period.

In England, the earliest record of a town pageant dates to 1268 A.D. in Chester. By the 1400s, there were regular performances in most English towns and larger villages. By 1422 A.D., the plays were entirely performed by the guilds, and as of 1467 A.D., eight guilds were producing the plays. Scripts from the 1500s list specific parts for local goldsmiths, plumbing guild members and glaziers.

The guilds were a natural fit to support and advance the plays, according to Rhys. They rose to civic importance during the 14th century. In many cities, city organization depended upon their inter-relationships. They promoted commerce, and so they had the financial ability for the undertaking.
Guild membership was a matter of pride – they often tussled with one another to maintain their importance and preserve their interests. This pride quickly transferred to the mystery plays. Though they were amateur productions, the prestige of the city often hinged upon them. Roles were a matter of pride. In places like York, regulations restricted actors from participating in more than two plays.

Sketch of Mystery Play performance  in York, England

But what about Germany? Granted, I can't read the medieval German sources like I can the English. But historians tell us that the plays developed along similar lines among the Saxons as they did the English. The earliest religious drama found in Germany was written in Latin and is from the Christmas liturgical cycle. Early on, they were performed in Latin by traveling scholars, began appearing in German in the 13th century and transitioned to the guilds.

Trees Appear on the Scene

So, we see that the guilds presented the mystery plays in the 1400s. We see that one of plays – one with a traditional connection to December 24 – featured a tree decorated with apples. During the same time period, we also see the first Christmas trees appearing on the scene in the 1400s – often connected with guilds, Brunner writes.
 “The tree of paradise and knowledge begins to transcend the religious context of the play and move toward a role in the Christmas celebrations of the guilds,” he explains. “Precisely how is not clear, but hints here and there provide clues of the transition.”

The first record we have dates to 1419, when the Fraternity of Baker's Apprentices set up a tree
decorated with apples, wafers, gingerbread and tinsel in the local hospital at Freiburg (Brunner, p. 4). Another document claims the first Christmas tree came two decades later – in 1441, when the Black Heads (foreign traders guild) set up a tree in front of the town hall for a dance in Talinn, Estonia. The Black Heads also erected a tree in front of the Riga, Latvia town hall in 1510, where children decorated it with woolen thread, straw and apples. A Christmas tree was raised in the Cathedral at Strasbourg in 1539.

Christmas trees in Riga, Latvia

“Where the first tree stood is lost to the ages. But we can assume that these more or less random extant documents refer to something that was already in existence decades before,” Brunner says (p. 5). “What is certainly is the appearance of the trees in the trade guilds of the sixteenth century.”
More complete records exist from guild chronicles in Bremen dated to 1570. A tree was placed in the guild's hall and decorated with apples, nuts, pretzels and paper flowers. During the Christmas celebration, the children were allowed to shake the tree to get the treats. Sometimes, the poor were allowed to plunder the tree before a town dance.

So, now which theory makes more sense?

a). Christmas trees are a reinvention of worship symbols from pagan religions that were discouraged - often under penalty of death - and went underground for several generations. They were then reintroduced as a Christianized symbol by a few diehard, clandestine pagans a few centuries later. Europe's Germanic population suffered from mass memory loss and forgot the origins of the decorated tree.


b) The guilds charged with holding pageants, which included paradise trees, set up decorations that look like paradise trees during a festive season traditionally associated with Adam, Eve and the paradise play.

“According to our current state of knowledge, the Christian paradise play, with its decorated tree of life and death at the center, played a decisive role in the emergence of the Christmas tree,” Brunner said. “In addition, the use of the tree in the play might have lent particular emphasis and dynamism to the custom as we know it today.”

Oh, right, we were originally talking about plays, not trees. Just what happened with these plays?

Most plays died out in the 1500s, despite the fact that they were still very popular. In London, they blamed it on the rise of Shakespeare and similar theater. Elsewhere in Europe, it's more obvious that the Reformation was their death knell. Early on, scripts were revised to eliminate Catholic themes. As time went on, the Church called in scripts for editing and held until it was too late in the year to perform them (perhaps until hours of sunlight and air temperatures were prohibitive), Rhys writes (p. 24). Protestants weren't the only ones to discourage the plays – in France, the  Catholic-leaning Parlement de Paris outlawed the plays in 1548.

The Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation rocked the landscape in Europe for decades to come. It changed religious life, political life and, in some cases, cost individuals their lives. It should be no surprise, then, that traditions and laws generated in this era changed the landscape of Christian worship forever. We will learn about what this meant for the Christmas tree in our next post.

Other articles in this series:

Falsely Accused? You Decide

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11


Anonymous said...

I am struck by the contrast of this article, showing, at least to a degree, the beauty of traditions and the craftsmanship involved in pursuing the social order of centuries past. We have entered a new age where so much has been lost and the values and mores of more simple times have degraded communities which had unique local color. Actually, the apple ornaments represented by the picture seem quite striking and beautiful.

What am I talking about.

Well, here it is, and I'd like to know what y'all think, because I just can't make up my mind.

Last week I saw a very disturbing ad for a particular Christmas tree ornament.

You can now buy Darth Vader Christmas ornaments.

I will refrain from saying, "May the force be with you," since that feeds into the insanity....

xHWA said...

I saw a Darth Vader ugly Christmas sweater last night.

It's an odd thing, Darth Vader. Clearly Vader was evil. But I think our modern tendency towards nihilism, and with a little nostalgia, Vader has actually managed to turn into somewhat of an anti-hero. Plus, he does look pretty cool. Most kids when I was little wanted to be Luke Skywalker. Most kids now want to be Vader. But Vader was evil! I mean, you miss most of the point of Luke redeeming his father if you treat Vader as anything but evil.

Perhaps this Vader ornament has more to do with secularization of Christmas than the turning of Vader into a hero figure. What I mean is, without Jesus at the center of Christmas, then the celebration has absolutely no context. It's as if someone took Christmas and said, "We can't find any good reason for this day, but we like the pretty lights and trees and songs so we want to keep it around. Hey! Let's make the day ABOUT the lights and trees and songs!" And so you have a feast for the emotions and the senses, complete with Vader ornaments and ugly sweaters and $60,000 luxury automobiles wrapped up in the driveway with large red bows. Santa has completely replaced Jesus. Completely. The tree goes up a month before Christmas rather than on Christmas Eve for 12 days. And the tree with ornaments simply exist for their own decorative sake rather than as symbols with specific religious meanings.

Martha said...

Oh no. Now you've REALLY done it. You've opened the door for Martha to wax poetic about Star Wars.

Seriously, though, I think xHWA is exactly right. I think it's a by-product of the secularization of Christmas. If you remove Jesus from Christmas, but still want to have the pretty tree and lights and food and parties, then why not have Darth Vader or minions or Elsa or other figures who your family enjoys on your Christmas tree? (Although I do see Vader presents issues that other secular characters I mentioned do not). We have mostly religious ornaments on our tree, with a few winter and nature ones thrown in, but we're relatively new at this. We have one Disney Rapunzel that a friend gave to one of my kids. My husband always bristles at it, but... it's still there. Thus the slippery slope of secularization. To be fair, though, I know a very devout Christian family that has been doing mission work for ages but they have Star Wars ornaments all over their tree. I will have to check to see if they have a Vader.

And yes, we do have a society that's less civil, fewer values, all that, but that's not entirely new. Many who protested Christmas, or at least some aspects of it, in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries criticized the immorality, gluttony, drunkenness, gambling and other unsavory activities that often accompanied the holiday in the secular realm, and sometimes in the Church. The Puritan movement didn't start in a vacuum. It was anti-Catholic but it was also anti just about everything else. The human heart was desperately wicked long before Jeremiah wrote about it. We just have tools to be more effectively wicked and broadcast it through social media now.

Back to Vader, though. When we were all kids, he was clearly evil for years and then he was good for like 15 minutes at the end. It was a nice ending but didn't define him for us, the evil did. But no one after us has seen him through that lens. In the next batch of movies, we see a well-intentioned, troubled hero who became jaded and slowly seduced into the Vader of our childhood, who is purely evil for only the waning portion of the movie. After that, we have the Clone Wars cartoons, where Anakin was clearly the hero. In The Force Awakens, we know him only as Luke and Leia's father, and as Kylo Ren's vague inspiration. Maybe Rogue One will restore Vader to the perspective we had as kids.

I think we all want to be Luke, but Luke is a hard person to be. Luke takes a huge leap of faith, is always loyal, always does what's right and takes the ultimate stand. If we're honest with ourselves, I think many of us know deep down we're Anakin, minus the murder and stuff. We start off good, but we get jaded and make mistakes, sometimes with good intentions, other times because we just don't care. Yet, hopefully, we are redeemed in the end. We see some of these troubled heroes in the more recent Batman and Superman reboots, too. They are less aspirational, but more real.

Although my son just told me he'd rather be Luke than Vader. So maybe there is hope for humanity.

Martha said...

Leave it to the girl in the room to overthink things and ruin Star Wars.

For the record, my friend does not have a Darth Vader ornament on her tree, but she does have a Storm Trooper.

xHWA said...


nck said...

"What I mean is, without Jesus at the center of Christmas, then the celebration has absolutely no context."

What a ridiculous statement.

For over 6000 years mankind has known that Summer and Life would return starting around december 21. All the ancient stone monuments are alligned with dates we now associate with Winter, Midsummer, Easter (fertility).

This is not Pagan knowledge. This is just scientific knowledge relevant to farming communnities since the first farmer started sowing his oats. (wink wink)

Without light there would be no fertility without fertility only dead remains.

Any farmer's daughter or son posesses this "esoteric knowledge."
A little bit harder to understand for Australians or Californian beach babes. But not so for the people rooted in the dark forests of Europe worshipping the Oak Tree.

This is not Hislop nonsense. Christmas is plain common sense for any farmer boy.


xHWA said...

Apparently not as ridiculous as claimed because clearly you didn't understand it or you wouldn't have made a statement that illustrates my point. Without Jesus at the center of the holiday, people reach for context, as you just did, attempting to artificially assign a solstice context to it.

"For over 6000 years mankind has known that Summer and Life would return starting around december 21"

Now that actually is a ridiculous statement. Are you saying that summer starts at the winter solstice? Or are you saying that December has been around for 6000 years? Or are you saying that the solstice has been on December 21st for 6000 years? Or are you saying that for 6000 years people have seen the winter solstice as some kind of new year? Or are you saying that Christmas started as a solstice festival?
Because none of those are correct.

nck said...


I am disappointed in myself that I didn't pay the proper respect to this blog by my of the cuff statement.

I am equally disappointed however that (and I assume that you are at least as intelligent as I am) by the options you offer you are clearly circumventing the obvious truth.

You could have deduced as an intelligent person that my impolite put statement meant to say that all European Stone monuments from Ireland to Malta, from France to Eastern Europe are thus alligned that the (modern date of 21 december) is a significant date in societies from 11.000 years ago.

Now I leave it to you what this date means but in Europe it coincides with the date that the days are getting longer again. And the date we call Easter today coincides with a burst in fertality obviously observable all over the part these momunments were placed.

So to farmer comunities this date signifies the return of the light the return of fertility the return of life and one can actually count the days that new seed needs to be planted.

This is not putting meaning into it. I leave that to the corrupt wizzards that probably lived of the farmers gifts/tithes/taxes through the power they wielded by posessing the skills to measure the course of the sun over the year. And therefore wielding power of timing and thus Life and Death for illiterate farmer communities.


xHWA said...

Thank you for the clarification, nck.

I ask what I do to you because I've had people on here make seriously bad claims and now it's my own habit to try to clarify when I'm not certain. But that leads me to another question that I was going to ask yesterday but didn't -- are you trying to claim that the context of Christmas is the solstice and the crop cycle?

What I'm hearing from you is December 21st or several days, which are not specifically Christmas, are seen as solstice or crop cycle dates. What I'm not certain about is how you link that into the context of Christmas specifically? In general, you are right. That time of year has been seen as such. I might be able to make a case that I think you're making for some other pagan holiday, just for example Yule. But in specific, you are not right. I have never seen or even heard where the context of Christmas isn't the birth of Jesus but rather the crop cycle. The context of the day has always been the birth of Jesus. As you know, commonality does not prove causality.

nck said...

Ah I see. You are establishing a clean break between the narratives. Or perhaps even that there is no link whatsoever since they are separate narratives. It would take quite a study to discuss this topic. And for now I am satisfied by the interesting topics you post on this blog.

Indeed I am not one of those "they are nimrodian pagan holidays" people.
Perhaps my position is explained a bit by the following story.

Nck enters the new top of the bill Tesla dealer in town.
Exclaims enthusiastically. Wow let me have a look at those chariots.

Salesman enters. Excuse me sir these are not chariots. These are the latest electrically solar powered 400 kw high tech vehicles.

Nck, well I have these pictures of the first cars in my pocket and those look exactly like horse drawn chariots. As a matter of fact they were manufactured by chariot makers now employed by car makers.

Salesman. Oh these are neat pictures. But as a matter of fact these cars are 1 horsepower cars and fueled by oil and gasoline. These vehicles in our showroom are powered by light.

Nck argues, didn't the plants that constitute the oil and gasoline draw their power from the sun also.

Salesman. Well sir, in general you are right. But in the specifics you are wrong. Not one of the materials we use in todays Tesla was used in the cars in your picture. Commonality does not prove causality. And as a matter of fact these cars are not the final goal for us. In a broader and wider picture we as a company have set our eyes on the planet mars.
On second thought at first I thought your picture were cute but now I feel that they do not exactly fuel the further progress of mankind. They are unfriendly to the environment and frankly remind me of bad times. They are completely separate from our narrative.

Nck leaves the showroom somewhat dismayed. I still believe they are chariots.
Salesman asks to nck to leave his e-mail adress so he can send him some more materials to study during the holidays, just for edification and tells nice story about the strange client that entered the showroom with the pictures to his colleagues, who straigthen their ties and prepare for a new and bright day. While nck drives away in his old Honda in the certainty of his convictions and prepares for a day of labor too. Ora et Labora.


xHWA said...


The biggest issue that I have with your illustration is that you've taken something (cars) that might actually have progressed from another thing (chariots) whereas that is simply not the case with the history of Christmas. In order to get Christmas to descend from crop festivals you've created a relationship. The ties you assert are based on nothing more than proximity in the year. But here at As Bereans Did, we try to dig and uncover the actual history of Christmas. We've dug into the history for years now. What we've found doesn't match what you're saying.

I like your illustration idea, so I'm going to sincerely flatter it by copying it and making my own illustration for you.

[nck] Wal Mart is descended from a car dealership.
[xhwa] But the history of Wal Mart isn't a blank canvas we can just assign anything we feel like to it. The history of Wal Mart had nothing to do with car dealerships.
[nck] But for thousands of years people have been carrying goods in wagons. Eventually chariots were developed. Cars are modern chariots. There are several car dealerships on the same street as Wal Mart. They sell car parts at Wal Mart. Therefore Wal Mart came from a car dealership.
[xhwa] But you're using tangentially related information to build a connection that doesn't actually exist based on little more than some loose commonality. The history of Wal Mart is not a mystery. It's documented. Sam Walton didn't own a car dealership. He didn't even sell cars.
[nck] Maybe not, but anyone who sells things can relate to shipping their goods in vehicles. No doubt Sam Walton drove in cars. Cars are inseparable from Wal Mart.
[xhwa] You give a lot of facts, but that doesn't change the reality that Wal Mart didn't start as a car dealership. Nor is its primary context as a car dealership.

The history of Christmas is not a huge mystery like it used to be. There were lots of solstice celebrations around the world, but it doesn't matter if there were 0 or a million. Solstice and crop cycle celebrations simply do not even factor in to it. Winter doesn't factor in to it. To the best that I can determine from reading histories far and wide, the date of Christmas was chosen because it was 9 months after the date of March 25th. It's as simple as that. The reasons why March 25 was selected are plain in the documents. It didn't have anything to do with winter solstice or crop cycles. When a day was chosen for a reason, we can't simply assign it a new origin after the fact, no matter how much sense it might make to us.

nck said...


Thank you very much that in your communication style you have put considerable effort in "being a nck unto the nck...."

For now (on the eve of the 21st) I concede that so far the advantage of the research seems to be on your side.

If even part of what I said is based on true history then it must be burried in old books in monasteries where monks try to explain the sun dial in the celtic crosses to their superiors.
In my imagination some might resemble your argument and some mine. But as long as I dont forward ancient manuscripts your research is valid.

Even if I am not at all convinced by catholic type of christianity I have regard for monks and early 4th century christians trained in the Egyptian desert at Wadi Natrun monestry or someting. They get regular reports from Chalcedon or Constantinople or the Syriac Provinces on the progress of Christianity. Then a couple of these monks receive an assignment to bring light to the dark isles in the North West. At first they bump into some monks from the Skellig Islands who have obviously gone mad, having lived too long alone on the edge of the world. They manage to train and update some in the latest understanding agreed upon in Chalcedon as they set to bring more light to the Celtic tribes of Ireland.

These tribes are hardly easy to convince but those clever Roman trained monks like modern Jesuits look for obvious similarities in the belief systems as not to upset the local chieftains. After a couple of hundred years of succes those Irish Monks set out to Christen that darkened part of the world that is North Western Europe.

There they find the Germanic tribes with different customs. Those Germanic tribes first laugh at the funny hairstyles of the Irish Monks that differ from the occasional Roman monk they encounter and they are interested in the differing belief in the interpretation of what contitutes God and those funny dates like the thirteenth of Nisan they never heard of from the Roman monks.

Soon the Germanic chieftains stop laughing when those Irish monks start chopping their Holy Oaks and destroying their idols. To save their lives they must come up with some pretty good explanation as to why this God they speak about is in any way superior to their local Gods or the God that is preached by those occassional monk from Milan they usually kill right away.

Now. I wrote this story to bring a personal tribute to those guys from Ireland, deep in the woods of what we now call Germany, Luxemburg, the Frankish nation, Teutoburg and Sankt Gallen. Having the guts to preach and talk to peoples deep rooted in their personal beliefs in what constitutes power, glory, life, death and what their Gods expect of them.

Somehow they managed to convince people, tribes, kings by the power of their argument. And I somehow believe that they seldom or never used the expression "you are pagans" but had more careful ways of talking to the elders of fiersome tribes. Perhaps they also used the trickery of math or the power and magic of the written word and of course the conviction in their speech.

Nothing can diminish the courage of those guys even if they invented constructions that we from the comfort of our electronic library can dissect as being a "tribesman unto the tribesman". I am thankful for the ongoing effort to electronically store the ancient manuscripts that shed more light on this ancient world of "multicultural" mutual influence or confluence of Germanic, Celtic and Near Eastern thought.

On second thought it might also be Middle Eastern cultural imperialism of the Celtic and Germanic tribes. But of a different kind we saw today in Berlin. Although the local chieftain yielding to Charlemaigns sword might just agree with me.


xHWA said...


Believe it or not, I appreciate your last comment. You've thought through a few things, and *gasp* even considered what I said. We appreciate that kind of thing here. Even if we all don't agree 100%.

One thing in particular that I appreciate is that you understand the need for the old missionaries to be somewhat ecumenical in their approach. In Armstrongism, where I came from, we never sent out missionaries (other than publications) and if there ever was a situation like a private conversation among family where doctrine came up we were for the most part absolutely inflexible. It was scorched earth or nothing. We thought very negatively of missionaries who tried building bridges.

I'm sure that if we dig deeply enough we're going to find some people who tried after the fact to associate some solstice or crop cycle meanings into Christmas. Has to be there for someone. After all, fourth century pagan converts were kneeling to the sun on the very steps of the Basilica. If when the Druid religion was removed Yule lost its context and was completely replaced by Christmas, to the point where Yule was synonymous with Christmas, then somehow, somewhere, there had to be a group of people who assigned additional meaning to Christmas.

I don't personally think that makes the whole business pagan, though. Armstrongists would say it does. Guess I disagree with them.

nck said...

Armstrongism hailed from an Empire that was at the Zenith of its power. It did not speak to proud Teutonic tribes but to a people and a continent devastated and ravaged by War. The (or any) message from that empire (even if it hailed from Elvis Presley) was received with warm anticipation since it had brought peace and profit.

The protestant puritanism as an attack on anything catholic (or social democratic / fascism) wielded great authority and spoke to a continent reduced to austerity. Millions were encouraged by their governments to leave that destitute continent and go to New Zealand, Australia, Canada and even the United States where they were recieved as modern Israelites wandering in barren land.

How different from those ancient Irish missionaries. Entering the dark forests of Europe where the Walkure blew the Winds of Woden, where they were a distinct minority among the clean washed blonde women (re Tacitus). Somehow they managed to wield respect and authority as I said besides religion, showing of their mathematical trickery, linguistic skills and imagery and perhaps shedding light on a world of light beyond the dark, misty Germanic forests. True teachers and masters of their faith. Perhaps with an insight in the human condition that we find difficult to achieve in the comfort of our access to vast knowledge databases.

Did they preach the entire truth. I leave that to those inclined to research matters of religious kind. But I am willing to acknowledge those that uncompromisingly try to enhance the human condition. Whether they fly a GII or personally Chop an Oak tree while 6ft 3 big swordsmen look on in unappreciative manner.


nck said...

Well everybody Happy return to Summer...

As this 11th century prayer book confirms.
Christmas is noted.......But the Winter Solstice is in RED.

It's funny.
Once upon a time long ago in the mentioned strange church we pondered those strange holidays with ancient names from Hoeh's esoteric musings. Today the average 29 year old New York theatre producing hipster girl is wishing us over twitter a happy yule and that we are to wake her up at Ostara and if it hasn't warmed up by then to wake her up at Beltane.

I'm not implying she is doctrinally sound in any way, just an observation on how times have changed.


xHWA said...

I like this. Very interesting. Thanks!

Now I wish I could read Saxon.

I could be wrong, but it looks to me like the dates of the solstice and Christmas are not the same. That tends to lend credence to my understanding that Christmas was indeed separate in their view, and not in every possible way conflated together and "paganized" as Armstrong would have us believe.

nck said...

Yes yes,

We are still edifying not being antagonistic.

When you press the zoom. It is in latin not saxon.
Solstici marked in RED.

and indeed
on a later date
in ordinary letters marked with crosses (the same lettering as st stephens day whoever he may be) "vigili navitas" The eve of the birth of christ.

So yes separate dates, but the creator of this book steeped into Anglo Saxon culture was clear on his priorities.

I hope you liked the live pictures of Stonehenge this morning. Lots of dancing dressed up hippies, but the Sun and the Stones told their own story caught in stone frame for all eternity.


nck said...

By the account of the Venerable Bede the 20th and 25th are NOT separate.

In the JULIAN calendar active at that time they are the SAME date.

If found this on a British website.

Here in England it was celebrated for a number of days running on from the 25th of December. At that time, under the old Julian calendar, December 25 was also the winter solstice. (Today it is 20th December of course).

How do we know that the early Saxons celebrated Yuletide at this time? Well the 8th century scholar, Bede, tells us this in an essay he wrote on the Saxon calendar:

"They began the year with December 25, the day we now celebrate as Christmas; and the very night to which we attach special sanctity they designated by the heathen mothers’ night — a name bestowed, I suspect, on account of the ceremonies they performed while watching this night through."


nck said...

I believe the solution is in the bible.

Joseph and Mary were attending the Feast of Tabernacles when Christ was born.
For all practical and obvious reasons the Vulcan Romans organized a Census around this time.
What other time would be suitable for such Census?

Now in the same tradition of the preceding Romans a question was asked what would be a suitable time to celebrate the birth of Christ.

For all practical and obvious reasons the celebrations were to take place when the Germanic tribes already gathered for their own celebrations and their religious fervor was already sparked.

I acknowledge that one can interpret the meaning of the Germanic and the Middle Eastern customs as being separate. Just as black friday is a completely separate occurence from Thanksgiving day. Albeit that for all practical purposes the shopping spree on Friday is intricately linked to the celebrations of Thanksgiving day and has developed into a significant day in its own right (at least for the priests at Wall street).


xHWA said...

Many scholars have since come to disagree with Bede on that timing, though. The Germans, so it seems, didn't care all that much for the winter solstice. He got a couple details wrong about Yule, so it's not unheard of. I've read a few books that claimed the Germanic new year was likely in November.

And it should be mentioned that December 25th was not the solstice back in Bede's day. Or for several hundred years before Bede's day. December 25 was made the solstice in 46-45 BC by Julius Caesar, and stopped being the solstice about 130 years later. So, when December 25th was being calculated by Roman Christians in the early 200's, December 25th was no longer the actual solstice but was traditional only. (And with no celebration on that date.) There's no great reason for any Germanic tribe to put any special significance to the Julian calendar date of December 25th (or, more accurately, 8 days before the Ides of January) prior to the introduction of Christianity. I would speculate that the syncretism was less blending pagan and Christian dates together but rather pagans just adopting Christian dates.

nck said...


Yes, Thank you for that addition.

The whole matter seems to be more complicated.

My Islamic colleagues have Ramadan in Summer and then it shifts through the year to Winter.
Because they adhere to the Lunar calendar.

It seems the Germanic tribes adhered to the Lunar calendar aswell. So their Holy Days shifted through the Roman Calendar.

It seems I have taken the atheist position in this matter. (that it is all planet based)
And I am fine with that. I'm fine with any creed that proposes the edification of mankind toward new horizons.

(the planetary/calendar explanation)


nck said...

About Bede being wrong on Yule.

It is my limited understanding that:
-Bede did not like the pagan practices very much (therefore was careless in his description)
-Bede did not understand that Yule was a very long period and not so much specific days.
-Bede did not have the advantage of the internet and describes the "pagan" practices that were already synchretised with Christianity.

That means he makes a description of a "pagan" obervance of "mothersnight" which was probably a feast where Holy Mother Mary was already blended in with more ancient Germanic traditions. But Bede did not now that because he could not look it up on the internet. He could just describe as he saw it.

I have seen this mechanism at work when I was a student. Some fraternities claimed practices and traditions that were seemingly "very old". But actually they had not been around 40 years before speaking to alumni. Same with Bede. He sees a "pagan" feast, but it is already christianized by the germanic women.


Martha said...

The St. Stephen listed here is the Stephen who was martyred in Acts 7.

However one feels about the practice of saint's days, it's interesting to see the first Christian martyr being honored immediately after the remembrance of Christ, chronologically speaking. I can appreciate the systematic approach and think it lends credibility to the church Fathers' intentions. Even Martin Luther named December 26th as St. Stephen's Day years after the Reformation, I learned a few months ago when I was scanning through a book of his Advent sermons.

nck said...

Yes, I was somewhat irreverant to St Stephen on purpose, drawing attention to the practice of assigning a cluster of dates in december to biblical persons as a deliberate construction.

Stephen is indeed deserving of an honorable mention though.

I think we have exchanged some interesting ideas. I have stayed quite superficial, so that those with deeper interest on the subject will not have their appetite quenched.

I would like to make one more statement before the solstice.
Many Americans are quite startled to learn that the stories as portrayed in Disneyland as adapted to an American audience are quite unlike their horrific European originals.

In the same manner I would encourage people who are open to wierd experiences to spend a couple of weeks in the Austrian or Italian Alps to have their encounter with Krampus man. Or encounter some of the ancient practices in the Black Forrest area that some would find hard to place in a Christian context. In the same manner at Easter it is possible to encounter villages with church bells ringing while huge piles of wood are burned and all the children dancing with excitement. No sacrifices just a distant echo of times long past.

A couple of years ago I was visiting Berlin and later in the week I found myself further up north hiking through a forest on the island of Rugen. After having visited the place of an ancient pagan worship site and residence of Gods long forgotten, I walked through the forest along the coast when a huge wind from Sweden crossed the sea into the forest. It was there and then that I experienced the power of Woden and the Walkure as experienced by the ancients. It was magnificent, fearsome and all powerful. Perhaps not unlike Moses' experience up there high on the mountain, with all his senses overwhelmed during his personal encounter.

My hope is that all men might find intellectual satisfaction in searching for truth and I pray that their journey will lead them to and through powerful experiences that might assist them transforming into their full potential or at least connect them to that which is most authentic within themselves.


nck said...

Dear Martha,

I have ceased this discussion since we are passed the 21st.

1) I would like to commend you for the articles that shed more light on an aspect that mattered to COGism perhaps in a manner that did not encompass the complete story and was perhaps erroneous in part (depending where you come from).

2) There are a couple of angles this topic can be adressed from. I would like to recommend historian Simon Schama's first chapter of his 1995 book Landscape and Memory. (Harper Collins).

He makes a case from historic sources where the Latin writers from Tacitus on, deliberately make distinctions between their "Latin world" and the "Germanic" world and enlighten through contrast.

This somehow fits into my personal theory on WCG. I consider WCG/HWA a very time bound / Cold War related organism that hailed from an Empire at its Zenith and had reason to consider the Germanic World a contrast to their own aspirations.

In that light the lambasting of the christmas tree by wcg fits in a 2000 year old tradition of contrasting a world of power through culture versus a world of nature. Roman versus German. Empire versus defeated. etc etc

It is just a theory but perhaps an interesting angle for those that like to look further than the "worn out" christian versus pagan argument. In my opinion religion can be politics as well.

Thanks again for making me read my Schama again and the effort you have put in the research for you articles.


ericsjca said...

Some of the links in the sidebar are broken:
"We recommend the following ABD articles:..."

xHWA said...

Oh? Oops. I will have to fix that right away.
Thanks for letting us know.

xHWA said...

I think I have it fixed now. I have a copy of the html that I originally put up there to create that list (because I use the same one almost every year), and I can tell you that the code that was up there is definitely not the same as my original. Google Blogger sometimes tries to rewrite your html for you, and sometimes it doesn't do the best job at that.
At any rate, thanks for letting us know so that could be fixed.