Geezer’s Corner – The Evolution of Christmas by Dale Dawson

Dale Dawson
Dale Dawson

(Reprinted with permission from the Landowner Magazine)

As I sit on this mall bench waiting for my wife to inspect all of the goods on the premises, I have to ponder how this whole Christmas thing got started. The consensus of the grey beards on this bench is that the citizens of Mesopotamia started it 4000 years ago when they celebrated their new year. They also rejoiced because their chief god, Marduc kicked the tar out of all the monsters in the area. The party lasted twelve days. When their heads finally cleared, they sacrificed their king so that he would be available to give Marduc a hand in disposing of any monsters in the future. There wasn’t much of a line up for the king’s job in those days.

The early Europeans believed in evil spirits, witches, ghosts, trolls and all other unspeakable horrors. Now, just imagine the panic when the winter solstice approached. It scared the daylights out of them (no pun intended). They thought that they should encourage the sun to return and decided to throw a giant party so that the sun would think that they were having a good time and reappear. The sun started peeking at them a little longer each day. They believed that they were on to something and decided to hold a big party each year at the same time.

The early Scandinavians really had a problem as the sun actually disappeared for a few days during the winter solstice. The people thought that the big light had been turned off forever. Imagine shivering in the dark on a frozen landscape and hearing your leader say, “I think she’s gone for good, Sven. We better have a celebration to entice her back again.” Then they held a big Yuletide festival and burned Yule logs on huge bonfires (Where they found the Yule trees, I have no idea). As the party raged on, scouts were sent out to try to locate the sun and possibly give it directions. After a few days, a glimpse of the sun was spotted from a mountain top. The celebration had worked so it was decided that they would hold a celebration each year to coax the sun’s return.

Then we have the Romans who relied on their god Saturn to entice the sun back to warm the earth. They were optimists, as they celebrated in anticipation of their success. The party lasted from mid-December to January 1st. There was much merriment and gifts were exchanged and decorations were hung on the walls of their homes. The Christians nearby were alarmed by such debauchery, especially at a time of the year when they were celebrating Christ’s birth in a solemn manner. Things took on a new twist when Emperor Nero decided to build an addition to his palace. He cleared a nearby building by torching the joint. Now as you can see, old Nero was bit of a scoundrel and he blamed the fire on the Christians. He sent soldiers out to round up anyone who hadn’t hung up decorations. Now, these Christians didn’t just fall off the olive cart. They figured that a few decorations couldn’t hurt – well, not nearly as much as hanging by their thumbs in Nero’s dungeon. They decided after a quick huddle to be more exuberant when celebrating Christ’s birth.

We may have still been all right and could have gotten through each Christmas season by just sticking up a few decorations if that old scamp, Saint Nicolas, would have left well enough alone. Yes! Nick was one of those darn busybodies who were always running around helping people that only wanted to be left in peace. It was said that he once even trotted out on the water to save a drowning man. Who says that the guy wanted to be saved? Times were tough in those days. Maybe the fellow dove out of his boat to escape another boring day at the mall.

Old Nick did a lot of other cool stuff according to legend. The fact that he was rich made it much easier. Where did he get his money anyway? Some of Nick’s friends reported that during the winter solstice he liked to run around tossing bags of money through his fellow citizens’ windows. If a family was too poor to own a window, Nicky would climb up on the roof and toss a bag of gold down the chimney. Now, rumour has it that he was more generous with girls; girls were given gold and the boys got an orange.

The Christmas stocking idea came about by accident. Nick threw a bag of gold down a chimney one night and it bounced right into a girls stocking. That’s right – and her brother got an orange.