Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Christmas break

Mrs GOB and I are taking a brief break, removed from computer terminals, and thus there will be no further posts on this blog until about Wednesday 29 December.

I see that various authorities are complaining about the de-Christianisation of Christmas, but I'm afraid I don't have much sympathy with that. There was a mid-winter festival long before Jesus Christ was born, and the justification for it was the fact that, somewhere around 21 December, the days stop getting shorter and start getting longer.

Back in east Africa, where the human race apparently began, I don't suppose the seasons mattered very much. There was plenty of food all year round -- that's why human beings started to increase in numbers. But once we got into Europe, and started to experience some serious winters, the length of days, and the amount of sunshine, started to have some real significance.

Human beings didn't need to be very smart or observant to find the crucial point in the year when the sun shone for a little bit longer than it had done a week or so earlier. (Technically, this is the winter solstice.) True, winter had not yet finished; but with the sun regaining its strength, so to speak, it was time for a party.

My guess is that this celebration began thousands of years ago, long before the creation of written records. Certainly we do know that, as soon as written records began, there was a mid-winter festival. The Romans called it Saturnalia; the Germanic tribes called it Yule.

When Christianity arrived on the scene, the early Christians were unaware of precisely when Jesus was born, since the Gospels don't give a date. But it wasn't long before the Christian authorities decided that it would be a good plan to latch on to some of the popular pagan festivals, which they promptly proceeded to do. Hence any grumbles from today's Christians that Christmas is being de-Christianised should be countered by a gentle and polite reminder that the mid-winter fun and games were being celebrated long before the Church joined the bandwagon.

I still think it's a good time for feasting and drinking, even in this electrically-lit and centrally heated age.

See you before long.


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