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First Christmas documented
The first written reference to the feast day of Christmas is found in the “Chronicler”, a manuscript of the 4th century, circa 354 A.D.
In Rome the feast dates back to the year 330, during the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great.
At first it was only a local feast on Vatican hill, celebrated at the contemporary basilica of Saint Peter which Constantine built there.
Its purpose was to direct the honour and the worship toward Christ, in juxtaposition to the popular practices of paying homage —at the same hill, to various eastern deities.
The date of December 25th, on purpose, coincided with the pagan festival of “Solus Invictis”, i.e. “the undefeated Sun”, in an effort to propose the Christian ethos and morals to an expiring paganism.
In the East, namely in Egypt, Christmas was celebrated on January 6th along with the Baptism of the Lord and the Miracle at Cana.
Did you know…
The word Christmas is derived from two words, Christ and Mass.
There have been variations of the two words throughout the centuries, but originally it was Christus, Latin for Christ and Missa, Latin for Mass, i.e. the celebration of the Eucharist.
It always has been a great and joyful feast, placed near the winter solstice, at the point in time when the days begin to get longer and the nights shorter..
It is interesting to note that the Church placed the feast of John the Baptist’s birthday on June 24th, at the time of the summer solstice, when the days start to get shorter and the days longer.
The theme of light and darkness is a universal theme contrasting good and evil, salvation and damnation, life and death, virtue and vice, fullness and emptiness and so on.
However, the reason Saint John the Baptist’s birthday is on the 24th of June is based on what he himself said regarding his work for Christ “He must increase, I must decrease” (John, 3, 30).
His words express the attitude of every Christian, i.e. to have Christ in the centre of his life and to proclaim Him to the world, remaining himself little and humble before His majesty and holiness..
The traditional Christmas Carrolls have always had a strong theological content and were based on a healthy popular piety.
Through the influence of Saint Francis of Assisi, in the 13th century, the Christmas Carrolls receive wide acceptance and become an inseparable part of the Christmas season.
However, in England, in 1694, the Puritan Oliver Cromwell forbids by law any celebration of Christmas, as well as many other religious feasts. Consequently the Christmas Carrolls were also forbidden.
The law was lifted only in 1660.
In Northern America a similar law was in force in 1651.
Only in 1831 became Christmas a public holiday in America, first in the States of Louisiana and Arkansas!
The Christian People, however, continued to sing the Carrolls throughout those difficult times, in secret, in the privacy of their homes.
History teaches us that whenever the Church and her institutions have been threatened, through oppression and persecutions, her children got strengthened. And they, finally, triumph, for no-one can take away from God’s People the joy which is within them.
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