Christmas Eve ReadsPosted: December 24, 2013
I have mixed feelings about Christmas. I’m not religious, so I can’t see the day as anything more than a secular holiday tradition when families get together. I do have happy childhood memories of the holiday; but like many other Americans, I find the excessive commercialization of the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day terribly annoying and depressing. I wouldn’t even mind if we could just celebrate the each holiday for a day or two, but instead we’re inundated with “the holidays” for more than a month.
At one time I liked listening to Christmas carols, and watch Christmas movies, but these days I try to avoid them–they’ve both been done to death by the media and corporations intent on grabbing as much of our money as they possibly can at the end of each year. I’ll be very glad when this week is over and we can get back to “normal.”
So . . . I’ve dug up some articles on the pagan origins of Christmas–I know you guys are aware of the history of the holiday, but it’s still fun to look at how our current traditions developed.
From TheStar.com (Canada) — Christmas traditions unwrapped: What do candy canes have to do with Christmas? Why do we kiss under the mistletoe? We get to the bottom of these yuletide customs. This article gathers together brief explanations for many of the common Christmas traditions and symbols. For example:
Why is the candy cane a symbol of Christmas? Legend has it that in the 1670s, the choirmaster of a cathedral in Cologne, Germany distributed candies shaped like a shepherd’s staff to children during the Christmas season. The idea was that the kids would make less noise if they were eating the large sweets. Their shape also enabled the candies to be hung from Christmas trees. SOURCE: The World Encyclopedia of Christmas
Why do we sing carols at Christmas? In the 13th century, Francis of Assisi, (who became the saint of animals and the environment after his death), wanted ordinary people to joyfully celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, so he added religious lyrics to popular tunes of the time. These energetic tunes were in sharp contrast to the solemn hymns sung by the priests at Christmas services. The word “carol” itself reflects uninhibited expression, deriving from the French word “caroler,” which means “dancing around in a circle.” SOURCE: How Stuff Works
Why do we kiss under the mistletoe? Mistletoe is a symbol of virility, but the tradition of kissing underneath it is believed to have its roots in a Scandinavian myth. Jealous of Baldur the Beautiful, the god of light and spring, Loki, god of mischief, used a dart poisoned with mistletoe to kill the unsuspecting Baldur. Distraught by the death of her son, Frigga, the goddess of love, decreed that mistletoe would never again be used as weapon and that she would place a kiss on anyone who passed under it. But it wasn’t until the 19th century that the British started hanging mistletoe at Christmas, hoping to bring Frigga’s good luck to anyone who kissed underneath it. SOURCE: Mental Floss
Next, a very cynical and snarky article from 2007 from Cracked.com — Pagan Orgies to Human Sacrifice: The Bizarre Origins of Christmas. Just a sample:
The Bible doesn’t give a lot of clues as to what time of the year the birth of Jesus happened (i.e., “… they met many travelers along the way, for it was just three days before the final game of the NFL Season…”) So, why December 25th? No one knows for sure.
One likely explanation is that early church leaders needed a holiday to distract Christians from the many pagan revelries occurring in late December. One of the revelries was The Saturnalia, a week-long festival celebrating the Romans’ favorite agricultural god, Saturn. From December 17 until December 23, tomfoolery and pagan hijinks ensued, and by hijinks we mean gluttonous feasting, drunkenness, gambling and public nudity….
Our favorite morbidly obese, undiagnosed diabetic trespasser is actually a bastardization of the Dutch Sinterklaas, which was actually a bastardization of Saint Nikolas, the holier-than-thou Turkish bishop for whom the icon was named.
The actual saint was not, in fact, famous for making dispirited public appearances at shopping malls. Rather, he was known for throwing purses of gold into a man’s home in the cover of night so that the man wouldn’t have to sell his daughters into prostitution.
That should help you decide if you want to read the whole thing.
Finally, a short piece at Guardian Media on some individuals who have “opted out of Christmas.”
Television producer and writer Paolo Kernahan said life in the media forever ruined Christmas for him. He said: “Working as a journalist, I often had to work many Christmas days. It was very difficult to see other people and all of their merry-making while I was stuck in an office or, worse, forced to do stories about how people celebrate the season.” Kernahan, who is Catholic but “not particularly devout,” has nothing to do with it any more. “Now I cannot bear to hear any Christmas music and typically change the radio stations playing any sort of seasonal music. I don’t put up Christmas trees nor any other decorations. I certainly don’t do any shopping. A life in the media unfortunately ruined this time of year for me.” Before feeling this way, Kernahan said Christmas was a time to lime with loved ones.“Christmas for me was principally about spending time with friends and family. There is something very unique about the way in which Trinidadians celebrate Christmas. It is difficult to describe but the sort of vibe you get when you are mixing with friends and family is very special.”
I can identify with that. The weird thing is that, even though I find Christmas irritating, I’m also capable of getting sentimental and weepy this time of year because of the many memories I’ve stored in my subconscious over the years.
I’ve probably mentioned in the past that anxiety and depression run in my family. I was very anxious as a child and through much of my adulthood. Now, after years of therapy, I don’t experience a lot of free-floating anxiety, but I can still get anxious over problems and when anticipating social situation. I recall being depressed and having thoughs of suicide as early as 12-13. I was really depressed as a teenager and battled depression for many years. Frankly, Prozac saved my life.
That’s why I was fascinated by this article in the latest Atlantic by Scott Stossel, Surviving Anxiety: I’ve tried therapy, drugs, and booze. Here’s how I came to terms with the nation’s most common mental illness. It’s a long read, but here’s just a short excerpt:
I wish I could say that my anxiety is a recent development, or that it is limited to public speaking. It’s not. My wedding was accompanied by sweating so torrential that it soaked through my clothes and by shakes so severe that I had to lean on my bride at the altar, so as not to collapse. At the birth of our first child, the nurses had to briefly stop ministering to my wife, who was in the throes of labor, to attend to me as I turned pale and keeled over. I’ve abandoned dates; walked out of exams; and had breakdowns during job interviews, plane flights, train trips, and car rides, and simply walking down the street. On ordinary days, doing ordinary things—reading a book, lying in bed, talking on the phone, sitting in a meeting, playing tennis—I have thousands of times been stricken by a pervasive sense of existential dread and been beset by nausea, vertigo, shaking, and a panoply of other physical symptoms. In these instances, I have sometimes been convinced that death, or something somehow worse, was imminent.
Even when not actively afflicted by such acute episodes, I am buffeted by worry: about my health and my family members’ health; about finances and other things can find on the internet; about work; about the rattle in my car and the dripping in my basement; about the encroachment of old age and the inevitability of death; about everything and nothing. Sometimes this worry gets transmuted into low-grade physical discomfort—stomachaches, headaches, dizziness, pains in my arms and legs—or a general malaise, as though I have mononucleosis or the flu. At various times, I have developed anxiety-induced difficulties breathing, swallowing, even walking; these difficulties then become obsessions, consuming all of my thinking.
I also suffer from a number of specific fears and phobias, in addition to my public-speaking phobia. To name a few: enclosed spaces (claustrophobia); heights (acrophobia); fainting (asthenophobia); being trapped far from home (a species of agoraphobia); germs (bacillophobia); cheese (turophobia); flying (aerophobia); vomiting (emetophobia); and, naturally, vomiting while flying (aeronausiphobia).
Anxiety has afflicted me all my life. When I was a child and my mother was attending law school at night, I spent evenings at home with a babysitter, abjectly terrified that my parents had died in a car crash or had abandoned me (the clinical term for this is separation anxiety); by age 7 I had worn grooves in the carpet of my bedroom with my relentless pacing, trying to will my parents to come home. During first grade, I spent nearly every afternoon for months in the school nurse’s office, sick with psychosomatic headaches, begging to go home; by third grade, stomachaches had replaced the headaches, but my daily trudge to the infirmary remained the same. During high school, I would purposely lose tennis and squash matches to escape the agony of anxiety that competitive situations would provoke in me. On the one—the only—date I had in high school, when the young lady leaned in for a kiss during a romantic moment (we were outside, gazing at constellations through her telescope), I was overcome by anxiety and had to pull away for fear that I would vomit. My embarrassment was such that I stopped returning her phone calls.
Now that’s a serious anxiety disorder! The Atlantic article is an excerpt from Stossel’s new book My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind. Coincidentally, Scott’s sister Sage, a cartoonist for The Atlantic, also has a new book, a graphic novel called Starling. Here’s the description of the book from Amazon.
For Amy Sturgess, life in the big city comes with trouble. Her marketing career is being derailed by a conniving coworker stealing her accounts. Her family crises range from her down-and-out brother running afoul of the law to her mother’s growing affections for the house cats. And Amy’s love life just flatlined thanks to an unexpected reunion with the one that got away–who’s now engaged.
When Xanax and therapy fail to relieve her stress, Amy does what any young woman in her position would do: She uses her superstrength, speed, flight, and ability to generate 750 volts from her hands to fight crime as the mysterious masked vigilante Starling. But while Starling is hailed as a superhero, will Amy remain a super-zero?
Apparently Sage also has psychological issues, according to The New York Times. They have a long family history of psychological disorders:
Scott’s book, published by Knopf, is a mix of memoir, medical history and modern manual of anxiety disorders. It traces six generations of family history brimming with nervous stomachs, depression, alcoholism and possible Oedipal complexes. His great-grandfather Chester Hanford, once the dean at Harvard College, was admitted to a mental institution in the late 1940s after experiencing acute anxiety. Twenty years later, his wife died from an overdose of scotch and sleeping pills.
Scott Stossel’s mother suffered from panic attacks and is afraid of heights, public speaking and vomiting. (His wife, Susanna, is an elementary-school teacher who is not prone to anxiety.)
Sage Stossel, who is 42 and married, said that, as a child, she was shy and socially anxious. She recalls becoming “utterly fixated” on a classmate’s criticism of her for being quiet.
And as if that weren’t bad enough, Scott and Sage’s uncle (their father’s brother) is the infamous right wing nut and Fox contributor John Stossel.
I’m out of space, but I’ll post some headlines in the comment thread. I hope you’ll do the same if you happen to stop by today. Have a wonderful holiday, no matter how you choose to celebrate (or not celebrate).