We are reaching the time of the year when the whole Christian world is
preparing to celebrate the most noted of its solemnities the birth of the
Founder of their religion. When this paper reaches its Western subscribers,
there will be festivity and rejoicing in every house. In North Western
Europe and in America the holly and ivy will decorate each home,
and the churches bedecked with evergreens; a custom derived from
the ancient practices of the pagan Druids "that sylvan spirits might
flock to the evergreens, and remain unnipped by frost till a milder
season." In Roman Catholic countries large crowds flock during
the whole evening and night of "Christmas-eve" to the churches,
to salute waxen images of the divine Infant, and his Virgin mother,
in her garb of "Queen of Heaven." To an analytical mind,
this bravery of rich gold and lace, pearl-broidered satin and velvet,
and the bejewelled cradle do seem rather paradoxical. When one thinks
of the poor, worm-eaten, dirty manger of the Jewish country-inn,
in which, if we must credit the Gospel, the future "Redeemer"
was placed at his birth for lack of a better shelter, we cannot help
suspecting that before the dazzled eyes of the unsophisticated devotee the
Bethlehem stable vanishes altogether. To put it in the mildest terms,
this gaudy display tallies ill with the democratic feelings and the truly
divine contempt for riches of the "Son of Man," who had
"not where to lay his head." It makes it all the harder
for the average Christian to regard the explicit statement that "it
is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for
a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven," as anything more
than a rhetorical threat. The Roman Church acted wisely in severely
forbidding her parishioners to either read or interpret the Gospels for
themselves, and leaving the Book, as long as it was possible,
to proclaim its truths in Latin "the voice of one crying in the wilderness."
In that, she but followed the wisdom of the ages the wisdom of the
old Aryans, which is also "justified of her children";
for, as neither the modern Hindu devotee understands a word of the
Sanskrit, nor the modern Parsi one syllable of the Zend, so
for the average Roman Catholic the Latin is no better than Hieroglyphics.
The result is that all the three Brahmanical High Priest, Zoroastrian
Mobed, and Roman Catholic Pontiff, are allowed unlimited opportunities
for evolving new religious dogmas out of the depths of their own fancy,
for the benefit of their respective churches.
To usher in this great day, the bells are set merrily ringing
at midnight, throughout England and the Continent. In France
and Italy, after the celebration of the mass in churches magnificently
decorated, "it is usual for the revellers to partake of a collation (reveillon) that they may be better able to sustain the fatigues
of the night," saith a book treating upon Popish
church ceremonials. This night of Christian fasting reminds one of
the Sivaratree of the followers of the god Siva, the great
day of gloom and fasting, in the 11th month of the Hindu year.
Only, with the latter, the night's long vigil is preceded
and followed by a strict and rigid fasting. No reveillons or
compromises for them. True, they are but wicked "heathens,"
and therefore their way to salvation must be tenfold harder.
Though now universally observed by Christian nations as the anniversary
of the birth of Jesus, the 25th of December was not originally so
accepted. The most movable of the Christian feast days, during
the early centuries, Christmas was often confounded with the Epiphany,
and celebrated in the months of April and May. As there never was
any authentic record or proof of its identification, whether in secular
or ecclesiastical history, the selection of that day long remained
optional; and it was only during the 4th century that, urged
by Cyril of Jerusalem, the Pope (Julius I) ordered the bishops to
make an investigation and come finally to some agreement as to the presumable date of the nativity of Christ. Their choice fell
upon the 25th Day of December, and a most unfortunate choice it
has since proved! It was Dupuis, followed by Volney, who aimed
the first shots at this natal anniversary. They proved that for incalculable
periods E before our era, upon very clear astronomical data,
nearly all the ancient peoples had celebrated the births of their sun-gods
on that very day. "Dupuis shows that the celestial sign of the
VIRGIN AND CHILD was in existence
several thousand years before Christ" remarks Higgins in his Anacalypsis. As Dupuis, Volney, and Higgins have all been passed over
to posterity as infidels, and enemies of Christianity, it
may be as well to quote, in this relation, the confessions
of the Christian Bishop of Ratisbone, "the most learned man
that the middle ages produced" the Dominican, Albertus Magnus.
"The sign of the celestial Virgin rises above the horizon at the moment
in which we fix the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ,"he says, in the Recherches historiques sur Falaise,
par Langevin prêtre. So Adonis, Bacchus,
Osiris, Apollo, etc., were all born on the 25th of
December. Christmas comes just at the time of the winter solstice;
the days then are shortest, and Darkness is more upon
the face of the earth than ever. All the sun Gods were believed to
be annually born at that epoch; for from this time its Light dispels
more and more darkness with each succeeding day, and the power of
the Sun begins to increase.
However it may be, the Christmas festivities, that were
held by the Christians for nearly fifteen centuries, were of a particularly
pagan character. Nay, we are afraid that even the present
ceremonies of the church can hardly escape the reproach of being almost
literally copied from the mysteries of Egypt and Greece, held in
honour of Osiris and Horus, Apollo and Bacchus. Both Isis
and Ceres were called "Holy Virgins," and a DIVINE BABE may be found in every "heathen" religion.
We will now draw two pictures of the Merrie Christmas; one portraying
the "good old times," and the other the present state of
Christian worship. From the first days of its establishment as Christmas,
the day was regarded in the double light of a holy commemoration and a most
cheerful festivity: it was equally given up to devotion and insane
merriment. "Among the revels of the Christmas season were the
so-called feasts of fools and of asses, grotesque saturnalia,
which were termed 'December liberties,' in which everything serious
was burlesqued, the order of society reversed, and its decencies
ridiculed" says one compiler of old chronicles. "During
the Middle Ages, it was celebrated by the gay fantastic spectacle
of dramatic mysteries, performed by personages in grotesque masks
and singular costumes. The show usually represented an infant in
a cradle, surrounded by the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph,
by bull's heads, cherubs, Eastern Magi, (the Mobeds
of old) and manifold ornaments. The custom of singing canticles at
Christmas, called Carols, was to recall the songs of the shepherds
at the Nativity. "The bishops and the clergy often joined with
the populace in carolling, and the songs were enlivened by dances,
and by the music of tambours, guitars, violins and organs.
. . " We may add that down to the present times,
during the days preceding Christmas, such mysteries are being enacted,
with marionettes and dolls, in Southern Russia, Poland,
and Galicia; and known as the Kalidowki. In Italy,
Calabrian minstrels descend from their mountains to Naples and Rome,
and crowd the shrines of the Virgin-Mother, cheering her with their
In England, the revels used to begin on Christmas eve,
and continue often till Candlemas (Feb. 2), every day being
a holiday till Twelfth-night (Jan. 6). In the houses of great
nobles a "lord of misrule," or "abbot of unreason"
was appointed, whose duty it was to play the part of a buffoon.
"The larder was filled with capons, hens, turkeys,
geese, ducks, beef, mutton, pork, pies,
puddings, nuts, plums, sugar and honey."
. . . "A glowing fire, made of great logs,
the principal of which was termed the 'Yule log,' or Christmas block,
which might be burnt till Candlemas eve, kept out the cold;
and the abundance was shared by the lord's tenants amid music, conjuring,
riddles, hot-cockles, fool-plough, snap-dragon,
jokes, laughter, repartees, forfeits, and dances."
In our modern times, the bishops and the clergy join no more 'with
the populace in open carolling and dancing; and feasts of "fools
and of asses" are enacted more in sacred privacy than under the eyes
of the dangerous argus-eyed reporter. Yet the eating and drinking
festivities are preserved throughout the Christian world; and,
more sudden deaths are doubtless caused by gluttony and intemperance during
the Christmas and Easter holidays, than at any other time of the
year. Yet, Christian worship becomes every year more and more
a false pretence. The heartlessness of this lip-service has been
denounced innumerable times, but never, we think, with
a more affecting touch of realism than in a charming dream-tale,
which appeared in the New York Herald about last Christmas.
An aged man, presiding at a public meeting, said he would
avail himself of the opportunity to relate a vision he had witnessed on
the previous night. "He thought he was standing in the pulpit
of the most gorgeous and magnificent cathedral he had ever seen.
Before him was the priest or pastor of the church, and beside him
stood an angel with a tablet and pencil in hand, whose mission it
was to make record of every act of worship or prayer that transpired in
his presence and ascended as an acceptable offering to the throne of God.
Every pew was filled with richly-attired worshippers of either sex.
The most sublime music that ever fell on his enraptured ear filled the air
with melody. All the beautiful ritualistic church services,
including a surpassingly eloquent sermon from the gifted minister,
had in turn transpired, and yet the recording angel made no entry
in his tablet! The congregation were at length dismissed by the pastor with
a lengthy and beautifully-worded prayer, followed by a benediction,
and yet the angel made no sign!"
"Attended still by the angel, the speaker left the door of
the church in rear of the richly-attired congregation. A poor,
tattered castaway stood in the gutter beside the curbstone, with
her pale, famished hand extended, silently pleading for alms.
As the richly-attired worshippers from the church passed by, they
shrank from the poor Magdalen, the ladies withdrawing aside their
silken, jewel bedecked robes, lest they should be polluted
by her touch."
"Just then an intoxicated sailor came reeling down the sidewalk
on the other side. When he got opposite the poor forsaken girl,
he staggered across the street to where she stood, and, taking
a few pennies from his pocket, he thrust them into her hand,
accompanied with the adjuration, 'Here, you poor forsaken
cuss, take this!' A celestial radiance now lighted up the face of
the recording angel, who instantly entered the sailor's act of sympathy
and charity in his tablet, and departed with it as a sweet sacrifice
A concretion, one might say, of the Biblical story of the
judgment upon the woman taken in adultery. Be it so; yet it
portrays with a master hand the state of our Christian society.
According to tradition, on Christmas eve, the oxen may
always be found on their knees, as though in prayer and devotion;
and, "there was a famous hawthorn in the churchyard of Glastonbury
Abbey, which always budded on the 24th, and blossomed on the
25th of December"; which, considering that the day was
chosen by the Fathers of the church at random, and that the calendar
has been changed from the old to the new style, shows a remarkable
perspicacity in both the animal and the vegetable! There is also a tradition
of the church, preserved to us by Olaus, archbishop of Upsal,
that, at the festival of Christmas, "the men,
living in the cold Northern parts, are suddenly and strangely metamorphosed
into wolves; and that a huge multitude of them meet together at an
appointed place and rage so fiercely against mankind, that it suffers
more from their attacks than ever they do from the natural wolves."
Metaphorically viewed, this would seem to be more than ever the case
with men, and particularly with Christian nations, now.
There seems no need to wait for Christmas eve to see whole nations changed
into "wild beasts" especially in time of war.