So it is now Christmas Eve, one of the most cherished dates on the Christian calender. Who does not like Christmas Eve? How many wonderful memories are conjured up by this wonderful, winter holiday. Perhaps we are subconsciously tapping into something from our ancient past when we celebrate Christmas Eve, because so many people who never really pay much attention to the Christian religion throughout the year still enjoy the splendor and magic of this joyous night. The day is short, the evening comes early, we rejoice and delight in the lights and music and festivities. We gather with family and friends to enjoy a wonderful time, good food, and overall good cheer. Yet as we know the date of Christmas comes from the old pagan winter solstice festivals, and in particular the Roman festival of the Saturnalia, which fell around the same time as the winter solstice, December 21. I always find it interesting, and amusing, how many ancient pagan rituals and festivals were incorporated into the Catholic religion and are still in use today. Most Protestants, wary of the Catholic love of rites, feasts, rituals and traditions, keep the date of Christmas too, and by doing so they are really showing their debt to the Catholic Church.
There is something beautiful about Christmas Eve. It seems more special than Christmas day itself. Perhaps it is the mystical, magical quality of nighttime, with all its soft, delicate shades and shadows, the mysteriousness of a darkening world enveloping us. Add to this earthy mysticism the birth of Christ, with the shepherds and the stars and the angels singing and the unknowable meaning of it all. The actual account in the Bible is rather sparse and it was only through later centuries of artistic embellishment that we have the common ideas and images of Christmas Eve that we have today. Again, the spirituality of the moment is due in part to the ancient pagan festivals celebrating the Winter solstice. There is a powerful mix in these ancient pagan festivals centered around nature and the earth, light and dark, and the more transcendent, spiritually uplifting beliefs in the redemption brought about by the birth of Christ. The mixture of Christian goodness and pagan earthly vitality is powerful. God is good, he created the world, he created man, and we celebrate that. He created the beauty of the world, including erotic beauty, and he created women to be loved by men. God created sex. He created love. And Christmas is first and foremost and last of all a story about love, both divine and human. In the midst of the darkness of Winter it is a story about hope and light and love. When we come together with our family and friends we somehow and in some way reflect and continue that ancient love.
So I wish everyone a Merry Christmas!