Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Lights: Ba Humbug

In 1644 the English Puritans forbid any merriment or religious services by Act of Parliament. This was on the grounds that it was a heathen practice, and ordered Christmas to be kept as a fast. Charles II revived the feast, but the Scots adhered to the Puritan view and did not celebrate Christmas for several centuries. What we now recognise as a modern Christmas was actually invented in Victorian Times and one of the "traditions" in many of the aristocratic families at that time, including Queen Victoria, was to inverse the roles of master and servant during the twelve days of Christmas. Of all the Europeans to resist the temptations of the new Victorian festive season were the Scots. Because there was no reference to celebration of Christmas in the New Testament, then they refused to celebrate it. Many viewed the idea of Christmas as an attempt by the English to emulate Hogmanay. Others viewed it, as a time for Victorian ‘do good’ers’ to exercise charity to the less privileged. At first Christmas was a time for colonists to link with their homes and families. Scottish tea planters in the east ate plum puddings and turkey dinners long before their relatives gave recognition to Christmas Day. The first official Christmas celebrated in Australia was Dec 25, 1788 at Sydney Cove. No Christmas cheer was shown to the prisoners on that day with the exception of Michael Dennison who had been sentenced to 200 lashes. In the spirit of the season the prisoner was given 150. The first Christmas tree was believed to have been put up in Australia in the eighteenth century by English monks. Lighting candles and lamps helped return the light and warmth as well as chasing away the spirits of darkness. A remnant of paganism is the lights, which decorate the Christmas tree. Christmas was called the Festival of Light in the Western or Latin Church. The Yule log was a Norse custom and burning of the yule was a celebration of the sun during the winter months. In the Highlands at the turn of the century Christmas was just another day with faint echoes of bonfire ceremonies, more related to pagan sunworship than celebrating the birth of Christ. Twelfth Night had more significance to the Scots until the English condensed the feast days into the family fun celebrations of Christmas and Boxing Day.

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