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You want your Yule-log back? Pagan revivalist dude say wut?!’

Sunday, 26th December 2010

With regard to Christmas, did Catholics “steal” pagan customs to make it easier to convert the pagans?


While many popular Christmas traditions in the United States and British Commonwealth today may have originated from the early Germanic winter solstice celebrations for the Yule-god Thor, they had already lost much of their religious significance beginning in 754 AD when Catholicism was established in the Germanies by St. Boniface.

Scandinavia still has remnants of the un-Disney-fied festivities in the form of the Juloffer and julbokk. However, even this activity is done for ethnic reasons rather than worship of Thor.

What pagan revivalists say happened to their customs.

English is, at its roots, a Germanic language, so the terminology of these ancient rites (e.g. Yule, Yule-log, Santa Claus, etc.) have more or less survived intact, adding to the season’s grumbling.

At the least, you just have a change in meaning (e.g. gay: happy/ homosexual,  liberal: libertarian/ socialist, etc.), at most, case of genericized trademarks (e.g. aspirin, Laundromat, heroin, kerosene, linoleum, Colgate, etc.) rather than any nefarious conspiracy to shiv pagans in the ribs.

Personally I think American cultural amalgamation and commerce bear more responsibility for having commercialized and globalized these cultural traditions. After all, take a look at what Dutch immigrant customs in New York coupled with Northern Agression War propaganda did to St. Nicholas of Myrna

"St Nicholas of Myra in Lycia"

I wonder how Hallmark will commemorate this charitable event?

"Santa Claus In Camp" (1863)


 Identity theft. Not just a modern crime.

For those who don’t know, I live in the Philippines, a tropical country in South-east Asia which is hot and jungle-y. Burning a big ass log for the heck of it does not float our boat even for Christmas fun.

Pass on the Yule-log... It’s hot enough here already.

Our basic culture is Romano-Iberian in origin and if the American colonial occupation (1899-1946) did not occur, these Germanic-origin popular traditions (Christmas trees, Advent crowns, Santa Claus) might never have gotten so prevalent. In Spain, such things are not native there.

For example, in Spain, Christmas trees are sometimes seen by older Spaniards to be modern additions to traditional Christmas festivities.

In the modern observance of Catholic high holy days, there are two types of customs and traditions in effect:

  • formal ritual ceremonies, which are official practices established by religious authorities to commemorate historical events, and
  • popular customs and traditions, which are unofficial practices observed by the community which may or may not be lingering holdovers from pre-Christian days. (More on this later,)

Formal ritual ceremonies are characterized by having a force of law; they cannot be disregarded by the faithful without incurring some penalty nor can they be arbitrarily modified without all sorts of bureaucratic processes.

100% Catholic, but not exactly conducive to eggnog consumption.

Example include:

  • the «liturgia horarum,» the official set of daily prayers prescribed by the Catholic Church to be recited by the clergy, religious orders, and laity.
  • the arrangement of the liturgical year commemorating events in Jesus’ life.

If Christmas was an American presidential election, this part would be the electoral vote, the only vote that matters according to Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000).

Popular customs and traditions are characterized by having arisen out of local ethnic practices having no official authorship. It is these practices which pagan revivalists claim IP rights on.

For most people, such festivities are nothing more than harmless fun, with little to no religious significance for the general populace, unless… you’re actively looking for one…

Their observance or non-observance have no bearing upon the teachings of salvation the Catholic Church, though Church authorities may step in to modify or suppress them if deemed harmful to the faithful or threaten to overshadow the formal ceremonies.

Examples include:

  • [PHL] the parol, an ornamental star-like Christmas lantern from the Philippines, traditionally made from bamboo and Japanese rice paper and illuminated from within by candles of coconut oil lamps to represent the Star of Bethlehem.
  • [GBR] the British tradition of adding silver charms and coins to Christmas pudding.
  • [ES-CT] the Catalan tió de Nadal, which apparently is a log that shits candy. [!]
  • [SRB] the Serbian бадњак (badnjak), an oak sapling which is consecrated by a Serbian Orthodox priest before it is ceremonially placed on a fire built in the churchyard.

Continuing the American presidential election analogy, this part would be the popular vote, something fun for the sweaty proles to get all hepped up about so they can feel like they’ve actually made a difference, but not really.

While these activates are not formally established, their usage retains the character of an “unwritten law,” and not participating in them sometimes makes you look like a jackass in front of your neighbors.

Bite me! Letter of the law, right?!

Things to consider:

  • Not every Christmas tradition originating from Germanic culture have pagan origins (e.g. Christmas trees, Advent crowns, etc.) so I think some pagan revivalist claims are just overreaching.
  • Some Christmas traditions, you can take them back, now… please?
  • Some Protestant sects believe that Catholics = pagans and use the terms interchangeably when admonishing other Protestants… to the amusement of pagan revivalists who want nothing to do with the Catholic religion.

(To be continued)

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