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22 December 2022: What do we know about Christmas?Cartoon of Father Christmas dressed in green

I spoke at today’s meeting about two Christmases - our modern secular Christmas and the real Christmas, the one celebrated by Christians.

Modern Christmas

Like so many of the centuries-old traditions in this country, our modern Christmas was actually invented by the Victorians. Some even say it was invented by Charles Dickens.

Christmas trees were introduced by Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert. The Victorians invented Christmas cards and Christmas crackers. They didn’t invent Christmas carols but they did write a lot of them. They popularised mistletoe.

Father Christmas has a long history in English traditions, going right back to the days before the English were converted to Christianity when he was known as King Winter, who was the embodiment in human form of nature in the English winter, dressed in green and with an evergreen wreath on his head. In the depths of winter someone dressed as King Winter would go from house to house. To be sure of good fortune in the year ahead you had to treat King Winter well, so you would invite him in, give him a seat by the fire and put a drink in his hand.

>When the Christian missionaries arrived he was too pagan a figure to be accepted and too popular to be dismissed, so he became Father Christmas and has been ever since. He still dressed in King Winter’s green, as a search for images of the Victorian Father Christmas will show.

The Victorians adopted Santa Claus from America. He has an even longer history. He was originally Saint Nicholas. In some German and Dutch speaking parts of Europe he still arrives as St Nicholas on the Feast of St Nicholas, 6 December, dressed in his bishop’s robes to distribute presents to children. In America he became better known as Santa Claus and was sometimes shown wearing red.

In this country Santa Claus and Father Christmas quickly became so confused we now regard them as one and the same. But should he be dressed in the green of Father Christmas or the red of Santa Claus?This was settled when Coca-Cola used him in an advertising campaign and dressed him in their corporate colour.

Real Christmas

The Christmas observed for Christmas celebrates a real event. There is good historical evidence that the person we know as Jesus Christ lived in Judea and Galilee in the first 30 years or so of the st Century.

However, He was probably not born in 1 AD. The Bible said He as born when Herod was King of Judea and Herod died in 4 BC, so it can’t be later than that. He could have been born in 6 BC, which is when the census mentioned in the New Testament took place and a conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn and the Moon could have been the basis for the Star of Bethlehem.

The chances that He was born on 25 December are 364:1 against. The actual date is unknown. 25 December was chosen as the date for celebrating His birth when the Emperor Constantine asked the bishops to fix a date after he was converted to Christianity.

Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem for His birth, probably because that was where Joseph had his home and had to return to for the census. Jesus was born in a stable but that my not have been due to there being no room in the inn as there are other possible translations of the Greek word usually put into English as “inn”.

He was visited first by shepherds and then by an unknown number Magi, not by three kings. The Magi may have been Zoroastrian scholars from Persia. It is interesting that neither of these groups would have been acceptable in Jewish society. The shepherds were outcasts because their job prevented them attending the customary religious services and the Magi were gentiles.

We held our Christmas party today. Unfortunately our corporate member could not send a representative as they are also holding their Christmas party. We did, however, have a number of guests including one of our honorary members and his wife, the widows of deceased members, the spouses of existing members and others.

The Ivy Hill Hotel laid on superb Christmas lunch, with fish and vegetarian options for those who felt they wanted to get away from the traditional turkey. They also put a Christmas cracker by each place. At the end of the meal our Bulletin Editor could be seen collecting some of the jokes to put in next December’s Bulletin.

After the meal the choir from Beaulieu Park Junior School treated us to some beautifully-sung Christmas songs.