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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

History of Christmas

Below is a AP News article traces the evolution into the current day Christmas, through the ages.
Just makes me think about how festivals have evolved to be what they are ? Isn't it almost impossible to keep track of stuff? And then how do we account for the spin - that puts a different slant to the festival?
What were the motives of our fore fathers?
Are we in compliance with their expectations?

I do cringe when I see the no-holds barred purchasing going on in the malls, all in the name of gift giving. Sometimes the core sentiments are thrust in the background and spending for the sake of it, is certainly not a good thing. I am not being a scrooge here, I love the holiday time, but reading about the pain and suffering of the Tsunami victims of 2004, American soldiers in Iraq, does put a pall over the celebration.

Here is the news item.

Christmas' history more raucous than refined INDUSTRIAL AGE TRANSFORMED WHAT WAS HARVEST BACCHANAL By Matt Crenson Associated Press NEW YORK -

Once upon a time the holiday season was a quiet time spent with family and friends -- simpler, less commercial, more spiritual, nothing like today's frenzied orgy of consumption. ``There are worlds of money wasted, at this time of year, in getting things that nobody wants and nobody cares for after they are got,'' one observer noted. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote those words in 1850. By then, the holiday was well on its way to becoming the retail rave it is today. ``Every generation for the last 250 years tends to think it was only in the last generation that it got commercialized,'' said Stephen Nissenbaum, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. In his book ``The Battle for Christmas,'' Nissenbaum puts that myth to rest by tracing the history of the holiday from colonial New England to the turn of the 20th century. For most of its history Christmas was a free-for-all, more New Year's Eve or Mardi Gras than the domestic idyll described in Clement Clarke Moore's 1823 poem, ``A Visit From Saint Nicholas'' (better known today as ``The Night Before Christmas''). The holiday has its origins in the Roman festival of Saturnalia, a weeklong winter solstice celebration that featured feasting, drinking, gambling and sex. Men dressed like women, women dressed like men, and masters waited on their slaves in a raucous reversal of the social hierarchy. Such behavior was almost inevitable during the weeks surrounding the winter solstice in the preindustrial societies of northern Europe, thanks to what Nissenbaum refers to as a ``combustible mix'' of leisure time, abundance and alcohol. The work of the harvest done, young men had plenty of time on their hands, much of it in the long, dark nights tailor-made for mischief. In a world without refrigeration, the arrival of cold weather made fresh meat available for the first time in months. But most importantly, December meant beer. By mid-month, whatever grain surplus their hard summer's labor had produced would have been fully fermented and ready to drink. In the northern Europe of the late Middle Ages, gangs of young men would engage in ``wassailing,'' a cross between Christmas caroling and home invasion. The gangs would visit wealthy homes, often in disguise, and sing songs that threatened violence if they were not invited in for food and drink. In agrarian societies, practices like wassailing served as a critical safety valve, giving people at the bottom of the social ladder a release that would keep them in line during the rest of the year. But with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, factory owners didn't want their employees wandering off for weeks of drunken merriment. During the 1820s, after a series of particularly raucous holiday seasons in New York, the city's elite began campaigning for a more restrained, domestic Christmas. Central to that campaign was the tradition of purchasing gifts, especially for children. Christmas and America's consumer culture have fed off each other since, said Russell Belk, a professor of business at the University of Utah. His research has shown that the more materialistic people are about Christmas, the less satisfaction they derive from the holiday. There's no doubt Americans are materialistic about Christmas. Almost half of all Americans crammed stores on the day after Thanksgiving this year, the traditional beginning of the holiday shopping season. By the time the Christmas shopping season is over, the country will have spent in the neighborhood of $150 billion, most of it on gifts. That's an average of $500 for every man, woman and child.

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This blog is an offshoot of a website that I had conceived as a result of the spiritual grace and resultant inspiration during Shivaratri Y2K (http://www.jyotirlinga.com) on the joy of Shiva Bhakti and my quest for spiritual progress. Not finding the time (yep, bad excuse!), this blog suits me fine in quickly adding content... my spiritual forays and thoughts - helps log them too. My spiritual journey started with Hinduism and it's simple stories/ teachings as far back as when I was a 2nd grader, with Lord Shiva and has now found convergence with Advaitism / Duality. The Advaitism gurus like Bhagwan Ramana Maharishi, Nisargadatta Maharaj; they have provided that spiritual boost of energy in many lagging moments and have tremendously influenced me ... little baby steps at a time... that will hopefully all lead upto a final crescendo. The merits of satsangh are many!

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