Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Ancient Greek Roots of Christmas

Christmas is one of the most important celebrations of Christianity, filled with joy and love. Every country celebrates with different customs that have deep roots within history and tradition. The Greek case is an interesting one. We can find a variety of similarities in the commemoration of the birth of Christ and Dionysus, in regards to ancient and modern Greece.
In December, the Ancient Greeks celebrates the birth of Dionysus, calling him ‘Saviour’ and ‘Divine Infant’. According to Greek mythology, his mother was a mortal woman, Semele, and his father was Zeus, the king of the Gods. The priest of Dionysus held a pastoral staff as did the Good Shepherd. On December 30th, ancient Greeks commemorated his rebirth.


The most well-known custom throughout the Christian world are, of course, the Christmas carols. The Greek Christmas carols have roots deriving from ancient Greece. Specifically, Homer – during his stay on the island of Samos, along with a group of children – composed the carols. In ancient Greece, carols symbolised joy, wealth and peace, and the children sang the carols only in the homes of the rich. Children would go from house to house, holding an olive or a laurel branch adorned with wool (a symbol of health and beauty) and different kinds of fruits. The children brought the olive branch to their homes and hung it on the doors where it remained for the rest of the year. This tradition, of visiting houses on Christmas Eve is still practiced today in Greece. However, the children visit as many houses as possible, not making a distinction between richer and poorer houses.
The Christmas tree appeared for the first time in Germany at the end of the 16th century. It became globally known in the 19th century. In our religion, the Christmas tree symbolises the rejoicing of the birth of Jesus Christ. The tree was adorned first with fruits and later with clothes and other household objects. Ancient Greeks also used to decorate the ancient temples with trees, symbolising the divine gift offering. The Christmas tree tradition made its way to Greece in 1833, when the Bavarians decorated the palace of King Otto.  
Santa Clause, who travels around the world on Christmas Eve delivering gifts in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, is another impressive similarity. A similar tradition also existed during the celebration of Dionysus in Ancient Greece who resembled light. The latter had a chariot with horses, whilst Fr. Christmas is known to have the traditional reindeers.

The above give a unique understanding of the traditions which prevail today within the Christian world, many of which derive from the ancient world, but which have altered in meaning and significance. 

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