ALTHOUGH we rarely think about them, we owe a lot to some old civilisations. We name the days of the week after old Norse gods, such a Wednesday, named after the important god Woden. In fact we have a seven day week because early man watched the moon (Monday) and split its 28-day cycle into four phases, each of seven days.
Our months come from the Romans, manly named after their gods, such as Janus, but October, November and December were simply the numbers, eight, nine and 10. They were originally the eighth, ninth and tenth month but they messed it up by putting two months in the middle of the year and calling them July and August, named after two emperors.
The early Christians were expert at taking pagan customs and celebrations and making them their own. Christmas is a good example. In early Roman days, slap in the middle of the northern winter, there was a feast covering a few days and it was apparently a time of real debauchery – they called it Saturnalia (named after Saturn).
No one knows when Christ was born but experts say that if the Bible is correct it would not have been in the middle of the northern winter. That didn’t worry the early Christians, they simply took over the holidays and made them religious ones to celebrate the birth of Christ.
We have also taken a Norse (Scandinavian) celebration of Noel which was also held in the middle of the northern winter and it is from Noel that we get the Christmas tree and the mistletoe, symbols of green in the middle of their bleak winter.
Now, 2000 years after the birth of Christ, we still have celebrations that include quite pagan symbols – but they are simply symbols – among this most important time of the Christian calendar.
And Christmas has become a most important part of our year. Even though Australia could be described as ‘post religion’ country, with only a small proportion regular church goers, we do owe a lot to Christianity and the dedicated men and women who travelled to the most remote corners of the world to tell the story of Christianity. They also started schools and health clinics. They did amazing things and deserve our praise.
Australians will enjoy Christmas, not in the middle of a bleak winter but in sunshine. We are very fortunate people. Even for those who do not go to church, Christmas provides the reminders of family, friends, the joy of giving and a time of relaxation.
Your scribe would like to wish you a wonderful Christmas, with lots of cuddles from those most important to you.