The view from the Rectory – December 2017

Dear Friends, As I write this, we have just had Remembrance Sunday and Christmas feels a long way off. The sun has been very bright today and the leaves are rapidly falling from the trees. However, the temperature over the last week has fallen significantly and winter is very much round the corner! For very many years before the birth of Jesus people had special celebrations at the time of the winter solstice. The word ‘solstice’ literally means ‘the sun standing still’. When they saw the days getting shorter during autumn people began to fear that the sun was going away. They believed that by carrying out certain activities, such as hanging evergreens in their homes when everything else was dead, they made sure that the sun would return and the plants and crops would grow again. The ancient Romans held a winter festival called Saturnalia. At this feast they honoured Saturn, whom they worshipped as the god of everything that grew. They had a public holiday lasting for a week. People exchanged presents, especially candles, and everyone took part in feasting and games. Ring any bells?? Sun worshippers celebrated 25 December as the sun’s birthday. They built bonfires on this day to mark the fact that the amount of sunlight would increase each day. The heat and the light of summer would gradually arrive, causing plants and crops to grow again. Christians look to Jesus as the founder and head of the Church. When Jesus was born, some two thousand years ago, birth certificates were not given and no written records were kept. No one knows the exact date of Jesus’ birth. In the early days of Christianity it was decided to celebrate his birthday in midwinter, because this was already an important occasion. The date of 25 December was finally fixed in A.D. 350 by Pope Julias . The midwinter festivals were times of feasting and enjoyment. Early Christians often took part in them, although they did not believe in a sun god or woodland spirits. Christians abandoned some parts of the festivals – for example, the sacrifice of people and animals – which they believed were wrong. However, they still decorated their homes with evergreens, joined in feasting and exchanged gifts. As the years passed, new meanings were given to the midwinter customs, meanings which linked them with the birth of Jesus, helping people to understand who Jesus was. The mistletoe became a symbol of God’s love; the leaves and berries of the holly represented the suffering of Jesus on the cross. The main reason for holding a midwinter festival had been people’s concern about the shortening days in autumn and early winter. Early Christians though about the idea of light and used it as a symbol to explain the meaning of Jesus’ birth. In his Gospel John writes that the birth of Jesus is like light coming into the world. The world is full of darkness of human wrongdoing but the truth of Jesus shines in that darkness. ‘The light shines in the dark and the darkness has never put it out.’ (John 1:5). At Christmas the early Christians began to think of the light that Jesus brought to the earth rather than the light of the sun. This change of thinking took place very slowly. At this Christmastide may all of us remember ‘the reason for the Season` Your friend and Rector              Ty