As we inch closer to the end of the year and all the celebration and reflection that affords, we decorate our beloved Christmas trees and bask in their warm nostalgia.
The notion of Christ-mass or the ‘mass of christ’ entered our culture from the Roman Catholic church, but where did they get it from? It is popular knowledge that in the 4th century, the Romans needed more citizens to expand their empire – so they looked to the pagans. Considered barbaric, the year-end customs of the pagans all gravitated towards Christmas.
The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1911 states that “Christmas was not among the earliest festivals on the Church…the first evidence of the feast is from Egypt”. What’s more, “it is only sinners who make great rejoicings over the day in which they were born into this world”. By the fifth century the Western Church ordered it to be celebrated forever on the day of the old Roman feast of the birth of Sol – the sun god. It was outlawed in all 13 colonies of early America, because of these Pagan roots.
And even though the bible is pretty silent about Christmas, it sure has some nasty things to say about the Christmas tree.
Jeremiah 10:2-6: “Learn not the way of the heathen…for the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers…”
The idea of a holy tree comes from the worship of Asherah – a goddess ~ the ‘Queen of Heaven’, who was also called ‘Artemis’. The earthly image of Asherah was a tree used by the Canaanites and Phoenicians. The figurine on the right is another early representation. When this area of northern Israel was displaced in 722 BCE, they brought this ‘tree’ custom with them. The lost tribes of Israel have at least managed to preserve their most cherished custom: the Christmas tree…it has been celebrated for 5000 years, it simply has a new name today.
The tree itself represents a phallus; the ornaments, testicles; and the tinsel, semen; the wreath is a vagina, and together they are obvious fertility symbols. The Romans used ‘womb-wreaths’ at Saturnalia – the winter festival. People continue to set their hearts on what is “under the tree”, and in at least 10 places in the bible about something happening “under the tree”.
In the ancient world, Pagans went to their temples to worship their fertility gods, and had ritual sex with each other at the temple. The Pagan temples had an “image”, usually an obelisk, standing near the entrance.
If you missed the History of Sex article: How about a little architecture sex? – you can look back and learn a little more about how buildings around the world are getting it on.