“The Book of Christmas” by Brendan Lehane (The Enchanted World 14)

"The Book of Christmas" by Brendan Lehane (The Enchanted World 14)

"Brendan Lehane's Book of Christmas opens with a brief retelling of the Nativity story told in the Gospels of Luke and Mark. It recounts Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus Christ but states that the pattern was already set. The fact that the birth of Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness, is celebrated in December is no accident. There are many winter festivals. Most people worshipped the sun as a god and so were afraid when winter came and it seemed that the lifegiving sun grew weak; thus they celebrated the Solstice, the winter day when the weakening sun regained its strength. In fact, many Christmas traditions have their roots in pre-Christian traditions but it was the birth of Jesus that made a season of fear into a season of hope.

Such fears are mentioned in tales of animal and even human sacrifice meant to appease the pagan gods such as Odin in hopes of surviving winter. Christmas was also said to be the time of the dead; as it was the time when the whole world seemed to die and was an undefined in between time, it was only right the ghosts and monsters rise up against mortals. Similarly, the Wild Hunt and its various leaders are recounted, various heathen deities such as Berchta and Gwyn ap Nudd being cast out by their former worshippers in favor of the Christian God whose mortal birth those worshippers celebrated.

However, while winter could be terrifying, Lehane asserts that most Christians were not afraid. They celebrated a topsy-turvy Christmastide with mummers and plays and feasts led by the Abbot of Misrule. Christmas was a time filled with old magic when animals could talk and nature spirits abounded, but followers of the new religion saw nothing strange in keeping their ancestors' pagan traditions alive. Their faith was not the abolition, but rather the fulfillment, of their old rituals because with Jesus, the rituals meant to hold back winter's darkness were vindicated. Lehane states: "In the Child born at Bethlehem, they had the promise of spring in the heart of midwinter, the divine gift of a bright, cleansing flame to drive away the dark."