It is not easy to know the true date about the start of marriages. Although it is mentioned in the Old Testament of Bible as it was a family affair. The oldest male member who was the caretaker of the girls would be approached by the future husband who would ask the father’s permission for marriage after presenting him with gifts to win his approval. When the father would agree he would transfer his daughter to the husband in public that would represent which would show the marriage. The bride and groom would then have meal with families after which the groom would take the bride home.
During the Roman times, the lower classes who turned into Christians had common law or free marriages. The father would deliver the bride and the agreement was called consensus to wed. This agreement required each partner to honor the marriage vows and keep the marriage intact.
The very wealthy Romans sighed documents containing property rights and letting everyone know that they wanted this union to be legalized. This was the beginning of the official marriage recordings which is done today. Only Roman men had the privilege to dissolve the marriage.
Justinian lawyers drew up their laws during their rein from 527-565 AD called the Justinian Code. This was a regulation of their daily life including marriage. Just saying one was married was enough till the time of the Justinian Code.
Church was not involved in marriages until the 9th century. Blessings and prayers were part of the ceremony till the 12th century and the couple would offer their own prayers. After that the priests would ask for an agreement to be made in their presence.
English weddings among the upper class during the 19th century became religious events but the church only blessed the marriage and did not want a legal commitment. By the 18th century the wedding became a religious event in all European countries.
The customs of the old countries were followed during the Colonial times in North America. Some only wanted a civil ceremony and not a religious ceremony. Civil magistrates would perform marriage ceremonies which even included prayers in the ceremony.
Virginia did not leave the customs of the church and did not permit anyone to have a civil marriage ceremony as they followed the Church of England. Both religious and civil marriage ceremonies became legalized in America by the end of the 18th century.
Today, civil marriage ceremonies in European countries are legal as they are in America. A couple can choose between religion or civil ceremony even in England.
The evening and night of the 31st October every year is the event called Halloween, it is a magical time celebrated by people of all faiths today and especially children are delighted in dressing up as ghosts and skeletons going from door to door doing trick-or-treating, they carry hollowed out pumpkin lanterns singing ghastly songs and are rewarded for their efforts with candy and sometimes a few coins to spend the next day.
There is a lot of meaning behind the history of Halloween which has been lost as we celebrate our modern version but its roots are still well known and make a great story for children before they set off on their mission to frighten and entertain. Originally Halloween was known by the Celtic name ‘Samhain’ which some historians believe that it might be how the word ’summer’ originated.
Thousands of years ago the Celtic people of Western Europe particularly the British Isles and Western France believed that on the last day of summer which is roughly the same day as 31st October, the barriers between the living world and the kingdom of the dead would open allowing spirits and saints to pass among the living.
Evil spirits would go from door to door scaring people and anyone unlucky to be out had to hurry back before the spirits could catch them and take them back to the kingdom of the dead. It was a night of terror and to protect themselves the people would turn to the priests also known as the druids and protectors of the Celts. They would light great fires and offer sacrifices to make the evil spirits calm down until the barriers had closed again the next day.
The evil spirits were often battled by the gods and other good spirits but they needed the help of the living world to keep away the evil spirits from tearing down completely the barrier separating the two worlds. Sacrifices of animal bones were thrown into the fire being called the bone fire which is how the bonfire came to be part of the history of Halloween.
In return for helping the gods fight the evil spirits on the Samhain night, the gods would make it possible for the druids to predict the future and see the weather and health of their king for the next year, it allowed the Celts to prepare their seeds and stockpile food to carry them through the seasons.
The druid also recited poems to the sun which they believed to be a god so that it would return the following year and change the temperature by warming the earth. The winter months were cold, dark and nothing would grow much. Celtic people of that time also believed that if the sun did not return they would be too weak to help the saints fight the evil spirits and that ultimately the devil would win and the earth would perish.
Roman and Christian Halloween
After the invasion of the Celtic lands by Romans many of the Celts converted to Roman pagan rituals but still kept many of their own Celtic festivals. Samhain was one of these however the celebrations were merged with Roman festivities that happened around the same time. One of these was the festival of Pomona known as the Roman goddess of fruit and trees.
The symbol of Pomona was the apple which gave rise to the tradition of bending over a barrel and trying to bite the bobbing apple with our hands behind our backs. This was a tradition which has survived into the 21st century in the British Isles and is making a return in other parts of the world that celebrate Halloween and its history.
When the Christian faith had finally found its way to Ireland and the people converted to the Roman Catholic church from their traditional Pagan beliefs, many of the old celebrations and feasts became Christian celebrations and Samhain was also not different and it instead became All Hallows Eve also known as All Saints Day.
Sacrifices were not allowed for long time period and instead of druids reciting poems, monks and priests would chant hymns honoring the Saints of Christendom. The Saints were asked to keep looking over the people and in some masses were begged not to forsake the living and continue performing miracles.
The first of November commonly known as All Souls Day is a day of remembrance for the loved ones departed and in many parts of the world is a day when families would visit the graves of their loved ones to place flowers and tell them all that has happened in the world since the last year. It is a time of celebration for many rather than a time of sadness.
The celebrity of Jack o’ lantern
Halloween changed in the 19th and 20th centuries from being a religious celebration to an annual holiday mostly for children who dress in costumes and wander from house to house singing songs in small groups. Besides this, a favorite tradition that started in the USA and is now spreading to other parts of the world is the pumpkin lantern carved into a scary face with a candle inside known as Jack o’ lantern.
The story behind Jack with the lantern is another old classic, a man in Ireland who had stolen from the villagers and while he was being chased out of town he met the devil who had come to claim Jack’s soul. Jack managed to strike a deal with the devil for the villagers souls in exchange for his freedom. The devil would turn into a silver coin that Jack would give to the villagers as payment for his crimes and when the villagers were in their beds, the devil would return to normal form and take the villagers one by one. Jack cunningly put the coin into a purse that also contained a cross thus trapping the devil and allowing Jack to escape.
Jack died many years later but for his sins is denied from Heaven but the devil still remembers his treatment at Jack’s hands and forbids him entrance in to Hell, thus Jack was forever doomed to wander the in the dark nights. The devil’s parting gift to Jack is a sliver hot coal from the fires of hell which Jack places in a lantern to aid him in his travels.
The pumpkin lantern for Halloween we use today reminds us of the deal Jack did and originally was made from any large vegetable that was available. It was a large orange or yellow pumpkin in the USA. The top is cut off and the flesh scraped out then a scary face carved into the side. The light from the candle flashing off reflects the yellow flesh giving a suitably scary look to the lantern.
Veteran’s Day is a US federal and State public holiday in honor of service men and women who served in defense of the nation. 11th November of every year is designated Veteran’s Day and involves religious services, veterans marches and family get together. The history of Veteran’s Day begins with Armistice Day.
The 11th of November is a day of remembrance outside the US such as Canada, United Kingdom, France, Australia and New Zealand but the US is the only nation to name it Veteran’s Day. Just like other nations who honor their dead, in the US all service men and women who served their nation are honored.
President Wilson created the Armistice Day after the end of World War I known only as the Great War in those days, originally the day was not a holiday but just a somber moment of 2 minutes silence to remember the fallen from WWI.
The congress authorized the construction of the Tomb of Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery just across the Potomac River in Virginia in 1921. In the same year the US Veterans Bureau was formed as a Federal department under Colonel Charles Forbes who was its first director.
Sadly Col Forbes was arrested and relieved of duty after only two years on the job and charged with conspiracy to defraud the Federal government. He was replaced by Brigadier General Frank Hines who was instrumental and reorganized the Bureau to better serve the needs of veterans and historically has been known as the man who brought Armistice Day to the forefront of the national awareness.
The US had been involved in two further wars by the 1950s, they were the World War II, and the Korean War, both of which produced many great heroes and veterans who were not being honored or remembered on Armistice Day, so the Veterans Service Organizations (VSO) responsible for them requested a change of name to Veteran’s Day.
Congress duly passed the amendment in 1954 and President Eisenhower appointed Harvey Higley as the Chairman of the Veteran’s Day National Committee. If Veteran’s Day falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the Friday or Monday, whichever is closest to the 11th is designated as a public holiday
Christmas is the time of the year when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. This along with Easter is their most important event in the Christian calendar. In the 21st century the Christmas holiday season has become popular outside of the Christian faith with many Hindus, Jews, Buddhists and even Muslims adopting the significant holiday aspect of Christmas.
While Jesus Christ was born over two thousand years ago, the tradition of Christmas go back a lot further than that, in fact the birth of Christ was superimposed onto older pagan ceremonies and traditions that go back at least to ancient Mesopotamian civilization and perhaps even more further back to the first human civilization.
Burning the Yule log is one of the oldest traditions and is somewhat less popular tradition these days but still the subject of numerous carols or Christmas cards dates back to the earliest times and was important to pagan people for symbolizing the birth of the Sun God and the end of winter months. Different ancient cultures had different ceremonies like some would dance and sing around the log and others would huddle in their homes until the threat of evil Gods had passed.
To understand the history of Christmas in a true sense, we need to look at the entire holiday rather than just the day of the 25th of December, for example the 12 days of Christmas, the Yule log, giving gifts, caroling, street processions and seasonal holiday meals are all such activities that pre-date the holiday season of Christmas.
The 12 days of Christmas immortalized in a song of the same name was originally a Babylonian festival which was held around the winter season when the supreme god of the Babylon city-state ‘Marduk’ would battle the demons of the underworld for 12 days and nights until the sun returned.
The Roman festival of Saturnalia is believed to be derived from the Babylonian festival but was characterized by wickedness and a switching of roles between rulers and those who were ruled. In fact for the entire month of January Rome was often ruled by peasants while the aristocracy pretended to be their slaves and servants. The entire city would close for the month to allow everyone to participate.
At the time of the early Christian Church, the Roman Empire ruled most of the Mediterranean shores including the Holy Land. Religion was paganism and every part of the empire had its own Gods and celebrations and if they were colorful enough these would be often adopted in other parts of the empire. Temples to new divinities would spring up regularly and almost fashionably.
Many Christians believe that 25th of December is the actual day of Christ’s birth, in fact historians and Church leaders are divided on this with many believing Joshua of Nazareth now known as Jesus Christ was actually born in the month of March. The 25th of December coincided with the Babylonian celebration of Mithra’s birth in pre-Christian times and in the Roman calendar was the first day of the Saturnalia festival.
In the 4th century, the Roman Catholic Church had become concerned that the festival of Saturnalia and the celebration of Mithra’s birth were not showing signs of diminishing. It was decreed that the period would be known as the 12 days of Christmas beginning on the day of Christ’s birth and ending on on 6th January which is the day of Epiphany. In 350 AD Julius I, Bishop of Rome designated the 25th of December as the official date for celebrating Christ’s birth known as Christmas.
During the medieval ages feasting and dancing during the 12 days of Christmas showed some signs that the Church had not in fact been terribly successful and while the switching of roles was long consigned to the history books, other aspects such as wickedness amongst the working classes was very much alive.
The most enduring image of Christmas for many people and certainly most children is the idea of Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas or Papa Noel bringing gifts and presents to good boys and girls all over the world. This too is an idea from Saturnalia that predates the birth of Christ which the Catholic Church unsuccessfully tried to expel in favor of a more sober and reflective Christmas.
A more appealing story of the history of giving gifts at Christmas comes from Bishop Nicholas of Myra who is the patron saint of children. Bishop Nicholas was never known to give gifts at Christmas time, instead he gave gifts when he noticed a need for it, one example is the gold coins he threw in the window of the poor man’s home so that his daughters would have a dowry for their wedding.
After Nicholas’s death, he was elevated to sainthood with December the 5thbecoming his Saint’s day and it is on this day in many parts of Europe that children receive some of their gifs. In countries like the Netherlands and Germany, this used to be the day when children received all of their gifts until English traditions of gift giving on the 25th became well known.
Decorating the tree is a popular Christmas tradition that has its roots in Germany, some say that Martin Luther himself decorated a tree at Christmas but it was not until Queen Victoria married her German Prince Albert when decorating the tree became popular in England and then in the US.
In pre-Christian times people from Scandinavia and Germany would hang apples and candles from trees at the winter season as a reminder that spring would return soon. The tradition survived in Germany but at one time the practice had to be banned because the practice of cutting off the top of the tree for decorating purposes started destroying Germany’s forests.
German villagers used to make hand-made and blown glass decorations for their trees but some historians believe that this tradition stems from Roman times and the festival of Saturnalia when Romans would decorate trees.
Kissing under the Mistletoe was an ancient tradition from Northern Europe. According to this tradition the enemies who passed one another under the mistletoe were required to lay down their arms for a day but in modern times the tradition states that a man and a woman who meet under the mistletoe must kiss each other and can do so without being disloyal to their spouses.
When the Christmas holiday season arrives one of the most popular traditions throughout the world involves decorating a tree with ribbon, small ornaments, a string of lights that flash and of course the magic of stacking gifts for loved ones under the bottom branches. Usually the decorated Christmas tree takes pride of place in the corner of the room or beside the fireplace for several weeks until it is finally removed on 6th January which is the day of Epiphany.
In the times of ancient northern European cultures before the Greeks and Roman empires, evergreen trees were considered magical and able to resist the darkness of winter when everything else died. The priests and villagers of that time would gather around the tallest evergreen tree every year at the winter and pray to the gods for the return of the sun and the warm weather that let their crops grow and their animals would increase.
It seems strange for the people of the 21st century to think that summer would not return but thousands of years ago people only knew that winter was a harsh and miserable time. They knew that the sun comes and then goes and then returns again but their lives were so unstable and their population so small that they were only able to stockpile enough food and firewood to last for the winter and if the sun did not return they would perish. In this background it is easy to understand the magic that the evergreen trees obviously had.
Ancient Egyptian societies were known to appreciate the value of evergreen trees as well as palm fronds in their homes and temples at the winter which symbolized the importance of life over death. The ancient Egyptians strongly believed in an afterlife and the concept of resurrection and the nature of palm fronds which remained green became a symbol of eternal life.
The pagan beliefs and customs of decorating the Christmas tree are even believed to be mentioned in the book of Jeremiah in 10: 2-4 when god is quoted as saying not to learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky though the nations are terrified by them and the customs of the peoples are worthless as they cut a tree out of the forest and a craftsman shapes it with his mold. They decorate it with silver and gold and they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not shake.
Many Christians misinterpret these passages indicating that the Christmas trees are activities which are un-Christian and should be discontinued. Although most Christian scholars agree that the Jeremiah is instead referring to the pagan practice of cutting and turning timber into an idol which was decorated with gold and silver and worshipped as a god. There is no historical evidence to suggest that the Christmas tree or any decorated tree ever formed part of the pagan traditions of the Holy Land.
During the Roman era a festival known as Saturnalia was one of the most important events in the Roman calendar and it occurred at around the same time as Christmas is celebrated. The 25th of December was originally the end of Saturnalia but after Roman centurions conquered Babylon the 25th of December which was celebrated by Babylonians as the day of birth of their sun god Mithra found its way into Roman society as many Romans adopted Mithraism as their major religion. Yet it should be said the Romans were polytheistic and many mithraists would have continued to worship the traditional Roman gods as well.
The legend of Mithra tells that it was also born from an immaculate conception and predates Christian and Roman beliefs by two millennia having been the most powerful god of pre-Babylonian societies such as the ancient Persians and Vedic peoples of Northern India. Mithra’s birth was celebrated every year by the decorating of an evergreen tree in the homes of its worshippers.
A fir tree was traditionally decorated by Roman citizens and gifts placed under the tree just as modern Christians do, although this practice disappeared in most parts of the Christian world after the fall of the Roman Empire as had been done during Saturnalia fell into.
The Catholic Church of that time attempted to eradicate all pagan traditions and was forced in 274 AD to adopt most pagan holidays and give them new meaning to reduce the more unpleasant aspects of the traditions. They were successful to some extent but in fact the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 550 AD and the growth of Islamization around the Mediterranean from the early 8th century did more to restrict pagan beliefs.
The late medieval ages saw a revival of pagan traditions throughout Europe to varying degrees leading many monks and priests inventing stories that reaffirmed the connection between decorating trees and Christ’s birth. Nobody knows exactly who created the story of the fir tree becoming the Christmas tree.
The trees gave gifts too like the olives from the olive tree and dates from the palm tree but the fir having traveled from Europe was tired and had nothing to give. Seeing how disappointed the fir tree was the angels descended and sat on its branches and casting their light as mini stars. The baby Jesus was so entranced by the light of the angels on the fir tree that he declared that the fir tree should be decorated for the rest of time with lights and surrounded by gifts to bring joy to little children.
We know that Martin Luther in Germany was the man who had found the protestant movement during the reformation and decorated a fir tree with lights and small ornaments for his children so that he could inspire them with the wonder of Christ’s birth. Nobody is sure if Martin Luther invented the modern form of decorating the Christmas tree or if the Christmas tree was enjoying new popularity. Certainly at the same time there are other reports of trees being decorated with fruits, cheeses and nuts for the benefit of orphans.
The tradition of decorating a fir tree at Christmas was well established in the German speaking nations by the 1800s and in some of their neighboring principalities, thousands of small factories existed that would manufacture small glass balls decorated with complex designs and patterns to be hung from the tree. The tradition of decorating the Christmas tree did not arrive in the English speaking world until the marriage of Queen Victoria and her German Prince Albert.
German and English settlers in US in the 19h century brought their Christmas activities with them although puritan America resisted the traditions for some time, some American Christians still refuse to celebrate Christmas and decorate a Christmas tree to this day. The late 1800s gave rise to the birth of the commercialization of Christmas and the easy availability of fir trees, decorations and lights as US department stores started competing with one another for the best window display. The Christmas holiday season became one of their best income periods resulting in bigger and more colorful displays.