A short story about Christmas, between myths and legends

Christmas is born in the Mediterranean. When the emperor Aureliano (270-275) introduces the divinity of Sole Invictus he builds a temple in his honor in the current Piazza San Silvestro in Rome, and fixes its dies natalis to December 25th, that is, a few days after the winter solstice.Devotion to the Sun is very widespread in Rome. The Son of the supreme god Sun, and therefore the Sun itself, is Mithra who was born with a torch in hand, symbol of the light radiated in the cosmos, by a virgin goddess who in Roman iconography becomes a rock, the petra genetrix, and at the event  would assist the shepherds ready to offer as gifts the first fruits of the crops and the flock.The similarities with Christianity are evident. It is not difficult, therefore, for Christians to celebrate the Christmas of Christ on the same day as the birth of the Sun god. On the other hand, both the Old and the New Testament announce Jesus as the Light and the Sun that shines from the darkness of the night. So in the chronograph  by Furio Dionisio Dilocalo dated 354 there is a fragment of a Roman calendar, to be attested more or less to 326, in which on December 25 (VIII Kalendas Januarias) we read: “natus est Christus in Betleem Judaeae” . This is probably the first official attestation of Christian Christmas. But Pope Leone Magno will think about it in the fifth century, to offer the theological foundation to the festivities and to warn Christians not to take pagan ritual attitudes, asking them to “venerate the Creator of light and not the light itself that is a creature” .The date of December 25 has a symbolic value, therefore, rather than historical. But when Francesco d’Assisi on December 25, 1223 obtained from Pope Honorius III to celebrate the Christmas of Jesus with a figurative representation, he finds himself, on the slopes of Mount Falterona, near Greccio, with a climate that, at that time ‘year, it is not the most favorable, in a cave. This is how the living nativity was born, and the extras soon replaced by miniature figures, for the first time commissioned by Pope Honorius IV in 1283. The crib enters fully into the popular tradition, to the point that in the eighteenth century in Naples these figures will represent the thousand faces of the city, while in Catanzaro, in the same period, “’u prisiebbiu cchi si motica” will bring on stage, in the form of a theater with real “moticaturi”, the vices and virtues of the society of the time. But for the Romans, the day of December 25th also coincides with the end of the Saturnalia festivities, which take place from December 17 to 23, and for which it is common to exchange gifts and decorate the firs. A practice that spreads easily in the provinces of the Northern European Empire, thanks to the very special relationship that the Celtic populations have with Nature. With the Christianization of Northern Europe, the sign of the Cosmic Tree is associated with Christ, the Tree of Life that dispenses, as its fruits, light and love; gifts that are symbolized by lights, colored balls, sweets hanging from the branches of the tree. Thanks to the evergreen tree, according to tradition, Saint Boniface in 680 converts the Germanic peoples who, until then, venerated the oaks. After the First World War, the setting of Christmas firs spread throughout the world, and the same John Paul II introduces the practice of decorating a large Christmas tree in Piazza San Pietro. Meanwhile, still in the North, veneration is asserted towards San Nicola, whose cult spreads from Bari. In fact, in 1087 some sailors coming from Bari steal and take away from the infidel Turks the body of Nicola, the Saint of the IV century and bishop of Myra, a town in the territory of today’s Turkey, known for its fame as a miracle worker and, above all, for saving three girls of marriageable age from misery with three bags of gold. Because of this, the tradition of a Nicola who, in the cycle of Christmas holidays, brings presents to children. In the Anglo-Saxon countries this gift dispenser is called Santa Klaus, from the Latin Sanctus Nicolaus, and in the meantime in America it also becomes the brand of a well-known beverage. In Italy it is simply Santa Claus, while in Sweden he is the gnome of Christmas, for his lower stature. We do not understand Christmas, therefore, without proposing an intercultural reading of the stories, traditions, values ​​that have sedimented themselves in the various territories over time, making it truly a recurrence for all.

 

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