Page:Our American Holidays - Christmas.djvu/17

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INTRODUCTION

It was the habit of him whose birthday we celebrate to take what was good in men and remould it to higher uses. And so it is peculiarly fitting that the anniversary of Christmas, when it was first celebrated in the second century of our era should have taken from heathen mythology and customs the more beautiful parts for its own use. "Christmas," says Dean Stanley, "brings before us the relations of the Christian religion to the religions which went before; for the birth at Bethlehem was itself a link with the past."

The pagan nations of antiquity[1] always had a tendency to worship the sun, under different names, as the giver of light and life. And their festivals in its honor took place near the winter solstice, the shortest day in the year, when the sun in December begins its upward course, thrilling men with the first distant promise of spring. This holiday was called Saturnalia among the Romans and was marked by great merriment and licence which extended even to the slaves. There were feasting and

  1. An account of the early history of Christmas may be found in Chamber's Book of Days.