I don’t know about you, but I ate for England over Christmas. Forget all this foreign rubbish, we had a traditional festive dinner; paella and tiramisu. Well, it’s traditional with us anyway.
One of the really striking things about Christianity is the way it co-opted existing beliefs, festivals, places of worship and practices.
Halos? Halos didn’t start appearing in Christian religious art until the 4th Century and were already an established motif in Classical Greek and in Buddhist art long before then.
Churches? My favourite example is the church at Tysoe on the Warwickshire/Oxfordshire border. While I was researching the vanished ‘Red Horse of Tysoe’ hill figure for a Millennium project I’d hoped to get off the ground II found out a little about the site of the church. Apparently it was built on the site of a Roman temple which had in turn been built on a pagan site. According to the then vicar the sun rising on the Spring Equinox would flood in through a particular window and strike the altar (I hope my memory serves me well) while the Red Horse had been carved into the side of Spring Hill – over which the sun rose on that day.
So, however much it’s disputed whether Christians simply borrowed December 25th from the Roman Sol Invictus cult which celebrated the sun’s birthday on that date, Christmas certainly coincides the widespread practice of celebrating midwinter. Eventually a Christian festival supplanted others such as the Saturnalia and the Winter Solstice and as pagans converted it was a convenient peg onto which to hang existing midwinter traditions.
One social function of all these celebrations was to sustain people through the hard and dark months of winter. People would enjoy the last fruits of the harvest and build up their strength to get through January and February. Even now the psychological boost of Christmas and New Year is enough to carry many of us through to the spring (though for others Christmas sadly has the opposite effect).
The Christian celebration has certainly embraced most of the excesses of the pagan midwinter celebrations that preceded it. There’s nothing particularly Christian about mince pies, Christmas pud, Christmas cake or oodles of booze, but few people seem to think Christmas is Christmas without them. As for the turkey – all we can be certain about is that there was no turkey that night in Bethlehem.
What completely terrifies me though is just how easy it is to eat dreadful rubbish over the holiday. It reminds me of that passage from Chapter 7 of Matthew’s Gospel (don’t worry people, this is a cultural reference not a sermon) “”Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.”
It’s just too damned easy to do things that are bad for you. How many things that are good for us do we feel compelled to do or are simply the easy option? Healthy eating? Nah. Fitness and exercise? Nah. Taking in 300 good calories is hard. Taking in 300 bad ones is a piece of cake (see how I did that…). The way to broadness is broad.
Six mini chocolate bars such as those in the picture come to 270 calories. The amount of effort required to eat them is pretty much zero. I can do it sitting down. I did do it sitting down.
My answer to Christmas was to have a fasting day on Christmas Eve and another on the 28th. Despite that it’s going to take time to undo all the damage.
I’ll post some ideas about 5:2 main meals in the next day or two.