By MARGARET BROWN
THERE IS a saying that ‘what goes around comes around’ and, judging by the mores of western society today, this could be applied to the festival of Christmas.
In early Roman times, the mid-winter feast of Saturnalia was a week of eating and drinking, gambling, singing and a general making of whoopee. However, in AD221, a Roman theologian advanced the idea that, because Mary was visited by the Angel Gabriel on March 25 and declared with child, December 25 should be kept as the birth date of the Infant Jesus – it being nine months later and on the same date as the winter solstice.
Over the centuries, many other dates were disputed, but by the late Middle Ages December 25 was gaining credence.
Cromwell banned the festival in 1647 as ‘popery’ and, although this was lifted after The Restoration of the monarchy, the Anglican Clergy continued to disapprove. In Britain, by the early 19th century, the Church was becoming more open minded but, by then, such festivities were dying out. However, the publishing of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens went a long way to re-inventing it as a family gathering, but without the hedonism of today.
During feudal times, Boxing Day was for the Serfs who, with their families, for a few hours, occupied His Lordship’s Manor House: it was recognised as their right to receive boxes containing grain, tools and lengths of cloth. In later years, servants presented smaller boxes into which money, not goods, was placed.
We seem to have come full circle: back to the Saturnalian revels of pagan times, for those with money to spare, but little evidence of Boxing Day largesse. However, despite the depersonalisation of charitable giving, a standing order at the bank may still bring happiness somewhere far away.