Originally created 12/25/05

Musings on the mysteries of Christmas lore, literature

Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy.

- H.W. Mabi

Christmas is called a holiday of joy and a time of giving. But it also is a season of mysteries - here are three.

WHO WAS SCROOGE? Believe it or not, there really was an Ebenezer Scrooge - more accurately, Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie.

According to the Edinburgh Evening News, author Charles Dickens was speaking in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1841 and while taking a stroll through a local cemetery, spotted a tombstone that marked the resting place of "Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie - meal man."

Only Dickens thought it said "mean man," and used the name and image in his famous Christmas Carol to describe a sour, holiday-hating miser.

It turns out that was almost the opposite of Mr. Scroggie, a man who sold corn meal and had a reputation around Edinburgh as a hard-drinking, woman-chasing party guy who once disrupted the Assembly of the Church of Scotland by patting a countess on the bottom.

WHO WROTE IT? We all grew up thinking Clement Moore 'twas the author of The Night Before Christmas. This famous Christmas poem - also known as A Visit From St. Nicholas - solidifies our images of Santa, his sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.

But the names of two of those reindeer - Donner and Blitzen, German words for thunder and lightning - raise some questions.

The earliest versions of the poem, which appeared unsigned in New York newspapers years before Mr. Moore began taking credit, called them Dunder and Blixem - Dutch words, not German.

Why were they changed? Some suggest that Mr. Moore - a theologian who knew German - didn't write the original poem, he simply changed it and claimed credit.

Many now think the more likely author of the initial story - with all its New Amsterdam Dutch images - was probably Henry Livingston, a surveyor, map-maker and poet, known for works whose rhyme and poetic meter closely resembles the well-known Christmas poem.

WHY DEC. 25? If there's one thing scholars and historians can agree on, it is no one can prove Jesus was born on this date. Most biblical scholars avoid the issue by stating it as "the date we celebrate the birth."

They acknowledge, for instance, that St. Luke's description of shepherds in the fields would have probably been during "lambing" time - usually, a spring event.

According to a variety of sources, celebration of Jesus' birthday was not considered an important part of the Christian faith for several centuries.

Sometime in the 300s, according to numerous sources, church leaders realized they could co-opt several rival religions by celebrating Christ's birth around the time of the winter solstice - a date not only coinciding with several pagan festivals, but also a Roman holiday.

As one church leader shrewdly wrote in the early 300s, "We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of him who made it. "

It's a thought that holds up as well today as it did 1,700 years ago.

I hope yours is a merry one.


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