December–The Tenth Month
December had two names among the English Saxons: “Wintermonath” meaning winter month, and “Heligmonath” meaning “holy month”, as Christmas falls in this month.
The chief festival of this “tenth” and last month of the year was the Saturnalia, held on the seventeenth of the month in honour of Saturn, the father of Jupiter. [Charles I and II]
Saturn the Cronos, was one of the Titans, the six giant sons of Uranus (Heaven) and Gaia (Earth). Uranus ruled before the days of Man, but he was overthrown by his son Saturn, who became for a time the supreme ruler of the universe. Uranus prophesied that Saturn would one day himself be overthrown by his children, and in order to avoid this, Saturn, when his first child was born, immediately swallowed him!
As other children were born, Saturn swallowed each of them until at last Rhea, his wife, succeeded in hiding her youngest son Jupiter, and deceived Saturn by giving him a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, which, in his haste, he swallowed without realizing the trick played upon him. Jupiter was thus saved, and when he grew up he overthrew his father, as Uranus had foretold. Saturn, having lost his power, took refuge on the Earth, and became king of a part of Iliad, called Latium by Virgil in the eighth book of his Aeneid. [En-Lantium= to lie hidden].
“Saturn was the first to come from heavenly Olympus, fleeing the arms of Jupiter, an exile deprived of his kingdom. He it was who made into a nation a people untaught and scattered on the mountain tops, and gave them laws, and chose that the land should be called ‘Latium’ because in safety he had lain hidden in this region.”
Jupiter’s rule was very soon threatened by the Titans, who refused to bow to his will, but after a long and terrible struggle, the giants were overthrown by Jupiter’s thunderbolts [=guns]. One of the giants was imprisoned under Mount Aetna , where, breathing out fire and smoke, struggling to free himself, thus causing earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Another of the Titans, Iapetus, had two sons, Prometheus (Forethought) and Epimetheus (Afterthought). To these two gods fell the task of making mankind. Prometheus was very anxious to give to mankind that he had fashioned a [fire]power that would make them supreme on the earth, and nearer to the gods themselves. Fire belonged only to the gods and was jealously guarded by them. In spite of the terrible punishment which he knew awaited him should he be discovered, Prometheus determined to steal fire from the gods, and during one dark night he took a burning rod from the home of the gods on Mount Olympus. Jupiter, seeing an unaccustomed light among mankind, discovered the theft, and his rage knew no bounds. He seized Prometheus, carried him off to the Caucasus Mountains, and bound him with chains to a huge rock. Then he sent a vulture that, day after day, might feed upon his liver, which grew again during the night so that the terrible torture of the god should have no end.
Prometheus was rescued by Hercules, who came to ask him where he might find the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. Hercules killed the vulture, broke Prometheus’ chains, and released the tortured god, who in return advised Hercules to go to the giant Atlas, who knew where the apples were, as we have seen in the story of Atlas’ daughter, Maia.
Prometheus’ brother, Epimetheus, married Pandora, and at first lived with her in great happiness, for in those early days the earth was free from pain, sickness, and ills of every kind. One evening they saw Mercury, the messenger of the gods, coming towards them and bearing on his shoulder a huge box. Tired out with his burden, Mercury begged permission to leave the box to their care, promising to return for it in a short time. Pandora and Epimetheus readily granted permission, and Mercury placed the box in their house and hastily departed.
Pandora was at once filled with great curiosity as to what the box might contain, and suggested to Epimetheus that, they should just peep inside. Epimetheus was shocked by Pandora’s lack of good manners, and, replying that they must not think of such a thing, he went out, calling to Pandora to follow him. But the temptation overcame her when she found herself alone. Quickly she undid the cord which bound the box, and, thinking she beard sounds in the box, she put her ear close to the lid. To her surprise she heard voices calling, “Let us out! let us out!” Pandora slowly raised the lid a little, just for a peep, as she said to herself. But out flew little winged creatures, some of which settled on Pandora and Epimetheus, who had now returned, and stung them so that they knew pain for the first time. Then escaping into the world, Evil, Sickness, Unhappiness, and all the little troubles of life, became a cause of endless pain and suffering to mankind.
Pandora was startled to hear a voice still calling from the box. It sounded so kind and gentle and pleaded so sweetly to be let out, that Pandora raised the lid a second time, and out flew Hope, who had been shut in with the cruel creatures, and now fluttered busily over the earth, healing the wounds made by her evil companions.
This cheery little creature, Hope, may well be associated with the winter month December, when Ceres Demeter mourns for Persephone, yet clings to the hope of her return. It is Hope who bids us say with the poet, “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
On December 25th, after the winter solstice, the turning point of winter,is when the days begin to grow longer. It was called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun), and it is chose for the birthday of Jesus Christ. In early times Christmas (the Mass or Feast of Christ) was kept at different times in the year, but it was finally fixed on December 25th, since on that day there was already held the traditional festival to the sun. It was an easy thing to make the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun, which wakes all nature from its winter sleep, into the Birthday of the Unconquered Son of God, who brought new life and hope to the Christians.
The origin of Santa Claus is St. Nicholas, the patron saint of Russia. He was famous for his generosity, and a festival was held in his honour on the 6th of December.
The custom of giving “Christmas boxes” comes from Christmas time boxes were hung up in the churches in which people might put money, for the poor. On the day after Christmas Day these boxes were opened, and the day was thus known as “Boxing Day”. Another custom is that of having a Christmas tree hung with toys. Virgil, in The Georgics: “hang from the tall pine tiny waving masks” of Baccchus, the god of wine.
Source: The Stories of the Months and Days, Reginald C. Couzens, 1923, CHAPTER XI http://www.sacred-texts .com/time/smd/smd13.htm