Watch as Billy on the Street's Billy Eichner and his Parks and Recreation pal Amy Poehler terrorize people on the streets of Manhattan by forcibly conscripting them into an ad hoc caroling group.... (Begins at 1:25)
December 25th was the day of the Roman cult of Sol Invictus, the undefeated sun. The Philocalian calendar of AD 354 is the earliest literary reference both of this and of Jesus’ birthday. Many people accept that there is a connection between the two, not least because the Bible likens Jesus to the sun. Christian celebration on the 25th was well established following the outlawing of Paganism by Theodosius after the year 381. In the subsequent centuries, many traditional midwinter customs such as feasting, gift giving and bringing evergreens into the house became associated with it. The Puritans couldn’t decide whether to hate this because it was Catholic or because it was Pagan. In any case, they tried to ban it both in revolutionary England and in their religious republic in Massachusetts. Misrule was always present, but in the 19th Century, wassailing started to annoy the wealthy, who promoted a sentimental process of domestication. In recent years some people have behaved as if there were something offensive about the religious elements of our traditional midwinter celebration, while others even claim to believe that there is a campaign to do away with it altogether; I can only hope you won’t mind if I wish you – a very merry Christmas.
Winter holiday traditions change with time and location, with their current forms retaining little of their old forms, wassailing (rhymes with fossil-ing) possibly more than most. The modern interpretation of wassailing has been simplified to singing carols, though it was born of much more diverse traditions, from a cheer of good health before battle to scaring evil spirits from apple orchards. From these origins come wassail the drink, and that's just one of the many foods of the winter season (Food Timeline prev., 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). A few more are covered below the break. [more inside]