This chapter focuses on Southern Africa, examining how the transformation of Johannesburg and the Witwatersrand into the region’s industrial gold-mining hub has shaped the Christmas culture of the last one hundred years. What follows scrutinizes three distinct Christmas Days in and around Johannesburg. First, I show how the largely unattached male community of early twentieth-century Johannesburg interpreted Christmas as a period of (licensed) seasonal debauchery, while also pointing to the evangelical temperance organizations simultaneously pioneering a new definition of urban respectability. Moving to the 1930s, the chapter charts the rise of a new black middle-class in the city, and the manner in which Christmas celebrations became an opportunity to demonstrate their upward social progress and purchasing power, part of their larger argument for equal rights within a repressive and racially segregated South Africa. The final Christmas Day snapshot looks at the complex rural–urban networks that characterized the lives of those who worked in Johannesburg. It argues that annual labour migration patterns—whereby most city workers returned ‘home’ to the countryside over Christmas—established the holiday as a key node in monetary networks of obligation, support, and exchange. The chapter concludes by showing that most rural ‘African Independent Churches’ have emphasized other liturgical events—for example, Easter, or devising entirely new celebrations—due to Christmas’ popular associations with alcoholism and criminality.
This chapter is concerned with ancient sanctuaries and their spaces as places where rituals were performed. It discusses various aspects of sanctuaries and their materiality, and the ways in which reconstructing ritual practice and performance may be approached through archaeological and written sources, which give an insight into sanctuaries and their use. Different types of sanctuaries, primarily from the Roman imperial period (the late first century bce to the fourth century ce) from a variety of locations across the Roman Empire are considered. Furthermore, a number of cults that had specific types of sanctuaries connected to them are presented, such as those of the so-called Mystery cults of, for example, Mithras and Isis. Architectural layouts as well as embellishments, such as decorations and ritual objects, are discussed in brief also, in order to explain ancient sanctuaries as places where ritual experiences occurred. Furthermore, theoretical approaches, among those, the ‘lived ancient religion’ approach, are addressed in order to situate the ways in which such approaches may further our understanding of ancient ritual spaces.
The Anglican tradition had a particular role to play in the elevation of Christmas, moving it from a contested liturgical and cultural day, to a publicly celebrated festival and season—a status that has now become thoroughly pervasive in most cultures. Episcopalians in the United States in the first quarter of the nineteenth century were prominent in the promotion of Christmas as a festival that celebrated family life, gifts, and new forms of social cohesion, and that departed from the rather rowdier commemorations of the feast in previous generations. In the twentieth century, aspects of Christmas—such as the festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge—have showcased the adaptive hybridity of Anglican worship, and its capacity to engage with wider audiences beyond mere denominational membership. The synergies of Christianity and culture that are present in many contemporary celebrations of Christmas are rooted in Anglican polity—especially the pragmatic and pastoral ethos of its incarnational theological tradition. There are even traces of this to be found in the identity of Santa Claus.
Joseph Tse-Hei Lee
The widespread acceptance of Christmas in Asia hinges on several factors, such as the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, the influence of Christian missionary evangelization and local churches, relatively stable church–state relations, and the integration of host societies into a global consumer economy. Following a chronological approach, this chapter explores how Western missionaries and Asian converts indigenized the ritual of Christmas celebrations and remembrance from the nineteenth century on. Examples are given from China, Hong Kong, India, and Korea, showing how the spread of Christmas took place in an environment different from Europe and America, where most people self-identified as Christians and had observed Christmas for generations. The nineteenth century, the era of missionary expansion and colonialism, witnessed a regionally diverse pattern of localizing Christmas. By the early twentieth century, the spread of nationalistic sentiments led to public attacks on Christmas as a symbol of imperialism. From the late twentieth century to the present, Christmas celebrations have been commercialized worldwide and the festival has become a magnet, not only for Christians concerned about spiritual reflection, but also for merchants and consumers intent on business activities.
John S. Kloppenborg
Life in the cities and towns of the Hellenistic and Roman periods was organized around two poles: the polis or town, and the family, each with its distinctive structure, organization, membership, and cultic practices. Between these two poles there existed a large number of more or less permanent private associations, guilds, and clubs. A variety of types of ritualized behaviours were common in associations, many of them mimicking political or domestic rituals. Since many associations represented non-elite persons, politically disenfranchised in the cities in which they lived, the mimicry of political rituals functioned both to create social imaginaries that connected them to the polis and to cement affective bonds.
Leroy A. Huizenga
The Lukan author is regarded as an ancient historian of the first rank, and yet in Luke 2 he seems to have committed a gross error in placing Jesus’ birth during a census conducted by Quirinius (which most believe happened in 6/7
Bethlehem is the backdrop to many of the Christmas scenes we associate with the season, but what is it like to celebrate Christmas in the place where Christ was born? In the West, many people do not realize that Christmas is celebrated in the Middle East, yet there are many ancient Christian communities in the region for whom their roots, traditions, and homelands link them to biblical stories. To understand what Christmas means in the Middle East and how it is celebrated reveals the ways in which Christmas traditions are shared and adapted throughout the region in ways that both support and change the way Christians practise their faith in the region. It also deepens our understanding of Muslim–Christian relations and the ways in which religious and cultural traditions can interact to bring communities together.
Katherine G. Schmidt
This chapter surveys the place of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the Christian tradition. It examines her place in the New Testament, with particular focus on her role in the infancy narrative found in the Gospel of Luke. It also considers Mary’s place in the early Church, from the first Christian community through the Christological councils of the fourth and fifth centuries The chapter includes a brief history of Marian devotions such as the Rosary from the Reformation period to modern day, including debate over the Immaculate Conception and the perpetual virginity of Mary, and the history of Marian apparitions at Lourdes, Guadaloupe, Mexico, and Guadaloupe, Spain.
This chapter defines and describes a core repertory of seventy-five Christmas songs that have been frequently recorded for popular consumption in the United States since 1900. Song titles in the repertory enjoy an enduring presence on the Billboard charts and on twenty-first-century streaming platforms. While traditional Christian carols from before 1900 survive in this repertory, secular popular songs introduced between 1942 and 1965 dominate. Christmas narratives, whether religious (birth of Jesus) or secular (arrival of Santa Claus; holiday celebrations set in cold weather), provide consistent points of reference for carol and song lyrics respectively. In some cases, Christmas songs have added new characters (Frosty the Snowman; the Little Drummer Boy) to a season centred on stories. Popular Christmas songs also explore the varied temporal nature of this holiday as event, season, and annual recurrence.
From the beginning, music has played an important role in the celebration of Christmas as both a holy day and a holiday, its various expressions reflecting different religious, cultural, and political contexts. To the standard Latin hymns and chants of the medieval Church were added tropes, rhymed songs, and liturgical dramas. Vernacular songs and carols, including those in mystery plays and Nativity representations, expressed both sacred and secular sentiments, and rose and fell in popularity according to such factors as religious allegiance and nationalism. Protestant denominations varied in their approach to the music of Advent and Christmas, with Lutherans promoting elaborate chorale settings like cantatas and oratorios, and Anglicans and Dissenting and Reformed Protestants at first limiting, or even banning, Christmas music-making. The collection of songs and carols, general acceptance of the hymn, and rise of cheap printing in the 1800s encouraged mass participation in Christmas services and concerts that included songs both ‘old and new’, masterpieces such as Handel’s Messiah, and songs about Santa Claus.
At Christmas, European Catholics celebrate the Nativity, Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem. For almost all Europeans, believers or not, Christmas is a family feast. It takes place over the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere that gave rise in ancient Rome to the Saturnalia marked by large, domestic banquets. This would lead to the feast of Christmas, which combines both secular and sacred customs: the Nativity scene, the Christmas tree, lights, gifts, and bounteous meals. Many Catholics, otherwise practising or not, attend Midnight Mass on the evening of 24 December. Likewise, the devout do not ignore the commercial aspects and Santa’s gifts. This chapter will discuss what happens in contemporary Catholic Europe from the start of Advent up to the feast of Christmas and through Christmastide to Epiphany, looking at how it is observed at church, at home, and in public places where a display of the Nativity scene is not always well received in France.
Marcia J. Bunge
Even though children play a central role in Christmas traditions worldwide and have been members of Christian communities since the early Church, little scholarly attention has been paid to the vast and varied interconnections between children and Christmas. This chapter examines this theme by: 1) focusing on children’s active participation and, at times, central role in Christmas traditions, such as Advent rituals in the home and Nativity plays in the congregation; 2) exploring traditions in which both children and adults seek to address the urgent needs of children locally and around the world; and 3) highlighting ways in which Christians past and present have sought to attend to the spiritual formation of children and the meaning of Christmas amidst various obstacles and distractions. By exploring these three lines of inquiry and offering examples from world Christianity, including Ethiopian Orthodox traditions, the chapter demonstrates the central yet often neglected role of children in Christmas traditions and highlights the need for further research into the intimate connections between children and many other religious traditions.
Maxwell E. Johnson
To study the rites of Christian initiation in the early church is to encounter not one but several liturgical traditions in development. This article seeks to provide an introductory overview of the sources, issues, and problems encountered in the development and interpretation of the rites of Christian initiation within early Christianity. It proceeds in two parts: from the first century to the Council of Nicaea; and from the Council of Nicaea to Augustine of Hippo. Augustine of Hippo serves as a fitting conclusion to this focus since, as a result of his controversies with both Donatism and Pelagianism, a new article in Christian initiation begins and continues throughout the medieval and even Reformation periods of church history.
Paul F. Bradshaw
The limited evidence for Christian initiation practices in Syria and North Africa in the third century suggests ritual patterns that differed from each other in some ways but followed the three-stage structure of rites of passage outlined by Arnold van Gennep, even if the first and third of the stages were relatively undeveloped at that time. The fourth century saw the elaboration of these together with the temporal contraction of the middle or liminal phase in the rites of Syria and Milan, as well as in the variant practice of the city of Jerusalem.
Jonathan D. Lawrence
This chapter explores the biblical ideas of purity and the related concepts of cleanness and holiness. It discusses some of the terminology used for these concepts in the Bible and related literature and how these terms are used in different texts and various periods. It examines the relationship between purity and holiness, particularly in terms of the Temple in Jerusalem, and discusses some of the possible reasons that certain materials were designated as unclean or impure. It also outlines the development of purification practices, particularly in terms of miqva’ot, Jewish ritual baths which were introduced in the Second Temple period.
This chapter explores the role of commercialization and consumerism in creating the modern American Christmas. It begins with a theoretical discussion of the capitalist disenchantment narrative advanced by Max Weber and Charles Taylor, as well as the critiques of that storyline by scholars such as Leigh Schmidt. Arguing that the sacred and the commercial are intermingled in holiday celebrations, it traces the evolution of America’s Christmas from the 1600s to the present, beginning with pre-commercial folk celebrations (and non-celebrations), early forms of commercialization and consumerism, the emergence of mass-produced Christmas decorations, the modern department store, and the role of the mass media and popular culture. It concludes by discussing contemporary debates about holiday retailing and the ways that commercial Christmas celebrations sacralizes secular spaces.
Richard S. Ascough
This chapter begins by briefly discussing the prevalence of communal meals in the Roman world and then turns attention to the form and setting of communal dining. Such meals were framed as semi-public events. While not everyone was invited—indeed, only a small cadre of the especially chosen took part—banquets were often located and structured so that they could be observed. Within the meal setting itself, seating arrangements were such that each participant was also an observer. The bulk of the chapter examines how communal dining rituals model the values of the surrounding culture while also serving to mirror these values back to the banqueters, thus reinforcing and legitimating these values within the group. While meal rituals have the potential to challenge societal norms, in practice, the replication of cultural values reinforce the dominant social order.
David L. Eastman
Veneration of holy people was a significant feature of early Christian piety. Through a collection of ritualized practices, Christians both received traditions handed down to them and contributed to the expansion of the image of the saints. Thus, ritual was a central factor in the creation of the cult of the saints. This chapter focuses on three of these practices: (1) the telling of stories; (2) pilgrimage; (3) and relic veneration. It then argues that the cult of the saints functioned to create the image of the martyrs as a special class of Christians, to promote the idea that suffering was the mark of true Christianity, to implant a distrust of government officials in Christian collective memory, and to provide opportunities for certain church leaders to control expressions of piety by the populace.
This chapter explores the intertwined themes of pilgrimage and the cult of saints in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, highlighting similarities and differences as well as issues of importance in the study of the tensions and moments of convergence that historically existed between the faiths during the Middle Ages down to the present. Current events have resulted in an existential threat to holy places and long-established customs and traditions throughout the Middle East and, indeed, to the destruction of shrines in Syria and Iraq. To that end this study explores the varieties of holy persons and places that believers of the Abrahamic faiths venerated. While traditional approaches to the cult of saints and pilgrimage and, indeed, other related themes are useful in highlighting certain relationships, a more concise framework that considers the Abrahamic dimensions of both phenomena is needed which is sensitive to the historical context and the ritual aspects.
As the most significant annual cultural event on the planet, it is inevitable that Christmas becomes entangled with social movements, religious arguments, nationalism, constitutional wrangling, and politics. In 1905 in New York City there was opposition from Jewish families to religious ceremonies in public schools at Christmas. After the Second World War, there was a series of court battles in the United States over the First Amendment and the separation of Church and State. The Christmas Tree, or Holiday Tree, and Santa Claus have been objected to in a variety of contexts and places. Special attention is given to concerns about Christmas in Communist and Muslim countries. This chapter examines these conflicts over the last century and concludes that culture wars will likely endure.