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4,000 Years of Christmas Paperback – September 30, 2000

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Ulysses Press, Seastone (September 30, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1569752354
  • ISBN-13: 978-1569752357
  • Product Dimensions: 7.2 x 5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,473,118 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 53 people found the following review helpful By P. Maki on December 25, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I bought 4000 Years of Christmas because I'm very interested in the history of Christmas and winter solstice celebration and wanted some background on where it all began. Carl and Alice Count's book, 4000 Years of Christmas, answered much for me. It linked the pre-Christian Mesopotamian 12 days of merry-making and their need to have a rebirth of their king each year to fight the old gods who were reclaiming the earth in order to renew the land. The Counts then explained how these celebrations were adopted by the Greeks and Romans, and how separately these early Mesopotamian celebrations moved north via trade routes up the Danube River to an emerging Northern culture. The Counts further reveal that Christ's birth day was not celebrated for nearly 400 years, and that the Roman Saturnalia celebration -- a celebration developed out the Mesopotamian one, was held at the winter solstice to honor the renewing of light and the end of the long nights -- and that 4th Century Christians chose the finale day of Saturnalia (December 25) as the day of Christ's birth in hope of garnering peasant support. The interesting tie they make is that of the change in the perception of Gods -- from ones that are abitrary and sometimes vindictive to one like Jesus Christ who offers love, grace, kindness to all -- including children. After exploring the Christian development, the Counts explore the development of the Germanic god Woden and the Scandinavian god Odin, explaining how they evolved into Santa Claus and mixed with the Christian celebations, and how the history of St. Nickalus was developed. In short, this is good reading and it offers a nice, short synopsis of the development of our familar winter Christmas celebrations and how Christian and early pagan celebrations evolved.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By William Evenson on October 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a delightful, well-rounded explanation of the development of the holiday we know as Christmas. Readers interested in learning about the origins of our celebration will likely be well pleased with what these authors have to offer. Those who seek reinforcement of their own viewpoints or advocacy of particular religious interpretations of the season might look elsewhere.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By James A. Altman on November 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
A quick, fascinating read into the anthropology of religion as seen through the lens of a single holiday. As Joseph Campbell would illustrate in much greater detail in his landmark work,"The Hero with a Thousand Faces," Dr. Count demonstrates the underlying unity in all the divergent historical religious sources of Christmas traditions. Humankind has shared common hopes, fears, and the need for redemption throughout history, which share resolution in remarkably parallel religious practices around the date set for Christmas. Rather than see this as a challenge to Christian primacy, Count sees the parallel hopes and fears behind these divergent practices finding their most complete resolution in the context of the Christian celebration. It is as Phillips Brooks wrote, "The hopes and fears of all the years are met [in Bethlehem]," in the birth of the Christ Child.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a small book which can be read in an afternoon. It tells the history of Christmas and the origins of some of the ceremonies and traditions that surround that time of year. The correspondence of Christmas and the winter solstice is discussed as well as some of the theological debates that took place during the first 200 years of Christianity and how the Christmas concepts are the result of one side of the debate winning over the other side. The book begins by taking the reader back 4000 years to the Mesopotamian Empire. There the ancient tradition of treating a criminal like the king and then killing him as a sacrifice to the gods for the new year resulted in 12 days of merry-making. The idea of killing a criminal or prisoner of war or hostage from another tribe is related to the idea that the king must die and then be reborn to renew the crops and start the New Year. These celebrations were adopted by the Greeks and Romans. The Counts also explain how the Christianity of the Mediterranean was mixed with the beliefs of the Germanic, Slavic, Frankish tribes that adopted Christianity but gave it a northern tribal flavor that is very much alive in Christmas traditions. However, Christianity was also mixed with the Roman festival or Saturnalia which corresponds to the winter solstice. This time of wild parties, drinking, feasting, possible sexual excess still clings to the Christmas season and has little to do with the birth of Christ. We have no idea when Christ was really born but the 4th Century Christians chose the finale day of Saturnalia (December 25) as the day of Christ's birth. It took until the 4th Century to iron out all the theological wrinkles around whether Christ was man or God or mixture and if he was God in man then he needed a human birth.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The authors state in the Prologue to this 1997 book, "This is one of the world's greatest stories. We do not know its beginning, and it has not yet ended. Much of the story is not known---for instance, we do not really know when the Christ Child it venerates was born; or the time and place when Christmas was first celebrated; or exactly how it was that, over the centuries, a bishop-saint of Asia minor and a pagan god of the Germans merged to become Santa Claus. Although the Christmas story centers in the Christ Child of Bethlehem, it begins so long before his coming that we find its hero arriving on the scene after more than half of the time of the story has gone by."

Here are some quotations from the book:

"Mesopotamia is the very ancient Mother of Civilization. Christmas began there, over four thousand years ago, as the festival that renewed the world for another year. The 'twelve days' of Christmas; the bright fires and probably the Yule log; the giving of presents; the carnivals with their floats; their merrymakings and clownings, the mummers who sing and play from house to house; the feastings; the church processions with their lights and song---all these and more began there centuries before Christ was born." (Pg. 24-25)
"The habit of Saturnalia was too strong to be left behind. At first the Church forbade it, but in vain... The Church Fathers now sought to point the festival toward the Christian Sun of Righteousness." (Pg. 36)
"To celebrate (Jesus' birthday) would have seemed at best pointless, and at worst an evil thing. By the third century, however, many people were coming to the notion that his birthday should be observed..." (Pg. 40)
"We know almost nothing about the man who some day was to become 'Saint' Nicholas." (Pg. 65)
"We do know that the tree is part of what the common people contributed to Christmas; the Church not only did not create it, but frowned upon it when it first came to attention." (Pg. 85)
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