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Les origines de Noël

Here is a text from with some exercises about Christmas. It's pitched at advanced students, but could be used with a really good Y11 class (high intermediate). Feel free to copy and paste.

Noël est la célébration de la naissance de Jésus Christ pour l'ensemble du monde chrétien. Mais pourquoi a-t-on choisi la date du 25 décembre? En fait les premières fêtes de Noël ne se déroulaient pas sur un seul jour mais sur plusieurs jours dans une période allant du mois de novembre au mois de janvier. Le choix de cette période était un choix stratégique de l'Eglise qui permettait de faire disparaître d'anciennes coutumes et traditions païennes en y substituant l'une des fêtes les plus importantes de la chrétienté : la nativité.

Les saturnales romaines 

Bien avant la naissance du Christ, les romains célébraient les saturnales du 17 au 24 décembre. Les saturnales étaient les fêtes célébrées en l'honneur de Saturne, dieu des semailles et de l'agriculture.
 Les saturnales sont la fête de la liberté retrouvée pour tous.  Durant les saturnales tous les clivages sociaux disparaissaient et les rôles pouvaient être renversés. Les esclaves prenaient la place des maîtres qui les servaient !  Les maisons étaient décorées de feuillages et de branchages en l'honneur du dieu de l'agriculture. L'église a interdit ces fêtes  à la fin du IV° siècle. L'épiphanie est l'héritière des saturnales. 

Mithra, dieu de la lumière

Mithra est une divinité d'origine iranienne, il est le dieu de la lumière et de la vérité. Les soldats romains convertis au culte de Mithra l’ont répandu dans l'ensemble de l'empire romain.
Le 25 décembre qui était aussi la nuit la plus longue de l'année un taureau était sacrifié en l'honneur de Mithra, cette fête portait le nom de "Sol Invictus" (soleil invaincu). Durant plusieurs siècles le culte de Mithra a opposé une grande résistance au christianisme dans toute l'Europe jusqu'en Bretagne et sur les bords du Danube.


Les fêtes de Jul sont une très ancienne tradition des peuples nordiques. Ces fêtes se déroulaient autour du solstice d'hiver et s'accompagnait de sacrifices humains et de grandes libations. Elles trouvent leurs origines dans les traditions et la mythologie germaniques. Elles étaient données en l'honneur des dieux suivants :

  • Odin dieu de la mort
  • Thor dieu du tonnerre
  • Idun gardienne des pommes de jouvence
Le choix du 25 décembre

La fête de Noël n'existait pas au premier temps du christianisme. Les évangiles ne mentionnant même pas la date de naissance de Jésus Christ, l'église a dû en choisir une. D’abord les églises n'avaient pas toutes la même date de célébration de la nativité, puis la date du 25 décembre a été choisie en l'an 354 par l'Eglise d'Occident. L'Eglise d'Orient a conservé la date du 6 janvier. 


birth - _______________ (f)              whole - ____________ (m)
to take place - __ ____________       several - ____________
custom - ___________ (m)                pagan - _________
sowing season - ______________ (f)    difference - ____________ (m)
to reverse - ____________                slave - __________ (m)
master - ___________ (m)           foliage, leaves - ______________ (m)
cut branch - _____________ (m)       god - ________ (m)
to ban - ______________         truth - ____________ (f_
to convert - ____________       to spread - ____________
bull - __________ (m)              century - ________ (m)
worship - _________ (m)         Christianity - _________________ (m)
drinking  (alcohol) - ____________ (f)    thunder - ____________ (m)
“apple of youth” - ______ __ ___________(f)   Gospels - _____________ (m)

Vrai, faux ou pas mentionné?

1.            Le 25 décembre correspond à la date de naissance supposée de Jésus Christ.
2.            Il existe plusieurs origines des fêtes de Noël.
3.            L’Eglise a opposé les saturnales romaines et les a finalement interdites.
4.            Il y a eu une vive dispute au sein de l’Eglise catholique avant de choisir le 25                   décembre pour la célébration de la nativité.
5.            Le culte de Mithra a exercé une grande influence à travers l’Europe.

Complétez ces phrases avec un mot approprié pour donner un sens correct.

1.            Les fêtes modernes de Noël ont _____________ origines différentes.
2.            C’est l’Eglise qui a _________ le 25 décembre.
3.            Avant la naissance de Jésus Christ les Romains _____________ les Saturnales.
4.            Pendant plusieurs __________ le culte de Mithra a joué un rôle important.
5.            L’Eglise a opté pour une date précise pour _______ disparaître les traditions païennes.


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