Sunday, December 22, 2013

Why Christmas Day Is December 25th?

Merry Christmas Readers!

Yes, Merry Christmas!

These days, those two words which constitute our Christian greeting have all sorts of political implications.  But for this article, I don't want to address how that phrase, that small blessing, irks the Left and those who would deny us our freedom of religion simply because we are Christians.

I want to talk about the origin of Christmas Day, December 25th, and how it has come to be that date.

Before starting, lets make something clear, I'm no scholar - not by a long shot, especially when it comes to God.

The idea for this article came about after talking to a friend's wife on the phone about celebrating Christmas.  She is a Jehovah's Witness and subsequently does not celebrate Christmas.

For me, since I was born and bred a Roman Catholic, Christmas means a great deal as I was taught from a young age to celebrate the birth of Jesus - the Christ child, our savior. 

The conversation with my friend's wife started innocently enough, but than moved to the realities that the actual date itself is not spelt out in clear and concise language that some need to have done so that they will not argue the point.

And yes, while I know very little about the Jehovah's Witness religion, it seems to me that that they may have a great deal in common with Contract Lawyers and Politicians than a Religious group.

Why would I say that? It's because of their dogged determination to exclude faith, history, and archeology, and instead focus only what is written in the Bible.

Like a group of Contract Attorneys, they are emphatic about only following the written word. Nothing else matter except what the Bible says - not taking into consideration what the Bible does not say.

No where in the Bible does it mention how a wheel was first created, yet we know that it was and works.  

In the same way that Contract Attorneys disregard something called "the Spirit of the Law," it appears to me that there may be some in the Jehovah's Witnesses who completely disregard what a friend once called "the Spirit of the Bible" - the spirit of its teachings, and our ability to reason, and subsequently gain what might not be so defined that it would please a Contract Attorney.

Why don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate Christmas? I don't know exactly, so I looked it up.

According to a Jehovah's Witness website, they make quote after quote cherry picking what they want to site and what they do not as to why they do not celebrate the birth of Christ. 

Their website stated the following:

1) Jesus’ apostles and early disciples did not celebrate Christmas.

2) There is no proof that Jesus was born on December 25; his birth date is not recorded in the Bible.

3) Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Christmas is not approved by God because it is rooted in pagan customs and rites. - they list 2 Corinthians 6:17 verse pertaining to idolatry as proof of that.

As for 2 Corinthians 6:17, I gather that some want to take it to be a sort of message to the Catholic Church regarding receiving Holy Communion.

Others like myself were once taught that it was a warning for believers to keep a distance between themselves and wicked and immoral people whose company and conversation are dishonorable, ensnaring, and defiling, - those people are "the unclean."

The Jehovah's website goes on to state:

"Many still celebrate Christmas despite knowing about its pagan roots and lack of support from the Bible."

While I respect that they do not choose to celebrate Christmas, the same as the Puritans who did not celebrate Christmas or as far as that goes any Holiday (Holy Day), and they say they do in fact respect each person’s right to decide for himself in this matter and not interfere in the Christmas celebrations of others, I don't like that they show disrespect to Catholics and other Christians by spreading the myth that Christmas is some sort of pagan holiday.

Christmas Is Not A Pagan Holiday!

According to scholars and professors of Biblical Archaeology, such as Andrew McGowan who published an essay entitled "How December 25 Became Christmas" (2012), it did not start out with pagan trappings at all.

McGowen wrote:

"It’s not until the 12th century that we find the first suggestion that Jesus’ birth celebration was deliberately set at the time of pagan feasts.

A marginal note on a manuscript of the writings of the Syriac biblical commentator Dionysius bar-Salibi states that in ancient times the Christmas holiday was actually shifted from January 6 to December 25 so that it fell on the same date as the pagan Sol Invictus holiday.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Bible scholars spurred on by the new study of comparative religions latched on to this idea - and they subsequently claimed that because the early Christians didn’t know when Jesus was born and that it was simply assimilated into the pagan solstice festival for their own purposes. They claimed it as the time of the Messiah’s birth and celebrating it accordingly."

Like many tradition which are borrowed from other cultures over time, more recent studies have shown that many of the holiday’s modern trappings do reflect pagan customs borrowed much later, as Christianity expanded into Northern and Western Europe.

For example, the Christmas Tree has been linked with late medieval druid practices.

And yes, this sort of finding has only encouraged modern audiences to "assume" that the date "absolutely must be pagan."

But we all know what they say about the word "assume'.

We should not believe it!

McGowan and other Biblical Archaeologists say there are huge problems with this popular theory of paganism being responsible for our celebrating on December 25th as many are lead to believe.

"Most significantly, the first mention of a date for Christmas was circa 200 A.D. and the earliest celebrations that we know about were circa 250–300 A.D., both were in periods when Christians were not borrowing from pagan traditions to such an extent.

Granted, Christian belief and practice were not formed in isolation. And yes, many early elements of Christian worship, including the Eucharist, meals honoring martyrs and much early Christian art would have been quite comprehensible to pagan observers."

But he also writes, "But historical facts point out that in the first few centuries A.D., the persecuted Christian minority was greatly concerned with actually distancing itself from the larger, public pagan religious observances, such as sacrifices, games and holidays.

This was still true as late as the violent persecutions of the Christians conducted by the Roman Emperor Diocletian between 303 and 312 A.D.

And yes, this would change only after Constantine converted to Christianity -as it wasn't until later from the mid-fourth century on, we do find Christians deliberately adapting and Christianizing pagan festivals.

But friends, even with that we don’t have evidence of Christians adopting pagan festivals earlier in the third century when Christmas was already well established by some Christians.

Because of that, realistically, being unbiased, it is apparent that it is unlikely that the date was simply selected to correspond with pagan solar festivals.

It's a lie to say that Christians adopted some ritual when they did not. And yes, celebrating Christmas pre-dates any sort of rituals that may have been adopted later.

The December 25th feast existed long before 312 A.D. when Constantine converted.

How did December 25 come to be associated with Jesus’ birthday?

Some believe that December 25th was being used in the Western Roman Empire and January 6 in the East - especially in Egypt and Asia Minor.

The modern Armenian church continues to celebrate Christmas on January 6th.

For most Christians, however, December 25 would prevail, while January 6th eventually came to be known as the Feast of the Epiphany, commemorating the arrival of the magi in Bethlehem. The period between became the holiday season later known as the 12 days of Christmas.

The earliest mention of December 25th as Jesus’ birthday comes from a mid-fourth-century Roman almanac that lists the death dates of various Christian bishops and martyrs.

The first date listed, December 25th, is marked: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae meaning “Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea.”

In about 400 A.D., Augustine of Hippo mentions a local dissident Christian group, the Donatists, who apparently kept Christmas festivals on December 25th.

So, almost 300 years after Jesus was born, we finally find people observing his birth in mid-winter.

But how had they settled on the date December 25th?

There are two theories today: one extremely popular is that December 25th has everything to do with pagan festivals; the other theory - though more ancient - is less often heard outside scholarly circles.

The first theory is an assumption that Christmas Day is on December 25th to coincide with the Winter Solstice and pagan festivals.

While it is true that elements of the Winter Solstice festival that developed from the fourth century A.D. has some pagan traditions, for us to say that the date of December 25th is entirely based on paganism is not only myth spread by unbelievers - but also a lie because there is no proof that shows that that is true.

Fact is, because the Christian Church did not use any pagan traditions for the first 300 years A.D., the actual date of Jesus Christ birth is more accurately derived from Judaism and from Jesus’ conception and death at Passover.

Some say the Donatist knew it first!

The second theory has to do with the fact that the Donatist Christians in North Africa knew it first 200 years before it ever had any sorts of pagan influence.

Furthermore, in the mid- to late fourth century, church leaders in the Eastern Empire concerned themselves not with introducing a celebration of Jesus’ birthday, but with the addition of the December date to their traditional celebration on January 6th.

Strange as it may seem, the key to dating Jesus’ birth may lie in the dating of Jesus’ death at Passover.

This view was first suggested to the modern world by French scholar Louis Duchesne in the early 20th century and fully developed by American Thomas Talley in more recent years.8 But they were certainly not the first to note a connection between the traditional date of Jesus’ death and his birth.

The miracle of the coming Savior did not start at the birth of Jesus, but at the conception. For this reason, the early Christians celebrated Jesus’ conception and death on the same calendar day: March 25, exactly nine months before December 25.

According to scholars, around 200 A.D., Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus died was equivalent to March 25th in the Roman (solar) calendar.

March 25th, is of course, exactly 9 months before December 25th. Imagine that!

It was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation — the commemoration of Jesus’ conception.

Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25th.

This fact appears in an anonymous Christian treatise titled "On Solstices and Equinoxes," which appears to come from fourth-century North Africa.

The treatise states that our Lord was conceived on March 25, which is the day of the passion of the Lord and of his conception: "For on that day he was conceived on the same he suffered.”

Based on this, the treatise dates Jesus’ birth to December 25th which happens to be the winter solstice.

Augustine, too, was familiar with this association. In "On the Trinity" (c. 399–419 A.D.) he writes:

"For he [Jesus] is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since. But he was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th.”

In the East, too, the dates of Jesus’ conception and death were linked.

Thus, we have Christians in two parts of the world calculating Jesus’ birth on the basis that his death and conception took place on the same day March 25th or April 6th. and coming up with two close but different results December 25th and January 6th.

Connecting Jesus’ conception and death in this way will certainly seem odd to modern readers -- but it reflects ancient and medieval understandings of the whole of salvation being bound up together.

The notion that creation and redemption should occur at the same time of year is also reflected in ancient Jewish tradition is also recorded in the Talmud.

The dates of Christmas and Epiphany may well have resulted from Christian theological reflection on such chronologies: "Jesus would have been conceived on the same date he died, and born nine months later,"

The above per Adrew McGowen, Biblical Archaeologist.

It might seem confusing, but it's not.

Though the Bible does not give the exact date of his birth, the Bible is specific about the dates when Jesus was conceived and when he died.

We only need to understand that 9 month later is December 25th to accept that date. And yes, according to research, this is how we arrive at December 25th to be the birth date of Jesus Christ.

While there are some around the world who celebrate the conception, most Christians today celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ 9 months later on December 25th.

And to that birth, we celebrate and give thanks that our savior was born.

And Yes, We Should Celebrate His Birth Just As The Angels Taught Us Too!

What? But the Bible makes no reference to celebrating "Christmas" you say?

Well, actually it does.

While the word "Christmas" is a compound word originating in the term "Christ's Mass". It is derived from the Middle English Cristemasse, which is from Old English Crīstesmæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038 A.D., followed by the word Cristes-messe in 1131.

Crīst (genitive Crīstes) is from Greek Khrīstos (Χριστός), a translation of Hebrew Māšîaḥ (מָשִׁיחַ), "Messiah", meaning "annointed"; and mæsse is from Latin missa, the celebration of the Eucharist.

The form "Christenmas" was also historically used, but is now considered archaic and dialectal; it derives from Middle English Cristenmasse, literally "Christian mass."

So no, since the word "Christmas" did not exist - it obviously should not be in the Bible.

But for me, I believe that instructions on celebrating the birth of Christ certainly are in the Bible.

I believe it comes to us in Luke 2:10-14, where it states:

"And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"

So yes, there it is. The closest thing we have in the Bible telling us what to do to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Luke 2:10-14 instructs us to have great joy and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ by praising God and wishing peace on earth and good will toward men.

For me, while I praise God and celebrate the birth of my savior, I try to be aware of false prophets like those out there who want to convince others not to celebrate Christmas.

I keep in mind that in the entire Bible there is only one small section that tells us all what the LORD requires from us. Micah 6:8, "To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God."

As far as dealing with heathens who profess to have all the answers when it comes to Christmas, and yes I know they sound a great deal like Atheists and other non-believers, I try to remember Romans 14:5-6 which states:

"One person decides in favor of one day over another, while another person decides that all days are the same. Let each one be fully convinced in his own mind: The one who observes a special day, observes it to honor the Lord. The one who eats, eats to honor the Lord, since he gives thanks to God. And the one who does not eat, refrains from eating to honor the Lord; yet he, too, gives thanks to God.."

So yes, let all Christians, even Jehovah's Witnesses, do as the Bible tells us and do what the angels showed us - praise God and wish good toward men.

Above all let's honor the Lord.

Tom Correa

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