The Birthday of Jesus – Merry Christmas
The Bible does not give a specific date for the birth of Jesus. The New Catholic Encyclopedia states that “The true birth date of Christ is unknown”. Biblical and historical scholars are equally divided over this question as well. It is interesting to follow the discussion. So why do some 2 billion people—roughly 1 billion Catholics and another billion in Protestant faiths—observe Christmas!
So when is Christmas?
Most Protestants and Catholics uphold the December 25 date.
The majority of the Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas on January 7th. The Orthodox churches use the because the Julian calendar, created under the reign of Julius Caesar in 45 BC, and have not adopted the Gregorian calendar, proposed by Latin Pope Gregory of Rome in 1582 and adopted by Western nations. There are 13 days in difference between the two calendars. Strictly speaking, Christmas is still kept on December 25, which just happens to fall 13 days later on the Julian calendar. Some Orthodox Christians, such as in the USA, have adopted the Gregorian calendar.
Some few Christians don’t observe Christmas, believing that Jesus didn’t sanction it and that it dishonors him. Christian sects that reject the observance of Christmas for theological reasons include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Messianic Judaism; Sabbatarians, the Christian Congregation in Brazil in the United States, Independent Baptists, Holiness, Apostolic Pentecostal, and Churches of Christ. Of course, Christmas also is not observed by Jews and Muslims
Why December 25th is not Jesus’ birthday – Does it really matter?
- Caesar Augustus issued a decree ordering
all the inhabited earth to be registered.This occurred when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to register in
his own city,which might have required a journey of a week or more. (Luke 2:1-3) which is very unlikely have been scheduled in the cold of winter.
- Shepherds were
living out of doors and keeping watches in the night over their flocks.(Luke 2:8) However the sheep in Bethlehem were kept indoors from mid-November to Passover – late March.
- It has been claimed the Magi could not have arrived in Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth. It would have taken months to travel to Bethlehem from the East.
In any event, the tradition of December 25 was developed long after the New Testament period. Many simply enjoy the season and feel that the actual day of Christ’s birth is irrelevant.
In which year was Jesus born? 4BC, 2BC or 1BC? (4B.C.E. – 2B.C.E. – 1B.C.E.)
Counting back from his death on Passover, Nisan 14 in the spring of the year 33 C.E. (John 19:14-16) Jesus was about 30 years old when he began his three-and-a-half-year ministry, so he would have been born in the early fall of 2 B.C.E.—Luke 3:23.
By working backwards from this, it would appear that Jesus was born around 1 B.C.E. However, some scholars have calculated that if the phrase “about 30” is interpreted to mean 32 years old, this could fit a date of birth just within the reign of Herod, who died in 4 B.C.E.
You may have noticed that in this post the dates are written in the secular C.E. for Common Era instead of A.D. Anno Domini.
What does Christmas mean?
Some object to the name Christmas (Christ + mass) because it means Christ’s Mass in reference to the Roman Catholic ritual involving the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper. However Christmas can also mean simply a mass of religious services in commemoration of the birth of Christ. In other words, mass stands for festival involving a number of religious activities.
What is Xmas?
Surprisingly enough there are conservative critics who claim that Xmas is a blasphemous omission of the name of Christ, despite a well documented history of use of Χ (actually a chi) as an abbreviation for “Christ” (Χριστός).
- Advent is observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. Ingenious Advent Calendars are designed every year.
- The Santa Claus idea originated with a man by the name of St. Nicholas who was the Bishop of Myra in Lycia in the area of present day Turkey. He went about, often at night, giving gifts to poor and needy children. He later became the patron saint of children in the Roman Catholic Church.The story grew and became legend in country after country. There’s even a hilarious Christmas Urban Legend that says that Santa’s red suit was designed by Coca-Cola and that they might even ‘own’ Santa!
- The tradition of hanging Mistletoe in the house goes back to the times of the ancient Druids. It was also used as a sign of love and friendship in Norse mythology and that’s where the custom of kissing under Mistletoe comes from. This is a very popular tradition.
- The day after Christmas is Boxing Day when all unwanted presents are returned to the stores.
The pagan roots of some Christmas traditions
- The Encyclopædia Britannica says that church leaders probably chose it to coincide with the pagan Roman festival marking the birthday of the unconquered sun, at the time of the winter solstice. According to The Encyclopedia Americana, many scholars believe that this was done in order to make Christianity more meaningful to pagan converts.
- The major symbols of Christmas—Santa Claus, reindeer, decorated trees, holly, mistletoe may have come from ancient pagan festivals. Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago at the Winter Solstice.
- Some anti-semites claim that Jews introduced Santa Claus to suppress the New Testament accounts of Jesus, but this is just another urban legend.
- The Soviet Union repressed all religious holidays including Christmas. Most customs traditionally associated with Christmas, such as decorated trees, presents, and Ded Moroz (Father Frost), were later reinstated in Soviet society, but tied to New Year’s Day.
- Critics cite Jeremiah 10:1-16 and Isaiah 44:9-18 to claim that the Bible forbids bringing trees into our homes and decorating them.
- The date of the festival celebrating the birthday of the ancient sun god Mithras was interestingly enough December 25th. Sol Invictus (“The Unconquered Sun”) originally a Syrian god later adopted as the chief god of the Roman Empire under Emperor Aurelian was celebrated on December 25.
- Christmas also coincides with the ancient midwinter festival that occurred at the time of the winter solstice.
- Pagan Scandinavian and Germanic celebration of Yule in northern Europe, are transparently present in later Christmas customs. The Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath, the Yule log, candles, holly, and mistletoe may be descended from Yule customs.
- The Puritans (of Thanksgiving) had laws forbidding the celebration of Christmas.
Current Revival of Christmas
The current state of observance of Christmas is largely the result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday as a family-centered festival of generosity (rather than church-centered observance) and the happiness of children. During the 20th Century there was much criticism of the commercial activity and expensive indulgence. There are also signs of a secular war on Christmas bringing about the use of politically correct Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas and creation of new non-Christmas names e.g. Winterval, Winter Night Light festival, holiday tree, Winter Pleasures and holiday sale.
Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa have joined hands in modern American culture, which also invented Chrismukkah.
Did you know that “White Christmas” was composed by the Jewish composer, Irving Berlin. The song reminisces about an old-fashioned Christmas setting. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the version sung by Bing Crosby is the best-selling single of all time, with estimated sales in excess of 50 million copies worldwide.