What the Hell

What the Hell

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Thoughts on the Holidays...

Been having thoughts about Christmas after hearing an interview the other day with author Stephen Nessenbaum who wrote on the subject, its origin and how it should be celebrated....how about you?  Consider the following:

Since there is no evidence for the observance of Christmas in the Bible, the question arises, What is its origin, and when did its celebration begin? Well, to answer that we have to go back to the 4th century.

Christmas, according to many authorities, was not celebrated in the first centuries of the Christian church, as the Christian usage in general was to celebrate the death of remarkable persons [eg Communion - death of Christ] rather than their birth... Origen, an early Catholic writer, admitted, “…In the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners (like Pharaoh and Herod) who make great rejoicings over the day in which they were born into this world.” Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the church...." -Encyclopedia Britannica, 1946 edition....  "A feast was established in memory of [the birth of Jesus] in the 4th century. In the fifth century the Western Church ordered it to be celebrated forever on the day of the old Roman feast of the birth of the sol [sun], as no certain knowledge of the day of Christ's birth existed.  There is not a word in the Scriptures about the precise day of His birth, or the time of the year when He was born. What is recorded there, implies that at what time His birth took place, it could not have been on the 25th of December. At the time that the angel announced His birth to the shepherds of Bethlehem, they were feeding their flocks by night in the open fields. No doubt, the climate of Palestine is not so severe as the climate of this country; but even there, though the heat of the day be considerable, the cold of the night, from December to February, is very piercing, and it was not the custom for the shepherds of Judea to watch their flocks in the open fields later than about the end of October when the rainy season would begin.   And if any think the winter wind was not so extreme in these parts, let him remember the words of Christ in the gospel, 'Pray that your flight be not in the winter.' Indeed, it is admitted by the most learned and candid writers of all parties  that the day of our Lord's birth cannot be determined.

In the Christian Church no such festival as Christmas was ever heard of till the 3rd century, and...not until well into the 4th century did it gain much observance. How, then, did the Church fix on December 25th as Christmas-day? Long before the 4th  century, a pagan festival was celebrated, at that precise time of the year, in honor of the birth of the son of the Babylonian queen of heaven. In the Roman world, the Saturnalia (December 17) was a time of merrymaking and exchanging of gifts. December 25 was also regarded as the birthdate of the Iranian mystery god Mithra, the Sun of Righteousness. On the Roman New Year (January 1), houses were decorated with greenery and lights, and gifts were given to children and the poor. How much the date of the Christian festival depended upon the pagan Brumalia (December 25th) following the Saturnalia (December 17th-24th), and celebrating the shortest day of the year (winter solstice) and the 'new sun'...cannot be accurately determined. The pagan Saturnalia and Brumalia were too deeply entrenched in popular custom to be set aside by Christian influence...The pagan festival with its riot and merrymaking was so popular that Christians may have been glad of an excuse to continue its celebration with little change in spirit and in manner. Christian preachers of the West and the Near East protested against the unseemly frivolity with which Christ's birthday was celebrated, while Christians of Mesopotamia accused their western brethren of idolatry and sun worship for adopting this pagan festival as Christian.  The 25th of December was the day that was observed in Rome as the day when the victorious sun god reappeared on earth.  So strong was the belief in the Invincible Sun (Sol Invictus) that Constantine I (d. 337), found it indeed perfectly compatible with his pro-Christian sympathies to authorize his own portrayal as Helios, the sun god. And in 354 the Christian church in the reign of his son, Constantius II, found it prudent to change the celebration of the birth of Jesus from the traditional date (January 6) to December 25, in order to combat the pagan Sun god’s popularity—his "birthday" being December 25." -Frederick H. Cramer

Even as recently as the 19th century Christmas was not widely celebrated in this country.  "A broad element of English Christianity still considered Christmas celebration a pagan blasphemy. The Puritans, Baptists, Quakers, Presbyterians, Calvinists and other denominations brought this opposition to early New England and strong opposition to the holiday lasted in America until the middle of the 18th century."-Rick Meisel
The Christmas tree, now so common among us, was equally common in Pagan Rome and Pagan Egypt. In Egypt it was the palm tree; in Rome it was the fir; the palm-tree denoting the Pagan Messiah.  Decorating the indoors with evergreens as a symbol of new life during the dark days of the winter solstice is a long held tradition.  Our current rendition came to us via Germany and Queen Victoria's German husband Prince Albert in the late 19th century.

I am not saying we should not celebrate Christmas.  I'm not even saying Christians shouldn't celebrate Christmas, although my parents believed that and I didn't really understand why as a child.  But I hear about one group of people wanting to "put the Christ back into Christmas" and another group who says he didn't belong there in the first place. How about trying this:  it is up to each of us to decide for ourselves how we want to combine the world traditions and archetypal symbols of the season in our lives in a meaningful way and establish our own traditions as well.  Just wanted to make the point that there isn't any reason to argue about whether Christmas should be a "Christian" or non-Christian occasion, because there's quite a bit more to it than that.  Like most of life on this planet, it's COMPLICATED....


For more reading see the following:
Frederick H. Cramer, Astrology in Roman Law and Politics
The Origins of Christmas," Rick Meisel
The Two Babylons, Alexander Hislop
The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge
RealTruth.org  (Christmas Unveiled)
Werner Keller, The Bible As History
Stephen Nessenbaum, The Battle for Christmas

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