23 November, 2006

Christmas: Much Ado About Nothing

It's getting close to that wonderful time of year again when Christians around the world gather together for merriment and festivities in honour of the birth of Christ. It's a shame these same people are absolutely ignorant as to the real history of Christmas. There's no proof whatsoever that Jesus was born on December 25th so let's just all relax, forget the mangers and wise men statues and simply enjoy the day for what it is: time off from work.

Food for thought from Wikipedia:

Pre-Christian origins of holiday
Christmas has its origins in several pagan holidays. The celebration known as Saturnalia included the making and giving of small presents (saturnalia et sigillaricia). This holiday was observed over a series of days beginning on December 17 (the birthday of Saturn) and ending on December 25 (the birthday of Sol Invictus, the "unconquered sun"). The combined festivals resulted in an extended winter holiday season. Business was postponed and even slaves feasted. There was drinking, gambling, and singing, and nudity was relatively common. It was the "best of days," according to the poet Catullus.
During the time in which Christianity was spreading throughout the Roman Empire, another similar religion known as Mithraism was also gaining widespread acceptance. The followers of Mithraism worshipped Mithras, a god of Persian origin, who was identified with Sol Invictus. [citation needed] The followers of Mithraism, consequently, adopted the birthday of Sol Invictus as the birthday of Mithras. In 274 AD, due to the popularity of Mithraism, Emperor Aurelian designated December 25 as the festival of Sol Invictus.

Christian origins of holiday
Around 220 AD, the theologian Tertullian declared that Jesus died on March 25, 29, but was resurrected three days later. Although this is not a plausible date for the crucifixion, it does suggest that March 25, nine months before December 25th, had significance for the church even before it was used as a basis to calculate Christmas. Modern scholars favor a crucifixion date of April 3, 33, which was also the date of a partial lunar eclipse. By 240 AD, a list of significant events was being assigned to March 25, partly because it was believed to be the date of the vernal equinox. These events include creation, The Fall of Adam and Eve, and, most relevantly, the Incarnation. The view that the Incarnation occurred on the same date as crucifixion is consistent with a Jewish belief that prophets died at an "integral age," either an anniversary of their birth or of their conception.

The idea that December 25 is Jesus' birthday was popularized by Sextus Julius Africanus in Chronographiai (221 AD), an early reference book for Christians. This identification did not at first inspire feasting or celebration. In 245 AD, the theologian Origen denounced the idea of celebrating the birthday of Jesus "as if he were a king pharaoh." Only sinners, not saints, celebrate their birthdays, Origen contended.

As Constantine ended the Christian persecution and began the persecution of non-Christians, Christians began to debate the nature of Christ. The Alexandrian school argued that he was the divine word made flesh (see John 1:14), while the Antioch school held that he was born human and infused with the Holy Spirit at the time of his baptism (see Mark 1:9-11). A feast celebrating Christ's birth gave the church an opportunity to promote the intermediate view that Christ was divine from the time of his incarnation. Mary, a minor figure for early Christians, gained prominence as the theotokos, or god-bearer. There were Christmas celebrations in Rome as early as 336 AD. December 25 was added to the calendar as a feast day in 350 AD.

Food for thought from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts; Origen, glancing perhaps at the discreditable imperial Natalitia, asserts (in Lev. Hom. viii in Migne, P.G., XII, 495) that in the Scriptures sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthday; Arnobius (VII, 32 in P.L., V, 1264) can still ridicule the "birthdays" of the gods.

Alexandria. The first evidence of the feast is from Egypt. About A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria (Strom., I, xxi in P.G., VIII, 888) says that certain Egyptian theologians "over curiously" assign, not the year alone, but the day of Christ's birth, placing it on 25 Pachon (20 May) in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus. [Ideler (Chron., II, 397, n.) thought they did this believing that the ninth month, in which Christ was born, was the ninth of their own calendar.] Others reached the date of 24 or 25 Pharmuthi (19 or 20 April). With Clement's evidence may be mentioned the "De paschæ computus", written in 243 and falsely ascribed to Cyprian (P.L., IV, 963 sqq.), which places Christ's birth on 28 March, because on that day the material sun was created. But Lupi has shown (Zaccaria, Dissertazioni ecc. del p. A.M. Lupi, Faenza, 1785, p. 219) that there is no month in the year to which respectable authorities have not assigned Christ's birth.

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There's no religious significance attached to December 25th. How about using Christmas a time to be thankful for what God has given us instead of honouring a birth that didn't even happen on that day?

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