There have been several
answers to Monday's post (Putting
Dickens back in Christmas) that express lively reactions and which can be
read by nonmembers of the list here.
But by far the longest, most thoughtful, and most radical answer isn't available
on that page, being sent to me separate of the list. It raises some unexpected
(though not previously unheard-of) questions that may keep us busy right up to
Christmas. It follows:
Today’s point about Dickens
illustrates a fact about Christmas: that is, to learn about it you must look in
secular sources. Consult any general encyclopedia to learn the origins. Here are
two Spanish sources.
Regarding the date for Christmas celebrations,
the Enciclopedia de la Religion Catolica frankly states, “The reason that
the Roman Church decided to assign this date to the festival seems to be its tendency
to replace pagan festivals with Christian ones… We know that in Rome at that time,
the pagans consecrated December 25 as the celebration of Natalis invicti, the
birth of the ‘invincible sun.’”
The Enciclopedia Hispanica
likewise notes: “The date of December 25 for the celebration of Christmas is not
the result of a strict chronological anniversary but, rather, of the Christianization
of the festivals of the winter solstice that were celebrated in Rome.”
did the Romans celebrate the rise of the sun in the winter sky? By feasting, revelry,
and the exchange of presents. Since church authorities were loath to abolish such
a popular festival, they “Christianized” it by calling it the birth of Jesus instead
of the birth of the sun.
Over the centuries, several factors
have played a decisive role in molding Christmas into the most popular, international
celebration for merrymaking and marketing. Also, the customs of other winter festivals,
especially those celebrated in northern Europe, were gradually incorporated into
the Roman model (e.g. two central parts of the holiday – the tree and the figure
of Santa Claus). Dickens contributed.
Then there are inaccuracies
with nativity scenes and stories. For example, the three Kings at the birth of
Jesus. The Catholic Encyclopedia admits the Bible does not say how many wise men
there were, and they were not kings. The account indicates they visited Jesus
later than when the shepherds did. Matthew 2:11 states “when they were come into
the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother,” Mary was no longer
in a manger. Verse 16 indicates Herod specified killing all infants two years
old and under, “according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the
It’s also interesting that whereas the shepherds
were provided angelic guidance to the Saviour’s birth and did not bring gifts,
the wise men were provided questionable guidance (involved with the destruction
of the Messiah) and did bring gifts.
When was Jesus born?
The Bible does not say. There is no account in the Bible of Christians (followers
of Christ) celebrating his birth. Surely if it was something to be done, young
Timothy would have known about it. If the shepherds were in the field watching
their flocks (Luke 2:8), and December is a cold month in that area, possibly even
winter-like, it’s probable that he was not born on December 25.
Bible does quote Jesus many times encouraging the truth. “God is a spirit: and
they that worship him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). Also,
referring to apostate leaders of his day “you make the word of God invalid by
your tradition which you handed down” (Mark 7:13). Very serious charges against
these leaders: “You are from your father the Devil … he is a liar and the father
of the lie … This is why you do not listen, because you are not from God” (John
8:42-47). Also, the apostle Paul warned Christians to stay away from non-Christian
influence (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
Please contrast the many
items connected with Christmas with what actually occurred, and the need to recognize
the message from Jesus and his immediate disciples. Btw, if he threw the money
changers from the temple area, how do you think he feels about all the commercial
profits being made in his name, whether the store says “Merry Christmas,” “Happy
Holidays” or “Watch that wall”? Will he not say, “I never knew you. Get away from
me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:21-23)?
happened in Christendom (including, but not only Christmas) reminds me of what
happened when Moses was up the mountain receiving instruction. Some of the people
below made the golden image and said to the masses: “This is your God who delivered
you from Egypt!” That was wrong; Aaron was deceptively misrepresenting God; God
did not approve. But if that happened today, modern religious people would say,
“It’s OK, just another way to worship God.” But God would say they are corrupt
much more here than I can respond to this time, but will give just a preview of
where we'll go next time.
Why do we need to
consult "secular" sources for the history of the early church (especially
when Paul warned Christians to stay away from non-Christian influence)? What "secular"
institution from times of the Roman Empire has survived to tell the history of
the early practices of Christians? The Knights Templar, perhaps (cf. The DaVinci
Code, a fictional concoction of ancient conspiracy theories)? But ironically,
though I don't know Spanish well enough to say with authority, the first encyclopedia
named appears to be a Catholic Church publication. But even more importantly,
the official Catholic Encyclopedia,
in English, online, has all these "allegations" about the history
of Christmas for all to see. It claims no verifiable date for the Lord's birth
and openly admits that the birth of Jesus may have been in another time of year.
The Orthodox Church (which was in full communion
with Rome for the first millenium of Christian history but has had no official
ties to it since c. 1060 A.D.) has always also admitted that the date of December
25 is arbitrary; though some argued that it might be close to the actual date
of Christ's birth, others say it's more important to keep it far apart in the
church calendar from the resurrection feast ("Easter," or "Pascha,"
in Orthodoxy), about which the general time frame is not in dispute. And though
the line of dispute in the letter above seems to give all blame (or credit) for
this history to the Vatican, the same history exists in the Eastern Church, and
has been maintained separately from the Vatican by the eastern bishops (who have
always considered themselves equal in office to the Pope of Rome, and still do,
and do have "issues" with the Vatican, but no serious issues about whether
the birth of Jesus Christ and the Incarnation of the Eternal God should be celebrated
by the whole church and that December 25 is the best time to do that).
don't know where the writer is coming from religiously. The Jehovah's Witnesses
are the only sizeable "Christian cult" I know of that rejects all observance
of Christmas, though I'm aware of some radical Plymouth Brethren (a British-based
"Bible church" movement) who also feel it shouldn't be celebrated and
who, despite that, are, compared to the JW's, relatively orthodox in their other
doctrines. The Puritans of America's colonial period did not celebrate Christmas
for reasons similar to those mentioned in the letter above, but were relatively
quickly persuaded that there are legitimate reasons to celebrate Christ's birth,
and have ever since done so. Let's take up some additional details next time.
complete index of Jon Kennedy's Jonals for 2004