Wednesday, December 15, 2004


Christmas day is nearly upon us again. For many of us, it is a time of joy and celebration. For some, it brings with it a melancholy feeling, even depression. It’s is, for certain, one of the calendar’s most schizophrenic holidays.

Consider that Christmas is at once a Christian holy day and a secular holiday. It is the only Christian holiday that has been granted federal holiday status. How’s that for separation of church and state?

But fret not all you constitutional purists. Despite what you may have been told all your life, Christmas might not be all that holy after all.

First of all, there is no mention anywhere in the bible about Jesus’ birthday. Sure, two out of the four Gospels mention the birth of Jesus, but not the day he was born. And the fact that half the Gospels leave out the story of his birth altogether might be interpreted as meaning it wasn’t all that noteworthy.

So we don’t really know when he was born. The only real clue comes in the book of Luke where it mentions shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night. In Nazareth, Decembers are pretty cold, so shepherds kept their flocks indoors. Most historians believe he was born sometime between May and September.

So what’s with December 25?

Well, we look to some of the early Church leaders for the answer to that one. The early Catholic Church was struggling to bring in converts. One way to do that was to employ the same tactics that some Protestant churches use today: Make going to church more fun!

So they invented Christmas – which gets its name, by the way, from a contraction of the phrase “Christ’s Mass,” a worship service given to honor Christ’s birth. And the date was set as December 25 to coincide with the pagan celebration of Mithras, which heralded the return of the sun from its wintertime low. Since folks were already celebrating at that time, the Church decided to attach its new holiday to the existing festivities.

There is no question that the Christmas holiday is deeply rooted in paganism. But most people now believe that there has been enough time elapsed since those early days of Mithras that the holiday has become strictly Christian in nature.

Of course, it has only been relatively recently, historically speaking, that Christmas has enjoyed such widespread Christian acclaim. The holiday was made illegal in Massachusetts in Colonial days. And even in colonies that didn’t outlaw it, it was not all that important an event.

To be sure, there are some Christian groups that even today denounce the celebration of Christmas. They say the story of Aaron’s golden calf in the Old Testament and how God threatened to exterminate the Israelites for bowing down to it is proof enough that God doesn’t like his worship to be shrouded in pagan symbolism.

In fact, Jason Young, a writer for “Bible Answers” had this to say: “It would be wise therefore to avoid the wrath of our Heavenly Father, and put Christmas aside from any occasion of celebration.”

Well, ok, so the bible doesn’t call for a celebration of Christ’s birth. Does that mean we can’t celebrate Christmas at all? We celebrate Mother’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, even Groundhog Day and the bible doesn’t endorse those holidays, either.

I haven’t checked with Mr. Young personally, but I imagine as long as we confine our caroling to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” or “We Wish you a Merry Christmas,” or “Sleigh Ride” we won’t be offending any deity. Heaven help us, though, if we should break into a chorus of “It Came upon a Midnight Clear.”

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