Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Three Christmases

A friend of mine wrote an article for the Jerusalem Post this week called "Christmas comes but thrice a year", which is about the three different dates Christmas is observed in Jerusalem.

For some who are concerned with the supposed pagan roots of the holiday, here's a little excerpt:

Among the points of disagreement was the proper dating of Jesus's birth - Christmas Day.

There is an ancient Jewish tradition that a prophet dies on the day of his conception, and the early church applied this formula to Jesus. Eastern and Western churches, through various and often questionable reasoning, determined respectively that Jesus died on April 6 and March 25. (The Roman Catholic Church still celebrates the latter date as the Annunciation of the Birth.)

Adding nine months of pregnancy to those dates results in a December 25 or January 6 Christmas.

Scholars also hold that the December 25 date was especially appealing to the Western church because it replaced the birthday of Sol Invictus (invincible sun). Romans thought that on that day the sun began its ascent and the days began to lengthen.

The pagan ceremony contained much revelry, drinking and immorality which the early church couldn't condone. Sun worship was outlawed under penalty of death, in the hope that worship of the Son would replace it.

Clearly that did occur, but not without echoes of the pagan traditions surviving. Imbibing and, to a lesser degree, gift-giving and holiday lights are related to the pre-Christian feast.
Read it all, it's good to know a little why we do what we do.

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