It’s that time of the year when everybody is in the mood. Whether there is recession in the land or not, the mood in the air is that of festivity. The conifers, the red colour, the lights, and glamour are beautiful to experience. We humans live for these things. But do you know everything you need to know about the season? There’s nothing new in what I’m about to say in this article. It’s what many people know already.
I just want to say them again for the sake of those who didn’t know. And for those who have issues with writing it as Xmas instead of Christmas, I’ve kept to the latter spelling to avoid much ado about nothing.
So the following are the three things you probably didn’t know about Christmas.
1. Christmas Has Nothing to Do with Jesus
Ever heard of ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’? That’s a popular slogan among the evangelicals created to redirect the celebration towards Jesus. In reality, there was nothing Christian about Christmas and that slogan is just a testimony to the effort of the Church to force Jesus into the celebration.
To start with, nobody knows when Jesus was born. Biblical accounts about the birth are unreliable. Sometimes if you’re sure of events A, B, and C that happened around event D, provided events A, B, and C are well recorded in history, you can estimate the time event D happened. There are several events recorded in the Bible that can suggest when Jesus was born — for instance, the mass infanticide recorded in Matthew 2:16-18, and the worldwide census by Caesar Augustus recorded in Luke 2.
Unfortunately, documentation of events had been a fully developed human activity as at then. The Roman Empire ruling the world then was a well literate government that kept records and those records are still available till today. The mass infanticide recorded in the Bible has been confirmed to be a legend, not a fact. Such a remarkable event, where thousands of infants were murdered, could not have missed from the records. The census by Caesar Augustus recorded in the Bible too has been found to be untrue. So we can’t ascertain the year Jesus was born.
Fine. What about the time of the year? There’s also no evidence that Jesus was born in December. The star allegedly sighted over Bethlehem is unhelpful and the shepherds watching over a flock was more likely in spring, not winter.
In fact there are many things wrong about the historicity of Jesus’ birth that I can devote another write-up to that but Livescience summarizes it thus:
“But nobody really knows exactly when Jesus was born.
Some scholars think that he was born between 6 B.C. and 4 B.C., based partly on the biblical story of Herod the Great. Not long before Herod’s demise, which is believed to have occurred in 4 B.C., the ruler of Judea supposedly ordered the death of all male infants who were under the age of two and lived in the vicinity of Bethlehem, in an attempt to kill Jesus.
But historians disagree about Herod’s actual year of death. What’s more, the horrific mass infanticide is legend, not fact…
To pinpoint Jesus’ birth year, other scholars have tried to correlate the “Star of Bethlehem,” which supposedly heralded Jesus’ birth, with actual astronomical events. For example, in a 1991 article in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, astronomer Colin Humphreys proposed that the fabled star was actually a slow-moving comet, which Chinese observers recorded in 5 B.C.
Scholars also debate the month of Jesus’ birth. In 2008, astronomer Dave Reneke argued that Jesus was born in the summer. The Star of Bethlehem, Reneke told New Scientist, may have been Venus and Jupiter coming together to form a bright light in the sky. Using computer models, Reneke determined that this rare event occurred on June 17, in the year 2 B.C.
Other researchers have claimed that a similar conjunction, one between Saturn and Jupiter, occurred in October of 7 B.C., making Jesus an autumn baby.
Theologians have also suggested that Jesus was born in the spring, based on the biblical narrative that shepherds were watching over their flocks in the fields on the night of Jesus’ birth — something they would have done in the spring, not the winter.”
So why did we pick a date in December to celebrate Jesus’ birth? The Church did. There were several pagan festivals that were being celebrated in December.
There was a Roman pagan celebration of the birthday of Mythra, the Sun God. This celebration took place on December 25. When the Roman Emperors forced the whole world to become Christians (‘Catholicism’), they needed to accommodate everybody into the church. One way of doing that was to inculcate some of their customs into the church. Since the Christians at that time associated Jesus with the ‘Sun of Righteousness’ mentioned in Malachi 4:2, Emperor Constantine drew a parallel between the two ‘Suns’ (Mythra, the pagan Sun and Jesus, the Christian Sun) and decreed that December 25 should be used to celebrate the birthday of Jesus. As an aside, every time you go to church on Sun-day morning, you’re testifying to Mythra, the pagan Sun god. Before then, Yahweh was worshipped on Saturday while the Sun God was worshipped on Sun-day.
Because of the implications on the religion, some early Christians didn’t like the idea that Christmas was a pagan invention. So they invented an alternative theory. First century anonymous work said the world was created on March 28. Iraenus (a 1st century historian) plagiarized that and said Jesus must have been crucified on March 25 and if so, he equated the equinox (March 25) with the conception of Jesus. This made so many early Christians believe that Mary must have been impregnated by the Holy Ghost on March 25. And if someone got pregnant on March 25, then she must have given birth on December 25, i.e., 9 months thereafter. But this is a mere conjecture. If Jesus wasn’t conceived through natural means, how are we sure that the pregnancy went the natural way of 9 months? Jesus could’ve spent 15 months or 3 months in her mother’s womb. You can never know.
The caroling was a Christian conversion of the pagan Koliada. The gift-giving spree is reminiscent of an earlier Roman pagan celebration of Saturnalia. The Yule (or Yuletide) is the name of an indigenous midwinter festival celebrated by ancient Germanic peoples. The Christmas tree is a direct importation of the pagan tree worship which was tied to the Thor god. Father Christmas and Santa Claus are fictional figures but even though the idea of the former predated the latter, they later became unified into a single personality. Santa Claus is the anglicized form of ‘Sinterklass’ which simply meant Saint Nicholas in Dutch. St. Nicholas was a Greek bishop who was noted for taking care of children and rewarding the well-behaved ones with gifts. Even though the St. Nicholas Day (a feast of giving in its own right) is still celebrated on December 6, the St. Nicholas concept (called ‘Santa Claus’) was superimposed on the preexisting Father Christmas as a means of further Christianizing a pagan celebration of December 25.
2. Christmas Has Different Dates Across the World
Since we actually don’t know when Jesus was born, it’s not surprising that all Christians can’t agree on the date for Christmas. You know of December 25. That’s the most popular date. That’s your Christmas date especially if you live in a country that was colonized by the British like me.
However there are four other dates. These other dates are due to several reasons from differences in calendars to differences in calculations. I’m sure you know the popular calendar, the one we use for our daily activities, is called the Gregorian calendar but there are other Christian calendars like the Julian and the Coptic calendars.
In Armenia, some Christians who use the same Gregorian calendar celebrate Christmas on January 6. Some other Armenians who use the Julian calendar celebrate Christmas on January 6 which translates to January 19 on the Gregorian calendar. Eastern Orthodox Christians in Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia and Montenegro, Macedonia, and Georgia celebrate Christmas on December 25 on their version of Julian calendar and their date corresponds to January 7 on our own Gregorian calendar.
The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria celebrate Christmas on their Coptic calendar on a day that corresponds to our own January 7 or 8. Ethiopia is one of the origins of Christianity and on the Ethiopian calendar, Christmas falls on our own January 7. So depending on where you are, Jesus might be born on a whole different date.
3. Christmas is not a Holiday Worldwide
In many parts of the world, Christmas is a public holiday. In Nigeria, traditionally we have two working days off as holidays. But it might interest you that holidays for Christmas are not a global phenomenon. If you have DSTV, you will notice that while all other channels are running Christmas adverts and programming, Zee World (channel 166) hasn’t said anything about Christmas. It’s an Indian channel and Christians are only a minority in India. They really don’t care about Christmas.
Christmas is NOT a public holiday in many countries like Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Comoros, Iran, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Laos, Libya, Maldives, Mauritania, Mongolia, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Yemen. On the list of countries where Christmas isn’t celebrated is even Israel where Jesus was allegedly born, where we go for pilgrimage to visit the site where Jesus was allegedly born. Surprising to know that they don’t care about Jesus’ birth?
Countries like Somalia, Tajikistan, and Brunei have even banned Christmas celebrations with anybody doing something as simple as wearing a Santa Claus hat to spend 5 years in jail. Of course, that shows how intolerant some countries can be to foreign ideologies. Countries like Japan, where Christians are a tiny minority, widely celebrate Christmas purely for the exotic cultural and secular significance.
So Why Should We Care About All These?
Jesus is the reason for the season. It doesn’t matter whether Jesus was born in December, September, June or March. The most important thing is that we’re remembering his birth and the purpose for his birth. A Saviour was born to redeem us from sins. This is what we’re celebrating and that deserves celebrating. Blah blah blah. You know the rest of the rhetoric.
But it’s not correct. Anyway, Christmas is now approaching the status it started from — a non-Christian significance. The progressive secularization of the festival is obvious in the songs: some are outright religious songs (e.g., ‘Silent Night’, ‘Hark! The Herald Angel Sing’) while others are purely secular (e.g., ‘Jingle Bells’, ‘Days of Christmas’). There have been campaigns in the US to convert the greeting, ‘Merry Christmas’ to ‘Happy Holidays’. The Philadelphia State outlawed Christmas carol in schools. Christmas is increasingly becoming more of a secular celebration than religious.
There are many other Christians who would’ve loved to celebrate their Saviour’s birthday too but have chosen to stay away from Christmas. Jehovah Witnesses, Deeper Life, etc don’t celebrate Christmas. Their reasons for distancing themselves from it are what I listed above. These Christian groups are following the steps of a section of the 17th century church who frowned on Christmas. In addition to all these facts, they discovered that no saint celebrated their birthday in the Bible (in fact, Job and Jeremiah cursed their birthdays) and every birthday celebrated in the Bible (Pharaoh’s in Genesis 40 and Herod’s in Mark 6) was marred by an evil consequence. Called the ‘Puritans’ (an essentially reformationist Protestant movement), they campaigned against the pagan and unbiblical celebration called Christmas. They were the ones ruling the English Parliament and they outlawed Christmas for these reasons. As they were the colonial masters of America (‘New England’), Christmas was similarly outlawed over there. Even though, political dynamics restored Christmas to Christianity later (18th century onwards), the past can’t be erased.
Jesus didn’t ask anyone to celebrate his birthday. No matter how hard you try, Christianizing something pagan can’t make it Christian. It will always remain pagan. No matter how beautiful the edifice you erect on a foundation, it can not change the foundation. To change the foundation of a house, you will need to destroy the house and start from the scratch.
As I’ve shown, Christmas is a festival built upon the foundation of legends, myths, untruths, and paganism. Writing it as Christmas instead of Xmas won’t change the origins. Claiming it and screaming ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’ won’t change the reality. A slogan repeated and declared as many times as possible won’t change history. These kinds of realities don’t go away like that.
That is why Christmas is becoming Xmas, something everybody is celebrating whether they believe in Jesus or not. That is why ‘Merry Christmas’ is becoming ‘Happy Holidays’. It didn’t originate from Christianity. The Church had hitherto conscripted it into Christianity but water is now finding its level and the birds are coming home to roost. Christmas is going back to where it came from — a non-Christian festival — and no amount of Christian sloganeering or evangelical advocacy can stop the process.
So ask me: do I celebrate Christmas? What kind of question is that? Why won’t I celebrate Christmas? It’s the end of the year. Why won’t I celebrate? The festivity is in the air. We’ve forgotten our agonies of the year. Hard economic realities have failed to keep those smiles away from our faces. The season is filling us up with optimism for the next year. We take stock as we’re happy to be alive at this time of the year. Why shouldn’t I be part of that? I’m surely celebrating Christmas big time!
So in case you’re wondering whether you can celebrate Christmas without the Christ in it, let me tell you that you can. There was never Christ in it to start with. It’s a celebration for everybody that cares to be part of it irrespective of their religion. Based on some resemblance of the Christmas tree in the Quran , some Muslims the world over are looking for reasons to celebrate Christmas nowadays.
Please, permit me to invite you to my home to eat rice and chicken and celebrate. Compliments of the season to you all!