How Christian is Christmas?

Photo by Burkay Canatar on

It’s December, time for the tree to go up, get the sprouts on the boil, and for all to get ready for the big day. Christmas, it’s all about the children, isn’t it?

But how Christian is Christmas? Is this really what Jesus had in mind for his followers and what has it all to do with the birth of the Saviour? The actual timing of Christmas has more to do with the birth of the new sun after the winter solstice. As the arc of the sun in the sky began to get longer, way before Christ was born there were religious festivals at this time. This change of state in the bleak mid-winter of the year was experienced as “the rebirth of the sun and commemorated as the birthday of the sun god, the luminous divine child” (The Myth of the Goddess, Baring & Cashford). This mid-winter festival was an important event for all sun-worshipping cultures with considerable mythology surrounding it and much celebration as well.

One thing is sure, Jesus was not born on December 25. On the evening of Jesus’ birth, shepherds were washing their socks by night, watching their flocks by night. Well, shepherds, would not have been in the fields as late as December. It would have been far too cold near Bethlehem.

If Jesus was not born on December 25, when was He born? Although it may prove impossible to determine the date, the commentaries are right, He was born in the autumn probably late September or early October before the shepherds brought the flocks down for the winter. However, He might have been born in the spring, during the lambing season, either way, it was not in the bleak mid-winter when frosty winds made moan! There is no date given in the Bible nor is there any commandment to observe Jesus’ birth.

The church in Rome began formally celebrating Christmas on December 25 in 336, during the reign of Emperor Constantine. As Constantine had made Christianity the effective religion of the empire, there is valid speculation that choosing this date had the motive of weakening the established pagan celebrations associated with the sun god.

There is a Catholic tradition that martyred saints die on the same date as their conception, so if Christ died in April, we would have been conceived in April and therefore born in late December. Or maybe not.

But let’s not let too many facts get in the way of us celebrating the birth of the saviour, the important thing is, He was born, without Him there would be no salvation. By the way, Christmas is not all about the children, it’s about the one child.

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