I believe that Religion is not something we should follow blindly. In as much as faith and logic are not supposed to be applied at once, i strongly feel we should apply them one after another. Why? Well because if you believe in something that you know nothing about, It’s quite difficult to develop a personal relationship with that thing. So its like you believe but you do not know and as such you are already at the verge of not believing because you already do no know what it is you are doing and why. It’s like being in a relationship where you know absolutely nothing about the one whom you claim to love; and it’s not practical, the relationship will not last. I’m not saying that we can get to understand everything about God because even the bible says that we can never be able to fully understand Him. However I’m simply trying to say that we need some sort of understanding of who really God is and what our religious beliefs entail, knowing the history of our faith etc because even the Bible says that we should be able to defend our faith and we cannot do that of we know nothing concrete about it.
Christianity (our main focus) has a lot of practises and traditions that are associated with it for instance Easter, Christmas etc and in as much as most of us keep these ritual celebrations holy, we understand almost nothing of what they mean and where they came from. We only know what our ministers preach to us or tell us during these festivities and nothing more. Most of us celebrate these days, as holidays, some as religious rituals while for some it is just one of those days that we get to celebrate because everyone is doing so. But have you ever stopped to think about how these rituals came to be, where the dates came from etc. In this article I’m going to focus closely on a ritual that most of the world celebrates but knows very little about, Christmas and its link to the birth of Jesus.
What is Christmas?
It is an annual feast or celebration to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ the founder of Christianity.The word itself comes from Middle English Cristemasse, which in turn comes from Old English Cristes-messe, literally meaning Christ’s Mass. So the word itself is actually two words in one, where ” Christ “comes from the Greek word χριστός (chrīstós), meaning “anointed one” and the second part of the word ” mas “(maesse) – is a version of the Latin word missa, the celebration of the Eucharist tradition of eating bread and drinking wine in memory of Jesus. So this breaks down the meaning of the word itself and actually gives us an insight of what its all about , celebrating Jesus Christ.
So basically this is what the word Christmas in itself means including its etymology, but the question still remains; Where did all this idea about Christmas come from, who started it, when and why.
The birth of Jesus.
Christmas as we all have come to believe is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Now, as we all know, we celebrate the birthday of a person on the day they where actually born, but is it really the case with Jesus? Well probably not. According to Historical analysis and facts, no one actually knows when exactly Jesus was born because at that time, only important records of possibly kings and the aristocrats where kept and we can all agree that Jesus was not in any of those categories, he was just an ordinary child. However they estimate the time around which he was born to have probably been around 6BC and 4BC. This is according to information given in the Gospel passages in the Bible. Matthew 2:1 states that “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king”.Luke 1:5 also mentions the reign of Herod shortly before the birth of Jesus, and places the birth during the Census of Quirinius, which the Jewish historian Josephus described as taking place circa AD 6 in his book Antiquities of the Jews (written c. AD 93). So this biblical evidence is then used to place the birth of Jesus between 6BC and 4BC.
The actual date now is something that has been subject to debate for most historians as there is nowhere where it is actually recorded in the Bible or other traditional scripts. However according to some scholars, based on the issue of the shepherds herding their sheep at night, they generally agree that the birth could most likely have been around spring, arguing that it is impossible for people to be out at night herding their flock using the simple but relevant logic that winter is generally cold and few people are to be found at night during winter as well as considering that during this time most of the sheep would be having newly born lambs and as such they would be out with the new lambs feeding them.
Some people also use the astrological evidence of the Star in the East to explain the date around which Jesus was born. According to Matthew’s gospel, The Magi were guided to Bethlehem by a star they had seen in the north and followed which was believed to signify the birth of a King according to Ancient Near East asa well as Ancient Israelites’ belief . Astrological studies have however given a lot of different possibilities to this end most of which range the birth to around spring or summer either 7BC to around 4BC. To some however the issue of the star remains more of an object of faith rather than a real pointer to the birth date of Jesus, as there is a lot of debate surrounding its significance and applicability tot he other factors that account for when Jesus was born. Basically then the exact date and season when Jesus was born is unknown but through study and research, most Historians agree that probably between 7 and 4BC (not earlier than 4 BC) around spring.
The accuracy of 25 December as the date Jesus was born.
As is widely held by most people the birth of Jesus took place on the 25th of December but this view is historically and logically wrong. Firstly, logically speaking no one knows when exactly Jesus was born and the highest point of reference for the birth which is the Bible mentions nothing in line with the exact date let alone year. Secondly, historically speaking no evidence whatsoever points to 25 December as being the real birth day of Jesus. Historians have over the years actually failed to prove the exact year that Jesus was born as mentioned earlier thus to assume that they could come up with a day and fail to decipher the year is academically impossible given the evidence they have. Lastly, considering the fact that during the time of Jesus, the Israelites used the Hebrew calendar which is different from the Gregorian calendar, used at present by most of the world which actually came after the Julian calendar thus going back we can realise that there may have been plus or minus five different calendars introduced to date form the time Jesus was born thus to safely conclude that Jesus was born on exactly 25 December is academically wrong especially given these many disparities in time measurements as well as no written evidence or other historically relevant evidence to support this date.
Where did 25 December come from?
The date 25 December should therefore have emerged form somewhere by someone. It is very important to note that for the first three centuries of Christianity they did not celebrate the birth of Jesus probably because they actually did not know when exactly he was born. So where did 25 December come from then.
According to Historians ,Archaeologists as well as some Theologians, this date was adopted from the Christians’ heathen rivals who celebrated 25 December as a festival honouring their Sun God. According to records, the Julian calendar considered 25 December as their winter solstice and it was regarded as the Nativity of the Sun, because the day begins to lengthen and the power of the sun to increase from that turning-point of the year. So the Pagans held a festival where they celebrated the Nativity of the Unconquered Sun, Mithra and the virgin who conceived him was regarded an oriental Goddess whom the Semites called the Heavenly Virgin or simply the Heavenly Goddess; in Semitic lands she was a form of Astarte. This ritual or festival was highly regarded and celebrated all through the Pagan world and some scholars even argue that some early Christians would join in on theses celebrations since some of them may have originally been pagans who converted to Christianity.
Originally the Christians celebrated Christmas on the 6th of January for reasons unknown, a tradition that was only limited to the Christians in Egypt and around the East. It is only in 336AD during the time of Emperor Constantine that 25th of December first appeared on a Roman calendar as the official celebration of the Nativity of Jesus. It is believed that the early Church Fathers may have adopted this date since most Christians knew the importance and partook in the Pagans’ festival of the Nativity of their Sun God thus it would be fairly easy for them to transfer that same allegiance to their own religion and continue celebrating this festival but honouring the Creator of the Sun and not the Sun itself. They also did this according to some, as a way of ensuring that most pagans would convert to Christianity, by seemingly honouring their festival but in a different fashion. This is clearly mentioned by Augustine when he exhorts his Christian brethren not to celebrate that solemn day like the heathen on account of the sun, but on account of him who made the sun. In like manner Leo the Great rebuked the pestilent belief that Christmas was solemnised because of the birth of the new sun, as it was called, and not because of the nativity of Christ. Therefore this school of thought holds that Christmas was actually borrowed from the Pagan practise of honouring their Sun god on the 25th of December.
There is however a second but less popular view that accounts for the use of 25 December as the day of Jesus’ birth.Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage presented the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus died was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar. Now according to ancient Israelite belief a prophet was conceived into the after life the exact same day he was conceived in this present life. Therefore applying this theory one would assume that Jesus was conceived on the 25th of March and calculating exactly nine months from there, we get to the 25th of December and thus some argue for 25 December using this angle as well. Although it would require one to then look at it from an angle of faith rather than logic.
It is generally difficult to account for the birth of Jesus and link it directly back to Christmas day, 25 December. However I have tried to make us logically understand the history behind these given dates as well as the reasons why it is quite difficult to account for the specific details regarding the birth of this very influential figure. Above all else however, when logic has been tried, tested and given due regard we then refer back to our faith to understand that which the mind cannot comprehend and deduce.
Christmas is a day of remembering the birth of Jesus, a figure every Christian far and wide regards with awe and reverence. 25 December may not be the real Christmas but its historical and religious value to today’s Christian remains greater than all other things. Where knowledge has been applied, faith abounds all the more. Happy reading.