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CHRISTMAS: The origin, traditions and significance

THE origin of Christmas is controversial as the precise date of the birth and historicity of Jesus Christ, over the ages, generated so much debate. Christmas, literally meaning the Mass of Christ, is a traditional holiday in the Christian calendar. It takes place on December 25, every year,  to commemorate the birth of the progenitor of the Christian faith, Jesus Christ. Christmas is, however, celebrated as a secular holiday throughout the world, including countries with small Christian populations like India.

Various theories of the origin of Christmas exist that give a clear insight into the celebration of Christmas.

Date
Christmas is celebrated on December 25 in all Christian churches including Eastern Rite, Roman and Protestant. Since most Eastern Orthodox churches have not accepted either the Gregorian calendar or the Revised Julian Calendar reforms, December 25 will fall on the civil date of January 7 for the years from 1900 to 2099.It is believed that the nativity was set on December 25 by a Roman bishop around the third century AD.

The roots
Christmas is from Christes Maesse, which means Christ Mass. It is referred that during the 4th century, the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25 was gradually adopted by most Eastern churches. In Jerusalem, opposition to Christmas lasted longer as according to them the exact date of birth of Jesus Christ is unknown. It is said that December 17-24 was the period of Saturnalia, a well-known festival in pagan, Rome.

December 25 was the birthday of Mithra, the Iranian god of light. This day was adopted by the church as Christmas to counteract the effects of these festivals.

The acceptation
Though the true origin of Christmas is filled with controversy and compromise, today, Christmas has turned out to be one of the most popular festivals that fills joy, happiness and love in people’s life. The festival of Christmas has absorbed various customs and traditions of  the world and December 25 has emerged as the most important day for Christians, irrespective of its roots. It is taken as a day that reflects the power, glory and salvation of Jesus Christ and his message of hope to the world.

Theories of the origin
As the origin of Christmas has been a debatable issue, various theories have been suggested, supporting December 25 as the birth of Jesus. Few of them include:

Roman Festival of Saturnalia
It is an appropriation by early Christians of a day on which the birth of several pagan gods, Osiris, Jupiter, and Plutus, or the ancient deified leader Nimrod, was celebrated. It is an appropriation of the Roman festival of the birth of Unconquered Sun, celebrated on the day after the winter solstice, or the Roman festival of Saturnalia.

Jewish Festival of Lights
It derives from the tradition that Jesus was born during the Jewish Festival of Lights that falls on December 25.

Good Friday
The date of Christmas is based on the date of Good Friday, the day Jesus died. Since the exact date of Jesus’ death is not stated in the Gospels, early Christians sought to calculate it, and arrived at either March 25 or April 6. Then, wishing to calculate Jesus’ birthday, they followed the ancient idea that Old Testament prophets died either an anniversary of their birth or of their conception.

In Jesus’ case, they reasoned that he died on an anniversary of the Incarnation;  so the date of his birth would have been nine months after the date of Good Friday—either December 25 or January 6. The date December 25 became popular.

The dispute and the October date
God’s Kingdom Society, GKS, has argued that Jesus Christ was not born on December 25 but some time around October advancing several empirical data to support its stand. It contends: “In The Explanatory Catechism of Christian Doctrine, it is stated in answer to Questions 50 and 51, that our Saviour Jesus Christ was born at Bethlehem on Christmas Day  (which is) December 25.

But how the churches came about this date, no one cares to ask. The erroneous belief that  priests and catechists cannot lie makes  church goers accept this teaching with quiet contentment. The people therefore go all out to celebrate Christmas NOT out of a  scripturally grounded faith but because they so were bred.

“A true Christian does not do a thing simply because the whole world or majority esteem it highly and do it. Before he does anything, he must first of all satisfy himself that it is in accord with the will of God as revealed in the holy Scripture. Christ himself said: ‘ For that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God’ “ (Luke 16:15).

“After a diligent research into both sacred and profane history, we have no doubt in our minds that Jesus Christ was born in the month of October, and NOT in December! The day, month or year in which Christ was born is not positively stated chapter and verse in the Bible for the unlearned or those who do not search the Scriptures to understand.

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But there are scriptural records including the Bible chronology from which we can show to those with open minds that his birth took place in October.”

Bible account
The GKS goes on: “In those days,  there were appointed 24 Jewish priests, the sons of Aaron, to serve in the temple in a year. Everyone officiated according to the order of his course or turn—two every month.
The first priest served from the beginning of the first month called Nisan or Abib and retired at the middle of the month; and the second took over from the middle to the end of the month.

“The priest Abijah served in the eighth course according to I Chronicles 24:1-10. The eighth course started from the middle to the end of the fourth month known as Tammuz, which, according to the Jewish Calendar, corresponds with the latter part of our June to early July. (vide The Oxford Encyclopedic Concordance, page 197, and The Universal Bible Dictionary by Buckland & Williams, page 475.)

“Zacharias, father of John the Baptist, was a successor of Abijah. It was when he was officiating in the temple in the order of his turn — “the course of Abijah” — that an angel of God appeared to him saying that his wife, Elizabeth, would bear him a son to be named John. (Luke 1:5-13). After the completion of Zacharias’ period of duty in early July (Tammuz), his wife became pregnant, and she hides herself for five months. (Luke 1:23-24).

“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s conception—-Chisleu, which is our December—the angel Gabriel was sent by God to the virgin Mary and he announced to her that she would conceive and bear a son to be called JESUS. The angel added: “And behold, thy cousin, Elizabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.” (Luke 1:26-31, 36-37).

“Consequent upon the annunciation,  Mary, no doubt, was in high spirits. With haste she went straight to a city in the uplands of Judah to meet Elizabeth. She stayed with her cousin about three months (i.e. from January to March) and then returned home. (Luke 1:39-40,56)

“Something dramatic occurred when Mary visited Elizabeth. As soon as she entered Zacharias’ house and greeted Elizabeth, the babe (John) stirred in her womb. The words of Elizabeth to Mary at that instance, which were motivated by the Holy Spirit, show clearly that Mary herself was already pregnant.

“Not only did Elizabeth bless the fruit of her womb but she went on to address her outright as “the mother of my Lord”. (Luke 1:41-44). According to medical authorities the span of foetal life under normal conditions is 280 days, which is nine months; any time in the 10th month the child, by God’s grace, can be born. This was the case with John the Baptist.

“The angel appeared to Mary in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s conception and Mary went to her and stayed three months: six plus three equal nine. It was then “Elizabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son” — obviously, in the 10th month, April. (Luke 1:36, 56-57).

“Having been equipped with this knowledge, let us now count Mary’s conception from that January as was manifest in Elizabeth’s declaration, we will arrive at September as the ninth month; then in the 10th month OCTOBER, Jesus Christ was born. But on which day in October his birth took place no one can tell because there is no record.

“We of the GKS say only what we can prove. With regard to the year of Christ’s birth, historians disagree with one another. Some hold to BC 2 or BC 4, and others suggest BC 6. We are no historians, and so we do not wish to be entangled in their disagreements.

Physical facts
According to the GKS, the  physical features of Palestine in regard to the climate lend support to the view that Christ was not born in December. “According to the Gospels story, there were shepherds attending their flock in the open fields by night when Christ was born.

This could not have been possible in December, because all accredited authorities agree that December, which corresponds with the Jewish ninth month, Chisleu, (Zechariah 7:1) was usually a time of winter in Palestine when the people could not stay outside in the night owing to the intense cold.” the body explains.

“The Oxford Encyclopedic Concordance states that there was “snow on the mountains”.
But October is the Jewish seventh month called Tisri or Ethanim. (I Kings 8:2) It was a time of normal weather that permitted of outdoor or outside activities. Again, the fact that the churches of Christendom observe the death of Jesus Christ (“Good Friday”) in April confirms that his birth could not have taken place in December.

“Of a truth, he was killed in April, which is Nisan or Abib, the first month of the Jewish year, when the Feast of Passover or Unleavened Bread was celebrated.

“We all agree that Jesus Christ lived for 33 1/2 years. Now, let us admit that he was born in December, as the churches teach, it will mean, therefore, that his 33rd birthday anniversary fell on December, and six months later, which was June, he died. If it was so, why then are the churches celebrating his death in April and not in June? The truth is that he was born in October. His 33rd birthday then fell on October, and six, months later, that is, in April, he was slain.”

Historical facts
The GKS believes there  is no authentic history in existence that gives support to the teaching that Jesus Christ was born in December. “We challenge anyone who may argue this to cite any authority to the contrary to prove us wrong. There was no such festival as Christmas until the fourth century, and it was the Romish Church in its characteristic tendency of “meeting Paganism half-way”, that just fixed December 25 as Christ’s birthday.”

The group cites extracts from the book: Jesus’ birth, the untold story,  published on December 25, 2005 on www.angelfire.com, and which  states: ‘ Each December, articles inevitably appear in newspapers and magazines pointing out the ancient origins of today’s Christmas customs. All authorities agree that the customs surrounding Christmas, the Christmas tree, mistletoe, holly wreaths, yule logs, stockings on the hearth, exchanging gifts and so on, were practiced in connection with pagan religious celebrations centuries before the birth of Jesus.

None are of Christian origin! Anciently, December 25 was the date of the pagan Roman Brumalia, the final day of the popular week-long Saturnalia celebration, celebrated in honour of the god Saturn. It was the day of the “invincible sun”, a winter solstice festival. “Christmas” was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. It was not until the mid-fourth century that Pope Julius 1 decreed December 25 to be Christmas (“Christ-Mass”) Day.

He sought to overshadow the popular Brumalia by imparting “Christian” connotations to the day.’
We cannot do without making reference to the evidence of the well-known ecclesiastical historian, Alexander Hislop, the GKS says.

“In his distinguished work, The Two Babylons, he wrote: ‘ There is not a word in the Scriptures about the precise day of His (Christ’s) birth….What is recorded there  implies that at what time so ever His birth took place, it could not have been on December 25…The cold of the night, from December to February, is very piercing, and it was not the custom for the shepherds of Judea to watch their flock in the open fields later than about the end of October. It is in the last degree incredible, then, that the birth of Christ could have taken place at the end of December., “ (Pages 91-92)

The vanity of Christmas, the GKS stresses,  has been exposed enough. “History condemns it. The Holy Bible, which is the law book and guide for all true Christians, does not justify it.

Just as the Lord’s Witnesses in their book The True Bible Code at page 688 stated: ‘ The issue is not a matter of indifference. Since Christmas was not instituted by God; it should not be approved or tolerated in the official practices of the Church. Ministers and Church officers are not being true to their ordination vows, if they encourage or tolerate Christmas observance in their congregations.’

“What is more, St. Paul declared: ‘It is GOD Himself, in His mercy, who has given us this wonderful work (of telling His Good News to others), and so we never give up. We do not try to trick people into believing – we are not interested in fooling anyone. We never try to get anyone to believe that the Bible teaches what it doesn’t. All such shameful methods we forego. We stand in the presence of God as we speak and so we tell the truth, as all who know us will agree.’  (2 Corinthians 4:1-2 [Living Bible]) Jesus Christ says, ‘He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.,”

Traditions
As is with any festival, Christmas too has many traditions and customs which are being carried forward by families the world over. These traditions and customs may be as varied as the diversity in cultures. Some, though are common to everyone celebrating Christmas in any part of the world.


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