Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas celebration: historical facts and lessons

"Say O People of the Book! Exceed not in your religion the bounds of (what is proper), trespassing beyond the truth. Nor follow the vein desires of people who went wrong in times gone by, - who misled many, and strayed (themselves) from the right Way." [The Quran, 5:77]

Khalid Beig in his article titled, Christmas Lessons : Prophet's Birthday writes: Both Muslims and serious Christians can learn a lot from Christmas.

No one disputes that the event and all its symbols came from pagan religions; it has nothing to do with the birth or teachings of Jesus Christ. For one thing, no one knows with certainty the date of birth of Jesus Christ. "In fact, dates in almost every month in the year were suggested by reputable scholars at one time or another," notes The American Book of Days. For another, the celebration of birthdays is itself a pagan idea, never promoted by any Prophet or Book of God, including the Bible. Early Church leaders opposed it strongly. As late as 245 CE African Church father and philosopher Origen wrote that it was sinful even to contemplate observing Jesus's birthday as though he were a King Pharaoh." [The American Book of Days].

But the pagan world did have prayers and celebrations during the winter season. Those who worshipped the sun god because of its apparent power, used to become concerned about the fate of their god, in a world of many gods, as days became shorter and air very cold. It looked like the sun was being defeated by the god of snow that brought death and misery with it. "... in Rome, the sun in its winter solstice was at its weakest on December 25 and had to be born anew with the help of bonfires, lights, processions and prayer." [Reader's Digest Book of Christmas]. The Roman pagan celebration was called Saturnalia. The Persians also had similar celebrations for Mithras, their sun god.

Also note that: The New Testament gives no date or year for Jesus’ birth. The earliest gospel – St. Mark’s, written about 65 CE – begins with the baptism of an adult Jesus. This suggests that the earliest Christians lacked interest in or knowledge of Jesus’ birthdate.

On the historical fact about how Saturnalia became Christmas: Its seems that no one really ever gives a thought to the idea of the date December twenty-fifth as the day of Christmas. If you look at our evidence as to Christ’s birth you will read from the bible, " And there where in the same country shepherds abiding in a field, keeping watch over their flock by night," In the dead of winter seems most unlikely.

That the date actually goes back to Rome with a festival called Saturnalia. It was a time of revelry, celebration, eating and drinking. It was at once a solstice observance and a harvest festival. On the Julian calendar it was proclaimed in 46 c.e., that the Saturnalia would fall on December twenty- fifth.

The early Christians found a birthday celebration of a religious figure strange or blasphemous. Holidays where declared for the birthday of Ceasars and for the gods. Gift giving at a birthday is a wholly pagan concept and the early church banned it. Slowly the idea of giving alms to the poor and to the church for Christ birth is mentioned in the tenth century. details here.

Was Christ Born on December 25th?

Luke 2:8 explains that when Christ was born, “there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Note that they were “abiding” in the field. This never happened in December. Both Ezra 10:9-13 and the Song of Solomon 2:11 show that winter was the rainy season and shepherds could not stay on cold, open fields at night.

Christ was born (most probably) in the fall of the year. Notice the Adam Clarke Commentary, volume 5, page 370, New York edition: “It was custom among Jews to send out their sheep to the deserts about the Passover [early spring], and bring them home at the commencement of the first rain.” The first rains began in early-to-mid fall. Continuing with this same quote: “During the time they were out, the shepherds watched them night and day. As…the first rain began early in the month of March-esvan, which answers to part of our October and November [begins sometime in October], we find that the sheep were kept out in the open country during the whole summer. And as these shepherds had not yet brought home their flocks, it is a presumptive argument that October had not yet commenced, and that, consequently, our Lord was not born on the 25th of December, when no flocks were out in the fields; nor could He have been born later than September, as the flocks were still in the fields by night."

Numerous encyclopedias plainly state that Christ was not born on December 25th! The Catholic Encyclopedia directly confirms this. In all likelihood, Christ was born in the fall! A lengthy technical explanation would prove this point. (more details with credit)

Further readings & references:
+ Jesus Nativity Legends
+ Gospel Fictions
+ True origins of Christmas (reommended reading | a very well compiled article)
+ How Saturnalia became Christmas
+ The Real Story of Christmas
+ The origin of Christmas
+ A google video documentary on the origin of Christmas

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