Christmas in Our Hearts: Why it Doesn't Matter When Jesus Was Really Born
Wed, April 21, 2021

Christmas in Our Hearts: Why it Doesn't Matter When Jesus Was Really Born

Christmas is just right around the corner, and people are becoming a lot busier now with their shopping lists and holiday preparations / Photo by: Tom Hannigan via Flickr

 

Christmas is just right around the corner, and people are becoming a lot busier now with their shopping lists and holiday preparations. It is the time for families to come together to celebrate the season filled with love and joy. When did people start celebrating this yuletide season and what practices and traditions stayed or changed over time?

People from all over the world set up Christmas trees, hang stockings above fireplaces, and give gifts to their family and loved ones. Indeed, Christmas is a festive season filled with a variety of rituals and traditions that a lot of people observe yet most of them are not aware of the origins of the holiday. 

 

Christian Tradition

Christmas literally translates to “the mass for Christ” and signifies the day on which Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The western date for Jesus’ birth is actually quite arbitrary. The 25th of December was chosen by Pope Leo I, bishop of Rome (440-461), to coincide with the Festival of the Saturnalia, which is the festival of Saturn, the Sun god. This was also the day of the solar equinox, which is the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. 

According to the Australian Catholic University, Pope Leo thought that celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ would distract his Roman congregation from worshipping Saturn and instead join in the feast of Christ’s birth on the same day. Pope Leo described Jesus as the “new light,” an indication of a new image of salvation. The date was also quite timely since the days began to lengthen again after December 25.

However, the date of the feast differs among Christian denominations. Most Western Christians celebrate it on December 25, yet some Eastern Orthodox Christians actually celebrate the birth of Christ on January 6, combined with the Epiphany or the revelation of the infant Jesus to the three wise men. 

Christmas literally translates to “the mass for Christ” and signifies the day on which Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ / Photo by: fishhawk via Flickr

 

Pagan Roots 

Many people are not aware that the Christmas tree is actually a pagan symbol of fertility. Romans used fir trees to decorate their temples during Saturnalia. Meanwhile, in Northern Europe, people planted cherry or hawthorn plants and created pyramids of fruits or candles. Also, Evergreen trees were believed to keep away evil spirits and bad omen, and they were usually put up during the winter solstice, which marked the shortest day of the year. 

One of the most prevalent theories as to why people started celebrating Christmas on December 25 was published in “The Golden Bough” in the 19th century, which was a comparative study of religion and mythology by anthropologist James George Frazer, as reported on the Washington Post, a major American daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C.

Frazer linked the dating of Christmas to earlier pagan rituals. He argued that the Gospel does not really say anything about the actual date of Christ’s birth and according to records the early Church did not really celebrate it. Frazer claimed that nobody truly knows the exact date of the birth of Christ—the Christians were only borrowing heavily from pagan traditions. The earliest mention of December 25 as Christ’s birthday came from a mid-14th-century Roman almanac that listed all the death dates of various Christian bishops and martyrs, but this was almost 300 years after Jesus was born. 

The Legend of Santa Claus

According to the Telegraph, a British newspaper company, the story of Father Christmas started with Saint Nicholas, who was a bishop who lived in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) during the 4th century. He was well known to be extremely generous and very kind to children. It was widely believed that he would drop a bag of gold down the chimney of poor families and he also left money on the doorsteps of families who truly needed it. 

However, during the 16th century, European countries were promoting the idea of Father Christmas instead of St. Nicholas. Father Christmas was a popular image of a man with a long, white beard and who wore a red shirt and pants. Soon enough, people started to associate Father Christmas with St. Nicholas, and their images merged into one.

According to the Telegraph, a British newspaper company, the story of Father Christmas started with Saint Nicholas, who was a bishop who lived in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) during the 4th century / Photo by: 3rd Class Ryan C. McGinley via Wikimedia Commons

 

Celebrating Joy To The World 

Whether or not December 25 is the real birth date of Jesus Christ is not an issue anymore as it does not really change the spirit of the season, which is of giving, love, family, and joy. Christmas is regarded as a time of getting family and friends together, being generous and giving gifts, and practicing traditions and rituals related to the season. Even people who are not Christians have already adopted this practice in their lives as a way to celebrate with their family. 

Christmas brings out the best in people. It is a tradition that has been part of human history for quite some time now and is something that will stand the test of time as long as people continue to celebrate this holiday in their own way.