Friday, 20 December 2013

The History of Christmas

  Happy Holidays everyone and for those that feel offended about me not saying "Merry Christmas" read on and tell me at the end if you think of Christmas in the same way.  Nothing I am about to write about is under any doubt with biblical scholars including Christian biblical scholars.  It is simply the history of Christmas much of which you may find shocking.

  First many Christians believe Jesus was born on December 25th but this is most likely not true.  First there is no date specified anywhere in the bible's New Testament of Jesus's birth year forget its day.  The year can be deduced from 2 passages, but like many things in the bible are not consistent. The first is Luke 3:1-23 which reads

1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene,
2 Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
3 And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;

the bible goes on to say

21 Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened,
22 And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.
23 And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,

Now this means he was born 15 years before Tiberius was in power or Augustus's 28th year of power.  This equates to 754 Anno Urbis Conditae which was the calendar in use at that time.  So 754= 1AD.  The problem is that Luke 1:1-26 puts Jesus's birth in the time of King Herod and King Herod died in 750 AUC or for you that are good at maths, 4BC. Even if you deal with the length of the pregnancy of Elisabeth and some change you are still 2+ years short of 1AD. There are many other scholars that put Jesus's birth as far back as 9 B.C.  One thing we do know, and have very good records of, is that the Romans where very good at having very detailed records of governmental actions and they show no evidence of the census Luke speaks of in Luke2:1-52

So there is some doubt to the year Jesus was born.  The day also has no evidence of even being in December.  Clement of Alexandria estimated the birth of Jesus to be in April or May 4-2B.C. (750-752 AUC).  Joseph Fitzmyer, professor emeritus at The Catholic University of America, estimates Jesus was born in September 11, 3 B.C.  It was also a common Jewish belief in those early years that great men, like Jesus, died on the day of their birth putting Jesus's birthday at March 25th.

So if December 25th isn't Jesus's Birthday then "what is going on with Christmas?" you might ask.  Well it is very clear that early Christianity co-opted the Festival of Saturnalia which was celebrated from Dec 17th to the 25th. This was a brutal holiday in the Roman Empire that concluded with the festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti or for you that don't speak latin it is the birthday of the unconquered sun.  Saturnalia included such practices as going from house to house singing, modern day caroling, they just did it nude back in those days, eating cookies that are in the shape of people, giving of gifts between people and a few others.  The Roman Empire, in those days, was a large group of "cults".  Before you get up in arms there are plenty of Christian cults too.  The "Christmas tree" is an adoption of the Asherah symbol.  In early years of Christianity Asherah was worshiped as also the consort of Yahweh.  Hey look ... "God" had a wife!.

Santa Claus has a very interesting history.  First let me point out that despite what Fox News will have you believe Saint Nicholas was not white. He was born it what is now Turkey.  So instead of looking like this
rather he probably looked like this 
Not very "white" but very indicative of the region he was born.  He was also part of the Council of Nicaea that was responsible for the creation of the New Testament in 325.  Centuries after his death his remains where brought to Italy where there used to be a belief that an ancient female deity would put gifts in stockings.  This seems to be a merger of a fable of Saint Nicholas placing gold coins in he stockings of 3 poor girls. The cult of Nicholas promoted the change of gift giving from Dec 6th, the day he died, to December 25.  Another part to incorporate pagans of the time into the Christian faith.  In the early 1800's Dr C. Moore published "Twas the night before Christmas".  Later in the 1800's Thomas Nast illustrated a more jolly Santa and assigned him a home in the North Pole.  In 1931 Coca-Cola finished the transformation of Saint Nicholas into the modern image we have of Santa.

The practice of forcing Jewish people to run, nearly naked, through the streets of Rome, a throw back to the early Saturnalia festival, was only stopped by Pope Clement IX in 1668.  A practice that lasted just over 2 centuries after Pope Paul II revived the practice in 1466.  This practice was again altered in the 1700s to force rabbis in Rome to walk through the streets while dressed in degrading costumes and having items thrown at them by on lookers.  A petition sent to Pope Gregory XVI to stop the practice received the reply of "It is not opportune to make any innovation"

It is because of the pagan origins of Christmas that the Puritans banned Christmas in Massachusetts for over 20 years in the mid 1600s. They didn't accept the holiday since the primary purpose of its creation was to appease pagans and fold them into the Christian faith.  Today this type of practice would be similar to "lying for Jesus" a practice where some Christians justify lying to others if it serves what they believe to be the greater good of Christianity.

Today's holiday's roots do run very deep but today's version is very recent.  Many Christians believe it has been a wonderful holiday for the last 2,000 years but the reality is for 90% of that time it was a very cruel holiday that used old pagan traditions to persecute the Jewish people.

Should you not celebrate Christmas because of this?  I wouldn't say that. I would say you should know were your holiday came from.  Know its good parts and its bad parts.  Celebrate your savior if you so wish but understand it is not his birthday.   Know that Saint Nicholas was  middle eastern and not anglo-saxon just like Jesus was not blond hair and blue eyed but also was of middle eastern descent.  Next time you hear someone say Jesus or Santa was white...point out that you don't like when they lie for Jesus and if they aren't lying then they should learn the truth about their religious figures and embrace their heritage. Hopefully their heads won't explode when you explain that they are middle eastern and not white.

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