Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Heathen Christmas: The Date

Everyone over the age of 2 knows Christmas is celebrated on December 25. Why? "Because it's Jesus' birthday!" squealed the kids during the children's sermons I used to see in church years ago. Well, that is the premise of the symbolism of Christmas for Christians, but let's check out why December 25 is really the day they celebrate the birth of Jesus.

There are many discrepancies as to when Jesus was supposedly born-however, they pretty much all agree it was not on December 25. Well, despite the popularity in modern times, Christianity was not the hot religion in its infancy. Paganism (an umbrella term for pretty much every region's pre-christian beliefs) was the religion of the day, and in Rome the early Christians were seriously outnumbered.

In December, the celebration of Saturnalia captivated the masses. The Roman poet Catullus, described Saturnalia as the best of days for the Roman people. Everyone, including slaves, participated in the celebrations, which included parties with friends, giving gifts of wax candles and statues, and particularly playing role reversals for fun and humor. The celebration started out as one day and eventually transformed into a week-long celebration because of the popularity. (Although, I'm certain the Christmas season starting in October would be too much for the Roman pagans as well!)

Needless to say, the Romans didn't want to give up this religious celebration to convert to Christianity. So, in the 4th century, the Christian leaders did the next best thing: declare Jesus' birthday as December 25 and encourage pagans to convert on the promise that they could still celebrate Saturnalia even after conversion. And so began the slow and steady conversion of Pagan holiday to Christian holiday.

So, we have the date: how about the rest? Stay tuned this week and next for more.

No comments:

Post a Comment