Friday, 11 December 2015

Origin of Christmas Celebration: Facts, Farce, Ugly and Good

Okechukwu Onuegbu
By Okechukwu Onuegbu

Although the word Christmas may mean many things to many people, in this context, it is a compound word originating from the term "Christ's Mass"; derived from the Old English Crīstesmæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038.  It is an annual commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ and a widely observed holiday, celebrated generally on December 25 by Christians all over the globe.

Liturgically, the yuletide closes the Advent season which commences each year on Sunday 25th November after the celebration of Christ triumphant entry to Jerusalem popularly referred to as Christ the King by Catholic faithful and initiates the twelve days of Christmastide, which ends after the twelfth night.

Although no Biblical verse portend that Virgin Mary, wife of Joseph the Carpenter (earthly parents of Jesus Christ) actually gave birth to Him at Manger, Bethlehem on 25th December, the aged long event has come to stay, even those who fought to scrape the celebration in the recent past attributing it to paganism, atrocities and Romanic origin, have finally pitched interest on it in a grand style.

The capitulated religions, mostly the Protestants and Pentecostals including the Deeper Life Bible Ministry, Assembly of God Mission, the Jehovah Witness among others who formally saw it as Catholic Church affairs have now converted the epoch-making event to period of winning souls for Christ through crusades, evangelism and prayer conferences and lots more, thereby, adding more values to the festivity.

Also, the Unbelievers (so to speak) like the heathens, pagans, Muslims and Traditionalists directly or indirectly participate on the fun-fare associated with the compulsory holidays by organising seminars’, anniversaries, wedding, birthday, village or Association meetings, visitation to mention but a few colourful outfits that characterized the festivity.

Consequent upon this, at heels of Ember months-September, October, November and December, the world is usually beehive of activities as new and attractive things are dispersed on the markets even as crimes often increase on daily basis as both Christians and non-Christians pursue wealth by hooks or crooks in order to make an end meet. Notable this period are presence of Advance fee fraudsters (419), money doublers, false prophets, fake marketers/distributers of drugs, lottery, cyber crime, pocket-picking, robbery, snatching of bags and mobile phones, prostitution, etc. as old and young aspires to wear new look, grace the celebration with flashy cars, latex clothing or shoes, reigning mobile phones, new houses or to show or break a record (Ima Kwa Ndi-anyi bu/my levels don’t change) Biblically referred to as “the pride of life and the lust of fresh”.

Also, the spirit of the season fluctuate the prices of commodities in the market, cost of various means of transportation, head-on collision amidst uncountable deaths and incessant payment of some amount of money to the account of Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) by road defaulters.

But does Christmas has end? If not, why these atrocities? Who shall convince the world to understand that he/she that fails to enjoy it to self-satisfaction this year can still enjoy it next year? I believe there is urgent need for both Christians and non-Christians who subscribed to this worldly coined Christ Birthday to take it with sober reflection, time for repentance, gift-giving and merry-making in good faith not the other way round. Thus, wants you to reflect on the history of the so-called Christmas.

The History of Christmas

It is believed that the first celebrations of Christ's birth were originally grouped together with Epiphany one of the earliest feasts of the Christian church observed on January 6. This holiday recognized the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles by remembering the visit of the Magi (wise men) to Bethlehem and, in some traditions, the baptism of Jesus and his miracle of turning water into wine.

But, today the feast of Epiphany is observed predominately in liturgical denominations such as Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Catholic.
Even as far back as the second and third centuries, church leaders disagreed about the appropriateness of birthday celebrations within the Christian church. Some men like Origen felt birthdays were pagan rituals for pagan gods.

Similarly, sources report that Theophilus of Antioch (circa 171-183) was the first to identify December 25 as the birth date of Christ while others pointed-out that Hippolytus (circa 170-236) was the first to posited that Jesus was born on December 25.

Furthermore, a strong theory suggests that this date was eventually chosen by the church because it aligned closely with a major pagan festival, dies natalis solis invicti (birth of the invincible Sun god), thus allowing the church to claim a new celebration for Christianity. Ultimately, December 25 was chosen, perhaps as early as A.D. 273. By 336 A.D., the Roman church calendar definitively records a nativity celebration by Western Christians on this date, but the Armenian Church held to the original celebration of Christ's birth with Epiphany on January 6.

In the same vein, an American newspaper (The Buffalo News, Nov. 22, 1984) remarked that: “The earliest reference to Christmas being marked on Dec. 25 comes from the second century after Jesus’ birth. It is considered likely the first Christmas celebrations were in reaction to the Roman Saturnalia, a harvest festival that marked the winter solstice—the return of the sun—and honoured Saturn, the god of sowing. Saturnalia was a rowdy time, much opposed by the more austere leaders among the still-minority Christian sect. Christmas developed, one scholar says, as a means of replacing worship of the sun with worship of the Son. By 529 A.D., after Christianity had become the official state religion of the Roman Empire, Emperor Justinian made Christmas a civic holiday. The celebration of Christmas reached its peak—some would say its worst moments—in the medieval period when it became a time for conspicuous consumption and unequalled revelry.”

Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1911 edition, however, recorded that: “Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church…The first evidence of the feast is from Egypt. Further, ‘Pagan customs centering round the January calendar gravitated to Christmas’. But under ‘Natal Day’, Origen, an early Catholic writer, admitted that ‘In the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday’.

Similarly, the Encyclopaedia Americana, 1956 edition, added that Christmas was not observed in the “first centuries of the Christian church, since the Christian usage in general was to celebrate the death of remarkable persons rather than their birth…a feast was established in memory of this event [Christ’s birth] in the 4th century. In the 5th century the Western church ordered the feast to be celebrated on the day of the Mithraic rites of the birth of the sun and at the close of the Saturnalia, as no certain knowledge of the day of Christ’s birth existed.”

Biblical Facts about Christmas

According to the Gospel of Matthew1:18; Luke1:26, 2:7 and 2:40; Jesus was born to Mary, assisted by her husband Joseph, in the city of Bethlehem, surrounded by farm animals ( manger-a feeding trough) and Mary "wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (KJV). The same biblical accounts added that “And Shepherds from the fields surrounding Bethlehem were told of the birth by an angel, and the three kings or wise men (named Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar) were the first to have visited the infant Jesus in the manger and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The commemoration of this visit, the Feast of Epiphany celebrated on January 6, is the formal end of the Christmas season in some churches”.

Similarly, Luke 2:8 further emphasizes that when Christ was born; “And 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 Songs of Solomon 2:11 shows that winter was the rainy season and shepherds could not stay on cold, open fields at night.

In line with Luke 2:8, page 370, volume 5 of Adam Clarke’s Commentary, New-York Edition, the Author wrote that: “Christ was born in the fall of the year but many mistakenly believed that He was born around the beginning of winter—December 25th! They are wrong! 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 rain began in early-to-mid fall. During the time they were out, the shepherds watched them night and day. …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. On this very ground, the nativity in December should be given up. The feeding of the flocks by night in the fields is a chronological fact…See the quotations from the Talmudists in Lightfoot.”

More-so, another book, The Plain Truth About Christmas authored by Herbert W. Armstrong, said that “Christmas has become a commercial season. It’s sponsored, kept alive, by the heaviest retail advertising campaigns of the year. You see a masqueraded ‘Santa Claus’ in many stores. Ads keep us deluded and deceived about the ‘beautiful Christmas spirit.’ The newspapers, who sell the ads, print flowery editorials exalting and eulogizing the pagan season, and its ‘spirit.’ A gullible people has become so inoculated, many take offense when told the truth. But the ‘Christmas spirit’ is created each year, not to honour Christ, but to sell merchandise! Like all Satan’s delusions, it appears as an ‘angel of light,’ is made to appear good. Billions of dollars are spent in this merchandising spree every year, while the cause of Christ must suffer! It’s part of the economic system of Babylon”.

Also, Peter Bouteneff, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., added that “Until the 16th century, the secular and religious West recognized just one calendar, the Julian but when it became clear that this calendar required an adjustment to the satisfaction of the astrologers, Pope Gregory XIII introduced the “Gregorian” calendar now universally accepted in secular world, even though that some Europeans (especially Eastern Europe) continued to operate on the Julian calendar in their both religious and secular spheres till early 20th century. To this day, for instance, the Orthodox Church in Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Georgia, Mount Athos, among other places reckon its feasts in accordance to the Julian calendar — at a separation of thirteen days from the Gregorian. That makes their Christmas fall on January 7. While most Orthodox Christians in the West, the Middle East, and Greece operate on the Gregorian (or the “Revised Julian”) calendar, so they celebrate Christmas on December 25.

“However, in the Eastern Europe, Christmas is still celebrated on January 6th, in connection with Epiphany, and that is also the date is celebrated in the Armenian Apostolic Church and in Armenia, where it is a public holiday. As of 2013, there is a difference of 13 days between the modern Gregorian calendar and the older Julian calendar. Those who use the Julian calendar or its equivalents would enjoy theirs on December 25 and January 6 respectively, which on the Gregorian calendar translate as January 7 and January 19. For this reason, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eriteria, Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Serbia, the Republic of Macedonia, and the Republic of Moldova celebrate Christmas based on what is in the Gregorian calendar, January 7. Eastern Orthodox Churches in Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Antioch, Alexandria, Albania, Finland, and the Orthodox Church in America celebrate Christmas on the other hand chose December 25 in the revised Julian calendar, corresponding to December 25 also in the Gregorian calendar.

“The celebratory customs associated in various countries with Christmas have a mix of pre-Christian, Christian and secular themes and origins. Popular modern customs of the holiday include gift giving, Christmas music and caroling, an exchange of Christmas cards, church celebrations, a special meal, and the display of various Christmas decorations, including Christmas trees, Christmas lights, nativity scenes, garlands, wreaths, mistletoe, and holly. In addition, several closely related and often interchangeable figures, known as Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, and Christkind, are associated with bringing gifts to children during the Christmas season and have their own body of traditions and lore. Because gift-giving and many other aspects of the Christmas festival involve heightened economic activity among both Christians and non-Christians, the holiday has become a significant event and a key sales period for retailers and businesses. The economic impact of Christmas is a factor that has grown steadily over the past few centuries in many regions of the world”, Bouteneff concluded.

What is Saturnia?

In the Roman world, the Saturnalia (December 17) was a time of merrymaking and exchanging of gifts, while December 25 was also regarded as the birth date of the Iranian mystery god Mithra, the Sun of Righteousness. On the Roman New Year (January 1), houses were decorated with greenery and lights, and gifts were given to children and the poor. To these observances were added the German and Celtic Yule rites when the Teutonic tribes penetrated into Gaul, Britain, and central Europe. Food and good fellowship, the Yule log and Yule cakes, greenery and fir trees, gifts and greetings all commemorated different aspects of this festive season. Fires and lights, symbols of warmth and lasting life, have always been associated with the winter festival, both pagan and Christian (Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th Edit. Vol. II, p. 903).

American newspaper, The Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, New York, December 1984 stressed that: “The Roman festival of Saturnalia, Dec. 17-24, moved citizens to decorate their homes with greens and lights and give gifts to children and the poor. The Dec. 25 festival of natalis solis invicti, the birth of the unconquered sun, was decreed by the emperor Aurelian in A.D. 274 as a Winter Solstice celebration, and sometime (later)…was Christianized as a date to celebrate the birth of the Son of Light.”

Relatively, Dr. William Gutsch, Chairman of the American Museum of Natural History—Hayden Planetarium, attributed the original name of Christmas with this quote on December 18, 1989, in a Westchester, New York, newspaper, The Reporter Dispatch: “The early Romans were not celebrating Christmas but rather a pagan feast called the Saturnalia. It occurred each year around the beginning of winter, or the winter solstice. This was the time when the sun had taken its lowest path across the sky and the days were beginning to lengthen, thus assuring another season of growth”.

The Saturnalia, of course, celebrated Saturn—the fire god. Saturn was the god of sowing (planting) because heat from the sun was required to allow for planting and growth of crops. It was also worshipped in this dead-of-winter festival so that it would come back (he was the “sun”) and warm the earth again so that spring planting could occur.

The planet, Saturn was later named after him because, among other planets, with its rings and bright red colour, it best represented the god of fire! Virtually every civilization has a fire/sun god. The Egyptians (and sometimes Romans) called him Vulcan. The Greeks named him Kronos, as did the Phoenicians—but they also called him Saturn. The Babylonians called him Tammuz (as Nimrod, resurrected in the person of his son), Molech or Baal (as did the Druids). These were names for Nimrod-considered to be the father of all the Babylonian gods.

Other researchers equally observed that the year of Jesus birth was determined by Dionysius Exiguus, a Scythian monk, “abbot of a Roman monastery who calculated in the Roman, pre-Christian era, years were counted from aburbe condita (“the founding of the City” [Rome]).  Biblically, Luke 3:1, 23 indicates that when Jesus turned 30 years old, it was the 15th year of Tiberius reign. If Jesus was 30 years old in Tiberius’ reign, then he lived 15 years under Augustus (placing Jesus birth in Augustus’ 28th year of reign). Augustus took power in 727 AUC.  Therefore, Dionysius put Jesus birth in 754 AUC.

However, Luke 1:5 places Jesus’ birth in the days of Herod, who was said to have died in 750 AUC – four years before the year in which Dionysius places Jesus birth. Joseph A. Fitzmyer – Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at the Catholic University of America, and member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, former president of the Catholic Biblical Association wrote in the Catholic Church’s official commentary on the New Testament, that “Though the year [of Jesus birth is not reckoned with certainty, the birth did not occur in AD 1.  The Christian era, supposed to have its starting point in the year of Jesus birth, is based on a miscalculation introduced ca. 533 by Dionysius Exiguus.”

Similarly, DePascha Computus, an anonymous document believed to have been written in North Africa around 243 CE, placed Jesus birth on March 28.  Also, Clement, a bishop of Alexandria (d. ca. 215 CE), thought Jesus was born on November 18.  Based on historical records, Fitzmyer guesses that Jesus birth occurred on September 11, 3 BCE.

How Did Christmas Come to Be Celebrated on December 25?
Historically, Roman pagans first introduced the holiday of Saturnalia, a week long period of lawlessness celebrated December 17-25.  During this period, Roman courts were closed, and Roman law dictated that no one could be punished for damaging property or injuring people during the weeklong celebration.  The festival began when Roman authorities chose “an enemy of the Roman people” to represent the “Lord of Misrule.”  Each Roman community selected a victim whom they forced to indulge in food and other physical pleasures throughout the week.  At the festival’s conclusion, December 25th, Roman authorities believed they were destroying the forces of darkness by brutally murdering this innocent man or woman.

In the 4th century CE, Christianity imported the Saturnalia festival hoping to take the pagan masses in with it.  Christian leaders succeeded in converting to Christianity large numbers of pagans by promising them that they could continue to celebrate the Saturnalia as Christian. Stephen Nissenbaum, the Professor of History at the University of Massachussetts, Amherst, writes, “In return for ensuring massive observance of the anniversary of the Savior’s birth by assigning it to this resonant date, the Church for its part tacitly agreed to allow the holiday to be celebrated more or less the way it had always been.” 

The earliest Christmas holidays were celebrated by drinking, sexual indulgence, singing naked in the streets (a precursor of modern caroling), etc. The Reverend Increase Mather of Boston observed in 1687 that “the early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens’ Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian may be probably to win their souls for Christ. Some of the most depraved customs of the Saturnalia carnival were intentionally revived by the Catholic Church in 1466 when Pope Paul II, for the amusement of his Roman citizens, allegedly forced Jews to race naked through the streets of the city.  An eyewitness account reports, “Before they were to run, the Jews were richly fed, so as to make the race more difficult for them and at the same time more amusing for spectators.  They ran… amid Rome’s taunting shrieks and peals of laughter, while the Holy Father stood upon a richly ornamented balcony and laughed heartily.”

As a result of these alleged unholy practices, Christmas was banned by the Puritans and its observance was illegal in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681.  As part of the Saturnalia carnival throughout the 18th and 19th centuries CE, rabbis of the ghetto in Rome were forced to wear clownish outfits and march through the city streets to the jeers of the crowd, pelted by a variety of missiles.

When the Jewish community of Rome sent a petition in1836 to Pope Gregory XVI, imploring him to stop the annual Saturnalia abuse of the Jewish community, he responded that: “It is not opportune to make any innovation.”  So on December 25, 1881, Christian leaders were alleged to have whipped the Polish masses into Anti-Semitic frenzies that led to riots across the country.  And in Warsaw, 12 Jews were brutally murdered, huge numbers maimed, and many Jewish women were raped while two million rubbles worth of property was destroyed.
However, Christmas was and still is celebrated by most Christians almost everywhere in the world. Installation or decoration of satanic or idolatry trees on the streets and houses have even added glamour to the festivity. Therefore, is wishing you merry xmas and new year, Season greetings! 



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