HomePlaysProsePoetryArtCollectionsEditorial Staff

The next time you get invited to an Old Fashioned Christmas, be sure they specify how old.

The biggest problem with trying to be exact about Christmas is that nobody really knows when Jesus was born.  The strongest biblical clue is that it was in the Spring, maybe, during the lambing season, when the shepherds “...were out in the fields, keeping watch through the night over their flock....” (Luke 2:8)  If it had been in the middle of the night in the dead of winter, like most sensible people and their sheep, they would’ve been inside where it was warm.  But, really, that’s not strong evidence.  (McGowan)

As well, there are no records of Christmas celebrations from early Christian writers.  There was even one Christian writer, Origen of Alexander, who, around 250, wrote that celebrating anybody’s birth was a pagan practice to be avoided.  (McGowan)  I bet he never got any Christmas presents.  It was less than 100 years after Origen of Alexander, however, in 336 AD, that we have the earliest record of Christmas being celebrated.  And it was only 14 years after that, in 350 AD, that Pope Julius I  “officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th of December.”  (Why is Christmas Day on the 25th of December?)  Changes came quickly in the Roman Empire after Constantine I signed the Edict of Milan in 313, “which finally ensured religious tolerance for Christians.”  (Constantine the Great Rules)

One of the theories as to why Christmas is on the 25th is that, supposedly, Mary was told she was going to have Jesus by an angel on March 25th, which is still celebrated as the Annunciation.  You simply go nine months forward from there, and that’s December 25th.  (Luke 1:26-38:  The Message)  Once again, though, there is no specific reference to that date in the Bible, even if you squint.

The most logical reason is probably because the Catholic church was trying to horn in on everybody else’s fun.  The 25th of December falls really close to the Winter Solstice, and nearly everybody on the planet recognizes the darkest day of the year.  The Romans, Jews, Mesopotamians, Persians, Greek, Norse, Celts, and assorted Pagans, as well as certainly many others living in the Northern Hemisphere, all whooped it up on or around the Winter Solstice.  And many of these celebrations were... well... let’s just say that drunken orgies didn’t resonate too well with the Pope.  But those Popes weren’t stupid.  As Gregory the Great wrote, in 597, “...the pagan rituals [should] not be removed ‘upon the sudden,’ but rather be adapted ‘to the praise of God.’”  (The Celebration of Christmas)

Of course, with over 38,000 different Christian sects, not all of them, even today, recognize December 25 as Christmas.  Some, like the Coptics, who never got the word that the calendar had been changed, celebrate Christmas on January 7,  (Why is Christmas Day on the 25th of December?) and some, like the Armenian church, thumbed their noses at Pope Julius I and went on doing things as they had always done, and still do.  (The Celebration of Christmas)  And then there are the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who, aside from the whole Pagan thing, believe that in Luke 22:19-20 Jesus commanded us to celebrate his death, not his birth.  (Why Don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses Celebrate Christmas?)

For those of us wanting to celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December, even with Pope Julius I’s proclamation, it still took 400 years for Christmas to “...become common throughout the European continent.”  (Conversation Starters)  The Feast of the Nativity, as it was originally called, spread first to Egypt by 432. It reached England by the end of the 6th Century, and finally to Scandinavia by the 8th Century. (History of Christmas)  And even then, it wouldn’t be anything we’d recognize today.  The problem was, Christians were told to celebrate Christmas, but they were never told how.  So, almost predictably, it often turned into “a drunken street party,” (Conversation Starters) but now after Church, of course. (History of Christmas)

Then came the Puritans, bless them, who came into power in England in 1645.  Recognizing Christmas for what it had become, they canceled the debauchery altogether.  The Puritans, in turn, brought their version of religious intolerance to America when England finally had enough and booted them out.  (Conversation Starters)

Increase Mathers, one of the Mathers Boys, stated 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 ones.”  Still, there were many who celebrated Christmas in one way or another, though it was illegal to do so in Massachusetts from 1659 to 1681.  (Keleman)  Even after the Puritans were marginalized in America, Christmas didn’t catch on because it was essentially seen as a British holiday.  In fact, December 25th, 1789, was a regular work day for Congress,  (Conversation Starters) which seems really crazy, not because Congress was working on Christmas, but because they were working at all.

Slowly, what we now recognize as Christmas came into being in the early 1800s.  The traditions we most closely associate with Christmas, namely that it is a holiday that emphasizes peace on earth and good will to all more than a drunken orgy, can be attributed to two authors, Washington Irving and Charles Dickens.  Irving, in particular, doesn’t appear to have created his version of Christmas from any actual customs.  In short, he made it all up, in particular, how everybody suddenly gets along, regardless of social class, just because it’s Christmas.  (History of Christmas)  It wasn’t until 1870 that Christmas became a Federal holiday.  And by the mid-1920s, pieced together from the various customs of its immigrants, Christmas in America pretty much looked like what we’ve come to think it’s always been – the tree, lights, gifts, and Santa Claus. (Conversation Starters) 

 

Work Cited

“The Celebration of Christmas.”  2000.  MotherBedford.com.  11 June 2014.  http://www.motherbedford.com/Christmas.htm

“Constantine the Great Rules.”  1996.  National Geographic.  11 June 2014.  http://www.nationalgeographic.com/lostgospel/timeline_10.html

“Conversation Starters:  When did Christian begin to celebrate Christmas?”  2005.  The Rock Christian Church.  11 June 2014.  http://www.hcna.us/columns/history-of-christmas.htm

“History of Christmas.”  2014.  History.  11 June 2014.  http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas

Keleman, Lawrence. “The Origins of Christmas.”  SimpleToRemember.com:  Judaism Online.  11 June 2014.  http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/Christmas_TheRealStory.htm

“Luke 1:26-38:  The Message.”  2002.  Bible Gateway.  11 June 2014.  http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+1&version=NIV

McGowan, Andrew.  “How December 25th became Christmas.”  07 Dec. 2012.  Bible History Daily.  11 June 2014.  http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/new-testament/how-december-25-became-christmas/

“Why Don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses Celebrate Christmas?”  2014.  JW.org.  12 June 2014.  http://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/why-not-celebrate-christmas/

“Why is Christmas Day on the 25th of December?”  2013.  WhyChristmas.com.  11 June 2014.  http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/25th.shtml