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Every year around the end of October, almost without fail, our malls begin to adopt the festive theme – red, green and white. Our televisions, remind us of all the big savings we are yet to benefit from, with almost every single commercial ad. But what makes this time of the year so special? Is it the just a strategy adopted by the commercial companies in an effort of capitalizing on the yearly bonuses to be received in December? What about the other holidays? Are they insignificant or are they not an opportunity to capitalize on this scale?
There are so many different and at times, conflicting answers when the issue of December, or Christmas, is discussed. Many are of the opinion that Christmas is just a money-making scheme perpetuated by the commercial industry capitalizing on the internationally adopted religion of Christianity. On the other hand, Christmas is a time to value the important aspects of life, to spend time with those you love and to get away from all the noise that is encountered throughout the year. In addition to all of that, Christmas is a time for many people to celebrate the birth of a king, a savior and a god in his own right – it is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
This subject can be very sensitive to devout believers and therefore a certain degree of respect needs to be adopted when unpacking the true origin of Christmas – and what the holiday signifies for so many people across the world.
The Birth of Jesus
The Bible speaks of one fateful night where an angel, Gabriel, appeared to Mary, a Jewish woman, and told her that she would give birth to the son of God and his name would be Jesus. At the time, Mary was married to a man named Joseph – ironically, the mystique of Jesus’ conception lies in fact that Mary conceived Jesus through the Holy Ghost and not through the natural way of a male laying with a woman. This form of conception is vital to the power of the story, where it highlights that God’s will is paramount. Mary and Joseph, lived in a town called Nazareth, but they had to travel to the city of Bethlehem to register for a census ordered by Caesar, a Roman emperor. Both Nazareth and Bethlehem are in the country now called Israel. It is about 65 miles (105 km) from Nazareth to Bethlehem. When Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, there was no place for them to stay because the inns were all filled to capacity. They ended up spending the night in a stable. The fresh hay was the closest alternative to a bed. That night, Jesus was born. There was no crib, so they laid baby Jesus in a manger, a feeding trough for animals. Many miles away, three horsemen, guided by the stars, were alerted of Jesus’ birth. Their significance would be the multi-century-old of present bearing on Christmas. The horsemen entered Jesus’ manger bearing gifts and proclaimed his birth as both a miracle and salvation.
The Development of Christmas and Its Customs
December 25th as Jesus’ birthday made its way into a “calendar” or chronology created in 354 AD/CE called the Calendar of Filocalus or Philocalian Calendar. In addition to listing the 25th of December as the Natalis Invicti, which means “Birth of the Unconquered (Sun),” the Calendar also names the day as that of natus Christus in Betleem Iudeae: “Birth of Christ in Bethlehem Judea.” By virtue of this, we can see that people of the fourth century were quite aware of the association, if not identification, of Jesus with the sun, as they had been in Cyprian’s time and earlier, since Jesus is claimed to be the “Sun of Righteousness” in the Old Testament book of Malachi (4:2)
For many of us, like the date that is repeatedly mentioned, Christmas falls on the 25th of December. For the Catholic Church however, the Christmas celebration is actually twelve days long. The Catholic Christmas begins on the 25th of December to the 5th of January – celebrating Jesus’ nativity and his epiphany. There is a lot of contradictory information pertaining to the core reason that the Catholic Church celebrates twelve days rather than just one, like other Christian churches do, but there is a clear devotion to Christ throughout.
As previously mentioned, many groups celebrate this occasion in their own way, but we need to dissect the wildly accepted notion. The day of Christmas is a day to exchange gifts and celebrate unity. When one mentions the word Christmas, the first things that come to mind are; food (lots of it), presents and for many naïve children, Santa Claus – it is safe to say that Jesus is only mentioned if people get around to singing some Christmas carols. In the past few centuries Christmas has been widely accepted as an international holiday that trumps them all – more than 80% of the world gather with their family to take a well-deserved break and share invaluable quality time together. Children write letters to the world’s grandfather, asking him for unique presents for either being a good girl or good boy that year. The role of Santa Claus in this community of people stands for karma, where just like Jesus, if one is not good, they will be punished, in this instance, those that are not good are not gifted with presents. This form of Christmas, is the one we have grown to love and anticipate – however, with all this being said, Christmas is surrounded by many questions, some of which cannot be ignored.
It is unlikely for Jesus to have been born on the 25th of December, during winter. The Bible states that shepherds were “living out of doors and keeping watches in the night over their flocks.” (Luke 2:8) – This would’ve been unlikely to happen in the winter. The Bible itself does not state when exactly Jesus was born, but it can be estimated that he was born anytime in autumn. In the northern hemisphere, December 25 falls in winter and critics question the accuracy of this holiday by virtue of this.
Way before Jesus was born, the Greeks, the Egyptians and many other civilizations across the world sought divinity through the sun. The story of Jesus is heavily linked to that of Horus, whose existence was recorded thousands of years before Jesus was born. The consistency of the birth of Jesus somehow not being recorded brings question to the legitimacy of Christmas as a true Christian holiday when one looks at the story of Horus, which is documented.
Many have criticized the Christmas holiday as a concept to commercialize such a sacred holiday. Many of the people who claim to be Christian do not celebrate this holiday as it was intended to be. There is a higher significance placed on Santa Claus rather than Jesus, whose birthday it is. These contradictions create loopholes for whoever might be looking to learn deeper and more significantly about Christmas.
It is vital to understand the things we cherish – Christmas is one of those things. Many people regurgitate the Jesus story without studying it properly. For those who do not have time to read or to watch a Christmas movie that does more to confuse than to answer, you can take a Christmas holiday trial class on Acadsoc. There are many teachers on the Acadsoc platform that will be ready to answer your Christmas holiday questions and give you a deeper understanding of what Christmas means to them. It is also an opportunity to engage with people from all over the world and build relationships – what’s more, Acadsoc always has teachers available, so even if you are spending Christmas alone, you’ll always have a friend. Remember, it is all about what a specific holiday means to you, the individual, do not let all the contradictions and politics rob of a time to celebrate those you love and those that love you.