Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Why is Christmas when it is?

Alot of people argue that Christmas is when it is because the date is close to a Pagan holy day. This however is not really correct. Yes there is some borrowing, but there are strong studies to show that December 25 was chosen for much more important reasons.

Christians celebrated 25 March as the Feast of the Annunciation, a commemoration which continues today. Since 25 December falls exactly nine months after the Annunciation, it seemed the most natural day on which to celebrate Jesus' birth. And teh date for the Annunciation was set first.

There may even be a strong basis for 25 December as the actual, historical date of Christ's nativity.

In a recent issue of "Osservatore Romano" (the Vatican's official newspaper), Professor Tommaso Federici, Professor at the Pontifical Urbanian University and consultant to two Vatican Congregations, says that recent archaological discoveries in the Holy Land shed light on when Jesus was born:

"As long ago as 1958, the Israeli scholar Shemaryahu Talmon published an in-depth study on the calendar of the Qumran sect, and he reconstructed without the shadow of doubt the order of the sacerdotal rota system for the temple of Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 24, 7-18) in New Testament times.

Here the family of Abijah, of which Zechariah was a descendant, father of John the herald and forerunner (Luke 1,5) was required to officiate twice a year, on the days 8-14 of the third month, and on the days 24-30 of the eighth month.

This latter period fell at about the end of September. It is not without reason that the Byzantine calendar celebrated 'John's conception' on September 23 and his birth nine months later, on June 24.

The 'six months' after the Annunciation established as a liturgical feast on March 25, comes three months before the forerunner's birth, prelude to the nine months in December: December 25 is a date of history"

Even the common argument that shepherds would not have been in the fields in December is inaccurate. That is the time of the year when sheep naturally begin giving birth ("lambing"), and the shepherds would typically stay with the sheep at night to take care of the newborn lambs. In fact, the lambing season would have been the only time of the year in which the shepherds would have stayed with the flocks during the night (see Luke 2:8).

So from what we know we would know when Zechariah was in the temple when he was told about John. We also know from the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth and where they were in gestation where to place the rest of the dates.

This information seems to confirm that Jesus could well have been born on or near 25 December, perhaps even 6 January (considering the many possible normal fluctuations of gestational periods as human gestation is actually 10 months but varies). So either of these traditional dates may be - or at least come very close to - Jesus' real birthday!

The fact that December 25 happens to fall four days after the Winter Solstice is a coincidence of history (and the Eastern Christmas is sixteen days removed from the solstice, so it's harder to see a connection there).

Back to the Annunciation being set as a date first. Why do we celebrate the Annunciation on March 25 (aside from what Professor Federici has shown as common ancient knowledge about the birth of John)? Because the ancient Jews believed in something called Integral Lifespan. This is the belief that holy people die on the same day their life began. We know what date passover was the year Christ died, it comes out to March 25. Since life begins at conception, his life began (according to ancient logic) on March 25.

In the Didache, the recorded writings of the 12 apostles from the first century, it is clear that it was always believed by Christians that life begins at conception.

Now, I'm not saying that the integral lifespan theology is correct, but it was the basis for when to set the date. And yes traditions and such did develop from some pagan ways.

But look at the above...where three or four lines of thought and ancient proofs indicate that we actually have the right day. And it has nothing to do with pagan festivals.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I always thought that the reason they said that the shepherds wouldn't be out in the fields was that the sheep were in the barns during the winter not in the fields.