Christmas Cliff Notes
During the first two centuries after Christ’s death, Christmas was not celebrated. In 245 AD, when a group of scholars attempted to pinpoint the exact date of Christ’s birth, a Church council denounced the endeavour, declaring that it would be wrong to celebrate the birth of Christ “as though He were a King Pharaoh”.
In spite of official disapproval, various attempts were made to pinpoint the Nativity resulting in a confusion of dates: January 1, January 6, March 25 and May 20. The May date became the favoured one because the Gospel of Luke (Luke 2:8 ff) reports that the shepherds who received the announcement of Christ’s birth were watching their sheep by night. Shepherds guarded their flocks day and night only at lambing time, which was in the spring. In winter, the animals were generally kept in corrals, unwatched.
By the middle of the fourth century, December 25 was associated as the birth day of Christ. Pope Julius (337-352) formally selected December 25 as the day for Christmas in 349 AD.
Prior to the celebration of Christmas, December 25 was already a widely celebrated day in the Roman World. On that date citizens observed the Natalis Solis Invicti (the Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun) in honour of the Sun God Mithras. The festival took place just after the winter solstice of the Julian calendar. Many modern Christmas customs such as decorating a house with greenery, exchanging gifts and enjoying festive meals, originated with this pagan celebration. Scholars believe that Pope Julius selected December 25 as the date of the Nativity in order to win over followers of the Sun God Mithras, as well as giving Christians an opportunity to honour Christ on his birth date.
The origin of Xmas, an abbreviation for Christmas, originated with Greek Christians. ‘X’ is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ (Xristos). By the sixteenth century, Xmas was widely used throughout Europe among Christians who understood that it meant ‘Christ’s Mass’. Later, Christians unfamiliar with the Greek origin, mistook the ‘X’ as a sign of disrespect, and an attempt by unbelievers to rid Christmas of its central meaning. Some Christians still disapprove of the abbreviation claiming, incorrectly, that it takes the “Christ out of Christmas”.
Victor M. Parachin, St. Anthony Messenger
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