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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Was Jesus really born on the 25th of December?

I also would like to commemorate Christmas by writing an article about it. You see, I am always fascinated by this festive season. When I was young, this seemed to be one of the happiest days of my life, as a matter of fact, each year, I was waiting for Christmas, and wished everyday was already Christmas. Those were the good old days.

Well, we still celebrate Christmas, and our family unite just to celebrate the occasion. It's still fun. But, I was curious... was Christ really born on December 25th at exactly 12 a.m. as what our elders told us?

For Jesus to have been born at exactly 12 a.m. on the 25th of December makes it sound as if it was some kind of Divine plan, or was it just exaggerated? Well let's see, what the scholars have to say...

According to researchers and people of academe, Christmas or Christmas Day literally means "Christ's mass", is an annual commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ - the religious iconic figure of Christian religion. It is celebrated as a religious and cultural holiday by billions of people around the world. It's a feast central to the Christian liturgical year, closing the Advent season and initiates the twelve days of Christmastide.

By the way, what is Christmastide? Of course, if you are a Christian, you should really know what it is, otherwise, it would seem that you have no clue of what you're believing in. Christmastide is one of the seasons of the liturgical year of most Christian churches. It tends to be defined (with slight variations) as the period from Christmas Eve to the evening of January 5, the day before Epiphany (revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ).

Christmas is a civil holiday in many of the world's nations, and is even celebrated by some non-Christians.

However, according to the scholars (particularly historians), the precise day of Jesus' birth, which historians place between 7 and 2 BC (BCE), is unknown. In the early-to-mid 4th century, the Western Christian Church under Pope Julius I, first placed Christmas on December 25 around 350 AD (CE). The date was later adopted also in the East. Theories advanced to explain that choice include that it falls exactly nine months after the Christian celebration of the conception of Jesus, or that it was selected to coincide with either the date of the Roman winter solstice or some ancient pagan winter festival such as that of Mithraism.

Well, if you guys have watched Dan Brown's Angels and Demons, you would hear Robert Langdon (the main character) talking about Christmas and how it was linked to pagan tradition. It appears Dan Brown wasn't just inventing stories after all. He actually researched it!

Christmas tradition borrowed from Pagans

Here's more... In 529 AD (CE) Emperor Justinian declared Christmas a civic holiday. To some the December date may seem completely arbitrary, but in fact it was a calculated choice that reflected the importance of winter solstice festivals for the cultures of pre-Christian Europe and Asia. To abolish these festivals in favor of strictly Christian forms of celebration would have been extremely unpopular. Though many early Christian leaders such as Gregory of Nazainzus spoke out against combining pagan and Christian ways, it became clear early on that rather than trying to beat the pagans, Christians would be wiser to join them in their own game - to incorporate their most deep-rooted traditions into Christian worship and celebration.

Ancient peoples believed that the days grew shorter in December because the sun was leaving them, perhaps dying. Festivals held right before December 21, the winter solstice, featured rituals designed to appease the sun and get it to return. After the solstice, the shortest day of the year, the days got longer again, and grand celebrations were held in honor of the sun's return. Along with the idea of the physical presence of the sun were underlying themes of harvest, rebirth and light.

Although the basic conception of the solstice festival was common to all lands, each area had its unique variations. In the Zagmuk of Mesopotamia, a convict was sacrificed in atonement for the people's sins (Actually it should have been the king who was supposed to be sacrificed, however, a convict may take his place). In a custom that may have been an ancestor of the Yule log tradition (particularly Scandinavian), wooden representation of their god Marduk's enemies were burned in a great fire. Ancient Persia and Babylonia had Sacaea, an event in which slaves and their owners engaged in a role reversal. Sacaea also featured a tradition of liberation and execution involving a pair of criminals, which is surprisingly quite similar to the story of Jesus and Barabbas, with which the ritual shares striking parallels. In this tradition, two convicts were chosen; one went free while the other was mocked as a king and put to death, again as penance for the sins of the masses.

Another pagan tradition that left its mark on Christmas is the Roman Saturnalia. The Saturnalia was observed from December 17-24, and was a nominal celebration of a number of different events, among them Saturn's triumph over Jupiter. According to belief, Saturn's reign had heralded the Golden Age in Rome. Although the god later lost to Jupiter, during the Saturnalia he was believed to return, allowing Rome to relive the Golden Age for a brief time. It is not surprising that the Romans, who associated Saturn closely with the sun, would celebrate this festival near the solstice.

During the festivities, no one worked except those whose business was to provide food, drink or entertainment. Masters and slaves became equals, and there was much feasting, dancing, gambling and general revelry. Candles were used as decoration to scare away the darkness and celebrate the sun and light. Another recognizable ritual was the giving of gifts, which was done in honor of goddess Strenia.

The "barbarian invasions" of the Roman Empire that began in the fifth century brought the Nordic and Germanic peoples in direct contact with Christianity, and thus with Christmas. In northern and western Europe, the Germanic and Celtic peoples had their own solstice rituals, which were later incorporated into Christmas. The December Julmond festival (Jul later became Yule) was a celebration of harvest and rebirth, with wheat representing life triumphing over death. Anything made of wheat, such as bread or liquor, was consumed heartily, and also given as gifts. Evergreens were used as a symbol of life, and Yule logs was lit in this time of darkness to symbolize the eventual triumph of light over darkness. The festive meal was boar's head. These traditions have been presented in centuries-old carols, including wassail songs, holly carols, and boar's head carols still widely sung today.

At the end of the sixth century, Pope Gregory I instructed Augustine to make the midwinter Yule festival over into Christmas observances, emphasizing the importance of condoning any customs from the festival that could be found to contain Christian significance. It was a well-tested strategy, and it worked.

Okay, I reckon some of you guys are already shocked at the results of my research, and may now be asking, why the heck did the Christian leaders approved and incorporated these pagan practices into Christ's mass? Actually, early Christians were reluctant to follow these traditions and aimed to abolish them, however, after years of mostly futile attempts to abolish these pagan festivals and rituals, the church realized it would be better served by allowing them, and revised so that their focus was now to honor Christ. Both church and popular interests were thus satisfied: The people got to keep their time of fun, while the church ensured that the birth of Christ would be celebrated with all due honor and festivity. In this way, many parts of the old festivals remained, while others were reformed to honor Christ's birth. Some of the retained elements that have remained popular to this day are geenery, candles, singing, tree decorating, Yule logs (also called Christmas tree), exchange gifts, mistletoe kissing, and feasting.

Why December 25?

You guys may ask why did they place Christ's birth on December 25? Why not choose the day of the winter solstice or other pagan feasts in December? Apparently, the use of this date was a remnant of the Mithraic religion, a major religion of the Roman era with close similarities to Christianity. Mithra, the god of light and wisdom, was said to have been born from a rock on December 25. Mithra, symbolizing the sun, was naturally a big part of solstice festivals, and believers celebrated his birth as a major holiday. In the third century (the century before Constantine's ascension), Emperor Aurelian declared December 25 Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (latin for "the Day of the Invisible Sun" or "the birthday of the unconquered Sun").

Although later on, Constantine, an emperor of Rome, converted to Christianity, remnants of his old religion stayed around. Apparently, incorporating Mithraic or solstice rites into the celebration of Christmas was kind of easy to justify: Christ represents life, triumph over death and darkness, and restored hope and light; rather than celebrating the sun, people would be celebrating the Son of God. Simply put, the birth of Christ replaced the birth of the sun as a cause for celebration.


Other Christians, particularly the Protestants, argue that the December 25 is an unlikely date for Christ's birth, citing that the date was not written in the Bible, and during the month of December, Palestine is very cold. It was much too cold to ask everyone to travel to the city of their fathers to register for taxes. Also the shepherds were in the fields (Luke 2:8-12). Shepherds were not in the fields in the winter time. They are in the fields early in March until early October. Historians also agree that the possible date of Jesus' birth is somewhere in the spring or early fall (Either March or October).

Other evidence suggesting that December 25 is the wrong date for the birth of Jesus comes from early writings. Irenaeus, born about a century after Jesus, notes that Jesus was born in the 41st year of the reign of Augustus.  Since began his reign in the autumn of 43 B.C. (BCE), this appears to substantiate the birth of Jesus as the autumn of 2 B.C. (BCE). Eusebius (A.D. (CE) 264-340), the "Father of Church History," ascribes it to the 42nd year of the reign of Augustus and the 28th from the subjection of Egypt on the death of Anthony and Cleopatra. The 42nd year of Augustus ran from the autumn of 2 B.C. (BCE) to the autumn of 1 B.C. (BCE). The subjugation of Egypt into the Roman Empire occurred in the autumn of 30 B.C. (BCE). The 28th year extended from the autumn of 3 B.C. (BCE) to the autumn of 2 B.C. (BCE). The only date that would meet both of these constraints would be the autumn of 2 B.C. (BCE).

John the Baptist also helped in determining Jesus' birthday. Elizabeth, John's mother, was a cousin of Mary (Jesus' mother). John began his ministry in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar. The minimum age for the ministry was 30. As Augustus died on August 19, A.D. (CE) 14, that was the accession year for Tiberius. According to some scholars, John the baptist was born somewhere around April 19-20, 2 B.C. (BCE), if John was born on that date, then his 30th birthday would have been April 19-20, A.D. (CE) 29, or the 15th year of Tiberius. This seems to confirm the 2 B.C. (BCE) date, and since John was approximately 5-6 months older, this also confirms an autumn birth date for Jesus.

Another interesting fact comes from Elizabeth herself. She hid herself for 5 months and then the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary both Elizabeth's condition and that Mary would also bear a son who would be called Jesus. Mary went "with haste" to visit Elizabeth, who was then in the first week of her 6th month, or in the 4th week of December, 3 B.C. (BCE). How did we get December? Well, since John the Baptist was born on April and babies stay in the womb for at least 9 months and Elizabeth was in the fifth month of her pregnancy when Mary visited her, then that would be April (-4 months). If Jesus was born 280 days later, it would place his birth on Sept. 29-30, 2 B.C. (BCE). It is also interesting to note that in that year, it was also the 1st of Tishri, the day of the Feast of Trumpets.

Another scholar, Rev. Don Jacobs, using a main frame computer, was said to had accurately replicate the same celestial dynamics observed by the ancient Magi that Matthew told in his gospel account of the nativity. Jacobs describes his research and the date he chose in his book, Astrology's Pew in Church.

According to Jacobs, Jesus was born March 1st in the year 7 B.C. (BCE), at 1:21 a.m. in Bethlehem. The birth chart for this moment in time contains a cluster of six heavenly bodies in Pisces: the Sun, Moon, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus. It was added that with all this Pisces energy, Jesus was highly spiritual, compassionate, and willing to sacrifice himself for others.

Cuneiform tablets discovered in the ancient astrology school in Sippar (Babylon) reveal that the astrologers (ie. the Magi in Matthew's story) were nearly obsessed with noting and tracking movements of an extremely rare heavenly occurrence in the year 7 B.C. (BCE). It was a "once in 25,000 years" celestial event when the two zodiacs (sidereal and tropical) met. It was considered the promise of the birth of an avatar of all avatars. Could this be the reason why the Magi journeyed so far to meet the infant Jesus?

By the way, you guys may had noticed that it was kind of weird for Jesus to had been born on the B.C. (BCE) era instead of 1 A.D. or Anno Domini (latin for "in the Year of our Lord"), or CE (Common Era). Well, that's because the modern calendar which splits time between B.C. (BCE) and A.D. (CE) was not invented until 525 A.D. (CE). At that time, Pope John I asked a monk name Dionysius (Dionysius Exiguus) to prepare a standardized calendar for the western Church, but it appears he had missed the real B.C. (BCE)/A.D. (CE) division by at least 2-4 years.

As you can see guys, there are just too many contradictions and theories surrounding the birth of Christ that it would almost be seemingly impossible to pinpoint the exact date of his birth. Rest assured, it was not the December 25th. Regardless, it's still fun to celebrate Christmas on December 25. I view it as a unification of Christian and Pagan practices, a time when Pagans and Christians actually had peace, fun, and a share of tradition - a concept which is truly Universal.


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