This year i’ve decided to do something a little different for December… An Advent Calender sort of thing where i give you a short christmas themed post every day up untill Christmas day. Mostly it’ll be the odd, the strange or the unusual and focusing on christmas traditions from around the world… There’ll be a few other things floating around as well… But for today i decided to go for something basic… The meaning of christmas in the modern world.
Firstly it seems a good question to ask why is Christmas celebrated on December 25th?
It’s a good question as in all truth there is no proof that Jesus was born on December 25th at all… In fact when I looked it up I actually found every date under the sun being proposed. One account reckoned on September 29th… Another on a Wednesday at some point in June, another in October… The truth is nobody has a clue. He could have been born on April 2nd for all anybody knows…
But if we look at the date itself. December 25th, we can see why: December is more rammed with holidays and festivals (Some no longer celebrated) than any other time of year. For starters there’s Christmas and then there’s: Hanukkah, The Saturnalia, Kwanzaa, Malkh, Modraniht, Pancha Ganapati, Soyal, Yule, The Feast of Fools, and probably a whole lot others besides. The reason why there are so many is all to do with the winter solstice… Most of those festivals I’ve mentioned above are all about celebrating the Winter solstice and the start of winter. A lot of them originate from pre-christian festivals
And it’s this very reason why Christmas happens to be on December 25th… It was to coincide with the existing solstice celebrations such as the Saturnalia. There was no other basis for December 25th… It’s because there was already stuff going on. It was a way basically trying to replace the old solstice traditions with the Christian ones… trying to stamp out the old beliefs… Which is also the reason you find a lot of churches in Rome that are built on the site of old temples.
So that’s the reason for that and if Christmas was moved to say April 2nd there would be an outcry… Not just from Christians but from pretty much everybody. You see whilst Christmas as a festival in its own right has its roots in the Christian faith and the birth of christ. Quite fair enough you might think and it’s only right that if you believe in Christ that you should celebrate the birth of your saviour… But over the last couple of centuries in particular Christmas has evolved to encompass people of all beliefs and denominations… It’s taken on an international super-celebratory extravaganza of extreme proportions and good cheer…
For starters it’s taken on the old pagan elements, new modern elements as well as weird stuff we’ve picked up along the way. Take Christmas trees for instance. They were first popular in Germany although there are much earlier rituals associated with trees that may or may not have been a precursor. Anyway the links of the tree to Christian tradition are at best tenuous with the only link i could find being the tree of paradise which features in Medieval mystery plays (BTW incase you’re wondering they have nothing to do with detectives and crimes and they have very little to do with ‘mystery’ at all… They were usually biblical.). But either way it’s still a tenuous connection and as the Christmas tree started as a germanic thing it seems a little unlikely as the mystery plays were widespread across europe at the time. The christmas tree didn’t really become popular elsewhere until the 19th century after it was adopted by most of the european nobility. There’s a myth about how Prince Albert brought it to England but in truth it was Charlotte of Mecklinburg-Sterlitz, wife of George III.
There have been arguments by some fundamentalists over the pagan roots of the christmas tree over the years, like when Pope John Paul II decided to have the first ‘Vatican Christmas Tree’ in 1982 there was an outcry amongst those fundamentalists… that he was debasing the true meaning of Christmas.
But that’s the thing… Christmas may have the birth of Jesus at its heart but it’s not just about that anymore as it’s not only christians who celebrate it. Almost the whole world Celebrates Christmas… Christian or not. Take the Japanese. The Japanese are fanatical about Christmas… So much so that those who often complain about the commercialization of Christmas should go and visit Japan in December as it’s pretty much all commercial. They even have a massive nation-wide KFC binge (So much so that orders have to be taken weeks in advance.) Now Japan is not a predominantly Christian country and yet they have still embraced modern Christmas as if it were their own.
And i think this shows that modern Christmas is really for everybody… A time of hope and peace and goodwill to all men… Of giving presents and getting blind drunk or stuffing your face with KFC! It’s adopted the best traditions from across the ages like the Yule Log and Trees and St Nicholas and Christmas songs that you’re sick of by December 25th… For Christians it is still predominantly about the Birth of Jesus… But considering the rest of the world has taken it up as well today it means something much more… And if anybody has a problem with that then just try and stop it coz I bet you can’t!
Come Back tomorrow to see what’s behind door number 2…
Postscript: I’ll be doing an interview in a couple of weeks so if you want to ask me a question (anything at all) just drop it into the comments box at the bottom of the screen and I’ll do my best to answer all the ones I receive.