What’s in a date? Origin and meaning of Christmas

By Sushmita Dutta | Last Updated: Friday, December 17, 2010 - 22:23
 
Sushmita Dutta  

<i>'With great power comes great responsibility…’</i>
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These words from the movie ‘Spiderman’ seem to be true in aspect of the divine as well as human powers. Right from my school days, there was no restriction on celebrating any festival, be it of any religion. And celebrating Christmas has always been great fun with many fun-filled activities like decorating the Christmas tree and making a manger in memory of where Christ is believed to have been born. Santa Claus used to surprise me with gifts under my pillow ad I used to just love them and sleep every Christmas eve with anticipation of what gift I would get from the old man in the sleigh.
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But what was a fairy tale during childhood later became loaded with biblical meanings and enlightened me with many truths of life. I could now understand why the festival of Christmas was so important. Every festival comes with its share of joys and festivities, but in all of these are hidden meanings which need to be realized for real celebration.
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God can be defined as a supreme power, who decides to do things in his own fashion. I always wonder how human beings could know the time of his descent on Earth. Be it the birth of Jesus or Lord Krishna, it is popularly said that due to threat of the evil powers, God also used the power to confuse time. But the motive superseded anything else. The motive to wipe out all evil from society. It is widely believed, the birth of Jesus Christ took place in a manger, surrounded by farm animals. However, there is mention of a manger in except in Luke 2:7, which says, "She wrapped him in cloths and placed him on a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."
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<b>So a lesson could be learned is: Whenever there is the rise of evil, a divine power comes in some form to eliminate it.</b>
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<b>When was Jesus born?</b>
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For centuries, it has been fairly accepted that Christmas or 25th December was the actual date on which Jesus was born. But from the early 18th century there were debates about the exact date of birth of Christ. Famed scientist Issac Newton proposed that the present date of Christmas was adopted so that it could correspond with the Roman’s winter solstice, called ‘bruma’. Paul Ernst Jablonski, a German protestant said in 1743, that 25th December was chosen to correspond the Roman Solar holiday and was therefore a ‘paganisation’ of the church. Taking excerpts from Wikipedia, according to the Judeo-Christian tradition, the creation of the Lord occurred on March 25th of the Roman calendar, which is now celebrated as Annunciation. In 1889, Louis Duchesne suggested that the date of Christmas was calculated as nine months after Annunciation, the traditional date of the conception of Jesus.
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The date of 25th December could have been selected by the Church of Rome sometime in the early 4th century. During this time, the church created a calendar and also holidays were placed according to the solar dates. It is cosmic symbolism which inspired the Church leadership in Rome to elect the winter solstice, December 25, as the birthday of Christ, and the summer solstice as that of John the Baptist, supplemented by the equinoxes as their respective dates of conception.
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According to the old Julian Calendar, Russian Orthodox Church celebrated Christmas on 7th of January whereas in Greece the Western Church, Epiphany (6th of January) is dedicated to the commemoration of three events: (1) the baptism of Jesus; (2) the visit of the Wisemen to Bethlehem, and (3) the miracle of Cana (the changing of the water into wine). So on this date the Church in these countries celebrated the manifestation of Christ to the world and His power to perform miracles.
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But it is not important if the 25th December was the day of birth of the Lord, what’s important is our belief in the Lord, who came on this earth in human form to efface evil from society and to atone for the sins perpetuated by humanity.
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Christmas has also another reason to be celebrated in winters. Winter festival was the most popular festival of the year in many cultures. It was because since agricultural work could not be done during the winter, people decided to indulge in festivities and also prayed to God for a better spring, so that agricultural produce might be good. Modern Christmas customs include: gift-giving and merrymaking from Roman Saturnalia; greenery, lights, and charity from the Roman New Year; and Yule logs and various foods from Germanic feasts. Pagan Scandinavia celebrated a winter festival called Yule, held in the late December to early January period.
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<b>So a lesson could be learned – Belief can move mountains & faith makes all things possible.</b>
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<b>Decoration</b>
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Decorations at Christmas have a long history. According to Wikipedia from pre-Christian times, people in the Roman Empire brought branches from evergreen plants indoors in the winter. Decorating with greenery was also part of Jewish tradition: "Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. " (Leviticus 23:40). The houses are decorated with heart-shaped ivys, mistletoes, holly and anything green. The heart shaped ivy signifies the Lord’s descent on earth and the hollys are used for protection against pagans and witches.
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<b>So a lesson could be extracted is- Even God understood the importance of nature.</b>
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<b>Carols</b>
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It is in the 4th Century Rome, that the Christmas hymns or Carols as we call it today believed to be composed. Latin hymns such as Veni redemptor gentium, written by Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, were austere statements on the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Corde natus ex Parentis (Of the Father's love begotten) by the Spanish poet Prudentius is still sung in some churches today.
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By the end of the 13th century, the Carols in their native language found acceptance in countries like France, Germany, Italy etc. In English it was to make its first appearance in the year 1426. The carols were originally folk songs sung during harvest festivities as well as on Christmas. It was only later that carols began to be sung in church also.
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<b>So the lesson to be learned is- Everyday prayers have lots of hidden meaning to enlighten our life…we just need to understand them.</b>
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<b>Gifts and Feasts</b>
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A handful of chocolates or anything which can surprise you the most, be it from the Santa or from anyone of your well-wishers, always acts as a catalyst of success and progress in life.
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Initially, a jolly, well nourished person by the name of Father Christmas, who typified the spirit of good cheer at Christmas, predated the Santa Claus character. But his character was associated more with merry making and drunkenness rather than bringing gifts. But in Britain his character was morphed to match that of Santa Claus, a person who brings joys, and gifts during Christmas.
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<b>So the lesson to be learned is: Gifts or rewards are something which boost self confidence of anyone in this world…thank God for making friends and well-wishers.</b>
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The debate on spirituality and superstition will always remain as good and evil will never be wiped out from the world or from the soul of a body. It is very essential to fix a day for various different activities, be it work or celebration. Symmetry can make things easier to understand by a mass. There is no point fighting over what date the Lord came on earth and why we celebrate a particular festival on a given day. It is just a day to remember why these people came to earth and ring in joys, festivity and prayer for him. Celebrating these days would be fruitful only if remember what they wanted to teach us. Only if we give ourselves to good and try to be keep away evil from our life.



First Published: Friday, December 17, 2010 - 22:23

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