The real meaning of Christmas? My discussion on BBC Radio Ulster

by Michael Nugent on December 22, 2015

I discussed the real meaning of Christmas on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback with Pastor Paul Burns and host Conor Bradford.

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1 emmanuel December 25, 2015 at 1:14 pm

Michael,
A joyful peaceful and happy Christmas to you. I hear you where back on the Radio talking about Christmas. I didn’t if you know the following but I hope you read on and do some further research in your own time.

The word Christmas” is a word with its origins in the term “Christ’s Mass” and comes from the Middle English Cristemasse, literally “Christian mass”. (so its not as ancient as you think) which is from Old English Crīstesmæsse, and first recorded in 1038 followed by the word Cristes-messe in 1131. Crīst (genitive Crīstes) is from Greek Khrīstos (Χριστός), a translation of Hebrew Māšîaḥ (מָשִׁיחַ), “Messiah”, meaning “anointed”; and mæsse is from Latin missa, which means mass. “Xmas” is an abbreviation of Christmas found particularly in print, based on the initial letter chi (Χ) in Greek Khrīstos (Χριστός), “Christ”.

I have heard many Christians and non believers claim that the date of Christmas was intended to provide an alternative to pagan festivals. Its become a wee bit of a pious legend. Of the many deities of only three can be found to come close: Saturn, Sol Invictus (Unconquered Sun), and Mithras.

Saturnalia established around 220 B.C., this feast was originally celebrated on December 17. Then the feast was extended to last an entire week, ending on December 23. The supposed connection to Christmas is based on the proximity of the two festivals to each other. However the early Church Fathers with their new formed communities refused to worship at these festivals or honour these deities to do so would be to deny Jesus.

The festivals of Sol Invictus was the attempt by the Roman emperor Aurelian to reform the cult of Sol, and reintroduce it to his people, inaugurating Sol’s temple and holding games for the first time in A.D. 274. Not only was this festival not annual, it also cannot be historically documented as having been established on December 25 by the emperor.

Mithraists believed that mithras and sol were two different manifestations of the same god. Ancient art works link sol and Mithras. It often appears that they are two deities united as one and difficult to understand given that there is limited knowledge of the belief system of Mithras. Some sceptics claim the birthday of mithras was December 25. The Problem for the Skeptic is that no evidence to suggest that the Emperor was a mithraist.

In the ‘Chronogrpahy of 354’ (the earliest mention of any deities being celebrated on December 25) the birth of Christ is mentioned as having been celebrated on that day. I think you will see it diminishes the likelihood that the pagan festivals came first and does away with the claim that history proves December 25 predates the Christian tradition of the birth of the Saviour.

Christ’s birth is not given to in Scripture. There is documented evidence that December 25 was already of some significance to Christians before 354 AD. One example is to be found in the writings of Hyppolytus of Rome, (in his Commentary on the book of Daniel c. 204AD) that the Lord’s birth was believed to have occurred on that day:

“For the first advent of our Lord in the flesh, when he was born in Bethlehem, was December 25th, Wednesday, while Augustus was in his forty-second year, but from Adam, five thousand and five hundred years. He suffered in the thirty-third year, March 25, Friday, the eighteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, while Rufus and Roubellion were Consuls.”

Christ’s birth (incarnation and the promise of a Saviour) was decided by using as a starting point the same day on which he was believed to have died (the Saviour saving us from our sins.) The connection of creation and the Cross.

The reference to Adam should be understood in light of another of Hyppolytus’ writings the “Chronicon” Here he explains that Jesus was born nine months after the anniversary of Creation. Also Christ being the second Adam the one who restores creation. According to his calculations, the world was created on the vernal equinox, March 25, which would mean Jesus was born nine months later, on December 25. That’s why for the Catholic the dates of March 25 is so important as a liturgy feast day and of the huge significance.

The liturgical scholar Louis Duchesne in his book ‘Christian Worship, Its Origin and Evolution’ explains that “towards the end of the third century the custom of celebrating the birthday of Christ had spread throughout the whole Church, but that it was not observed everywhere on the same day” In the West, the birth of Christ was celebrated on December 25, and in the East on January 6 sometimes called little Christmas of the three kings day.

So where does that leave January 6 as a choice for the dated of Christmas to Eastern Catholics? Again the date of Christ’s birth was used as a starting point for the date. This would explain the discrepancies between the celebrations in the East and West.

To summary up the choosing of the date December 25 close to other pagan festivals is not proof of mimic or copying those festivals. Various Pagan religions had festivals right through the calendar. The early Church Fathers distance themselves and their churches from following pagan customs.

That was long if you read to here thank you for hearing me out! Merry Christmas!

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