A Christmas Disclaimer

Truth in advertising, and the desire for a more informed seasonal experience, requires the following qualification be added to all claims or representations regarding Christmas:  Jesus wasn’t born on December 25.  In reality, we have no idea when that event occurred.  There’s nothing wrong with December 25.  If you want to celebrate the birth of Jesus, it’s been the day of choice for most Christians since the Fourth Century.  But the Eastern Orthodox celebrate on January 6, and Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate at all.  There’s more than one holiday option.

This uncertainty is because the earliest Christians didn’t care enough about the date to get the facts straight.  The Gospels of Matthew and Luke, with their differing birth stories, provide conflicting information.  Luke connects the birth to a census conducted by Quirinius in 6 CE.  Matthew dates the birth to several years before the death of Herod in 4 BCE.  So, who knows?  Chances are Jesus was born six to eight years prior to the year zero, and the month is anybody’s guess.

The initial followers of Jesus, in fact, preserved few biographical details of any kind about the man they called messiah.  We have no idea what Jesus looked like, or what he did prior to the age of thirty, or what happened to his family.  We can’t even prove he existed, beyond all historical doubt.  Nothing about Jesus can be verified.  But those details were unimportant to the first Christians who believed Christ was returning soon.  If the millennial kingdom was shortly to be ruled by a triumphant Christ, birthdays and other data didn’t matter.

Not until the time of Constantine, and four hundred years without a second coming, did Christianity finally create a holiday.  The Roman festival of the Winter Solstice was adopted as a celebration for Christ’s birth.  The darkest day of the year gives way to the light of the world, plus you get to have a giant party.

We can always wish the first followers were more careful about preserving the life and teachings of the Master.  An authorized biography would have been nice, a la Steve Jobs, including the cooperation of family members.  Did a woman about to deliver really ride a donkey for seventy miles?  Who actually showed up at the birthing room: magi, shepherds, or no one at all?  Mary might have even told us the low-down about her conception.

But that’s not the situation.  We don’t know what happened, any more than December 25 is literally connected to Jesus.  So, enjoy the holiday.  Have a bash.  Whether you’re celebrating the solstice, or the birth, or your family, or simply a day off, make it memorable.  Exchange gifts and have a feast.

Why you’re celebrating is up to you.  The day serves more than one purpose, and has since the beginning.  Complaints that Christ is no longer part of Christmas are as artificial as the holiday itself.  Similarly, pretending Jesus was born in December doesn’t make someone a Christian.  That depends on how you live the rest of the year, no more and no less.

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About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

One Response to “A Christmas Disclaimer”

  1. at least it snows to clean for a while, then it gets dirty as usual. merry christmas!

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