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Christianity Today recently published an opinion piece entitled, “What Forgotten Christmas Tradition Should Churches Revive?” Three people, Patricia Raybon, Larry Eskridge, and Lore Ferguson, shared their candidate traditions, and one of the three struck a chord with me. Lore Ferguson writes about the tradition of the twelve days of Christmas (like in that song kids love to sing every year).

In churches which follow a liturgical calendar, December 25 is only the first day of Christmas. On the church calendar, Christmas is a season. Technically, December 25 is not called “Christmas” (that being the name of the season) but the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. Christmas is the period from December 25 through January 5 inclusive; those are the twelve days of Christmas. January 6, the day following the season of Christmas, is Epiphany, the feast which commemorates the visit of the magi, or wise men, to Jesus, and by extension celebrates the revelation of Jesus to the gentiles. (You can read my reflection for Epiphany here.) Ms. Ferguson’s recommendation is that we should revive the celebration of Christmas as a season — give it twelve full days. One day isn’t enough for the love expressed in the incarnation or for the joy of receptive hearts. With this I totally agree. Read the rest of this entry »

The exact date of the birth of Jesus is unknown. The Bible gives very little information about the birth, and certainly does not give a date, yet for centuries Christmas has been celebrated on 25 December. How was this date chosen? Every year we hear someone state that the date was taken from pagan holidays, particularly the Roman Saturnalia festival which occurred in late December or the winter solstice celebrations of northern Europeans. The idea is that early Christians co-opted the pagan holidays to ease the transition of the people from pagan religions to Christianity. This theory is very popular and is generally taken as historical fact by people who care about why this date was chosen. However, the theory is almost certainly incorrect. Our celebration of Christmas on 25 December is probably due to a somewhat arcane theology about the passion and death of Jesus. Andrew McGowan, President and Dean of the Berkeley Divinity School, published an article which expounds the reasoning for choosing 25 December. The article, “How December 25 Became Christmas,” originally appeared in Bible Review, December 2002. It is available on the Biblical Archaeology web site as part of the Bible History Daily series. It is an interesting article and worth reading by anyone who is curious as to why this particular date was chosen.