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10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Christmas

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Bruce Forbes is the author of Christmas: A Candid History and a professor of religious studies at Morningside College. We asked him to list 10 things everyone should know about Christmas. 1. We do not know the month or day when Jesus was born. Nothing in the Bible tells us. Many Christians in the early centuries and even today have tried to figure it out, and some have offered arguments supporting dates in March, April, May, and November, but we simply do not know. 2. The earliest Christians did not have an annual celebration of Jesus’ birth. Today, Christians see Christmas and Easter as the two most important celebrations of the Christian year, but in the first two or three centuries it was all about Easter — Christians emphasized the death and resurrection of Christ, not his birth. And, again, it is hard to have a birthday party for someone if you do not know the date he was born. 3. It is unclear why Christians started a birthday celebration on December 25. The earliest written documents showing that Christians were observing December 25 as an annual remembrance of the birth of Jesus are from the 300s. It would be nice if we had some document from an emperor or a pope that said, “This year is when we are going to start having a birthday party for Jesus, and this is why we chose that date,” but we don’t. What we do know is that the date they chose was right in the middle of three pre-existing Roman winter parties: Saturnalia, a late-harvest festival in mid-December; Kalends, a five-day party at the beginning of January; and in between, December 25, the birthday of Mithras, some kind of fusion of a sun god and a warrior god. Whether Christians chose this date in order to change the meaning of the birth of a sun god to “God the Son,” to co-opt its popularity, to compete with it, or to tame the Roman celebrations (as various theories have it), Christmas was from the very beginning a combination of a day of Christian meaning and a season of winter celebrations. 4. The 12 days of Christmas do not end on Christmas Day; they start there. When the western Christian church began celebrating the birth of Jesus, the eastern Christian church already had an observance — Epiphany — in early January, remembering the many ways that Jesus revealed himself to the world, starting with his birth. So December 25 became the day to remember the nativity, and January 6 — 12 days later — became a remembrance of the arrival of the three wise men. Technically, in the historical church calendar, those 12 days are the Christmas season. 5. Christmas means “Christ’s Mass.” Christmas, the common term used in the English language to refer to the annual celebration of the nativity of Jesus, comes from the middle ages and refers to Christ’s Mass, a special worship service honoring his birth. 6. The Puritans opposed Christmas. The Puritans in England and New England opposed Christmas because they wanted to eliminate what they saw as unscriptural Catholic innovations and create a purer church. They said that the earliest Christians did not celebrate Christmas (which is true), and they felt that it had become an occasion for too much rowdy behavior. The punishments often were fines. Much of the general public still liked their holiday, but the lingering effects of Puritan opposition lasted for about 150 years, from the mid-1600s until the early 1800s. 7. In early America, Christians disagreed with each other about Christmas. In the American colonies, Christians who were influenced by the Puritans opposed or ignored Christmas, and that included Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Baptists, and Methodists. The Church of England (Episcopal) had restrained observances. However, immigrants from other nationalities who were not influenced by the Puritans happily continued their Christmas traditions, including Germans (Lutheran and Catholic), Dutch (Reformed), Scandinavian (again Lutheran), and others. Thus, in the colonies and in the early American nation, many people celebrated Christmas, but not all Christians, and the overall culture did not stop for it. School sessions were held on Christmas Day in parts of New England, and many businesses stayed open on Christmas Day. 8. It was not until the 1800s that Christmas became a huge national celebration in the United States. Christmas grew to be a more dominant holiday in the United States throughout the 1800s for several reasons, all of which are longer stories. Two influences were from England: the popularity of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, and the example of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and their children gathered around a Christmas tree. (Although an English royal couple, they were from German background.) Christmas became a more family-centered celebration in this time, and businesses increasingly recognized the commercial possibilities of selling products at Christmastime. Also in the 1800s, the traditional Saint Nicholas from European cultures morphed in several stages to become Santa Claus. All of the persons who influenced the transformation were American. The Christmas celebration became more widespread, but also more commercialized. 9. Gifts were not always as central to Christmas as they are now. Gift-giving has been a part of Christmas festivities throughout the centuries, but often it was token presents, and sometimes only for children. Even when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert gathered around a Christmas tree, the tree was shorter, sitting on a table, and the small presents either hung on the branches or were lying on the table in the limited space not occupied by the tree. Now, of course, trees can be floor to ceiling, with mountains of presents underneath. 10. Christmas was a latecomer to the tradition of winter parties. Well before the time of Jesus, early humans held mid-winter parties to cope with the cold and dark of the season, especially in the northern hemisphere. It makes sense that they would feature lights to push back the darkness (bonfires, burning logs, candles), evergreens that remained green when everything else seemed to have died, feasts to gather family and neighbors, and all kinds of festivities. Examples include the Saturnalia and Kalends in ancient Rome, and Jul or Yule in northern Europe. Typical characteristics of these winter parties (burning logs and candles, evergreens, feasts, etc.) are important parts of what we now call Christmas. Some people call this the “pagan roots of Christmas,” because pagan means non-Christian or pre-Christian. Some people fear that these historical roots taint Christmas with some connections to non-Christian religious activities. However, another view is to see that people coming together in the middle of winter in order to celebrate and survive — and to search for joy and meaning — is a common human impulse shared over many eras, cultures and religions.

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2 WHITE WOLF = "Jesus birthday is based on the sun starting a upward motion in the southern sky. dec 21 the sun stops dropping , dies in thevsky, three days later it startsto climb again, marking the beginning of a new birth of the sun. the sun dies and three days later rises again... many spiritual icons supposedly were born on dec 25th...    has everything to do with the sun... and stars..the three kings are accually stars that line up on the 25th and follows the setting sun on that day.... the Egyptians were very much into the stars and seasons..... ....."