How do you celebrate Christmas? Pew Research provided some noteworthy U.S. statistics regarding the holiday (Holy Day).
Christmas today is celebrated by 96 percent of Christians. Over 80 percent of non-Christians celebrate the day. Included in the latter group are 76 percent of Asian American Buddhists, 73 percent of Hindus, and 32 percent of Jews who celebrate Christmas.
These groups of merrymakers naturally have contrasting theories as to what Christmas celebration represents. Close to 65 percent of Christians see Christmas as a “religious holiday,” while the majority of non-Christian see it as a “cultural event.”
Many say they celebrate Christmas to honor the birthday of Jesus. The nativity scene (crèche) is a common decoration for churches and Christian homes who celebrate.
Others celebrate because they’ve celebrated Christmas since childhood. It’s a joyful sharing and giving tradition. It’s a great time for family get-togethers. There’s always a superabundance of treats for the eyes and ears and nose and taste buds – and heart. And the list goes on and on.
What’s wrong with either of these celebrations? Not one thing.
However it’s important to be mindful of December 25 not being the actual birthday of Jesus. The 25th is simply a date that was decided by a pope 356 years after the death of Jesus.
Below is how Christmas came to be set on December 25, borrowing a bit from a 2005 column, “So this is Christmas” that I wrote for the Kingston Community News. The information hasn’t changed in the last 11years that I’m aware of.
It’s easy to forget that Christmas traditions have roots in older beliefs and have been shaped over time by many factors.
“Saturnalia,” a boisterous Roman winter solstice festival honoring Saturn, god of agriculture, is a predecessor to many Christmas traditions.
The “Mithraic” winter solstice festival honoring the birthday of Mithra, god of light, was a strong competitor for early Christianity. Mithra is from the Zoroastrian scriptures, Zoroastrian Cosmology being the precursor to Islam.
“Winter Solstice” (Yule) dates back to the Celts and Saxons, and even back to the dawn of modern civilization. As you know, in the northern hemisphere, when the tilt of the earth leans away from the sun, days are shorter, nights are longer. Ancient people feared the sun would not return if they failed to honor it with enthusiastic celebration.
Traditions of the yule log, yule wreath, decorated yule tree, mistletoe, holly, sacred candles, carols, wassailing, and giving gifts – all originated with the celebration-rites of winter solstice.
Pope Julius I declared December 25 the day of Christ’s birthday in 354 AD. Some say the date of the winter solstice was chosen to make it easier for pagan Romans, who remained a majority at that time, to convert to Christianity.
The difference between December 21 (the modern winter solstice date) and December 25, (the date observed long ago) is a result of changing from the older Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar.
Puritan Oliver Cromwell outlawed Christmas in the early 17th century because of pagan traditions being used in Christmas celebrations. Martin Luther had begun the Protestant Reformation a century before.
In Boston, Puritans outlawed Christmas in 1659, and later reinstated it after the American Revolution. Christmas was declared a federal holiday by 1890.
Saint Nicholas, in Netherlands Christmas, rode a white horse through the sky. An elf named “Black Peter” who punished bad children accompanied him.
“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” (1823) introduced the first fully secularized Santa Claus.
So – whoever you are and whatever you happen to believe in – happy merrymaking to those who are able to partake on this most splendid of days.
Marylin Olds is an opinion columnist. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.