Another Check On The ‘To Do’ List
As promised two weeks ago, Bubba addresses the question from Carey Prosperie at my gym of why Christmas falls on Dec. 25. Thanks to Carey we're almost out of space for me to write anything decent and Bubba's answer is complete, as usual.
Plus, I'm really busy today since it is not only Mother's Day but also my mom's birthday and my son Cal's 21st birthday. The only thing that could make it any busier would be if Mrs. Boylan called for an impromptu choir concert this afternoon for the junior high choir. Being that it is Mother's Day, I hope she is resting in an appropriate fashion.
For that matter, Happy Mother's Day to all the mamas out there. Especially the mom of the lady who stopped my wife in Dillard's this week to say her mother is a regular reader of Chloe, Bubba and me.
With summer upon us, I am getting one more thing off my "to do" list. My book club members have long discussed the need for us to come up with a list of "summer books" everyone should read. This is the kind of book you should see your bare feet over and could involve a beach towel and even a cold drink with an umbrella to shade the ice.
What is the most important book or books anyone should read this or any summer? Your answers will be compiled into a list and shared with the readers of this column, my book club and the Henderson County Literary Society where I was a recent guest speaker.
Prizes may be involved and will be awarded based on timeliness of answers, originality and anything else the judges determine important.
Please send your answers to "Summer Books" by email to email@example.com
if you want the U.S. Postal service to lose another $3.2 billion in the next quarter or by mail to 410 W. Erwin, Tyler, Texas 75702 or by fax to 903-596-6344.
Next week Bubba has promised to address the question of why we celebrate Easter when we do and who determines it.
Here is his dissertation on Christmas being on Dec. 25
Well, I have been asked to address some questions regarding the origins of certain high Holy Days and their timing. Great. That shouldn't be controversial. Apparently this all started when someone asked Nelson why we celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25.
As I'm sure you readers have already surmised, nobody asks that question unless they are prepared to argue about the answer. So, if you are the guy who asked the question, please read to the end before you start preparing your response. And I'm not going to get to Easter this time; I'll save that one for another day.
I, for one, have heard over the years a number of explanations as to how Christmas came to be celebrated so near to the winter solstice. But to try and explain why we celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, and, when I say 'we' I must apologize to any Armenian, Russian Orthodox or Greek Orthodox in the listening area.
You see, in Belarus, Egypt, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Russia, and the Ukraine, Christmas is celebrated on Jan. 7. Oh, and in Armenia it is usually celebrated on Jan. 6. As Nelson mentioned, this minor difference of 12 days to two weeks has to do with whether you fell for that whole "Gregorian calendar" farce or if you decided to stick with the traditional Julian calendar for your holiday planning.
Funny thing, in Germany the Gregorian calendar was adopted by the German Catholics in 1584 but not by the German Protestants until 1700. Hard heads over there in Germany. You see, in 1585 Pope Gregory XIII, was trying to straighten out some differences between the Julian Calendar and the actual astrological passage of time, so on Thursday, Oct. 4, 1582, he ended the Julian calendar and declared that the next day would be Friday, Oct. 15, 1582. The banks and credit card companies loved it. Those who did not follow the Pope, on the other hand, didn't seem to think it was such a great idea, hence the difference in the Christmas celebration dates between sects.
Anyway, the difference between the two calendars doesn't really answer the question of how we came up with the general idea that Jesus was born around the end of December to the beginning of January. To do justice to this question would really take something more akin to a dissertation than an article, but I'll give it a shot. You see, the biggest part of the problem with us trying to celebrate Jesus' birthday is that no one actually recorded what day he was born. I know. Weird.
In fact, if you read through the Bible, as I am sure you all do, you will notice that they don't talk much about anybody's birthday. Whereas our culture loves to celebrate our own birthdays and those of dead presidents and other famous people, the early Christians didn't really go for that. In fact, the early Christians didn't celebrate Jesus' birthday at all, to our knowledge. The first recorded mentions of celebrations of Christmas were from around 200 A.D., so for a good while Christmas didn't really exist.
Christmas really took off when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 313 A.D. In the following years Constantine decided that celebrating the birth of the Savior would be a good thing, the first mention of using the date of Dec. 25 was seen in 335 A.D. It was actually Pope Julius, in 350 A.D., who 'declared' that Christmas would be on Dec. 25, which pretty much put the whole thing to bed.
Now that we kind of know where the celebration started, the next logical question is "where did they come up with that?" And this is where the conjecture comes in. Well, first there were the Donatists, a North African Christian sect who were noted by St. Augustine to have been celebrating Jesus' birth on December 25th for some time.
The Donatists' were a group that had no love for the Romans and had kept alive many celebrations that were frowned upon by their Roman overlords. The Donatists were a hardcore group who had refused to denounce their Christian faith under intense persecution.
This is important because many folks today would say that Christmas was just created by Christians stealing the celebration of Saturnalia from the Romans. I'm pretty sure the Donatists would have none of that, if it was Roman, they didn't like it.
There is also a document called the "Chronography of 354 A.D." which refers to December 25th as the celebration of Jesus' birth. However, being as how it had already been declared as such by Constantine and Pope Julius, this is more of a confirmation than 'best evidence.'
What we also know about Jesus' birth is that his Mom and Dad were headed over to Bethlehem for a head count. In those days a census would often coincide with a festival where people would be getting together anyway, in this case possibly the Feast of the Tabernacles which would have been around Tishri 15.
Here we would have to use the Hebrew Calendar (I know, we haven't discussed this, sorry) and find that Tishri 15 would be around September 30th or thereabouts, back in year 1. Had this date been adopted, it would have caused havoc with school calendars and college football bowl scheduling. I guess we lucked out that this one never got traction.
There is another fellow, Tertullian of Carthage, who back in 200 A.D. came up with the date of the 14th of Nisan (Hebrew calendar) or around March 25th. Then there is Clement of Alexandria, who around the same time said that it might be on the 25th day of Pachon (Egyptian calendar, I'm not going there) or May 20th, which would be nice because we could open presents out by the pool.
There are also guesses of the 25th of Phamenoth (Egyptian) or March 21, or maybe the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi which would be April 20 or 21. Lots of options from a lot of guys who were pretty dadgum smart and spent a lot of time and effort trying to figure this one out.
Unfortunately, nobody saved the birth announcement that Mary and Joseph sent out when they brought baby Jesus home, so we just aren't going to know until we get to heaven and ask.
There you go, all cleared up. I apologize for not going into great depth on whether or not Christmas was scheduled on December 25th to co-opt a Pagan holiday, I just ran out of time. But, here's the deal, I would like to explain, in depth, my personal feelings about whether or not December 25th is the actual birthday of Jesus, and those feelings are: I don't care. I know, you were probably looking for some grand defense of Jesus' traditional birthday and maybe a little grandstanding here at the finish about the superiority of the Gregorian calendar. But the truth is, I think that knowing what day Jesus birthday actually falls on is a whole lot less important than knowing why he was born.
If the date of his birth were something that God really wanted us to know he probably would have gotten some guys to write it down in that Book and He didn't. As far as what day Jesus was actually born, that's something we can all argue about when we get through loving our neighbors, feeding the poor and spreading the good news, which He did put in the Book, several times. He did, however, send his only Son to die for a bunch of undeserving rascals like us, because he loved us that much and I think that's the more important part.