Thursday, December 25, 2014

Why This Day?

Like most religious holidays, especially ones that have become a piece of commercialized pop culture, it is interesting to look at the roots of the Christmas holiday and basically how it came to fall on this particular day in December. It seems that almost from the very beginning, the selection of this date has been a marketing play to ensure the success of the holiday and the spread of the religion. And you can’t really blame the early church for doing this because of the simple fact that it works. This theory is summarized on Wikipedia in the follow passage:

One theory to explain the choice of 25 December for the celebration of the birth of Jesus is that the purpose was to Christianize the pagan festival in Rome of the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti means "the birthday of the Unconquered Sun", a festival inaugurated by the Roman emperor Aurelian (270–275) to celebrate the sun god and celebrated at the winter solstice, 25 December. According to this theory, during the reign of the emperor Constantine, Christian writers assimilated this feast as the birthday of Jesus, associating him with the 'sun of righteousness' mentioned in Malachi 4:2 (Sol Iustitiae).

An explicit expression of this theory appears in an annotation of uncertain date added to a manuscript of a work by 12th-century Syrian bishop Jacob Bar-Salibi. The scribe who added it wrote: "It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25 December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day." This idea became popular especially in the 18th and 19th centuries.

It is interesting in the origins and evolution of the holiday that the, for lack of a better term, mood of the holiday has changed so drastically back and forth over the centuries. What was once a means of celebration to rival that of a pagan holiday transformed into a day of reverential awe. Now we find ourselves, regardless of our own particular faith, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the season which are downright joyous. And while it is no longer my holiday of choice the messages of peace, love, family, appreciation, and joy are universal and should be embraced by all. And for everything else there is always Festivus!