During the holiday season, should you say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”? It seems some retailers have switched to the politically correct Happy Holidays, resulting in badly written online petitions to the US Congress to put Christ back in Christmas.
But Christ was never there in Christmas to begin with. There is no evidence in the Bible. There is no extra-biblical evidence for a Dec 25th birthday. In 200 C.E. there was confusion regarding Yeshua’s birthday: it could have been 28th August, May 20th, or April 15th. The popular theory is that Christians appropriated a pagan festival — the mid-winter Saturnalia festival of the Romans.
A new theory suggests that the date of Dec 25 came, not just from pagan traditions, but also from the Jewish belief that creation and redemption happen at the same time.
The Babylonian Talmud preserves a dispute between two early-second-century C.E. rabbis who share this view, but disagree on the date: Rabbi Eliezer states: In Nisan the world was created; in Nisan the Patriarchs were born; on Passover Isaac was born…and in Nisan they [our ancestors] will be redeemed in time to come. (The other rabbi, Joshua, dates these same events to the following month, Tishri.)14 Thus, the dates of Christmas and Epiphany may well have resulted from Christian theological reflection on such chronologies: Jesus would have been conceived on the same date he died, and born nine months later.
In the end we are left with a question: How did December 25 become Christmas? We cannot be entirely sure. Elements of the festival that developed from the fourth century until modern times may well derive from pagan traditions. Yet the actual date might really derive more from Judaismfrom Jesus death at Passover, and from the rabbinic notion that great things might be expected, again and again, at the same time of the yearthan from paganism. Then again, in this notion of cycles and the return of Gods redemption, we may perhaps also be touching upon something that the pagan Romans who celebrated Sol Invictus, and many other peoples since, would have understood and claimed for their own too.[How December 25 Became Christmas]
With that note, this blog is taking rest of the year off. Regular programming will resume in January. Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.