Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Born nearly two thousands years ago, Christians believe Him to be son of God. Whether Jesus was really born on December 25th , no one can say for certain. It was chosen because it already was a holiday in ancient times-a pagan feast. But pagans did not believe in Jesus. Around the third century there was an attempt to fix the day of His birth by tying it to a festival of the Nativity kept in Rome in the time of Bishop Telesphours (between A.D. 127 and 139). Some Christmas observances of the Roman Church are said to be of Bishop Telesphorus" appointment. There was also a story of Christians being massacred in the catacombs on the day of the Nativity between A.D. 300, a similar event is said to have taken place at Nicomedia in the reign of Diocletian. Neither of these stories seem reliable as a measure of the day Christ was born.
It was believed the Nativity took place, indeed, on the 25th of the month; but which month was uncertain and every month at one time or another has been assigned. During the time of Clement and Alexandria (before 220) five dates in three different months of the Egyptian year were said to be Nativity. One of those corresponds to the December 25th date. During the third century, it was a common belief that Christ was born on the winter solstice based on an interpetation of some prophetic scriptures and an idea that the Annunciation and the Crucifixion both occured on the same day-March 25th. Another third century set of writings. The Apostolic Constitutions, indicate the Apostles ordained that the feast be kept on the 25th day. Of the ninth month which, at that time meant December. The works of John Selden, published in 1661, suggested that in the early Christian ages the winter solstice fell on the 8th of the Calends of January, that is, December 25th , though not accepted universally by modern day students who put the day between the end of July and the end of October.
The Roman Church finally fixed December 25th as the birthday of Jesus Christ after the great persecution that took place around A.D. 310; which connects the visitation of the wise men from the East, being celebrated twelve days later. Though questioned for several generations by the Eastern Church, the Roman day became universal in the fifth century.
Symbols of Christmas
The Christmas Star
The most Christians the Christmas star is symbolic of Jesus, who is often called "the bright and morning star". Ancient people looked upon stars as gods are created myths about them. Before there was Christmas, stars held importance in ancient religion. The Babylonians used three stars to represent a god. The Egyptians believed that certain gods controlled different stars and constellations. The six-pointed star of David became the symbol of the Hebrew nation. The North American Blackfoot Indian believed that every star was at one time a human being. The Great Bear and the Little Bear are still worshiped by the Berber tribes of Africa today. But the five-pointed star of Christmas holds center stage. It is appearance is recorded in the Bible in the New Testament which says it appeared over Bethlehem and served as a guiding light to lead the wise men to the Christ child.
The Christmas Tree
Evergreens have been a part of mid-winter festivals long before Christ. They played a symbolic part because they stayed green and alive when other plants appeared dead and bare. They represented everlasting life and hope for the return of spring. Primitive European tribes hung evergreens about their doors to offer the wandering winter spirits shelter within their homes in hopes of receiving good fortune and good health in return. The Romans decorated their homes with the greens at the Festival of Saturnalia and at the Kalends of January, their New Year. They exchanged evergreen branches with friend as a sign of good luck. The Druids viewed evergreens as sacred, a symbol of life itself. When Christmas came about, we incorporated, rather than dismissed, many of these practices as Christmas customs. Of course, this was done only if these activities and items were consider harmless and availed themselves to a Christian interpretation.
Ancient Festivals Coinciding with Christmas
Hundreds of years before Christ several other festivals were held in different parts of the world. These celebrations seemed to all occur at some point during the winter solstice, the time at which the earth makes its shortest journey around the sun. Ancient people worshiped the sun and those in the northern hemisphere feared that the sun got had forsaken the as the days gref shorter. They soon felt there would be no light or life left on earth if the got didn"t relent and allow the days and light to return and, of course it did. Around december 22nd we have our shortest days and it was at this time that the people of northern Europe would build great fires and kindle lights to encourage the sun god to relight his lamp. There was much feasting and rejoicing as the days grew longer for now spring would come and life would flourish
It was the same time that the Romans paid homage to Saturn, the god of agriculture, with their Saturnalia festival. This festival was celebrated for a week to mark a legendary Golden Age when Saturn ruled the world. Men and woman with garrlands on their heads and carrying lighted candles processed through the streets giving candles and green wreaths as presents. Slaves and masters changed roles and class distinctions were forgotten. The poor feasted as equals and took part in all the frivolity, dancing and games.
In the Jewish month of Kislev, which falls in December, the Feast of the Dedication(Hanukkah) celebrated the rededication of Salomon"s temple after it had been polluted by Antiochus and recovered by the valor of the Massabees. This festival is sometimes called the Feast of Lights and it is usual to burn great quantities of lamps and candles as emblems of the Light of Truth, rekindled after it had been obscured by heathens.