The true meaning of Christmas(‘s date)

nativityCommon knowledge has it that many years ago, some Pope picked December 25 in order to eclipse Pagan celebrations. I myself believed this for a while, but it turns out this particular theory lacks any early witnesses to it, which is enough to kill it for me. Besides, the true story is weirder, which is another point in its favor.

Back in 200AD, Tertullian reported the date of the crucifixion as March 25, a calculation that seems to have been widely accepted. This, of course, is precisely 9 months before December 25. The idea is that Jesus’ death and his conception must have been on the same day. As Augustine put it, “[Jesus] is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since. But he was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th.”

The Eastern church used much the same method, but arrived at January 6 instead because they were using a different calendar. Armenians still celebrate Christmas on this date. This way of thinking is odd to our modern minds, which are much more comfortable with the idea of picking dates to steal other people’s holidays, but “early”1 Christians would have been more influenced by ancient Jewish notions that great events could be expected almost cyclically, at the same of year.

Read here for more details.

1 We don’t see references to Christmas’s date until the fourth century. Compared to us, these are indeed early Christians, but keep in mind that you yourself are seperated from America’s founding by just over 200 years. If a man in 300AD is an early Christian, then you are an early American2, and so are your descendants 100 years from now.

2 Unless, this being the internet, you’re not an American at all. Just go with it.

Hate is strong and mocks the song of “Peace on Earth”

There is no peace on earthIt’s Christmas time, and therefore Christmas music time. On a lark, I went to Grooveshark and pulled up about a dozen different renditions of the superb “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

Awful, all of them. Even Johnny Cash fell short. Elvis came the closest, but in the end, only Casting Crowns has gotten this one right. Any version of this song which qualifies as “easy listening” is an abomination, and sadly that seems to be how the carol has been performed up until very recently.

The poem Christmas Bells is decidedly not easy listening. It is written by a man who had watched his wife burn to death in front of him. It is about his son, who has been severely wounded far from home, and may never return. It is about the brutal enslavement of millions of human beings. It is about the worst war in the country’s history, pitting brother against brother and tearing a still-new nation apart. It is about defiantly declaring “Peace on Earth” despite all of this.

It is about Christmas.

Christ did not come to offer an easy, flowery peace. He came to die. Christmas is the story of an invasion into enemy territory. Christ offers the peace of a good fight fought to the death, long past any hope of success, and yet won all the same. It absurdly declares “peace on earth” as innocents are slaughtered, just as the bells madly declared “peace” when the country was hopeless divided in civil war.

God is not dead, nor does He sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!