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Christmas is both a sacred religious
holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon. For two millennia,
people around the world have been observing it with traditions and practices
that are both religious and secular in nature. Christians celebrate Christmas
Day as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a spiritual leader
whose teachings form the basis of their religion. Popular customs include
exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church, sharing meals
with family and friends and, of course, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive.
December 25–Christmas Day–has been a federal holiday in the United States since
 When was Jesus born?
  Popular myth puts his birth on December 25th in
the year 1 C.E.  The New Testament gives no date or year for Jesus’ birth. 
The earliest gospel – St. Mark’s, written about 65 CE – begins with the baptism
of an adult Jesus.  This suggests that the earliest Christians lacked
interest in or knowledge of Jesus’ birthdate.  The year of Jesus birth was determined by Dionysius Exiguus,
a Scythian monk, “abbot of a Roman monastery. 
His calculation went
as follows:
  •   In the Roman, pre-Christian era, years were counted
    from ab urbe condita (“the founding of the City”
    [Rome]).  Thus 1 AUC signifies the year Rome was founded, 5 AUC signifies
    the 5th year of Rome’s reign, etc.
  •      Dionysius received a tradition that the Roman emperor
    Augustus reigned 43 years, and was followed by the emperor Tiberius.
  •       Luke 3:1,23 indicates that when Jesus turned 30 years old,
    it was the 15th year of Tiberius reign.
  •      If Jesus was 30 years old in Tiberius’ reign, then he lived
    15 years under Augustus (placing Jesus birth in Augustus’ 28th year
    of reign).
  •        Augustus took power in 727 AUC.  Therefore, Dionysius
    put Jesus birth in 754 AUC.
  •        However, Luke 1:5 places Jesus’ birth in the days of Herod,
    and Herod died in 750 AUC – four years before the year in
    which Dionysius places Jesus birth.
     Joseph A. Fitzmyer – Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies
at the Catholic University of America, member of the Pontifical Biblical
Commission, and former president of the Catholic Biblical Association – writing
in the Catholic Church’s official commentary on the New Testament, writes about
the date of Jesus’ birth, “Though the year [of Jesus birth is not reckoned with
certainty, the birth did not occur in AD 1.  The Christian era, supposed
to have its starting point in the year of Jesus birth, is based on a
miscalculation introduced by Dionysius Exiguus.”    The DePascha Computus, an anonymous document
believed to have been written in North Africa around 243 CE, placed Jesus
birth on March 28.  Clement, a bishop of Alexandria (d. ca. 215 CE),
thought Jesus was born on November 18.  Based on historical records,
Fitzmyer guesses that Jesus birth occurred on September 11, 3 BCE.
    How Did Christmas Come to Be Celebrated on December 25
 Roman pagans first introduced the holiday of Saturnalia, a week
long period of lawlessness celebrated between December 17-25.  During this
period, Roman courts were closed, and Roman law dictated that no one could be
punished for damaging property or injuring people during the weeklong
celebration.  The festival began when Roman authorities chose “an enemy of
the Roman people” to represent the “Lord of Misrule.”  Each Roman
community selected a victim whom they forced to indulge in food and other
physical pleasures throughout the week.  At the festival’s conclusion,
December 25th, Roman authorities believed they were destroying the
forces of darkness by brutally murdering this innocent man or woman.
 The ancient Greek writer poet and historian Lucian (in his
dialogue entitled Saturnalia) describes the festival’s observance
in his time.  In addition to human sacrifice, he mentions these customs:
widespread intoxication; going from house to house while singing naked; rape
and other sexual license; and consuming human-shaped biscuits (still produced
in some English and most German bakeries during the Christmas season).
   In the 4th century CE, Christianity imported the
Saturnalia festival hoping to take the pagan masses in with it.  Christian
leaders succeeded in converting to Christianity large numbers of pagans by
promising them that they could continue to celebrate the Saturnalia as
  The problem was that there was nothing intrinsically Christian
about Saturnalia. To remedy this, these Christian leaders named Saturnalia’s
concluding day, December 25th, to be Jesus’ birthday.
     Christians had little success, however, refining the
practices of Saturnalia.  As Stephen Nissenbaum, professor history at the
University of Massachussetts, Amherst, writes, “In return for ensuring massive
observance of the anniversary of the Savior’s birth by assigning it to this
resonant date, the Church for its part tacitly agreed to allow the holiday to
be celebrated more or less the way it had always been.”  The earliest
Christmas holidays were celebrated by drinking, sexual indulgence, singing naked
in the streets (a precursor of modern caroling), etc.
  The Reverend Increase Mather of Boston observed in 1687 that
“the early Christians who  first observed the Nativity on December 25 did
not do so thinking that Christ was born in that Month, but because the
Heathens’ Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to
have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian ones.” Because of its
known pagan origin, Christmas was banned by the Puritans and its observance was
illegal in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681. However, Christmas was and still is celebrated by most
    Some of the most depraved customs of the Saturnalia carnival
were intentionally revived by the Catholic Church in 1466 when Pope Paul II,
for the amusement of his Roman citizens, forced Jews to race naked through the
streets of the city.  An eyewitness account reports, “Before they were to
run, the Jews were richly fed, so as to make the race more difficult for them
and at the same time more amusing for spectators.  They ran… amid Rome’s
taunting shrieks and peals of laughter, while the Holy Father stood upon a
richly ornamented balcony and laughed heartily.”
    As part of the Saturnalia carnival throughout the 18th and
19th centuries CE, rabbis of the ghetto in Rome were
forced to wear clownish outfits and march through the city streets to the jeers
of the crowd, pelted by a variety of missiles. When the Jewish community of
Rome sent a petition in1836 to Pope Gregory XVI begging him to stop the annual
Saturnalia abuse of the Jewish community, he responded, “It is not opportune to
make any innovation.”  On December 25, 1881, Christian leaders whipped the
Polish masses into Antisemitic frenzies that led to riots across the
country.  In Warsaw 12 Jews were brutally murdered, huge numbers maimed,
and many Jewish women were raped.  Two million rubles worth of property
was destroyed.
 The Origins of Christmas Customs
  The Origin of Christmas Tree
Just as early Christians recruited Roman pagans by associating Christmas with
the Saturnalia, so too worshippers of the Asheira cult and its offshoots were
recruited by the Church sanctioning “Christmas Trees”.  Pagans had long
worshipped trees in the forest, or brought them into their homes and decorated
them, and this observance was adopted and painted with a Christian veneer by
the Church.
    The Origin of Mistletoe
Norse mythology recounts how the god Balder was killed using a mistletoe arrow
by his rival god Hoder while fighting for the female Nanna.  Druid rituals
use mistletoe to poison their human sacrificial victim. The Christian custom of
“kissing under the mistletoe” is a later synthesis of the sexual license of
Saturnalia with the Druidic sacrificial cult.
    The Origin of Christmas Presents
In pre-Christian Rome, the emperors compelled their most despised citizens
to bring offerings and gifts during the Saturnalia (in December) and Kalends
(in January).  Later, this ritual expanded to include gift-giving among
the general populace.  The Catholic Church gave this custom a Christian
flavor by re-rooting it in the supposed gift-giving of Saint Nicholas (see


Each year,
30-35 million real Christmas trees are sold in the United States alone. There
are 21,000 Christmas tree growers in the United States, and trees usually grow
for about 15 years before they are sold.
Today, in the
Greek and Russian orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated 13 days after the
25th, which is also referred to as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. This is the
day it is believed that the three wise men finally found Jesus in the manger.
In the Middle
Ages, Christmas celebrations were rowdy and raucous—a lot like today’s Mardi
Gras parties.
From 1659 to
1681, the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in Boston, and law-breakers
were fined five shillings.
Christmas was
declared a federal holiday in the United States on June 26, 1870.
The first
eggnog made in the United States was consumed in Captain John Smith’s 1607
Jamestown settlement.
plants are named after Joel R. Poinsett, an American minister to Mexico, who
brought the red-and-green plant from Mexico to America in 1828.
The Salvation
Army has been sending Santa Claus-clad donation collectors into the streets
since the 1890s.
Rudolph, “the
most famous reindeer of all,” was the product of Robert L. May’s imagination in
1939. The copywriter wrote a poem about the reindeer to help lure customers
into the Montgomery Ward department store.
workers started the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition in 1931.
Over the years, there has been lots of controversy over the celebration
of Christmas. Due to the origin of Christmas as mentioned above. But this is
the question you should ask yourself: Was Jesus Christ given birth to? If you
believe Jesus Christ was given birth to, then ask yourself again: Does His
birth deserved to be celebrated?
The fact that my grandma can’t remember her birthday because there was no
proper means of keeping birth record as at the time she was given birth to does
not negate the fact that she was given birth to. So if she decides to pick a
date as her birthday, is that wrong?

By Johnson Jakins
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