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The Date of Christmas 2010, 2011, 2012 and any year
Not the Stupid Question it might first appear

Christmas is an annual holiday on which most Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus ... but is it always, and has it always been celebrated on December 25?

In most places around the world, Christmas Day is celebrated on December 25, but there are some exceptions. The Armenian Apostolic Church observes Christmas on January 6, while certain old rite or old style Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas on January 7, the date on the Gregorian calendar which corresponds to 25 December on the Julian Calendar. The date as a birth date for Jesus is traditional, and is not widely considered to be his actual date of birth.

There is a widely circulated view that Church authorities established December 25 as the date for Christmas to capitalize upon the popularity of the pagan solstice festivals. The themes of the solstice festivals correspond with those of the Christian holiday as well. Since the winter solstice is the time in the northern hemisphere when the days are darkest, and the sun begins to return to a higher place in the sky, once again bringing more day light hours, it is fitting time to celebrate the triumph of light over darkness. This same theme is associated in the New Testament with the saving work of Jesus who is seen as "the light of the world." There is even some linguistic connection in the English language and tradition. After the conversion of Anglo-Saxon Britain to Christianity in the 7th century, Christmas was referred to as geol, the name of the pre-Christian solstice festival from which the current English word 'Yule' is derived.

On the other hand, some scholars have argued that the Christian holiday actually came first. William J. Tighe, an Associate Professor of History at Muhlenberg College, explains, "The idea that the date was taken from the pagans goes back to two scholars from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Paul Ernst Jablonski, a German Protestant, wished to show that the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25th was one of the many ‘pagan-izations’ of Christianity that the Church of the fourth century embraced, as one of many ‘degenerations’ that transformed pure apostolic Christianity into Catholicism. Dom Jean Hardouin, a Benedictine monk, tried to show that the Catholic Church adopted pagan festivals for Christian purposes without paganizing the gospel."

Tighe and others cite an ancient Jewish tradition that the prophets of Israel died on the on the same date as their birth or conception. According to ancient western calculations, Jesus was crucified on the 25th of March, leading to the assumption that the 25th was the date of Jesus’ conception. The Feast of the Annunciation is still commemorated on that date. Nine months after the 25th of March is, you guessed it, December 25th.

There is also the strong tradition of regarding the Christmas holiday, not as a one day extravaganza, but as a season lasting twelve days. We are all familiar with the song referring to "The Twelve Days of Christmas." For more on this, please read: "Why are there Twelve Days of Christmas?"

Surprisingly, there have been attempts to eliminate Christmas. You may have heard of The War on Christmas, a recent book that purports to show that in 21st century America, there is a coordinated effort to suppress or even stamp out Christmas. I refer not to this strained argument, but to the earlier, well-documented effort on the part of the Puritans of England and right here in the colony of Massachusetts, to make the celebration of Christmas a crime punishable by law. For more on this: The tried to outlaw Christmas.

See below, some more positive resources to help celebrate Christmas and appreciate its deeper meaning.

Christmas Eve Prayer

Give us, O God, the vision which can see Your love in the world in spite of human failure.
Give us the faith to trust Your goodness in spite of our ignorance and weakness.
Give us the knowledge that we may continue to pray with understanding hearts.
And show us what each one of us can do to set forward the coming of the day of universal peace.

-- Frank Borman, Apollo 8 space mission, 1968

"May the forgiving spirit of Him to whom we dedicate this season prevail again on earth.
May hunger disappear and terrorists cease their senseless acts.
May people live in freedom, worshiping as they see fit, loving others.
May the sanctity of the home be ever preserved.
May peace, everlasting peace, reign supreme."

-- Soundings, Vol. 2, # 12

Loving God, Help us remember the birth of Jesus,
that we may share in the song of the angels,
the gladness of the shepherds,
and worship of the wise men.

Close the door of hate
and open the door of love all over the world.
Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.
Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings,
and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.

May the Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children,
and Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts,
forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake. Amen.

-- Robert Louis Stevenson

For those who work on Christmas Day

Lord. As I spend today going about my work, help me to put aside any bitterness that I'm not celebrating at home with loved ones. I ask you God, to give me a special sense of your presence as I meet people, that I may shed on them the light of the Bethlehem Star, the Spirit of Christmas. Amen.

Before opening presents

Lord and Giver of all good things, the magi travelled for miles to bring the Christ child the first Christmas presents. So may we, too, remember with thankful hearts the love that comes with each present we open. We also thank you for the love you have for each of us, and we thank you for the many gifts that you give us, especially the gift of live itself. Amen

Christmas Tree Blessing

Holy Creator of Trees,
bless with your abundant grace
this our Christmas tree as a symbol of joy.
May its evergreen branches be a sign
of your never-fading promises.
May its colorful lights and ornaments call us
to decorate with love our home and our world.
May the gifts that surround this tree
be symbols of the gifts we have received
from the Tree of Christ’s Cross.
Holy Christmas tree within our home,
may Joy and Peace come and nest
in your branches and in our hearts. Amen.
- Author Unkown

A Christmas Prayer for those who have suffered the recent death of a loved one

God of compassion, there is such a hole in my heart! Today should be a day of joy, but I feel only emptiness and loss. While the world celebrates around me, I remember Christmas celebrations of the past and I long to have my loved one with me. I bring my sorrows to you, Lord, like some odd gift of the magi and dump them at your feet. In my blind tears I wonder if anyone can possibly understand the depth of my sadness.

I know, you can. You sent your son to be with us in our deepest sorrows and I know that even though I might not feel it now, you are here with me, grieving with me, caring for me in my sadness. Dearest lord, help me to turn to the one I miss so much today and speak. Help me heal the loss of our parting and help me not to regret the things I didn't say. Sorrow tears at my heart, but today I ask that my loss soften my heart and make me more compassionate with everyone I meet, so that my loss may become a gift to others.

Christmas Dinner Prayers

In the peace of this season our spirits are joyful:
With the beasts and angels,
the shepherds and stars,
with Mary and Joseph we sing God's praise.
By your coming may the hungry be filled with good things,
and may our table and home be blessed.
Bless us O Lord, and these Thy gifts,
which we are about to receive from Thy bounty
through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Eternal God, this joyful day is radiant with the brilliance of your one true light.
May that light illuminate our hearts and shine in our words and deeds.
May the hope, the peace, the joy, and the love represented by the birth in Bethlehem fill our lives and become part of all that we say and do.
May we share the divine life of your son Jesus Christ, even as he humbled himself to share our humanity.
Bless us and the feast that You have provided for us, let us be thankful for the true gift of Christmas, your Son.
Amen.

God of all gifts, we thank you for the many ways you have blessed us this day. We are grateful each of those who are gathered around this table. We ask you to bless us and our food and to bless those we love who are not with us today. In our gratitude and love, we remember your humble birth into our lives and pray for those who are are without enough to eat. We remember the stable in which you were born and pray for those who have no place to live. We remember your challenging message of caring and giving and we pray for peace in families and nations throughout the world. We bless you and give you thanks in your Spirit who brings our hearts to life the Christmas Day and forever. Amen.

Readings For Christmas

There is no evidence of any kind regarding the date of Jesus’ birth. His nativity began to be celebrated on Dec. 25 in Rome during the early part of the fourth century (AD 336) as a Christian counterpart to the pagan festival, popular among the worshipers of Mithras, called Sol Invictis, the Unconquerable Sun. At the very moment when the days are the shortest and darkness seems to have conquered light, the sun passes its nadir. Days grow longer, and although the cold will only increase for quite a long time, the ultimate conquest of winter is sure. This astronomical process is a parable of the career of the Incarnate One. At the moment when history is blackest, and in the least expected and obvious place, the Son of God is born…"

-- Frederich Borsch & David Napier

Let me not wrap, stack, box, bag, tie, tag, bundle, seal, keep Christmas.
Christmas kept is liable to mold.
Let me give Christmas away, unwrapped, by exuberant armfuls.
Let me share, dance, live Christmas unpretentiously, merrily, responsibly with overflowing hands, tireless steps and sparkling eyes.
Christmas given away will stay fresh—even until it comes again."

-- Let Me Not Keep Christmas . . . . . . . . Linda Felver
A Book of Christmas, Nashville: Upper Rooms, 1988, p. 48

Bells on Christmas Day

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was filled with sorrow at the tragic death of his wife in a fire in 1861. The Civil War broke out the same year, and it seemed this was an additional punishment. Two years later, Longfellow was again saddened to learn that his own son had been seriously wounded in the Army of the Potomac.

Sitting down to his desk, one Christmas Day, he heard the church bells ringing. It was in this setting that Longfellow wrote these lines:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep.
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!
The wrong shall fail,
The right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men!"

-- Pulpit Helps, 12-92, p. 23

What good is it the Christ was born?

"Meister Eckhart once said: ‘What good is it that Christ was born 2,000 years ago if he is not born now in your heart?’

"Lord, we do far too much celebrating your actual coming in our hearts. I believe in God, but do I believe in God-in-me? I believe in God in heaven, but do I believe in God-on-earth? I believe in God out there, but do I believe in God-with-us?

"Lord, be born in my heart. Come alive in me this Christmas! Amen."

-- LIVING FAITH, Vol. 4, # 3

Work of Christmas Begins

"When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with the flocks,
then the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal those broken in spirit,
to feed the hungry,
to release the oppressed,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among all peoples,
to make a little music with the heart…

And to radiate the Light of Christ,
every day, in every way, in all that we do and in all that we say.
Then the work of Christmas begins.

-- Howard Thurman, adapted

More thoughts and other resources for Christmas

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and Executive Director of
  CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).  
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God and Science (Hypertext Edition, 2005).
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Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).

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