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Why do people celebrate Christmas?


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September 08, 2015 6:17AM

Christmas or Christ's Mass was started in the second or third century AD as a feast and celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. These early celebrations were on various dates and not widespread until the Middle Ages or starting around 400AD.

Today, Christmas is one of the most important Christian celebrations. Easter, Christ's resurrection, still has its rightful prominence as the most important day in Christendom, but Christians celebrate His birth too.

Christmas is the day to remember that the Messiah was born into our world and changed so many lives. It is also a time for family and friends to get together and celebrate a time of joy and love. And that for just one day there should be peace around the world. It is suppose to be a wonderful time and a time to remember forever.

Although lots of people think about Christmas trees and Santa Claus, the primary reason why we celebrate this date is because Jesus Christ was born into this world.

One answer is that the idea, purpose and date for Christmas (December 25th) was to provide continuity with the winter solstice traditions of many cultures. By doing this converts could continue to have a traditional midwinter celebration even if they had to celebrate in the "new" Christian church. Some scholars indicate that an actual Christmas day celebration would be between May and July.

Interestingly the celebration of birthdays -- even including that of Christ -- was rejected as a pagan tradition by most Christians during the first three hundred years of Christianity. In reaction to the claims by Gnostics that Jesus had not been mortal, and to "humanize" Christ Christians began to emphasize the Nativity. As this reworking continued many third century Christians supported observance of Christ's birthday, but condemned customs such as exchanging of gifts and decorating homes with evergreens citing Book of Jeremiah:10 which condemns the heathen practice of cutting a tree from the forest to "deck it with silver and gold".

Rebuttal to above answer: While the actual date of Christ's birth is not definitively known there are just as many reasons to agree on a winter date, if not more, than a Spring or Summer date. December 25 is the traditional date determined by the early church fathers and widely accepted.

The idea that Christmas was merely a creation to transition pagan winter celebrations toward Christianity is overstated and not historically correct.

Celebrating birthdays was indeed rejected by many Christians, even beyond the first three centuries. However, this was the exception and not the rule. Celebrating "birthdays" was at times considered odd and unchristian.

The primary focus was on Christ's life, crucifixion, and particularly His resurrection, but there certainly were some early birthday celebrations. Early writings including a "feast calendar" written in 243AD indicate that there were some celebrations in the third century and perhaps in the second century. Christmas celebrations did not gain widespread prominence however until the Middle Ages or starting from around 400AD.

December 25 was settled on by the early church for reasons that are not absolutely clear (but there are some logical reasons for that date including calculations made from other known dates). There were pagan celebrations in December. There were pagan celebrations year round. Christmas didn't simply replace a pagan celebration; it changed much more.

The use of Christmas Trees and other decorations has caused some understandable confusion. Worshiping a tree or cutting down a tree and creating an idol is pagan and has never been Christian. However, using evergreen trees as a symbol for Christ who is the "Tree of Life" is not the same and has been done traditionally to celebrate and worship God, not the tree or the idol.

Challenge to above Answer: It was not until some 300 years after the birth of Christ that the idea of celebrating Christmas became a reality. In fact, the notion of celebrating anyone's birthday was far from the minds of Jews and Christians before the Fourth Century.

(While it is true that Christ's birthday was not widely celebrated until around 400AD, it was celebrated before that.)

During the Fourth Century the Roman Catholic Church was established as the state religion of Rome and as such, many of the pagan festivals were absorbed into the Church. Since the Romans had already been steeped in the worship of the sungod, whose birthday was said to be in December, it was a simple matter for Pope Gregory to command that the adoration of this god, and indeed of a host of other gods, (including the god Saturn) be changed to the worship of the Son of Righteousness.

(Emperor Theodosius I decreed that Christianity was the official religion of the empire in 379. There was no "Roman Catholic Church" in the fourth century. The church was known as the Catholic Church. The "Roman" designation began in the Sixteenth Century. Gregory, the Bishop of Rome ("Pope" had not come into widespread usage at that time), served from 590 to 604AD long after Christmas was widely established.)

Thus the pagan celebration of Saturnalia, in honor of Saturn, the god of Agriculture, became the Mass of Christ, later Christmas. The worship of trees in Mithra gave rise to the Christmas tree. The hanging of lanterns to represent the sun predated our Christmas lights. Santa Claus is the modern equivalent of the god Thor who would descend the chimney and bless the fireplace in every home.

(Many people have imagined that early Christians established Christmas to absorb pagan rituals. Beyond a rough coincidence of dates there is simply no evidence for it. Saturnalia has no connection to Christmas other than a close date (between the 17th and the 23rd). The birth of Mithras and the birth of Sol never occurred on the 25th. There were no public ceremonies for Mithras ever. The winter solstice, an astronomical event, always happens close to December 25th and was on the Roman calendar, but not connected to Christmas. There is no evidence that any celebration of Sol occurred before Christmas was already happening. Sol feasts definitely occurred in August and also possibly on December 11th, never on December 25th.)

The celebration of Christmas therefore has nothing to do with Christ. It is celebrated because of the command of a Pope; because the ambiance created inspires celebrants with the idea that it is "the season to be jolly"; because it helps the commercial sector and because it is fashionable to do so. Even in Japan where Christ is not very popular, it is very much celebrated.

Indeed, the geography of the region does not permit that the birth of Christ be in the dead of winter. Shepherds were attending their flock at the time of Jesus' birth. In this region shepherds carry their flock under shelter from the middle of October when the rainy season sets in.

(The lambs in question were sacrificial lambs for the Temple. There is no historical evidence that these lambs were watched only during spring. It is possible, and even quite likely, that these lambs were watched year round. One of the best times of the year for the shepherds of Bethlehem is the winter when heavy rains bring up a luscious crop of new grass. Before these rains, the area is a barren, brown desert. To this day, shepherds in that area can be seen out with their flocks in December and January.)

It may be added that when Jesus died at the age of thirty-three and a half years, it was during the spring (March or April) - the approximate time that Easter is celebrated. His next birthday would therefore have been 6 months hence - September or October, certainly not December.

Christmas is short for Christ's Mass so it certainly has something to do with Christ. The "pagan holiday" connection is weak and has been totally overstated. It simply isn't a pagan holiday at its core. The best answer to this question remains the simplest one: people celebrate Christmas because they either desire to celebrate Christ's birthday or if they are not Christians because they enjoy the trappings that have been attached to it.

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August 26, 2015 5:02PM

Worldwide Christmas is celebrated as a marketing opportunity. Many businesses live or die on the amount they can sell during the Christmas holiday season (usually October to December 30). In some countries such as Japan the religious aspect of Christmas is stripped away as the country is not Christian, In North America the holiday with its traditions of over consumption of food, elaborate gift giving and extravagant partying as almost no religious connotation.