Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Brief History of Christmas

Over on his blog, Doug Wilson posts 'a brief history of Christmas.'

Here are some highlights:
"The early church celebrated what we call Easter (and others, Pascha) right away. This included the weekly “Easter” of the Lord’s Day (Heb. 4:10; Rev. 1:10). One of the biggest controversies of the second century concerned how the date of this annual Easter was to be calculated. So the early church celebrated the Lord’s resurrection (His being firstborn from the dead) from the very beginning. They were a bit slower with celebrating His birth. But given the amount of space the gospel writers gave to accounts of His birth, it is not surprising that this celebration came eventually. 
·    The birth of the Lord began to be commemorated (on an annual basis) somewhere in the third or fourth centuries, A.D. 
·    It is commonly argued that this was a “takeover” of a pagan holiday, celebrating the winter solstice. But it just as likely, in my view, that this was actually the other way around. Sol Invictus was established as a holiday by Aurelian in 274 A.D., when the Christians were already a major force. So who was copying whom? And Saturnalia, another popular candidate for being an “ancestor” of Christmas, actually occurred on December 17. 
·    St. Nicolas, who was later morphed into Santa Claus, was a godly man, known for his generosity to children. He attended the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.), and at least one urban legend has him punching out Arius the heretic. Let us hope so. 
·    In the medieval period, the holiday became known by its current name (Christmas) in the 11th century. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives us the first use, recording something that happened in 1038. A.D. An archbishop died, “and a little after, Ethelric, bishop in Sussex, and then before Christmas, Briteagus. Bishop in Worcestshire.” Some may object to the fact that the suffix -mass is still in the name. But the objectionable doctrine of transubstantiation was not codified by the Roman church until the 13th century (1215) at the Fourth Lateran Council. The word mass originally came from the fact that in the ancient church catechumens were dismissed from the service before the Lord’s Supper was observed. “Ite, missa est,” which roughly translated means that “you may go now.” We see it still in our word dismissed. The vestigial reference to the Mass in this name should not be a trouble; Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to celebrate Christmas at all, and they deny the deity of Christ. 
·    By the time of the Reformation, the ship of the church was absolutely covered with barnacles—saints’ days and whatnot. The Reformers scraped virtually all of them off, keeping only what they called the “five evangelical feast days”—Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost. All five are related to things that Jesus did, and we are not distracted by the Feast of St. Bartholomew’s Finger Bone. 
·    Much of what we identify as “Christmas-y” is no more than a century or two old—our idea of a “traditional” Christmas is basically Victorian. This is not bad, although it can be bad if you are not paying attention to your heart, and wind up judging your neighbor. I refer to Christmas cards, snow, silver bells, electric lights for your house, and a Saturday Evening Post Santa with a Coke."
I've posted before the theory of Sol Invictus cult and the date setting of Christmas on Dec 25.

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