My Musings

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas According To The Wikepedia

I was fascinated by the information about the meaning of the word “Christmas” and the history given about Christmas as presented in the Wikepedia. I hope I do not need to give a disclaimer about the opinions found in this article not necessarily representing the opinions of me…but then again, in a round about way, I just did. Anyways, enjoy.

Etymology

“In Anglo-Saxon times, Christmas was referred to as geol, from which the current English word 'Yule' is derived. The word "Christmas" is a contraction meaning "Christ's mass." It is derived from the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038. The words for the holiday in Spanish (navidad), Portuguese (natal), and French (noël) refer more explicitly to the Nativity. In contrast, the German name Weihnachten means simply "hallowed night."

“Christmas is sometimes shortened to Xmas, an abbreviation that has a long history. In early Greek versions of the New Testament, the letter Χ (chi), is the first letter of Christ (Χριστός). Since the mid-sixteenth century Χ, or the similar Roman letter X, was used as an abbreviation for Christ.

Natalis Solis Invicti

“The Romans held a festival on December 25 called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, "the birthday of the unconquered sun." The use of the title Sol Invictus allowed several solar deities to be worshipped collectively, including Elah-Gabal, a Syrian sun god; Sol, the god of Emperor Aurelian (AD 270-274); and Mithras, a soldiers' god of Persian origin. Emperor Elagabalus (218-222) introduced the festival, and it reached the height of its popularity under Aurelian, who promoted it as an empire-wide holiday.

“December 25 was also considered to be the date of the winter solstice, which the Romans called bruma. It was therefore the day the Sun proved itself to be "unconquered" despite the shortening of daylight hours. (When Julius Caesar introduced the Julian Calendar in 45 BC, December 25 was approximately the date of the solstice. In modern times, the solstice falls on December 21 or 22.) The Sol Invictus festival has a "strong claim on the responsibility" for the date of Christmas, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. Several early Christian writers connected the rebirth of the sun to the birth of Jesus. "O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born . . . Christ should be born," Cyprian wrote.

Origin of Christian Festival

“It is unknown exactly when or why December 25 became associated with Jesus' birth. The New Testament does not give a specific date. Sextus Julius Africanus popularized the idea that Jesus was born on December 25 in his Chronographiai, a reference book for Christians written in AD 221. This date is nine months after the traditional date of the Incarnation (March 25), now celebrated as the Feast of the Annunciation. March 25 was also considered to be the date of the vernal equinox and therefore the creation of “Adam. Early Christians believed March 25 was also the date Jesus was crucified. The Christian idea that Jesus was conceived on the same date that he died on the cross is consistent with a Jewish belief that a prophet lived an integral number of years.

“The identification of the birthdate of Jesus did not at first inspire feasting or celebration. Tertullian does not mention it as a major feast day in the Church of Roman Africa. In 245, the theologian Origen denounced the idea of celebrating Jesus' birthday "as if he were a king pharaoh." He contended that only sinners, not saints, celebrated their birthdays.

“The earliest reference to the celebration of Christmas is in the Calendar of Filocalus, an illuminated manuscript compiled in Rome in 354. In the east, meanwhile, Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus as part of Epiphany (January 6), although this festival focused on the baptism of Jesus.

“Christmas was promoted in the east as part of the revival of Catholicism following the death of the pro-Arian Emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. The feast was introduced to Constantinople in 379, to Antioch in about 380, and to Alexandria in about 430. Christmas was especially controversial in 4th century Constantinople, being the "fortress of Arianism," as Edward Gibbon described it. The feast disappeared after Gregory of Nazianzus resigned as bishop in 381, although it was reintroduced by John Chrysostom in about 400."

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