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The word Christmas comes from the Latin “Cristes maesse”, or “Christ’s Mass.” Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus for members of the Christian religion.
You can look into any encyclopaedia to find out that no one is absolutely sure of the exact date of Christ’s birth. Some say that Christ was born near or around Dec. 25th. But let us look at Jerusalem historically; animals were traditionally held in mangers because of the rainy season, which in Jerusalem occurred from about the beginning of October through November and usually well into December. So this makes it very unlikely that Jesus was born in December, since the bible records shepherds tending their sheep in the fields on that night. This is quite unlikely to have happened during a cold Judean December winter.
Popular myth puts his birth on December 25th in the year 1 A.D. (Anno Domini or Year of our Lord.)
The New Testament gives no date nor a year for Jesus’ birth. The earliest of the gospels St. Mark’s, written about 65 A.D. – begins with the baptism of an adult Jesus. This suggests that the earliest Christians lacked interest in Jesus’ birthdate.
The DePascha Computus, an anonymous document believed to have been written in North Africa around 243 A.D., placed Jesus birth on March 28th. Clement, a bishop of Alexandria, thought Jesus was born on November 18th. Based on historical records, Fitzmyer guesses that Jesus birth occurred on September 11th, 3 B.C. (Before Christ.)
The year of Jesus birth was determined by Dionysius Exiguus, a Scythian monk and 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” i.e. Rome). Thus 1 A.U.C. signifies the year Rome was founded, 25 A.U.C. signifies the 25th year of Rome’s reign, etc.
Dionysius believed 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 A.U.C.. Therefore, Dionysius put Jesus birth in 754 A.U.C.. However, both Matthew 2:1 & Luke 1:5, 1:26-27, states Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea when Herod was king. Herod died in 750 A.U.C. that’s four years before the year in which Dionysius places Jesus birth. Seeing Jesus was taken to Egypt until Herod dies we can most likely add another year or 2 onto that. So that would make Jesus’ birth year between 4-6 B.C. I would think it closer to 6 B.C.
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 A.D. 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 most widely held theory is that the holiday was an intentional Christianisation of the Saturnalia honouring the Roman god Saturn and other pagan festivals. The Romans celebrated the solstice with a mid-winter holiday called the Saturnalia. From the middle of December through the first of January, Romans would engage in feasts and drunken revelry, paying homage to their gods, they also lit candles in their homes, spent time with friends and family and decorated their homes with wreaths and garlands, exchanged gifts.
In the third and fourth centuries, the church in Rome found itself in fierce competition with popular pagan religions and mystery cults, most of them involving sun worship.
In A.D. 274, Emperor Aurelian decreed December 25th — the solstice on the Julian calendar — as natalis solis invicti (“birth of the invincible sun”), a festival honouring the sun god Mithras. Therefore in designating December 25th as the date for their Nativity feast Rome’s Christians challenged paganism directly. They also were able to invoke rich biblical symbolism that described Jesus as the “Sun of Righteousness” and God’s “true light,” sent to dispel darkness in the world.
The first mention of a Nativity feast appears in the Philocalian calendar, a Roman document from 354 A.D., which lists December 25th as the day of Jesus’ birth.
Over the centuries the Christmas holiday continued to be celebrated with many and varied customs created to mark the event. What is ironic, of course, is that while Christmas without Christ was once the norm, nowadays religious songs, nativity scenes and church events all play a critical role in many cultures and religions when celebrating the holiday.
The custom of sending Christmas cards probably began with the English “schoolpieces” or “Christmas pieces,” simple pen-and-ink designs on sheets of writing paper. The first formal card was designed by an Englishman, J. C. Horsley, in 1843. It was lithographed on stiff, dark cardboard and depicted in colour a party of grownups and children with glasses raised in a toast over the words “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.” About 1,000 of the cards were sold. The custom of sending Christmas cards was popular in Great Britain by 1860 and in 1875, Christmas cards were first published in America.
Americans relied on expensive imported Christmas cards until 1874, when Boston lithographer Louis Prang offered a selection of cards featuring reproductions of contemporary paintings with printed sentiments on the reverse side. Within 10 years, Prang’s print shop was producing more than five million cards each year.
About the same time, Thomas Nast, a German immigrant, was an illustrator for Harper’s Weekly. In 1862, fascinated with Clement Clarke Moore’s poem The Visit of St. Nicholas (‘Twas the Night Before Christmas or maybe you’d like the Aussie Version?), Nast visually depicted Moore’s Christmas fantasy — including the first portrayal of Santa Claus as the fat, jolly, white-whiskered old man we recognize today. Nast is responsible for the first illustrations of Santa’s North Pole workshop, of Santa in his sleigh, the names and number of the Reindeer and of Santa opening his mail and making a record of children’s naughty or nice behaviour. Nast’s illustrations dramatically influenced the nature of Christmas cards in his day and in ours.
From those early beginnings, the exchange of Christmas cards has grown to astonishing proportions. With many countries exchanging more than 6 billion cards each year.
Mistletoe and Holly.
Ancient cultures believed bringing in green branches would ensure the return of vegetation at winter’s end. They used mistletoe and holly in pagan religious rituals and to decorate their homes. Romans exchanged holly wreaths as part of their Saturnalia festivities.
For several centuries after the birth of Christ, the Romans continued to celebrate Saturnalia. Christians began celebrating the birth of Christ in December while the Romans were holding their pagan celebrations. By decorating their homes with holly as the Romans did, Christians avoided detection and persecution.
The early Christian church associated holly with various legends about its role in Christ’s crucifixion. According to one legend, Christ’s crown of thorns was formed from holly. The legend claimed that the holly berries were originally white but were stained red by Christ’s blood. So for ancient Christians, the sharply pointed holly leaves became symbols of the thorns in Christ’s crown and the red berries drops of His blood.
Mistletoe also played a role in various cultures. The Druids believed the plant was sacred and had healing powers. Mistletoe was an important element in the Norse legend of Balder, the sun god. The Romans considered it a symbol of hope and peace, so in the Roman era enemies reconciled under the mistletoe.
During the Victorian period in England, holiday decorations included an ornate “kissing ring,” which had sprigs of mistletoe fastened to it. The ring was suspended from the ceiling and girls were kissed beneath it.
For centuries wreaths have represented the unending cycle of life and have been symbols of victory and honour. Ancient Druids, Celts and Romans used evergreen branches in their winter solstice celebrations.
As early as 1444, evergreen boughs were used as Christmas decorations in London. In 16th century Germany, evergreen branches were intertwined in a circular shape to symbolize God’s love, which has no beginning and no end.
Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are called the “flower of the Holy Night” because their red bracts are said to represent the flaming Star of Bethlehem. Native to Mexico and Colombia, the plant was cultivated by the Aztecs. Can’t grow on the coast but can be seen at elevations from 152½ – 2,743 metres (500 – 9000 feet).
Seventeenth-century Franciscan priests in Mexico used the plant as part of their Nativity celebration because it bloomed during the Advent season. Worshipers placed the flowers around a manger built at the church altar.
The plant is named after Dr. Joel Poinsett, an American ambassador to Mexico from 1825 to 1829, who was so taken with the plant that he sent cuttings home to South Carolina. The plants flourished in Poinsett’s greenhouse.
Credited with developing poinsettias for sale is Albert Ecke, a Swiss farmer who lived near Los Angeles in the 1890s. The Ecke family became the leading producer of poinsettias in the United States.
To see a Poinsettia Tree in its Natural Environment, Click Here.
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