The Wisdom of December Twenty-Fifth

Like all Christian beliefs and institutions, Christmas has come under withering attack from sceptics and non-believers. So much has this become so that to simply utter the good wish of “Merry Christmas” has become an act of boldness and controversy. Many of the faithful have decided to draw their line in the sand around the date of December 25, defending it as the crusaders defended their last strongholds in the Holy Land.

One of the many attacks Christmas has to endure is the accusation that the holiday is not even Christian at all, but the remnant of an older, pagan celebration. From the hanging of mistletoe (a sacred plant among the Celts) to the Christmas tree itself (a remnant of German paganism), there is hardly a part of Christmas that someone has not linked to pagan tradition.

The date of Christmas comes under regular attack and is one of the most potent weapons of the sceptic. December twenty-fifth is not the actual birth date of Christ, the argument goes. Christian leaders picked the date to coincide with the older, pagan holiday of the Winter Solstice. Because the church did not want to alienate its new peasant converts who loved their traditional celebrations, they transformed the holiday to make it more Christian.

It is of course true that no one knows the actual day that Jesus was born. The Bible gives no specific time of year. And while it is also true that December 25 coincides with one of the more important pagan holidays of the year, including the most beloved Roman holiday, it is also, in my opinion, the best possible date anyone could have chosen for Christmas.

Consider why it was initially such a beloved pagan celebration. The Winter Solstice falls on about the 21st or 22nd of December. This is important because it is the shortest day of the year. Beginning in late June the days progressively grow shorter and shorter, culminating in the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice.

The implications are subtle but truly powerful. Darkness grows more powerful day after day, until the shortest day of the year. Then the light begins to gain ascendancy again. After the solstice we can look forward to the coming triumph of day.

The parallels to the Christian faith should be obvious. From the Fall of Man onward darkness gained ascendancy over the world, its kingdom growing more dark and powerful. Then, just when it seemed that evil and sin would triumph, when the most powerful and domineering empire the earth had seen had marched over the breadth of the known world, a glimmer of hope was born.

At first it seemed subtle, like daylight that lasts just one minute longer than the day before. But over time more began to realize that the light had truly come into the world.

I can think of no more appropriate day to celebrate the birth of Christ than December 25. Whether it was the actual day that Jesus was born fades into relative insignificance compared to the huge implications of the day itself. When we gather to celebrate the birth of a Savior, the blessed Incarnation, the one who has come to deliver us from our sins, may we remember that what we celebrate is the glory of a coming dawn to pierce the power of night. And what better day to do this than on the day when the very earth itself reminds us that though the darkness may grow in power, it will never overcome the power of light.

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