December 25th is the traditional anniversary of the birth of Christ, but most scholars are unsure about the true date for Christ’s birth. The decision to celebrate Christmas on December 25 was made sometime during the fourth century by church bishops in Rome.
Having turned away from worshiping the one true God and creator of all things, many early cultures in the Roman Empire had fallen into sun worship. Recognizing their dependence on the sun’s yearly course in the heavens, they held feasts around the winter solstice in December when the days are shortest. As part of their festivals, they built bonfires to give the sun-god strength to bring him back to life again. When it became apparent that the days were growing longer, there would be great rejoicing.
Today we find ourselves left with many forms of Christmas celebrations. Our Christmas tree, often accredited to Martin Luther, was brought into the house to celebrate the greenery of the new season brought on by the solstice. Luther insisted on using evergreen trees that had a cross in their design. (Check out the branches on spruce and balsam with their + on the branches as compared to pine and hemlock). The candles and lights bring back the idea of bonfires, the bells and sounds of merriment tell of the season’s break to a new time. Gift giving and feasting were all a part of the merriment.
But, regardless of the less-than-Christian background for Christmas and whether or not Jesus was born on the 25th, our goal is still to turn our eyes to the arrival of the God of our salvation, to a day to mark the incarnation, a day in which we celebrate that God became human and lived among us. We still hold a Christ-Mass to celebrate and worship the God of our salvation, we go to worship on Christmas Day or, in some cases, Christmas Eve because we are called by the Spirit of God among us to celebrate the Good News! The birth of a child to lead us and grace us with salvation!