Every Christmas, there is always an upsurge of arguments about the appropriateness or not of celebrating Christmas. There are those who argue that it should not be celebrated because it has pagan origins. Another group argues that December 25 could not have been the birth day of Jesus Christ because it would be too cold for shepherds to be out by night watching their sheep at that time of the year. Yet there is another group which argues that Jesus never celebrated his birthday and never directed his followers to celebrate it.
Those who push these points make it seem as if they have discovered the cure for cancer, but in reality, the argument they are pushing forward is vacuous. It is more of making a mountain out of a molehill.
Let us take these points one after the other and review them. First is the argument about Christmas having a pagan origin.
In Roman mythology, after Jupiter (Zeus) defeated his father (Saturn) and became the king of the gods, Saturn fled to Rome and set up the Golden Age, seen as a time of perfect peace and harmony. To commemorate this, the Feast of Saturnalia was celebrated every year at the winter solstice. It rekindled the idea of equality among human beings. All through this period, no war could be fought. Slaves and masters ate at the same table. Executions were suspended. Gifts were exchanged. There was wild celebration and merry-making. Christians fixed their own festival of Christmas then. The two festivals began to compete. Eventually, Christmas edged out the Feast of Saturnalia, killed it and buried it.
If members of the early church wanted their event to compete with a Roman festival by adopting the same day for Christmas, what is wrong with that? Has Christmas not overshadowed it and become among the most celebrated festivals in the world? Who still remembers the Roman festival Saturnalia today? What is celebrated on December 25? Is it the birth of Jesus Christ or Saturnalia?
Have those who make this argument bothered to ask how the days of the week and months of the year got their names? All the seven days of the week were named after deities. How has that made all humans worshippers of those gods?
Sunday is named after the sun, represented as a god. Monday is named after the moon, also represented as a god. Tuesday is named after Tiw, a one-armed god linked with single combat and pledges in Norse mythology and also acknowledged very well in wider Germanic paganism. Wednesday was called Wōdnesdæg in Old English, which means “Woden’s day,” because it is named after the Germanic god Woden. Thursday is named after thunder, which is represented as the Norse god known in Modern English as Thor. Friday, known in Old English as Frīgedæg (day of Frige), is named after the Anglo-Saxon goddess Fríge. Frige is associated with Venus, the Roman goddess of sexual love, also known as Aphrodite in Greek. Saturday is named after the Roman god Saturn, father of Jupiter (Zeus in Greek). The word “saturnine”, which means “gloomy”, is also derived from Saturn.
Given this background of the days of the week, has it stopped people from using these days in their discussions? Will those who go to church on Sunday say: “I will see you on Churchday” to avoid any connection with a day named after a god? Have those who use Sunday, Monday, Saturday, etc, become unbelievers because they use days named after gods?
The same thing goes for some of the months. For example, January is named after Janus, the Roman god or gates and doorways. Janus or Januarius has two faces, one facing forward, the other facing backward, which implies that he is looking at the past and the future. Janus stands between the end and the beginning, marking the end as well as the beginning of things. From the name of this god, a word like janitor (formerly used to identify a doorkeeper) was derived.
March is named after Mars, the Roman god of war, because that was the month the Romans resumed war after about two months of peace. From Mars too, the word “martial” was derived to signify war or fighting.
May is named after the Greek goddess Maia, who was in charge of nature and growing plants. Maia, the daughter of Atlas – the titan famed for carrying the world on his shoulders – was also the goddess of the earth. It is not surprising that May, which is the month when trees are in bloom after winter, is named after her. She is also the mother of Hermes, the messenger of the gods.
The second argument about Jesus not being born in December is also hollow. Nobody claims to know the exact day or month Jesus was born. His era did not have an organised calendar like we have today. It is for the same reason that many notable figures who lived before or around the same period like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, etc, are usually not associated with any day or month of birth. Most of them usually have “circa”, which means “approximately”, attached to any year of birth given to them. But interestingly, the year of birth of Jesus became the point of reference. Those born before him got “BC” (“Before Christ”) attached to their given year of birth, while AD (Anno Domini – “In the year of the Lord”) is used to denote the year of those born since the birth of Jesus.
No birthday would have been chosen without a debate about it. But there is no argument that Jesus was born. Whether he was born in December or August is immaterial. The choice of December 25 is a mere representation. It is symbolic. It is like someone whose birthday was not recorded choosing a date later in life as a birthday.
On the third issue, which is that Christmas should not be celebrated because Jesus never celebrated his birthday, neither did he enjoin his followers to celebrate his birthday, one can’t also see the point in it. No Christian teaches that anybody who does not celebrate Christmas is breaking any Christian doctrine.
Besides, Christians are never mandated to do only things pronounced by Jesus. For example, one does not remember any part of the Bible which mandates Christians to sleep or exercise or fly an airplane or ride a car or use a phone or watch a TV. There are things that are biblical or canonical. There are things that have no effect or bearing on one’s faith or spirituality. If you choose to celebrate your birthday or wedding anniversary or choose not to celebrate any of them, it does not add or remove anything from your spirituality. If you choose to take photographs or not, it is of no spiritual impact to you. If you choose to vote in elections or not, it is of no spiritual impact. However, there may be consequences in terms of your relationships, happiness and well-being in the world. For example, if you are married to someone who does not share your view of not celebrating birthdays or wedding anniversaries or taking photographs or watching the TV, you may be having conflicts that may take happiness and peace out of your life and marriage. If you also choose not to vote because of religion, you cannot complain about however you are governed.
Anybody who wants to be so holy as not to want any association with gods and goddesses will have to leave this word first, because most of the words, expressions, objects, names and events that we use today have a link or origin with Roman or Greek gods and goddesses. For examples, words like atlas, cereal, cloth, chronology, echo, fate, fortune, hypnosis, jovial, martial, mentor, nemesis, music, narcissism, odyssey, panic, phobia, plutocracy, psychology, typhoon, volcano, etc, all have their roots in Greek and Roman mythologies and legends.
– X: @BrandAzuka