Sunday, November 25, 2007
Christmas Answer #1
Yesterday we put up our Christmas decorations. I knew my husband, a well-known Grinch, was gone for the afternoon, providing us the opportunity to get out the tree (fake, pre-lit) and all the other festive items. My son, who is 7 years-old asked me a lot of questions about the Christmas traditions that I could not answer. Why do people put an angel or a star on top of their tree? What is "Noel"? Why Santa Clause? Why put out colored lights and decorations at all?
I don't like answering his questions with "because we have always done that." We are not particularly religious, so I want to give him satisfying answers that are based on fact, tradition, and not stories that were hijacked by a particular belief and changed to satisfy those beliefs. So I'm doing a little bit of research and would like to share some of my findings.
By the way, we were completely done and had everything cleaned up by the time my husband came home. He said, "A Christmas Bomb went off while I was gone." But I know that deep down he really likes the colored lights. In fact, he slept in the living room last night with the tree on the entire time.
Christmas Answer #1: Why December 25th?
Before I try to answer that question, we have to learn a little about Winter Solstice. A solstice occurs twice a year, whenever Earth's axis tilts the most toward or away from the Sun, causing the Sun to be farthest north or south at noon. The winter solstice, which happens around December 22nd or 23rd, is when the days are the shortest of the entire year, and the nights are really long. At least that's true for the Northern hemisphere. We have to remember that in the Southern hemisphere, it's the opposite, and that Christmas time happens during their Summer!
A very long time ago, people became afraid that the nights would become longer and longer, and the sun would disappear altogether! They would especially be afraid at the time of the Winter Solstice. However, the wise people would notice that by December 25th, the days were getting longer again! Then it was time to celebrate the return of the sun.
Many cultures and religions have celebrations around the time of the Winter Solstice. For example, the Jewish holiday, Hanukkah, or the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.
But for the answer of Why December 25th for Christmas? Here's the short answer: No one really knows the day that Jesus was born, but they suspect that it was probably in the Fall. Early Christian church leaders selected December 25th because this was already the date recognized throughout the Roman Empire as the birthday of various Pagan gods. So, basically, it was already being celebrated for the birth of some gods, why not their god, Jesus? Eventually, when Christianity became more popular, they dropped the other gods and focused on Christianity's one god.
Religious Tolerance.org from Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance: http://www.religioustolerance.org/xmas_sel.htm