A Short History of Christmas

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK THE hustle and bustle associated with Christmas is here, with shops already recording massive sales of their goods. Christmas, which literally means the Mass of Christ, is a holiday on the Christian calendar, usually observed on December 25, which celebrates the birth of Jesus. According to the Christian gospels, Jesus was born to Mary in Bethlehem, where she and her husband Joseph had travelled to register in the Roman census. Christ’s birth, or nativity, was to fulfil the prophecies of Judaism that a messiah would come, from the house of David, to redeem the world from sin. The majority of people celebrate this day by spending quality time with their families, sharing meals and exchanging gifts. Although this day is not the exact day when Jesus Christ was born, most Christians use this time as a thanksgiving season, to thank God for allowing his Son to be born. Says Pastor Launa Garosas of Jesus Centre: “As this is not the exact date when Jesus was born, it is a thanksgiving time to celebrate his birth.” History has it that December 25 was only adopted in the 4th century as a Christian holiday by the Roman Emperor Constantine, to encourage a common religious festival for both the Christians and the Pagans. The Romans honoured Saturn, the ancient god of agriculture, each year beginning on December 17 in a festival called the Saturnalia. This festival lasted for seven days and included the winter solstice, which at that time fell on December 25 (following calendar reform, it falls on December 21). During Saturnalia the Romans feasted, postponed all business and warfare, exchanged gifts, and temporarily freed their slaves. With the lengthening of daylight, these and other winter festivities continued through to January 1, the festival of Kalends, when Romans marked the day of the new moon and the first day of the month and religious year (the secular year began in March). Some scholars suggest that December 25 is a date of convenience chosen for other reasons, related to the time of Roman Emperor Constantine. Apart from being thanksgiving season, Pastor Garosas says Christmas to others in the world is a time to shed blood, which translates into the large number of accidents that happen during the period. She notes that this time is associated with a lot of fear of death. Garosas says Jesus was born that people may live and not die, which makes it necessary that Christians should enter the Christmas season with prayerful hearts. In predominantly Christian countries, Christmas has become the most economically significant holiday of the year, and it is also celebrated as a secular holiday in many countries with small Christian populations. Although it is largely characterized by exchanging gifts within families, and by gifts brought by Santa Claus, other folk figures, Pastor Garosas says “Let Christmas be a thanksgiving season.” Christmas is celebrated on December 25 in Catholic, Protestant, and most Orthodox churches, while the Coptic, Jerusalem, Russian, Serbian, Macedonian and Georgian Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas on January 7.

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