Christmas Notes -- When Was Jesus' Birthday?

Makoto: Thanks for picking me up at the airport.

Tom: Oh, sure.

Makoto: Say, I heard something strange on the airplane.

Tom: Yeah?

Makoto: A woman behind me was telling the little girl beside her that nobody knows when Jesus' birthday really was.

Tom: Well, that's true. We don't.

Makoto: I thought it was December the twenty-fifth.

Tom: That's the date of a number of non-Christian winter festivals, actually.

Makoto: Then why is Christmas on December twenty-fifth?

Tom: It's a long story.

Makoto: No short version?

Tom: Hmm. Okay, for starters, you know that we don't have any hard evidence that the Biblical Jesus actually existed.

Makoto: I've heard that, but I thought it was just atheist arguments.

Tom: An atheist doesn't think it's just argument. At least, some of my atheist friends seem to be sincere about it.

Makoto: What about the shrines over in Jerusalem?

Tom: Well, what about Japan's traditional history back around Jimmu?

Makoto: Okay. No evidence for that, either. But I always thought you guys had harder evidence. I mean, you believe in Jesus, don't you?

Tom: Well, you don't have to believe all the stories told about the Boddhisatva are true to believe there was an original Gautama, do you?

Makoto: I guess you have a point there.

Tom: Anyway, soon after most of the apostles were martyred, there was some discussion about having a celebration for Jesus' birthday. There does seem to be evidence of those discussions.

Makoto: But they didn't know when?

Tom: According to some interpretations, it was thought that the date was suppressed to avoid the celebrations.

Makoto: By the enemies of the Church?

Tom: By the Church leaders. Such celebrations easily turn idolatrous.

Makoto: Wow. But, so Christmas shouldn't exist? What happened?

Tom: Whether Christmas should exist or not is another question, but what happened was a Roman emperor named Constantine.

Makoto: Sounds like someone from Star Wars.

Tom: Heh. Whether he was a good guy or bad guy is still a subject of debate. But Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire about then. And the early Christ Mass mostly began during his reign as emperor.

Makoto: I think I see. So how about the date?

Tom: Those who seemed to know most about it at the time argued for a date in spring -- March or April.

Makoto: That would double up on Easter, wouldn't it?

Tom: There were apparently some who worried about that.

Makoto: How about now?

Tom: Late August or early September are favored theories these days.

Makoto: No midwinter?

Tom: Some did and do argue for for December. But, apparently, they wanted to borrow an existing festival -- horn in on another religion's holiday.

Makoto: Another religion?

Tom: Druidism and the pre-Christian religions of the area, and the Roman worship of the Sun God among others. Lots of religions seem to have some sort of festival just a few days after winter solstice.

Makoto: Son God?

Tom: The sun in the sky, shining down on you, sometimes dies. He is reborn three days after solstice.

Makoto: Winter solstice? Three days after the twenty-second would be the twenty-fifth.

Tom: Yeah.

Makoto: So is that the reason you're not very big on Christmas? My sister sometimes calls you a Scrooge.

Tom: Bah! Humbug! Heh. No, we just don't have much money yet. The boutique isn't doing very well, and we both have to work a lot of part-time jobs.

Makoto: Yeah. Small fashion stores are subject to the winds of fashion.

Tom: And I forget, and she waits for me. That's the real reason we came to visit my family this year, so I wouldn't forget.

Makoto: Well, hey, I'm looking forward to meeting your family. Mom said she was jealous when I left.

Tom: Dad says he thinks he and Mom can make it to Japan next Christmas, and some of my sisters are talking it up as a family reunion over there.

Makoto: That'd be sweet.

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