Even though decorating houses and yards with lights, putting up Christmas trees, giving gifts, and sending greeting cards have become traditions for the secular world,the Christmas Season remains undeniably a Christian holiday marking the birth of the Christ Child. The English word Christmas is derived from Christ’s mass or the festival of Christ’s birthday. During the fourth century CE, 25 December was the date of the winter solstice. Previously it had been celebrated as the birthday of Mithras and of Sol Invictus. The solstice fell on 6 January for the Julian calendar makers to celebrate the birthday of Osiris which was celebrated in the chief port of Egypt, Alexandria . By about 300 CE 6 January was the date of Epiphany in the East’s feast which is closely related to Christmas. The first mention of 25 December for Christmas is on the Philocalian Calendar of 354, part of which mirrors the Roman practice in 336. Celebration of Christ’s birthday was not wide-ranging until the fourth century; in reality, as late as the fifth century, the Old Armenian Lectionary of Jerusalem still observed James and David on 25 December, remarking that “in other towns they keep the birth of Christ.” When it was a feast the theme was the Incarnation and the scriptures were not confined to the birth or infancy narratives. To Luke 1 and Matthew 2 were added not only John ,3 but in addition Titus 4

The time of Christ’s birth is difficult to establish. The enrollment by Quirinius in that year according to Luke 5 us dated by Josephus as equivalent to 6-7 CE. (Ant. 18.2.26), but this enrollment was not of “all the world”. 6, would not have been consigned by Herod during whose lifetime Quirinius was not the head of Syria, and would not have been obliged the attendance of Josephus and still less of Mary, in Bethlehem. Even though Luke 7 offers no exact year, the author seems to indicate that it was between 27 and 29 CE as the time of John’s baptizing and of Jesus ‘ being about thirty years old. 8 Jesus’ birth would then be about 4-1 BCE. The season of year is not pointed out.

The place of Jesus’ birth also raises problems. If there were only the gospels of Mark and John one could assume that it was Nazareth. 9 10cf. 11 Luke 2: 1-20 tells the story of the birth in Bethlehem and Matthew 2:1 follows a similar tract, while bringing up not a birth narrative, but a story of his toddlerhood. The account if the wise men (see Magi suggests that Jesus might have been as much as two years old when they arrived. 12

The exact location in Bethlehem is doubtful; the manger of Luke 2:7 may have been a stall with little or no covering, or even a trough for feeding cattle in the open. The “inn” itself may not have been a building but instead a storage area with unfinished covers as its walls. The ox and ass of subsequent art are not in Luke’s story but enter from Isaiah 1:3. Another early tradition, recorded in the second century apocryphal Protoevangelium of James 13 and Justin. (Trypho 78:657). Tryphos was a Jewish rabbi who had fled from Israel, and the two men talked about the Jewish people and their place in history, and then about Jesus and whether he was the promised Messiah. They also talk of a cave that as the birthplace. It was apparently shown to Origenca in 246 and by 333 Constantine had built a basilica over it, which was replaced under Justinian around 531. Still in existence, the cave claims a stone as the manger. In early liturgies both the manger and the shepherd’s field’s play a part, but as the inclusive feast of the Epiphany rather than as a celebration of Christ’s birthday.

There are many traditions associated with Christmas that individual families brought with them across the aegis of time. Many bring evergreen trees trimmed with lights and ornaments into their homes. Christmas trees originated in Strasbourg, France sometime in the early 1600s. From there the custom spread through Germany and eventually into northern Europe. The first Americans brought the tradition with them to North America. "In 1841 Albert, prince consort of Queen Victoria, introduced the Christmas tree custom to Great Britain; from there it accompanied immigrants to the United States”.(Encarta '96) In addition the many religious ceremonies and songs celebrated throughout the world, many children wait excitedly for Santa Claus to arrive on Christmas Eve and leave presents under the Christmas tree. Today Christmas is known as a time for friendship, giving, and cheer. Many wish this goodwill would continue throughout the entire year.


Justin Martyr, Philosopher, Apologist, and Martyr:

Oxford Companion to the Bible, Russell Fuller and Bruce Metzger, author; A.R.C. Leany, edited by Bruce Metzger and Michael Coogan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, p .112-113.