Analysis, Commentary, Community, Local, Opinion, Park Forest

And So This Is Christmas

Holy Family icon, refugees, La Sagrada Famiia, Kelly Latimore
Refugees La Sagrada Familia by Kelly Latimore.

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- In whatever way you might celebrate at this time of the year, we wish you Happy Holidays. Merry Christmas to our Christian brothers and sisters. A belated Happy Hanukkah to our Jewish brothers and sisters. For African Americans and those in the African diaspora who will observe Kwanzaa beginning December 26, in the spirit of unity, or umoja, we wish peace.

For Christians, Christmas was a celebration that arrived late. Christians early on celebrated Easter, the Resurrection of Christ, but were reticent to commemorate the birth of Jesus. Even agreeing on the date to celebrate the birth of Jesus took time as the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke do nothing to help establish a date for Christ’s birth, let alone a year.

Toward the latter, the best scholars can ascertain at this point is that Jesus was born somewhere between 6-4 B.C.E., or “Before the Common Era.” To use the abbreviations many of us in the United States grew up using, that would put the birth of Jesus somewhere 6 to 4 years Before Christ, or B.C.

Even for a miraculous birth, that would be a tough one to pull off.

So the Gregorian Calendar is off by 6 or 4 years — we’re not exactly sure.

Eventually, in the early centuries, Christians began celebrating the birth of Jesus around the Roman holiday Sol Invictus, or feast of the “Invincible Sun,” set at the Winter Solstice to celebrate the return of the sun — in the northern hemisphere, of course. There was no great proclamation issued from a “pope” at the time to set the date for Christmas — or what would eventually be called “Christmas.” There was no strong office of “pope” that early on in Christianity. Some dioceses began to celebrate the birth of Christ around December 21, some earlier, some later, some celebrated in early January. Christmas is a feast that genuinely evolved from among the people. There seems to have been a firm desire to “baptize” the feast of Sol Invictus.

Encyclopedia Britannica tells some of this story:

December 25 was first identified as the date of Jesus’ birth by Sextus Julius Africanus in 221 and later became the universally accepted date. One widespread explanation of the origin of this date is that December 25 was the Christianizing of the dies solis invicti nati (“day of the birth of the unconquered sun”), a popular holiday in the Roman Empire that celebrated the winter solstice as a symbol of the resurgence of the sun, the casting away of winter and the heralding of the rebirth of spring and summer. Indeed, after December 25 had become widely accepted as the date of Jesus’ birth, Christian writers frequently made the connection between the rebirth of the sun and the birth of the Son.

Very long story short, the Feast of Christmas eventually evolved in Christianity.

Our Muslim brothers and sisters revere Jesus (“Peace Be Upon Him,” our Muslim brothers and sisters say when mentioning any of the prophets, sometimes shortened to “PBUH” in text), called “Isa” in Arabic, as a holy prophet, not divine. But Jesus, like Adam (Peace Be Upon Him) was one of two humans conceived by God. Muslims believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. Muslims to not see Jesus, or Isa, as supernatural, in any way, just as they do not consider the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as supernatural either.

But Jesus, or Isa, does have a role to play in the end times, according to Muslim theology. Isa never died on a cross, Muslims teach, but he did ascend, and is even now in Heaven, alive, with Allah. One day, when Allah, or “The God” declares, Allah will send the Mahdi, or “Messiah” type figure. The Mahdi will restore Islam. Then, Isa will return, and usher in the Final Judgment. Then all will be judged, including Isa, or Jesus (PBUH).

My apologies for the quick summaries of these belief systems.

Exchanging gifts, Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, “Ho, ho, ho,” and all that came later. And is a tale for another time.

My personal favorite, A Christmas Festival, by Leroy Anderson. It’s not Christmas until I hear this. And it’s not Christmas, for me, without this. Thanks to my high school Band Director Rex Gatto for teaching me to play this — on the Tuba.

And, of course, there’s this:

And, of course, this:

In whatever way you might celebrate at this time of the year, as the days gradually lengthen in the northern hemisphere, we wish you well.

And as daylight grows even as the next month or so continue in cold, may you experience and share the warmth of love, of God, of Jesus, of Isa, of Allah, the warmth of the Divine at the heart of the universe.

And may that Spirit sustain you and bring you peace.