Enough of the war on calendars

December CalendarI am glad Young Master Pulliam cited the story below, which properly states that the "War on Christmas" was -- and is -- waged most furiously by some Calvinists. But there was a doozie of a problem with it:

Although no one knows when Jesus was born, his birth was celebrated on Dec. 25 in Rome as early as AD 336 as an ascendant Roman Catholic Church preempted the pagan celebrations. Most Eastern Orthodox churches later accepted that date too, although the Armenian church retains Jan. 6.

"It's the way Europe got Christianized. The pope would write letters to the bishops saying let them keep doing what they are doing as long as they change the name," said Stephen Nissenbaum, a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts and author of "The Battle for Christmas," which traces the evolution of the holiday.

I realize this is a popular notion. I realize this is a widely held belief. But it should not be inserted into stories on blind faith. The theory is only a few centuries old and widely trumpeted by those who thought the liturgical calendar was a bad thing. But the important thing is that there is another, older theory. And one that explains, unlike the Saturnalia theory, why the Eastern and Western church have similar but different dates for Christmas. Here's the Associated Press' Richard Ostling from last year, thankfully still online:

The New Testament Gospels say the Crucifixion happened at the Jewish Passover season. The "integral age" concept, taught by ancient Judaism though not in the Bible, held that Israel's great prophets died the same day as their birth or conception.

Quite early on, [William] Tighe [, a church history specialist at Pennsylvania's Muhlenberg College] said, Christians applied this idea to Jesus and set the Passover period's March 25 for the Feast of the Annunciation, marking the angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary that she would give birth. Add nine months to the conception date and we get Dec. 25.

And the reason why the Eastern church celebrated, and some still celebrate, Christ's birth on January 6 was because they were using different calendars.

Sorry to go off on this, but this Saturnalia theory is just one of those things that belongs more in a Dan Brown novel than a news story.

Please respect our Commenting Policy