No matter what religion people subscribe to, or which ones they steadfastly avoid and ignore, everyone seems to have an opinion about Christmas and its celebration. This article will attempt to shed light on truths about Christmas while steering clear of emotional arguments.
People celebrate Christmas for two fundamental reasons. One, the purely secular reason, has been going on in some form likely since the early days of human civilization thousands of years ago. The winter solstice has just passed in the northern hemisphere, where a large majority of earth’s human population lives. Days will get more hours of sunlight as the weeks pass and the promise of the renewal of plant life and the return of migrating birds sustains people through long, cold and often snowy days of winter weather.
The Romans adopted the earlier celebration of this turning point in the natural year, calling it Saturnalia. While Saturnalia is well known today for its extended periods of sexual promiscuity–early autumn was a good time to give birth, best for both mother and child–and heavy consumption of alcohol, it was also a time for eating heartily, gathering with friends and family, exchanging of gifts and having fun in favourite ways.
We continue a similar tradition of celebrating the Christmas period today, with less emphasis on sex. The secular component of the event lives today as much as it has for thousands of years. The “over commercialization” of Christmas is nothing more than businesses meeting well expressed and traditional needs of people to have a festive period during the days of few hours of daylight, too much cold weather and too much snow.
Those who believe that Christmas has been taken over by industries to peddle their wares believe more in a religious celebration of Christmas. Christians may consider Christmas a somber time when they should consider the birth of Jesus of Nazareth some 2012 years ago. They consider Jesus to have been the founder of their religion.
He wasn’t, and therein lies a cause for confusion.
Jesus was a Jew. He never claimed to be anything but a Jew. The Dead Sea Scrolls, which seem to reflect the teachings of Jesus–in many cases word for word as recorded in the Bible–have recently been proven to be the work of a group of Jewish monks known as Essenes. If Jesus could quote Essene works so accurately, it’s likely he spent at least some of his “missing years’ in an Essene monastery. In his time, the Essenes were ascetics, living simply and sparsely. Considering how Jesus lived during his years of teaching, his life too was simple and sparse.
Jesus never claimed to be THE Son of God. He wouldn’t because he believed that every man and woman has the potential to join the Kingdom of God, whose members are each a child of God. In fact, whose members are each a part of the universal whole of existence, thus part of God. The Kingdom of God, as Jesus taught, is here and now, not after death. He taught that God is within each of us–not up in some mysterious heaven–and may be found by searching within. He told people to follow his ways, which meant to do as he did to achieve the mystical experiences he had. He wanted people to find God today, not live for some promised reward later.
Jesus never spoke a word to suggest that he intended to found a church. In the fourth century C.E. several religious books were rewritten to then form what Christians know as their Bible and that version called Peter the founder and first leader of a new church. In fact, we now know that the real Peter was a rough and coarse fisherman who was unlikely to be either a leader or a good speaker. James the brother of Jesus was more likely to be the one to continue the work of Jesus after the crucifixion. And Mary of Magdala, whose work was buried by the Christian church in the fourth century and whose reputation was disparaged in the sixth century when the pope called her the unnamed whore in one of the Bible stories, but whose real work and value are recorded in the Nag Hamadi’s so-called Gnostic Gospels.
Judaism considers Jesus of Nazareth to have been one of its prophets. Islam mentions both Jesus and his mother, Mary, in the Qu’ran and considers Jesus one of the prophets in the history of its religion. In fact, Islam does not downplay the significance of Jesus at all, it only values the words of Mohammed (570-632 C.E.) higher because he was the most recent prophet.
Jesus was a man of peace and love. His teachings were all about both peace and love. Didn’t he destroy the tables of the merchants outside the temple in Jerusalem, suggesting that he had hidden violence within him? Unlikely. That story is almost certainly a tale added well after the death of Jesus to make him look more powerful in the world of his time. Can you even imagine someone wreaking the destruction Jesus supposedly did outside the temple and not being punished for it? According to the story, he was neither arrested nor imprisoned for this blatant act against his own church. Supposedly he just walked away and the incident forgotten. Not likely.
“Love they neighbour as thyself” and “Peace on earth” are the two statements most often attributed directly to Jesus. Few other words are associated with Jesus as his words are only recorded in some 24 instances in the Bible. Everything else is hearsay and folk tales invented after his death to make him seem greater than a normal man..
The non-commercial celebration of Christmas is, in fact, more a celebration of the words of Jesus than about the birthday of the founder of Christianity. As calculations based on words of the Bible would put his actual birth date around September 24, December 25 is more symbolic than actual.
December 25 is a day set aside to recognize the dual messages of Jesus–peace on earth and love thy neighbour–not to recognize the birth of a man we know precious little about. Other than what has been invented about him by Christianity and other religions.
Those who value the concepts and want to see the coming to pass of peace on earth and love of others will set aside some time around the Christmas season to give them some thought. We remember the words of Jesus, that are now over two millennia old. They won’t die. However, they can only come to fruition when more of us practise them in our lives.
Christmas is about gift giving. It’s also about peace and love. We’re big enough to be able to give them all.
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