23:09 GMT23 February 2020
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    ​The True Meaning of Christmas Is Theological, Not Calendrical

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    ​​It is interesting as we reflect on the meaning of Christmas to see that Christianity has adopted and absorbed already existing pre-Christian festivals. Is this a virtue or a weakness? Peter Kearney, Director of the Catholic Media Office in Scotland and Douglas McLellan, from the Scottish Secular Society discuss this issue.

    We do not actually know when Christ was born. The main reason for this, as Peter Kearney says, is that the way that we measure time and dates is different. We now use the Gregorian calendar but that is not the calendar that was in place 2,000 years ago, and there is some biblical evidence to suggest that the birth did not occur in the middle of winter.

    Host John Harrison points out that pagan festivals were held in the middle of winter the world over, before Christianity. Christianity seems to have absorbed these holidays. For example,  the Romans used to celebrate the god of agriculture — Saturn, from December 17th-24th during their festival ‘Saturnalia.’ Douglas McLellan says that there is quite a lot of evidence to suggest that Christian holidays fall quite conveniently onto old pagan festivals. What appears to have happened is that Christians absorbed these celebrations, adopting the attitude that people had been celebrating Christian festivals without knowing, thus spreading Christianity through acceptance and adapting rather than rejection.

    Peter Kearney says that Christians under the Roman Empire were persecuted up until the 4th century, thus the Christian community was not in a position to come out and declare independent holidays. Since then, Christianity has actively worked within the cultures that it finds itself in.

    Host John Harrison points out that the Christmas tree; the evergreen fir tree, has a pre-Christian meaning. The Romans used fir trees to celebrate the eternity of nature, despite the winter, during Saturnalia, and Christians used it as a sign of the everlasting life of God. Peter Kearney also points out that Christmas now has become a massive commercial explosion, the spiritual content has almost been forgotten about, so much so that many wonder if it has become a pagan festival again. Douglas McLellan says that Christmas now is an interesting blend of pagan, Christian and capitalist forces. You have the pagan idea of giving guests presents which stems right back to pagan mid-winter festivals, Christianity contributes a lot, with things like St. Nicholas, then we have the rise of capitalism. So if we want our children to understand what Christmas is all about we have to explain by going right through the brutal commercial exercise which Christmas now is, and through paganism as well. Peter Kearney said that one of the main sides of Christmas now is receiving, not giving. John Harrison says that it is not even about receiving, it is about taking — taking money from your credit card that you haven’t got.

    So Christmas could actually be on any date you like, it would only take Christians to come together once a year, as Peter Kearney points out, to celebrate the birth of Christ, just as on one date a year, Christians come together to celebrate the crucifixion. These are theological dates, not calendrical.

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    Tags:
    festive season, Religion, Christianity, Christmas
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