Why Do We Celebrate Christmas on December 25?

Why Do We Celebrate Christmas on December 25?

By Larry Plachno

Larry-150x1 blueNon-Christians frequently bring up the question of why Christmas is celebrated on December 25. It is a known fact that Jesus Christ was probably born in the summer and they suggest that Christians took advantage of existing harvest festivals, the date of the winter solstice, or the date honoring the sun god of the ancients. However, there is strong evidence that the day the “star” stood still over Bethlehem and the visit of the Magi with their gifts took place on December 25. Hence, there is ample justification for the celebration of Christmas and the exchange of gifts on December 25. If you give me a few minutes of your time I will try to provide the background on all of this and give you some interesting history as well as information on stars.

Today, when we talk about stars most people think about movie stars or rock stars. It was not always this way. When Christ was born people spent more time looking at the stars in the heavens. There was less pollution in the cities to block the view and the people did not have television, newspapers and cell phones to divert their interest. In those days prior to air conditioning it was not uncommon for people to sleep on their rooftops to get some fresh air and fall asleep watching the stars. Hence, it is not unexpected that stars are mentioned so prominently in the Bible.

Early work on tracking the movement of the stars was done by Tycho Brahe, a Danish astronomer, who is memorialized by having a crater on the moon named after him. His successor was Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), a German who became the Imperial Mathematician and Astronomer in Prague. By the early 1600s he had developed the laws of Planetary Motion that we still use today. Kepler did try to recreate the sky at the time of the birth of Christ but was not successful. One reason was he was looking at the wrong dates due to mistaken ideas on the dates for the birth of Christ and the death of King Herod. A second reason was that figuring out the mathematics of planetary motion had to be done manually at that time and was very time consuming.

It was Dionysius Exiguus (470-544), a monk from the area we now call Romania and Bulgaria, who had originally developed the method of numbering years that we still use today. He is remembered for doing substantial translations from Greek to Latin and he also wrote on elementary mathematics. In those days, there was not a calendar in every kitchen and numbering years was very informal. Some countries based years on dynasties or when a leader came to power. The only serious system used by some scholars was called AUC or Ab Urbe Condita (from the founding of the city), based on the founding year of Rome. But, since the Roman civilization was in decline while Christianity was on the rise, Dionysius Exiguus figured out how to start dating years with the birth of Christ. He was not that far off. Continue reading

Keep Eyes Fixed on the Final Goal

Keep Eyes Fixed on the Final Goal

“Tell no one of this vision, until the son of man is raised from the dead.”

The late Itzhak Perlman was one of the great virtuoso violinists of the 20th century. Stricken with polio as a child, he wore large braces on both legs and maneuvered with the aid of two crutches.

Seeing him take the stage was an inspiring sight: painfully and slowly, but majestically and confidently, he would make his way to his chair. Then he would carefully lower himself into his chair, place his crutches on the floor, unfasten the braces on his legs, and tuck one foot back and extend the other foot forward; he would then bend down and pick up his violin, arrange it un­der his chin, and then nod to the conductor. It was a ritual that his audiences had come to respect and admire.

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We Discover “our Star” in the Ordinary Course of our Daily Lives

We Discover “our Star” in the Ordinary Course of our Daily Lives

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“… behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He who has been born king of the Jews?  For we have seen His star in the East, and have come to worship Him.”

Perhaps you’ve seen the touching Christmas episode of The West Wing which first aired several years ago but has since been repeated.

A few days before Christmas, Toby Ziegler, the President’s sarcastic and sardonic communications director, receives a call from the Washington D.C. police asking if he knows a homeless man who had died in the cold the night before. Toby has no idea who the man is. The police find Toby’s card in the coat the man was wearing — Toby had given the coat to a shelter a long time ago. Toby discovers that the man was a decorated Vietnam veteran; his only survivor is a brother who also lives on the streets. Toby uses his Presidential connections to arrange for the man’s internment with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on Christmas Eve. Continue reading

Intention vs Consequence

Intention vs Consequence

   “Peter said, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?’

Writing in the Harvard Business Review [April 23, 2013], busi­ness consultant Peter Bregman tells of running late one evening. He was to meet his wife, Eleanor, for dinner, but a client meeting had run longer than expected and he was 30 minutes late.

Arriving at their table in the restaurant, he apologized. “I didn’t intend to be late,” he said!

Eleanor replied, “You never intend to be late.”

Uh-oh; she was mad! Continue reading

The Light of Glory

The Light of Glory

 “While Jesus was praying, his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.”

A woman who had never seen the ocean before went on a cruise.  On the voyage she was captivated by the variety of colors she saw in different parts of the ocean — azure, turquoise, aquamarine, emerald.   She collected samples of each hue in small bottles.

When she returned home, she wanted to show her friends the magnificent colors she had seen.   But when she poured the contents of each bottle into separate glasses to show them, she was shocked to see that all they contained was water — colorless, translucent, ordinary water. Continue reading