Merry Christmas to all the readers of this column. December 25 is celebrated as Christ’s birthday, the world over, both by Christians and non-Christians. It’s a global festival now- with massive celebrations, that include enormous lighting of markets, private and public buildings for days, exchange of gifts, shopping expeditions by enthusiasts, special turkey dinners and mid-night mass in churches.
Ironically, none knows for sure when the Christ was born. The holy Bible is silent about the timing of His birth and there are no other historical documents on this subject either. All that the Biblical gospels of Luke and Matthew tell us is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea to a virgin called Mary and His birth was caused by “divine intervention”, without a biological father. No mention of date and time.
The massive celebrations of Jesus’s purported birthday on December 25 are based only on ‘faith‘ and not on any recorded facts. The huge extravaganza that we see in the name of Christ and His ‘birthday’, has no basis whatsoever, either in science or in history. Science obviously can’t accept conception by a woman, without a biological father.
It’s a settled fact that Jesus birthday is unknown. However, none is sure, how the date (December 25) was declared as Christ’s birthday. Many scholars hold that it was randomly fixed by an enterprising Pope Julius 1 (papacy 337-352) around the year 350. However, there’s no unanimity in the Christian tradition on this issue.
The date was probably picked up to coincide with the celebrations of Saturnalia- an ancient Roman festival in honour of God Saturn, held on December 17 of the Julian calendar, and later expanded with festivities through to December 25. With this clever move, Vatican managed to subsume an important pagan festival into Christianity. Thanks to aggressive evangelization, today there are no traces of pre- Christianity pagans or their traditions in most of Europe.
It’s really uncanny. Saturnalia celebrations by Romans were dedicated to placate Lord Saturn. This Roman practice is very close to the Indian tradition of worshiping the dreaded planet Shani (Sanaischara-one of the nine Navagraha). What an interesting situation! Roman pagan festival Saturnalia, the global celebrations of Jesus’s birthday and the age-old Hindu practice of worshipping Shani, have a common thread running.
There were occasions when Christians got sharply divided on the issue of Christ’s birthday. Stealing, a pagan event and re-launching it under a Christian brand didn’t go well with a large section of devout Christians at some moments in history. There were instances, when Christian authorities put a stop to Christmas celebrations.
In 1659, the Massachusetts Bay colony (in the US) banned Christmas, as in subject to criminal prosecution and a fine of five shillings (now, about $8000) as part of its efforts to “reform” and ‘Purify’ the church by purging it of the idolatry and ceremonial excesses.
Earlier, in the 1640s, England underwent a revolution that drove king Charles I from his throne (and ultimately to the headman’s block) and established a Puritan Commonwealth. Among the ruling of the new Parliament was the decree in 1644 that December 25 would thereafter be a day of “fasting and humiliation” and that anyone caught celebrating would be charged with an offense and fined.
But that’s history. Now Christians and non Christians celebrate the day as a festival, marked by community prayers, feasts and gaiety. Over the centuries, Christmas has become a big business, and its celebrations bring normal life to a halt in most parts of the world. The festival has grown into a huge cultural and commercial phenomenon – sustaining, and in turn being sustained, by a multi billion industry, spanning across continents.
December 25, obviously has no special significance in Christ’s short mortal life. For Him, it is just another day. Jesus comes out as a simple, unpretentious spiritual leader, going by the fables about Him in Christian traditions. I am sure He is scandalised by spectacular, ostentatious and extravagant celebrations which take place in His name, to mark a day, which means nothing to Him or His message to the world.
For over three hundred years after the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, there were no birthday celebrations for Him. Easter was the main holiday for Christians. The Christmas celebrations started in Rome, about 336 CE, and some enterprising soul fixed December 25 as His ‘official date of birth.
It’s Christmas season. Many of us – Christians and non Christians- will join the celebrations. The believers will attend holy Christmas mass in a church. Isn’t the time to introspect and reflect on all that has been done or is being done by the Church in Jesus’s name ?
Consider this : Millions of turkeys are slaughtered every year to ‘celebrate’ Christ’s ‘birthday’.
According to available information, in the US, over 22 million turkeys are killed each year at Christmas alone, and 10 million in the UK. Turkeys for Christmas dinner are raised through a large-scale industrialised process at a heavy cost to the environment. While believers sing corals for the Lord, millions of hapless turkeys are forced to go under a butcher’s knife.
Countless Christmas trees are raised, to be chopped every year to celebrate the festival.
According to the US Agriculture Department, over 1.50 crores Christmas trees were cut down in 2017. This horrendous figure is only for the US. One can imagine the havoc this obsession with Christmas trees must be causing to the environment world-wide.
In many parts of the world, Christmas trees are just not available. Church enthusiasts replace them with artificial look alike, manufactured from assorted materials like wood, plastic, paper and synthetic stuff. While such ‘trees’ look dazzling in the glitz of malls and showrooms, their disposal as trash is a big environmental concern.
How many innocents have been tortured to death in the name of Christianity? Lakhs
were burnt alive on stakes, tortured or hanged by the Church after having been declared `heretics’ during Inquisition, or accused of witchcraft or heresy. Nearer home, thousands of Hindus and Muslims were persecuted, maimed killed, forced to convert to Christianity or flee, after Francis Xavier landed in Goa on My 6, 1542.
Before the church moved in, Canada , Americas, Australia and New Zealand had thriving rich local culture. The church, through its campaigns destroyed an infinite number of aboriginals and their culture.
Gospels, parables, fables and legends describe Jesus as a spiritual leader who was unassuming, simple and unpretentious. He was forgiving, full of love and compassion. But sadly, his birthday celebrations include violence against nature (killing of turkeys and felling of Christmas trees) and over centuries, have become synonymous with opulence, vulgar display of wealth by the rich, lavish dinners and decorations. All this is surely not in conformity with the teachings of Jesus. It is a gross injustice to the values, He lived and died for. Pause and please think about all this, before you join Christmas celebrations.
Mr. Balbir Punj is a Former Member of Parliament and a Columnist.
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