WAG Weekly comes to you early this week – and next – so our beloved Waggers can enjoy the holidays safely with their loved ones. Dec. 25, a Friday this year, marks, of course, the birth of Jesus, whom Christians worship as the son of God. But Christmas wasn’t always the momentous occasion that it is in our time.
There are really two Christmases – the secular holiday that everyone savors to some extent and that we really need a little of in our Covid year. That holiday – with its trees, Santa Clauses, “Nutcrackers,” “Messiahs,” Scrooges, shopping frenzy, parties, decorations and seemingly endless soundtrack of carols and other songs – owes itself to such 19th-century luminaries as Tarrytown’s Washington Irving, Charles Dickens and Prince Albert.
But the religious Christmas that celebrates Baby Jesus – that’s a little trickier. The early Christians did not commemorate birthdays nor did they mark the Roman winter solstice, Dec. 25, which they considered to be a pagan occasion. Some thought Jesus to be born in the spring and, at any rate, viewed his revelation to the world on the Epiphany, Jan. 6, as the key date.
Nonetheless, Christmas was celebrated on Dec. 25 as early as 336 in Rome. Later that century, the brilliant theologian St. Augustine connected the Nativity-winter solstice dots for us:
“Hence it is that he was born on the day which is the shortest in our earthly reckoning and from which subsequent days begin to increase in length. He, therefore, who bent low and lifted us up, chose the shortest day, yet the one whence light begins to increase.”[
Interestingly, Christians remember the nativity of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and the prophet who immediately precedes him, on June 24, which would’ve been the Roman summer solstice, after which the days get shorter. Or as John himself observes in the Christian Gospels, “he must increase but I must decrease.”
Light and dark: We have had too much of one this year and not enough of the other. But as we explore in December WAG’s opening essay, the darkness gives shape to the light. May the light touch and fill everyone this season. And may you and all you love have a very Merry Christmas.
– Georgette Gouveia