The arrogance of knowledge
Next Monday (the winter solstice) will be darkest day in 2015, as it will have the least amount of sunshine. Every day thereafter, the amount of daylight will increase. We can say with poetic licence that "the day is conquering the night", or that "the light is conquering the darkness".
Even though the western Christian world celebrates Jesus' birth on December 25, no one I know or have heard about says Jesus was actually born on that day - certainly, no one in the mainstream Church. When the Christian Church sought a date to celebrate the birth of the Christ, this time of the year was chosen.
In Christian symbolism, before Jesus came, the world was in darkness (the darkness of sin caused by The Fall). John, the poet-evangelist, had written: "What has come into being in him is life - life that is the light of men; and that light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it" (John 1:4-5). So this date was chosen for theological reasons. And good reasons they are, too!
Christmas under attack
These days, the celebration of Christmas is being attacked from all sides: by secularists for whom any religious celebration is anathema; and from fundamentalist Old Testament Christians who wish to retain the Old Covenant celebrations described in the Hebrew Scriptures. In addition, the retail sector, backed by the mass media, has captured Christmas as their cash cow, as their annual bonanza; they have rebranded Christmas into the spending spree they wish it to be.
Those of us who retain our genuine religious heritage have to make a clear distinction between Christmas, the Christian celebration, and Christmas, the commercial bazaar; otherwise, the former could be totally overwhelmed by the latter. In addition, we must make sure we do not confuse the cultural trappings of local secular Christian traditions (e.g., Christmas trees, cards, cake and ham, Yule logs, mistletoe and sorrel) spread across the world, with the religious celebration of Christmas.
Sun worshippers in the ancient world celebrated the festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the birthday of the Conquering Sun - on December 25, which has led gullible iconoclasts to believe that Christmas began as a pagan celebration, and, therefore, remains pagan. No matter how many times this false theory is exploded, those who wish to believe it stubbornly persist.
First of all, the Christian celebration of Christmas predates the pagan celebration of the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, promulgated only in 274 AD by Roman Emperor Aurelian. How could Christmas have begun as a pagan celebration if the celebration of the birth of Christ took place before the pagan feast began?
We see that both dates, the Christian Christmas and the pagan feast, have their origin in the same cosmological fact of nature: that after December 21, the light of the sun begins to conquer the darkness.
The Christian religion is chock-full of symbolism of light, and Jesus is adorned with many titles: eg, Christ our light, Christ our dawn, Christ the Light of the World. The Easter, or Paschal Candle, symbolically represents Christ. Newly baptised Christians are handed candles lit from the Paschal Candle, and are told to "make your light shine before men". At Christmastime, it is a global tradition to adorn our homes with light.
Don't be embarrassed
The naysayers should never cause Christians to be embarrassed to celebrate Christmas and to wish one another Christmas joy.
Those who have no religious faith often ridicule believers, calling religion a collection of myths and superstitions. I make no attempt here to convince secularists to adopt my faith or any other. It was St Thomas Aquinas who said: "To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible."
Those who believe (yes, believe!) natural science to be superior to religion as a source of truth and knowledge have made their assumptions about what knowledge is and how it may be discovered. True scientists are careful not to betray the logic of their discipline. If you limit yourself to what you can observe and measure, when confronted with faith matters, it is legitimate to say that religion is unscientific; but to say there is no God because his existence cannot be proven is illogical and unscientific, for you cannot prove a negative. The old logical axiom is still true: Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Thank God we still have freedom of speech and religion in Jamaica. And people are free to hold no religion at all! And to talk about it! And to be illogical and irrational!
A happy and holy Christmas to all, when it comes!
- Peter Espeut is a Roman Catholic deacon and theologian. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.