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Peter Espeut | Correlation doesn’t mean causation

Published:Friday | December 23, 2016 | 12:03 AM
Leonard Burrell (right) of Mark Lane sings Christmas carols with Sonia Smith (left), office attendant at Gordon House, and Tashana Sewell-Alcock, public relations officer for the Houses of Parliament, during Gordon House's annual Christmas treat and health fair for the elderly last Wednesday.

Make no mistake: No Jamaican law can determine that Christmas Day this year will fall on December 26 just because December 25 falls on a Sunday. All civil law can do is create a public holiday.

During the days of chattel slavery in Jamaica, the slaves got two days off work at Christmas, in addition to their Sunday off. When Christmas Day or Boxing Day fell on a Sunday, an additional day off work was granted to the slaves so they wouldn't lose out. The Government continues the same practice for today's wage slaves.

Despite the slavery-derived anachronism, this coming Sunday, December 25, is still Christmas Day. If the Government has a desire to throw off the trappings of colonialism and slavery, surely changing this archaic law is low-hanging fruit. If nothing else, it will grow our GDP by an additional day's labour.

The celebration of Christmas belongs to us Christians, and we need to recapture it from the merchants and their allies in the media. The 12-day Christmas season begins on Christmas Eve night (the manifestation of the newborn Messiah to the Jewish people represented by the shepherds) and ends on the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) when we remember the coming of the Magi (representing the Gentiles) honouring the newborn king. Judaism is a faith with an ethnic base, whereas Jesus, the Christ expected by the Jews, came for all races and ethnic groups, a major point made during the Christmas season.

It is those 12 days that are numerated in the well-known Christmas carol which begins, "On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me ... ." Many Christians begin singing Christmas carols only on Christmas Eve night, and continue singing them for the 12 days until the Epiphany. Some put up their Christmas trees only on Christmas Eve night, and keep them up until the Epiphany, when they are taken down.




But the merchants and their allies in the media have captured Christmas and have turned it into their annual cash cow. They put up Christmas trees and begin to play Christmas music from as early as November (some even in October). And on Boxing Day - only the third day of Christmas - they cease playing Christmas carols altogether. For them, the Christmas season is over!

Even if we allow the merchants a little early Christmas spirit in anticipation of the season, there really is no excuse for the abrupt halt after the last shopping day. And the sales promotions of 'Christmas in June' or 'Christmas in July' are crass abuse of religion for commercial gain, with no deeper meaning other than 'come and buy'. I think Christians should boycott all merchants who show this profound disrespect for their season of gift-giving and goodwill to all.

One of the first things statisticians learn is that correlation must not be confused with causation. Just because two things or events are related does not mean that one is the cause of the other; a possible (and often likely) explanation is that they both have a common origin or source.

A popular misconception spread by the critics of Christianity is that the celebration of Christmas is rooted in the pagan observation of the Saturnalia, worship by the Romans of the Sol Invictus - the Unconquered Sun. These iconoclasts claim that the pagan feast morphed into the Christian one, suggesting that Christianity has pagan origins, which supports their secularist and even anti-Christian agenda.




I hear educated people who should know better repeating the pseudo-intellectual argument outlined above. The fact is that both Christmas and the Saturnalia have a common origin (i.e., are correlated), but one is not the cause or source of the other.

In Christian theology, as prophesied by Isaiah, the coming of the Christ brought light into a world in darkness because of The Fall: "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow, a light has shone." (Is 9: 2) The ancients knew that the shortest (and therefore the darkest) day of the year is December 21, called the winter solstice; and that the days thereafter get longer (i.e., the sun begins its conquering track). In the words of John, the Gospel writer: "All that came to be had life in him, and that life was the light of men, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower." (John 1: 4-5)

No one knows the date on which Jesus, the Christ, was born. Choosing December 25 as the date to celebrate the birth of Jesus has great theological significance, as the time when the light begins to conquer the darkness.

And so both the Saturnalia and Christmas have a common origin: the scientific fact of the winter solstice. Correlation does not mean causation.

- Peter Espeut is a theologian and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to