THE EDITOR, Sir:
A few church groups across the globe tell us that Christmas celebration on December 25 has its roots in paganism. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The Syrian leader Antiochus Epiphanes came to prominence around 175 BC and ruled Syria from that time to 164 BC. In 168 BC, he took control of Palestine. On December 25, 168 BC, he entered the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and sacrificed a pig on the altar, desecrating it.
A small group of Jews known as the Maccabees fought against Epiphanes and eventually drove him out of Palestine.
On December 25, 165 BC (three years to the day after Epiphanes' desecration), the temple was cleansed and rededicated. The celebration of Hanukkah on December 25 each year by the Jewish community is in honour of the triumph over Epiphanes and in honour of the cleansing and rededicating of the temple in 165 BC. So even if December 25 was associated with a pagan feast at some time, the Jewish community took the date and gave it a new significance by cleansing and rededicating the temple on that date.
When Christians started to use the date to celebrate Christmas between the 4th and 5th century AD, we must admit that paganism had just started to affect the Church. But this does not mean that Christmas celebration is linked to paganism. Christmas celebration is directly linked to Hanukkah, which is a Jewish celebration running from December 25 to January 1.
celebration of victory
If Christmas celebration is linked to paganism, the same thing would have to be said about Hanukkah. But we know that Hanukkah is a celebration of the victory over a pagan act committed by the Syrian King, Epiphanes.
The celebration of Christmas on December 25 is actually the celebration of the First Advent of Christ; it is not the celebration of Christ's actual 'birthday'; it is the celebration of Christ's 'earthday'. The exact date of Christ's birth was not preserved and was possibly lost over time.
So Christmas is the actual celebration of divinity embracing humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. This was the original intent of the celebration. The commercialisation of Christmas in later years and right up to this present time tends to overshadow the original meaning of Christmas, which has led to so many unwarranted conclusions about the event.
Finally, concerning Hanukkah, it consists of the Feast of Lights (hence, the practice of Christmas lighting) and the Feast of Dedication. Also, the giving of gifts is a prominent feature during Hanukkah (hence, the giving of gifts at Christmas). Hanukkah and Christmas are celebrated between December 25 and January 1. This is more than a coincidence.
C. ALOYSIUS JOHNSON
Hellshire, St Catherine