On Christmas

Monday Musings for Monday December 12, 2016
Volume VI. No. 50/350

poisettia

A Few Words about Christianity:

Commercial vs. Spirituality

by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA

 

In the recent wire service article “Some Christians say humbug to Christmas traditions,” the writer missed the mark. Christmas as a religious observance and Christmas as a secular event may co-exist, woe unto the cynics and to the intolerants. In ancient days of Egyptians, Persians and Romans, they celebrated the winter solstice called the Saturnalia which ran December 17 to 24. They closed offices and exchanged gifts. This is the time when the sun reaches its lowest point and begins to climb, once more, in the sky.

In its earliest days, Christianity did not celebrate the Nativity at all. Only two of the four Gospels even mention it. Instead, Easter was the most important day in the Christian year. In 325, when the Church fathers convened in Nicea, they focused on this issue and decided that Easter should fall on the Sunday following the first full moon of the spring, making it a moveable feast. In 354, the year Saint Augustine of Hippo was born, Pope Liberius decided to add the Nativity to the Church calendar. So, it was he who decided to celebrate the birth of Christ on the fixed day of December 25. It was not until the 1800s that commerce got a hold of Christmas and resurrected the ancient gift giving of the Roman Saturnalia. In 1828, the American Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsetta, brought the plant poinsettia to the US. It has been associated with Christmas ever since.

We have room to celebrate the secular feast of Saturnalia, winter solstice, on the 25th of December. To get us closer to God, eternity and spirituality, observe the mystical and holy phenomenon of the birth of Christ religiously, and Saturnalia, both at the same time. It is unhealthy to engage in extremes of either/or, and to be cynical and intolerant of others. After all, Christmas and Saturnalia are to enhance love and understanding.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association; Life Member, American Medical Association; Life Member, Southern Medical Association; and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He is a Raleigh, North Carolina writer and dramaturge and the 2016 recipient of NC Award in Fine Arts.

 

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