So it's Christmas tomorrow. That's cool, we celebrate the birth of our savior and open presents. What a fantastic holiday. Why do we celebrate it though? That seems like a stupid question since I just answered it, but it's interesting really. Was Jesus really born on December 25th? Well the short answer is that no one alive really knows. The bible would seem to suggest otherwise though. In Luke the shepherds watch their flocks at night, which only happens during "lambing" (when sheep give birth to new sheep and shepherds watch their flocks day and night) which occurs during the spring. Because evolutionarily speaking sheep who give birth in the spring when the lambs can be concealed by tall grass are more likely to live. So if the only evidence to the time of Christs birth points to March-May, why do we celebrate it in December?
Because otherwise December would suck. Seriously, that is the real reason. I mean really, finals, snow, short days, long nights. Face it, minus Christmas, December sucks and the Catholic church knew this. No I'm kidding. That's not really why, but I think I have a good point anyway.
Solis Invictus (or the birth of the unconquered sun) was celebrated Pre-Christianity by pagans during the last few days of December on the modern calander. This is because the sun reaches its winter solstice and is "reborn" moving farther north in the sky (bringing heat and light, yay!). Since civilization mostly developed in the northern hemisphere, the sun is considered as being "reborn" at this time instead of "dying" which is how it would appear in Namibia, but Namibia has more Zebras than people, so they don't get to make the rules.
I guess the Catholics held a conference sometime in the 200's to decide on Christ's date of birth and went with late December because of a Latin paper written around this time which decided God created the sun at this time of year (they weren't the best physicists back then since... physics... didn't exactly exist yet.) and logically, to them at least, if God created the sun in late December, God would have sent Christ at the same time. This also coincided with the current celebrations of Solis Invictus and the birth of some Iranian .. something .. that the Roman soldiers liked which were both on December 25th. So back then, it was more like, Why NOT celebrate it on December 25th? Even if the day seems ambiguous now, it made sense then, and it stuck. Then in year 336, which is also the first three digits of my phone number, Constantine declared Christianity the favored religion and Christmas took off, along with the success of retail chains everywhere.
So why presents? Well when Christ was born three "wise men" (which really aren't described in much more detail than being wise and men) brought him some cool gifts. This is logically why we give gifts on Christmas. Though I think most people typically receive more than 3 gifts for Christmas. Maybe we go a little overboard on this presents thing. I'm sure we have those ungodly retail chains to thank for this. You know, with them shoving down our throats the idea that the only way to show love for our friends and family is to buy them tons of stuff, the more expensive the better! Don't get me wrong, I fall victim to this practice too.
Anyway, who were these wise men? Many biblical scholars today believe the wise men were actually Magi, which are Zoroastrian priests whose responsibility was to read and manipulate stars, basically an astrologer. Zoroastrianism is an old Persian religion that I really know nothing about to be perfectly honest, beyond the fact that it's monotheistic and has a standard good vs. evil belief. To me it sounds much like modern Western religions, but probably very different in ways I don't understand.
So that's cool, the wise men were religious people and they came and gifted Christ cool stuff because they believed he was an angel. Then Christ lived an amazing life and saved us all so we love him and want to respect him by having a holiday commemorating his birth. It's kinda cool really.
When I was little my grandma and I used to make Jesus a birthday cake every year. Okay so it was probably just my grandma making the cake with me standing on a chair (I was really short) watching her, but it was my idea okay? :)
So it's pretty much celebrated for all the reasons we grow up celebrating Christmas, Christ's birth and wise men giving him presents, and I like that. We just happened to get the date wrong and the description of the wise men wrong, but honestly I'm okay with that too. I like having Christmas in December. Like I said before, December would be an incredibly dreary month without it. Then the wise men, I think I prefer my idea of these guys being camel riding kingly scholars with money and gold crowns more than the likely more accurate description of them as wandering priests who study the stars. However I do really like astronomy and astrology was kind of like the astronomy of year 0 since calculators couldn't exactly do trig and calculus (which wouldn't even exist for another 1700 years) back then.
I like Christmas because it's a religious holiday that nearly everyone appreciates. Even most non-religious people are happy to celebrate a season of giving during December. Sure you have the occasional bone head who gets offended at being wished Merry Christmas, but they'll probably get kicked in the spirit-face by a spirit-camel owned by a Zoroastrian astrologers in the after life, and that's a fun thought.
Merry Christmas friends.