The Church has always celebrated 25th December as Nativity Day and 1st January as the Naming and Circumcision Day of Christ ever before 1st January became uniformly adopted as the New Year Day by all the nations of the world.
Celebration of New Year Days by Bible Believers:
The age-old observation, especially noticeable in the temperate regions that the sun dangles to and fro in the sky, from north to south and back again in relation to the seasons, has taught most cultures that there are cycles of years from ancient times. The moon cycles observable by all gave rise to the idea of months. This calendrical purpose was clearly, God’s intention for the fourth day positioning of the lights (Sun Moon and even the Stars) in the firmament Gen 1:14-19. They are not for divination, worship or rituals (as done mysticism and nature religions) but simply to serve as timing signs for calculating seasons, seedtime and harvest time while the earth lasts (Gen 8: 22).
1. The Ancient Israel proclaimed the Civil New Year with the blasts of the Trumpets, offerings and purification (Lev 23:23-25; Num 29:1-6) in the seventh sacred month of Tishri (September-October or Autumnal equinox), corresponding to Egyptian solar or tropical calendar of their place of sojourn. Ancient Jews had believed that this was the time when creation began, since this was the fruit maturity month and all the trees were believed to be mature-fruited at creation (Gen 1:11-13).
But the Sacred First Month was Nisan (Est 3:7) i.e. Abib (Exd 12:2) (March-April or Spring equinox), marking their national rebirth and deliverance from Egypt (Exd. 12:43-13:10). This was also the month of their post-exile independence under Nehemiah (Neh 2:1-10), corresponding to the Chaldean lunar calendar of their place of origin and exile.
2. The Primitive Christian Church was met with the dilemma of celebrating the New Year with the Greeks in December (Winter Solstice) or with the republican Romans in March (Spring Equinox) or with the Roman Caesars in January according to the Julian Calendar. The early Church believed that March 25th being the Spring Equinox (corresponding to Nisan or Abib Exd 12:2) was the date of the world’s creation. This is because God directed that this period be marked as the beginning of the year to the Israelites through Moses.
Early Christian chronographers calculated that Christ died on Spring Equinox, which was on 25th March, 34AD (by today’s Gregorian calendar, 6th April 30AD because of the adjustments in the past, but this also agrees with Epiphany Day on 6th January); He therefore, must have also been conceived on the same date which marks the Annunciation visit of Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary. By this, Christ’s Nativity (Christmas) must have been nine months later on 25th December, during the tax registration shortly before the death of Herod the Great in 4BC (Mat 2; Luke 2). The Churches, (except in England where December 25th was preferred till the 14th century) therefore, chose to celebrate their New Year on 25th March when Christ must have taken up flesh in His mother’s womb to begin the New Creation (this was also the time when the Exodus of Israel from Egypt began Exd 12:2). Later the Church adopted the Julian calendar of the Roman Empire because of its seasonal consistency and began to celebrate the New Year on 1st January as the commemoration of the Circumcision and Naming of Christ, when He entered the citizenship covenant of Israel as the Son of David.
There are recent conjectures speculating that December 25th was chosen to clash with the pagan Saturnalia (17th December) which began in Rome after 200AD, but this is totally unfounded. Claims that pagan religions celebrated festivities on 25th December before the Church is based on ignorance about (or disregard of) the development of the Calendar.
The Calendar Reforms by the Church.
The Church’s interest in calculating the date for the Easter with simplicity and seasonal consistency led to the innovation by Victorinus of Aquitaine in 463AD of the Great Paschal period of 532 years (28×19, i.e. Solar cycle x Metonic cycle) for determining Easter dates under Pope Hilarius. In the 4th century, Emperor Constantine I had modified the Julian calendar from the Roman traditional arrangement of irregular fortnightly ides, calends, etc to the popular regular Sunday week pattern. The collapse of the Roman Empire led to the need to again modify the Julian calendar which numbered years from the founding of Rome and consular accessions. Easter date had the almost impossible task of consistently reconciling the seven-day week, the 29½-day synodic lunar month, the 365¼-day solar year, the Passover full moon and the vernal (Spring) equinox.
The first step of changing the numbering of years from reference to consular accession to reference to Christ’s birth (i.e. Christ’s messianic accession, since the carol Angels proclaimed Him Christ and Lord the same day He was born Lk 2:10-12) was undertaken by Dionysius Exiguus (an accomplished theologian, canonist, mathematician, chronographer and astronomer) in 525AD under Pope St. John I. This gave rise to the BC/AD system which is same as the modern BCE/CE system. The earliest epoch date in the Julian and Gregorian calendars is 4713BC, when the Church’s Great Paschal Period coincides with the fiscal indiction period according to the calculations by Joseph Scaliger who named the epoch period Julian Period after his father, Julius Scaliger in 1583. This date is still used for scientific computations in astronomy. Archbishop Ussher later in the 1650s did a chronological computation from the Bible which arrived at 4004BC as the date of creation. More recent computations give about 4224BC while the use of the Septuagint gives about 5500BC.
During the Protestant Reformation, Pope Gregory XIII set out to improve on the Julian calendar in order to ensure the stabilisation of the vernal equinox on March 21 (as it was in 325AD when the Council of Nicaea held), by allowing leap years only on century years divisible by 400. This Gregorian calendar was proclaimed in 1582 and has gradually spread from the Roman Catholic world to the rest of the world because of its stable accuracy. Thank God for the Church: it has offered the world a formidable instrument for reckoning time.
Updated January 4, 2010
by Ven. Dr. I. U. Ibeme
Copyright © PriscAquila Publishing, Maiduguri, Nigeria.
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