Christmas and Manifestation of Miracle in Cradle
Christmas and Manifestation of Miracle in Cradle
Leila Rezayati Monfared
The word Christmas comes from the Old English term Cristes maesse, meaning "Christ's mass." This was the name for the festival service of worship held on December 25th to commemorate the birth of Jesus. There is neither certain information on the date of his birth, nor even on the year. One reason for this uncertainty is that the stories of his birth, recorded in the New Testament books of Matthew and Luke, were written several decades after the event. Those who wrote it gave no specific date for the events.
The Christian Church itself paid little attention to the celebration of Jesus' birth for several centuries. It ranked after Easter, Pentecost, and Epiphany in liturgical importance. The major Christian festival was Easter; the day of Jesus' purported resurrection. Then gradually, as the church developed a calendar to commemorate the major events of the life of Jesus, celebration of his birth became significant.
Because there was no knowledge about the date of his birth, a day had to be selected. The Eastern Orthodox and the Eastern Rite Churches within the Roman Catholic Church chose January 6th. The day was named Epiphany, meaning "appearance" (i.e. the day of Jesus' manifestation). The Western Church, based in Rome, chose December 25th. It is known from a notice in an ancient Roman almanac that Christmas was celebrated on December 25th in Rome as early as 336 A.D. In the latter half of the 4th century, the Eastern and Western Churches adopted each other's festivals, thus establishing the modern Christian 12-day celebration from Christmas to Epiphany. In some places the 12th day is called the Festival of the Three Kings, because it is believed that the three wise men visited the baby Jesus on that day, bringing him gifts.
Reflection of Christmas in Quran
The holy Qur'an narrates the virgin birth of Jesus numerous times. It states that while Mary was traveling in the desert of Bayt Lahm (Bethlehem), she was overcome by the pains of childbirth. During her agony and helplessness, God provided a water stream under her feet from which she could drink. Furthermore, as she was near a palm tree, Mary was told to shake the trunk of the palm tree so that ripe dates would fall down from which she could eat and be nourished. Mary cried in pain and held onto the palm, at which point a voice came from "beneath her", understood by some to refer to Jesus, who was yet in her womb, which said "Grieve not! Your Lord has provided a water stream for you; And shake the trunk of palm tree, it will let fall fresh ripe-dates upon you. And eat and drink and calm thy mind". That day, Mary gave birth to her son Jesus in the middle of the desert. Forty days later she carried baby Jesus back to her people. The holy Qur'an goes on to describe that Mary vowed not to speak to anyone that day, as God was to make Jesus, who Muslims believe spoke in the cradle, perform his first miracle. The holy Qur'an also narrates that Mary then brought Jesus to the temple, where immediately she was ridiculed by all the temple elders. Zachariah believed in the virgin birth and supported her. Mary pointed to her son, telling them to talk to him. They were angered at this and thought she was mocking them by asking them to speak with an infant. It was then that, God made the infant Jesus speak from the cradle and he spoke of his prophecy for the first time. He said: "I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; And He hath made me blessed wherever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)"! (The Holy Qur'an, Surah Maryam (SA), verses 30-33)
Traditional Customs of Christmas
Gift giving is one of the oldest customs associated with Christmas: It is actually older than the holiday itself. When the date of Christmas was set to fall in December, it was done at least in part to compete with ancient pagan festivals that occurred about the same time. The Romans, for example, celebrated the Satumalia on December 17th. It was a winter feast of merry-making and gift exchanging. Two weeks later, on the Roman New Year - January 1- houses were decorated with greenery and lights, and gifts were given to children and the poor. As the Germanic tribes of Europe accepted Christianity and began to celebrate Christmas, they also gave gifts.
Ancient, pre-Christian winter festivals used greenery, lights and fires to symbolize life and warmth in the midst of cold and darkness. The use of evergreens and wreaths as symbols of life was an ancient custom of the Egyptians, Chinese and Hebrews, among other groups. Tree worship was a common feature of religion among the Tectonic and Scandinavian people of northern Europe before their conversion to Christianity. They decorated houses and barns with evergreens on New Year's Day to scare away demons, and they often set up trees for the birds in winter. For these northern Europeans, this winter celebration was the happiest time of the year, because it signified that the shortest day of the year - somewhere around December 21st - had passed. They knew the days would get longer and brighter. The month during which this festival took place was named YOL, from which the word Yule is derived. In fact, Yule has come to mean Christmas in some countries.
Origins of Christmas Celebrations
Thus, many Christians do not know much about the actual origin of the Christmas celebration. The Romans celebrated the Feast of the Invincible Sun on December 25th. The early church fathers elected to celebrate the birth of Jesus (P.B.U.H) on this date, although there was no particular reason to choose this one. In fact, many Christian scholars contend that Jesus was actually born in summer. This is consistent with the Qur'anic account that follows, because there is a specific mention of ripe dates falling to Mary in the holy Qur'an we read: "And shake towards you the trunk of the palm-tree; It will drop upon you fresh ripe dates." (Qur'an 19: 25)
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