December 23, 2012

Ask the Experts: Christmas Questions Edition

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(RNS) Why do some Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7? Was it an inn or a ancestral home that rejected the Holy Family? And did department stores invent many of our Christmas traditions? Find out in Ask the Experts, a new feature from RNS.

  • jack birdwhistell

    I know about the ‘invention’ of A.D. by dionysius in the 600s–But who ‘invented’ the abbreviation B.C. (It must have been an Englishman, eh?)

  • Daniel Burke

    Great question, Jack. We’ll ask the experts and report back soon.

  • Clairnel Nervik

    Thank you for these fascinating questions and scholarly answers. I enjoyed reading them all, and especially appreciated the answers to my question.
    Clairnel

  • CMR

    Ronald Goff asks: Is it true that most Christian churches did not celebrate Christmas in significant way until about a hundred years ago?

    Most Christians thought it a pagan celebration until Queen Victoria (1850’s?) made it popular to celebrate the holiday in England. Of course “high society” in America then followed suit. Before that, most churches considered it a pagan practice and strongly discouraged it. When the merchants saw how lucrative it could be, they promoted it to sell goods… Also, the first Christians did not celebrate it. It wasn’t until the late third century and certainly by 400 AD that the Catholic church adopted this pagan festival (Saturnalia) and blessed it and changed the name to Christ’s mass (Christmas)

  • John Jones

    Why do non-Catholics continue the use the word Christmas which means Christ´s Mass (a Roman Catholic) term? Why not call it something like Christfest?

  • sharon b

    Interesting reading this Christmas Eve – but forgive me being pedantic when I point out that Witherington probably meant *partition* wall rather than petition 🙂

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  • Daniel Burke

    Good catch, Sharon b. Thanks!

  • Steve Cavanaugh

    Christmas was a feast with special texts in the Book of Common Prayer, the state religion of England and the faith of the majority of its people at the time of Queen Victoria. Christmas has been celebrated with four different Masses and an octave (eight days of celebration) in the Catholic Church since the late Roman Empire, and the Eastern Orthodox also celebrated Christmas (although the emphasis on the East was on Epiphany). The idea that “most Christians” thought it was a pagan holiday is not true: only those Protestants descended from the Puritans and English Baptists thought this way. Even the Lutherans always celebrated Christmas.

  • Joseph could have been born in Bethlehem and still registered as a citizen there, even though he now lived and worked in Nazareth. Work commitments could have forced him to travel late in Mary’s pregnancy. The refusal of the Nazareth midwife could have forced him to take her along. A “cuckold” with a woman pregnant by another man was anathema, unwelcome by his family, forcing them to the cave stable.

  • Wendy Gustofson

    Speaking as a Lutheran (reformed Catholic), there are many Catholic traditions that were maintained. After all, Luther himself never intended to leave the church nor start another church, only to improve it. Therefore, his love for the Catholic church would of course result in a faith still filled with many of it’s traditions.

  • German Lutherans and I suppose Roman Catholics do not call it Christmas.
    It is the German for Mid Winter’s night, Weihnachten. Supposedly from pagan beginnings, as are the tree, yule log. They changed the meaning of the celebration but kept the old name.

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  • Why do Christians today deny or ignore the Bible’s recording that Jesus took on or entered a seed of Abraham as records Hebrews 2:16, and rather say he had no Earthly father, but God turned into a human flesh type, and also say even Mary human sin-nature Christ did not have, when scriptures, Gal. 4:1-4, says he was made of a woman? Why do Church not believe that the supreme Spirit Son of God took on a man’s seed & human nature, Heb.2:14, having also therfore a physical mother & father?

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  • Stewart Gibb

    At one point I read in a book, authored by a Jewish woman historian who converted to Christianity which I only got to see for a few minutes, that there were studies showing Mary then Joseph were the 1st and 2nd most direct descendants of the house of David. Their 1st born would have literally been King of the Jews, if they were not under Roman rule. It said that the census had also something to do with control of the family structure of Jewish tradition. As the most direct descendants both Mary and Joseph would have to be there.

    Making thing more interesting it said swaddling clothes identified family lineage and that there were shepherds who were the priests of the temple that tended the sacrificial offering lambs. Then the possibility that the simple description used by the angels would have all those priest would have needed.

    Does this ring a bell with anyone reading this? I would like to find the book again to see the details and basis of her statements and read what else it says. The comment above brought it to mind.

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  • Adam Mary

    Watch the Bethlehem Star documentary and history comes together in an interesting ordered way including the changing of the calendars which some may have known that the Magi visited Jesus on Dec. 25 according to the documentary which is based on astronomical signs listed in the bible.

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