ERICKSON: Christmas time

December 20, 2013 

I have written before that I am not one for life goals. Most people I know who commit to them wind up stressed out and miserable. I just go where the good Lord leads and enjoy the surprise of things. I did not plan to be on television or radio or even to run a political website. These things just happened. But there is one thing I have always wanted to do.

Since I first heard him, driving with my dad to check out colleges in the spring of 1991, I have always wanted to fill in for Rush Limbaugh. Even before I considered a career in radio, I wanted to sit behind the golden EIB microphone. That is really about the only thing on my “bucket list.”

Today at noon, if you turn on your local talk station -- AM 940 in Macon -- you can hear me sitting behind the golden EIB microphone. Today and on Christmas Eve I will be filling in for Limbaugh. Prayers are appreciated.

Speaking of Christmas, I know we all know the holiday is on Dec. 25 because early Christians co-opted pagan holidays to gain legitimacy. At least that is what we are always told. It is either Saturnalia or, more common in the 20th and 21st centuries, the Festival of the Unconquered Sun.

Turns out the larger preponderance of history shows Christians arrived at the period of Dec. 25 to Jan. 6, the 12 days of Christmas, all on their own and for entirely Christian reasons. During this early period, the church discouraged the celebrations of birth and consciously chose to separate itself from pagan traditions.

By A.D. 200, Tertullian noted it as common knowledge that Christ had been crucified on the 14th of Nisan, which corresponded to March 25. The early church also believed that prophets and church martyrs died on the anniversaries of their conception. In other words, by A.D. 200, the early church believed Christ had died on March 25 and believed he had been conceived on the same day. Fast forward nine months to get the date on which Christmas should be set.

Some Christians in Egypt, within 100 years of Christ’s crucifixion, had begun commemorating Christ’s birth in the spring time, but by A.D. 200. Christians were shifting toward December and January. This was before Emperor Aurelian had even created the Festival of the Unconquered Son. By A.D. 300, before Constantine had converted and ordered the Roman Empire to convert with him, much of Christendom had settled on the period of Dec. 25 to Jan. 6 as the Christmas season.

Separately, some early Christians based their calculation on when Zacharias would have been in the Temple according to Luke 1. They calculated he would have been in the temple in late September or early October, again putting Gabriel’s appearance to Mary in March. Though far more speculative, this method was based on the literal words of the Bible.

Interestingly, well before a month and day were set, early Church tradition consistently held Christ was born on a Wednesday. In the 12th century scholars began trying to tie Christmas to Saturnalia. The connection really did not become a matter of academic discussion until the field of comparative religions took off in the 19th century.

Regardless of when Christ was born, we now celebrate his birth next week. He came into this world to provide light for the lost. The importance of Christmas is not to find your way in life, but to let him find you. Merry Christmas.

Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.

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