As someone who spent a few years working in public relations, I appreciate the slow-news-period naked self-promotion value of this email I recently received:
Astrologers don’t want to be collectively thought of as the Grinch who stole Christmas, but evidence from both Biblical and historical sources — and a star map of the ancient sky — suggest Jesus was born much earlier in the year, most likely in late May with the sun in the astrological sign of Gemini.
Astrologer Christine Arens says historians impressively argue against the December 25 date, when Christ’s birth is traditionally celebrated by Christians around the world. A more likely date is May 29, 7 BC, she maintains. …
Historical records are sparse, but Arens says Scripture provides some important timing clues. For example, Scripture describes the appearance of angels heralding the birth of Jesus to shepherds who were watching their flocks by night.
“The sheep indigenous to this region have their mating season from October to December. With a five month gestation period, all of the new lambs would have been born by late May and the shepherds would be in the fields watching their flocks by night to make certain none of the newcomers went astray.
“What this gives us is a birth date for Jesus sometime in late spring.” she says, adding: “The Roman historian Flavius Josephus writes about the illness and death of Herod, which occurred while a lunar eclipse was visible in Judea on March 13, 3 BC. Since the Bible tells us Herod was very much alive when Jesus was born His birth had to be prior to this date.” …
Arens believes the star the Magi followed was not an astronomical phenomenon like a meteor shower, a comet or nova as none were recorded during this period. More likely, the Magi were anticipating an extremely rare coinciding of two naturally occurring astronomical cycles: a Jupiter-Saturn conjunction (which only occurs every 20 years) on the same day as a new moon (moon-sun conjunction). …
This fixes the time for Christ’s birth on May 29, 7 BC at 5:36 a.m. with the sun, moon and the sign rising on the eastern horizon all at 4 degrees of Gemini. Jupiter and Saturn would be conjoined high up in the eastern sky (the Star in the “East”) at 20 degrees of Pisces.
If correct (and consider the source — go to www.astrologynewsservice.com, an oxymoron if I’ve ever seen one, for more of Arens’ theory), this would immediately render obsolete most Christmas songs, both religious (“Do You Hear What I Hear,” “The First Noël,” “Good King Wenceslaus,” “In the Bleak Midwinter”) and secular (“White Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride,” “Jingle Bells” and “The Christmas Song,” which mentions “Jack Frost nipping at your nose,” unless we have yet another un-spring-like spring). It would also force drastic rewriting of such Christmas stories as “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” (Although my favorite description of the Grinch and, well, people not in my favor — “Your soul is an appalling dump heap overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable, mangled up in tangled up knots” — could remain unedited for its imaginative use of synonyms and adjectives.) Every depiction of Santa Claus I’ve ever seen surrounds him with snow. (So the depiction I saw on Facebook Friday of Santa visiting the Holy Family on Christmas night would have to be redone too.)
Historians claim Christmas is celebrated on Dec. 25 because the early Christian church co-opted the pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. (Why anyone would celebrate winter is beyond my ability to comprehend, and you probably figured out that opinion from my screed about not-quite-winter-yet in this space two weeks ago.) Of course, celebrating Christmas at the beginning of summer hasn’t prevented Southern Hemisphere nations from celebrating Christmas. (Apparently Australians go to the beach on Christmas Day. Unless you plan on doing one of those inexplicable-to-me Polar Bear Dive things, I wouldn’t recommend visiting Bagley Beach today.) The only issue for me is that, with a birthday on June 3, I’d suffer the same fate as my father and brother-in-law, born Dec. 26, probably had, getting the same present for Christmas and their birthday. (And still I have no Corvette for either my birthday or Christmas.)
I am agnostic on the subject of Christ’s birth date, and I’m agnostic as well about the value of a white Christmas. (Which we’re certainly having.) The one thing I’d probably miss about Arctic Circle Christmases would be the opportunity to own a real cut-it-yourself Christmas tree, available only in the lands of pine trees. (However, someone in our office suggested palm trees would make a suitable replacement.)
Christmas traditions change anyway because our lives change, as we go from child to adult, from single person to spouse, and to parent and grandparent. In my lifetime I’ve gone from celebrating three Christmases (immediate family and both sets of grandparents) to five (parents, both sets of grandparents, girlfriend/fiancée/wife’s family and our own family). We’re now at four, with the children getting toys and the adults getting to eat our relatives’ great food and drink brandy slush.
As I wrote here last year, whether you define Christmas as a religious or secular holiday, Christmas is a season where people give to others, particularly their children through the guise of Santa Claus, taking no personal credit for their generosity. The New Testament tells Christians to be generous to others, and Christmas is a natural opportunity to do just that.
Merry Christmas, whenever it shows up on your calendar.