So – you’ve brought all the presents, stocked up the fridge, sent all your cards and are ready to celebrate Christmas in ‘peace’ – Yes?
What? you haven’t got ALL your presents yet – oh dear!
Doesn’t matter – the Celebration of Christ’s Birth is what all this ‘confusion’ we
suffer; enjoy each year ir really all about and there’s no confusion there – Right? Wrong! (Sorry folks)
Let me explain the problem…
Firstly – when does a day ‘begin’??
Today, what with atomic clocks and digital wristwatches and computers with ITS (Internet Time Synchronisation!) and UTC ( Co-ordinated Universal Time!) it’s relatively easy to say a day begins at either Midnight or as the sun rises at Dawn of the specified date, depending on how you use the word ‘day’.
But how about back when our calendar was being defined and festival days were decided as being celebrated on a specific ‘day’ – how could they tell – especially if many people could not even read or write?
Well back then everyone had the same ‘clock’ consisting of the Sun, the moon and the stars. and since two of those are hard to ‘measure’ during daylight most people ‘waited’ until the going down of the Sun to tell what ‘date’ it was, when the ‘day of a festival actually ‘began’. Hence the long held tradition of Jews and Medeival Europe and many other cultures of counting a ‘Day’ from the setting of the Sun. (So ‘Friday’ for example actually began on Thursday evening! and finished just before Friday sunset. (The Sabbath actually begins on Friday evening and ends on Saturday before sunset Saturday when the ‘First Day’ begins).
So back around the time of Jesus a day began on the preceding evening and went through to Sunset.
Now Early on in the beginnings of Christianity it was decided it would be a good idea to decide when the anniversary of Christ’s birth was – strangely enough no-one ever saw this as being particularly important while he was alive so as to record it for posterity! It was left to scholars and theologians to try and work out some centuries after everyone who might have actually had the exact date in memory was dead and buried.
It was considered relatively easy to work out the day he died – being on a very specific Jewish Feast time of Pesach and the year was ‘roughly’ known and set so the date could be fixed and celebrated (as what we now know as ‘Easter’ and Good Friday) as being on March 25th in that year.
It was held as being true that a prophet of God always died on the same day as the day of his Conception, so Christ should have been conceived on March 25th (a Spring conception – almost perfectly timed to the Spring Equinox). Scholars then worked out that nine months later (to the ‘day’!) must have been the day Christ was born and hence Dec 25th was ‘set in stone’ – so to speak.
Problem: if we take EXACTLY nine months as being the average length of human conception (currently believed to be 41 weeks) then the actual day of Birth should be Dec 24!!!, because Dec 25 is actually nine months plus one full day from the 25th of March ( in the same way that Monday to Monday is actually 8 days, not 7!)
December the 25th is the first day of the 10th month from March 25th.
So the Scholars using a Julian Calendar may have made a simple and all too common ‘mistake’ by selecting the day after nine months not exactly nine months. (unless the lunar month of approx 29.5 days was used?? – this doesn’t work as then Christmas would be Dec 15/16!)
Another Problem: as mentioned, back in the day, ‘day’s began the previous evening so that the day of December 25 actually began on the evening of Dec 24!!! So is this the origin of the naming of Christmas Eve as being on the 24th? In which case the ‘START’ of ‘Christmas Eve Day’ actually begins on the night of December 23 as we know it??
Confused yet? – it gets worse!
Just a brief recap: Christ’s Birth was calculated from the day of His death/conception (same date – diff years). Nine months from Mar 25 = Dec 24 so Christmas Day ‘should’ be 24 Dec – which starts on eve of Dec 23 – with me so far?)
Okayyy – now – The 12 days of Christmas, and the 12 Nights also, actually are celebrated on the evening of Dec 25 – which, as we discussed, is actually the beginning of the ‘day’ of Dec 26!!! (because sun set was used to ‘tell’ time/days back then). They end on Jan 5th (daytime) so that Epihphany, the day Christ was supposed to be ‘introduced’ to the world by the 3 Magi (wise men) or, according to some belief, the day He was also baptised, can be celebrated on Jan 6.
Jan 6 is Thirteen Days (inclusive) from Dec 25!
SO – depending upon your math/way of deciding when a day starts Christmas Day ‘could’ begin either on the Evening of Dec 23 up to the evening of Dec 25 (which would then be ‘Dec 26’!)
And on a Final note… some early Christians believed only sinners celebrated their birth day – seems that tradition did not last all that long.