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What Do People Really Celebrate on Christmas?

What Do People Really Celebrate on Christmas?
Was Jesus really born on the 25th of December? If he was, many Orthodox Christians from the East will be celebrating this year on the wrong day.

I often used to wonder, when even still a Christian, seeing those vast crowds in London’s Oxford Street a few days before Christmas, just what all those people were buying gifts for.

In the run-up to Christmas itself, shops stay open longer so that shoppers can have more time to fill the Christmas stockings with yet more unnecessary and often unwanted presents. Harrods, the famous store in central London, this year unveiled its Christmas department in August, lest people didn’t have quite enough time to get that last minute gift!

The sad truth is that for devout Christians, their feast has been robbed from them by the media and by big business. The pressure put on parents to spend more and more each year on toys and gifts for their children often puts a considerable strain on their finances. The wasted mountain of food thrown away the day after the Christmas festival is over would feed millions who will know nothing of its celebration.

Special phone lines open over the Christmas period each year to answer the calls of those for whom all the hype has brought close to suicide, feeling alone and depressed in a Christmas world where everyone is supposed to be happy. Worst of all, the crowds of drunken revelers jumping into fountains and staggering home after office parties make the casual observer ask what all this is really about.

What are all these people celebrating? Why are the streets of New York and Paris and Rome lit up with festive lights? Why does every home have a Christmas tree in its window? Why do all the banks and companies close their doors for a celebration of the birth of Jesus?

It cannot be that all of these people are devout Christians. Drunkenness, gluttony, and waste are as much contrary to the Christian message as they are to the Muslim one. Greed is abhorrent to the message of the Gospel.

No, Christmas has indeed been stolen by big business. Our Christian friends who truly believe Jesus to be their savior are a minority in the countries where they live.

And what about those who are new to Islam? What about those who gave up this belief in a savior of mankind, to turn their faces instead to One God, without partner or equal? What must they think of the religious feast they left behind?

So what is the celebration all about? Why all the fuss? Was Jesus really born on the 25th of December? If he was, many Orthodox Christians from the East will be celebrating this year on the wrong day.

The Coptic Church in Egypt, for example, follows the old calendar and celebrates Jesus’ birth on January 6. Many of the Orthodox in central and Eastern Europe celebrate on January 7.

So what is so special about the 25th of December? Isn’t that the day on which Jesus was born?

In fact, no one knows what the exact date was for Jesus’ birth. Indeed, none of the many Gospels, including the four chosen by the Christian Church in the early centuries, make any mention at all of the date. It isn’t even suggested that he was born in winter. He could just as easily have been born in the middle of the summer.

The only hint of a date is the census. The census of the whole Roman Empire which Saint Luke’s Gospel suggests took place at the time of Jesus’ birth (but which does not give any date) has been called into doubt historically by many scholars.

It was supposed to be this census which brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for the birth of the child, but some Biblical scholars suggest it was only a literary device used by Luke to get the characters where he wanted them to be.

What is nearer to the truth is that those who had converted to Christianity from paganism in the early centuries took their existing feast of the Winter Solstice,  December 25, and turned it into a feast of Jesus’ birth.

That old feast celebrated the sun in the depths of winter. Since that time, the date has become set in stone as the date of Christmas, and many of those crowds reveling in London’s Trafalgar Square will mistakenly believe that December 25 is Jesus’ birthday, when it is not.

The important thing for sincere Christian believers is that they celebrate the fact of Jesus’ birth, not the exact date. The exact date doesn’t really matter. They believe that he was born God’s Son, savior of the world.

Muslims totally reject this belief, but have respect for those people who are trying to celebrate the central tenet of their faith in a world gone mad in a frenzy of shopping and drink.

For Muslims, there is no greater statement of the belief in God than this:

{Say: He is Allah, the One and Only!Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not nor is He begotten. And there is none like unto Him.} (Quran 112)

We believe with utter certainty that Allah did not have a son or a mother, and that He has no equal. We believe, too, that Jesus (peace be upon him) is a prophet of Allah, sent by Allah to teach the world about the straight path which is Islam. This is why we say “peace be upon him” whenever Jesus’ name is mentioned.

So these few words are not a criticism of Jesus, or even of the Christian believers who celebrate his birth with sincerity. The fact is that the world is celebrating nothing in particular at this time, under the guise of religion.

Just like Santa Claus, the Christmas tree and the robin redbreast that sits on top of it, the day of their celebration has been made up.

So those new to Islam need not be sad on December 25, when they have a twinge of nostalgia for the past. Good people can celebrate Jesus’ birth, and the birth of all prophets (peace be upon them all) on any day they wish.

As for our Christian friends, our own faith doesn’t quite allow us to wish them “Merry Christmas,” lest anyone should think we believe in the reason for the celebration. As people of faith, though, wanting to hold out a hand of friendship to all other people of faith, we can wish them other words of friendship and of greeting.

Why don’t we, this year, offer them the greeting, “May God bless you on your feast.”

Who knows, our own gentleness in this season of joy might even lead them to Islam.

(This article is from Reading Islam’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.)


About Idris Tawfiq

Idris Tawfiq was a British writer, public speaker and consultant.He became a Muslim around 15 years ago.For many years, he was head of religious education in different schools in the United Kingdom.Before embracing Islam, he was a Roman Catholic priest.He passed away in peace in the UK in February 2016 after a period of illness.May Allah (SWT) have mercy on him, and accept his good deeds. Ameen.

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