Reclaiming Christmas

 

The tables for calculating the date of Easter only entered the Book of Common Prayer in 1662, the first time it began to consider the needs of congregations abroad. Before that, there were the calendars of the moveable feasts for so many years ahead. The 1604 edition added the following, ‘Note, that the Supputation [meaning the reckoning or calculation] of the year of our Lord in the Church of England, beginneth the xxv day of March, the same day supposed to be the first day upon which the world was created, and the day when Christ was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary.’

The date of the Annunciation, that is to say the Conception of Jesus, was important, not merely the feast itself. Now, when it is so frequently transferred to the Monday after Easter Week, the significance of the date is almost entirely lost.

It is one of the sillier modern fantasies that Christmas is ‘really’ a pagan winter festival that the Church annexed to its own use. It shows such a parochial sense of self-importance to suppose that a possible northern European festival, from barbarian communities on the edge of or beyond the Roman Empire should have called the tune on the civilized nations and institutions of the Mediterranean world.

The British tail wagging the Roman/European dog is a common fantasy, but no less silly for being so. Pagans are perfectly entitled to be silly, but we are not obliged to believe them. Christmas is on December 25th only because it is exactly nine months after the Feast of the Annunciation.

You knew that already. The reason for reminding ourselves is that next year Good Friday will fall on March 25th. Our Lord dies upon the cross on the same day he was conceived in the womb of Our Lady. The thirteenth Station of the Cross will be especially powerful in 2005.

Calendars are now read out of diaries, but there was a time when they were part of the proclamation of the Gospel. The days of the year were part of the Good News and were often signs of the mystery of God and his love for us. Have a very happy Nativity of Our Lord.

NT

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