Dreaming of a White Christmas

By Herbert Vego

“I’M dreaming of a White Christmas,” the song goes, “just like the ones I used to know, where the treetops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow.”

This leads us to the dictionary meaning of White Christmas as “a Christmas when there is snow on the ground.”

But then, since snow never falls in the Philippines, we can only dream about it.

Anyway, the song “White Christmas” heralds a wish for the season to “be merry and bright” with no mention of the birth of Jesus Christ.  Is that because the composer behind the song was not a Christian?

Indeed, it was not a Christian but an American Jew, Irving Berlin, who composed the song which was first recorded by American singer Bing Crosby in 1942.

Berlin must have imbibed the idea from the famous English novelist, Charles Dickens, who, in 1843 had written his most famous classic, “A Christmas Carol,” which illustrated the imagery of a snowy Christmas.

Of the origin of Christmas itself, the Encyclopedia Britannica says:

“The church in Rome began formally celebrating Christmas on December 25 in 336, during the reign of the emperor Constantine. As Constantine had made Christianity the effective religion of the empire, some have speculated that choosing this date had the political motive of weakening the established pagan celebrations.”

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church.”

The Romans had been pagan. Until the fourth century, Christians were few in number. But with the advent of Constantine as Roman emperor, they accepted Christianity by the hundreds of thousands.

The same source says that the pagans had been celebrating December 25 as the birthday of Saturnalia, also known as Ba-al or Sol, the sun god.

Therefore, that first “mass of Christ” in 336 AD was aimed at converting Sol’s believers into Christianity without discarding their cherished 12 days of feast, merry-making and gift-giving. The church fathers at that time had no choice but to tolerate the inebriation and free sex that new converts had been accustomed to.

But Jesus could not have been born on a manger on December 25 because it was freezing winter in his birthplace, Bethlehem. He could have been born around October because “there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8).

Christmas has become so popular, however, that opposition to its authenticity is no longer taken seriously.

However, haven’t we all wondered why history books state 4 B.C. as Jesus’ birth year? How could he have been born four years ahead of his birthday?

The historians themselves recognize the obvious error as having sprung from calendar maker Dionysius Exiguus, who reckoned in the 6th century that Christ was born 754 years after the founding of Rome. It later turned out he was four years off dating the year of Christ’s birth.

Ironically, while the New Testament through the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John narrate the birth of Jesus Christ, there is nothing about the boy or the adult Jesus having celebrated his birthday.

For that reason, some Christian churches – including the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Seventh Day Adventist and the Iglesia ni Cristo – do not celebrate Christmas. In fact, the Witnesses do not celebrate their own birthdays.

With the Protestant Reformation in Europe in the 16th century, the followers of Martin Luther (a German) and John Calvin (a Swiss) initially questioned the propriety of celebrating Christmas because of its inaccurate date and its pagan origin, only to eventually give up such resistance.

The irony of it all is that Jesus did not establish the Christian religion.  The gospels describe him as a Jew who worshipped in the synagogues.

To this day, the Jewish religion, Judaism, does not celebrate Christmas.

But then again, like Jewish composer Irving Berlin, we all can dream of a White Christmas.