Christianity’s Contributions: Cultural artifacts (Part 3)

Examining the culture at large, we see the massive impact that Christianity has had.  This blog focuses on holidays.  To begin, even the word  “holiday” has religious implications.  The word “holiday” is a form of the words “holy day”.  Before we look at specific holidays on the calendar, let’s review the importance of one day of the week, Sunday.

Sunday is the traditional day for worship in Christian churches.  This stems from the fact that Jesus rose from the dead on the “first day of the week” (Matthew 28:1).  It was called the “Lord’s Day” in the Didache (85-110 AD), a book about basic Christian beliefs in the Early Church.  The reason that no work is performed on Sunday for urban residents is due to a decree by Constantine (321 AD).  Up until recently, businesses still held Sunday as a “holy day” and were not open.

Turning to holidays in the year, let’s start in January.  New Year’s Day focused on Jesus’ naming and circumcision, which occurred a week after His birth (Luke 2:21).  As the old year ended, New Year’s Eve was a day to remember that life itself will end and to stay in the faith until death.

Easter’s name comes from “Eostre” or “Ostra”, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of light.  A better name would obviously be Resurrection Day.  The unique aspect of this holiday is that the date is movable.  Easter is not always on a fixed day, as Christmas is always December 25.

By the middle of the second century, there were basically two ways Christians dated their celebrations of Easter.  Some, the Quartodecimans (or “fourteenthers”), celebrated the death and resurrection of our Lord according to the “14th day of Nisan” — the day of the Jewish Passover (Leviticus 23:5).  Since this date was not always on the same day of the week, the Quartodeciman celebration did not always fall on a Sunday.  The rest of the church, however, celebrated the resurrection of Jesus according to a different formula which always placed Easter on a Sunday.

This movable date was determined by the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.  It was decided that Easter would be on the Sunday after the first full moon on or after the Spring equinox.  Yet with various calendars that have been used at different times down through the centuries, there is still no unanimity among churches concerning the celebration of Easter.  For instance, the Eastern Orthodox Churches (Greek, Russian, Romanian, etc.) celebrate Easter according to the spring equinox on the older Julian Calendar.  Catholics and Protestants in the Western Church celebrate Easter according to the newer Gregorian Calendar (in effect since 1582).  What all of this means is that the eastern celebration of Easter usually follows anywhere from a week to several weeks after the western celebration.  Ultimately, the fact of Jesus’ resurrection is the key, not the date of the celebration.

Halloween comes from a contraction of the words “All Hallow’s Eve”.  It is the night before All Hallow’s Day (All Saints Day), a day for remembering the dead and church members who died in the previous year.

Thanksgiving comes from Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony’s proclamation to thank God for protection and harvest for the Pilgrims in 1621. President George Washington proclaimed our nation’s first Thanksgiving Day on October 3, 1789, calling for “public thanksgiving and prayer”.  Later, President Abraham Lincoln made it an annual celebration for Americans to give “praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” (1863).

Our final holiday is Christmas, or “Christ’s Mass”.  Even though Jesus’ birthday is unknown, December 25 was chosen to replace sun-god worship in 274 AD.

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