Around the Third Century, the date of birth of Jesus was the subject of both great interest and great uncertainty. The Nativity of Jesus Christ, narrated by both Mathew and Luke in the New Testament are prominent in gospels and early Christian writers suggested various dates for the anniversary. Around AD 200, Clement of Alexandria wrote:
“There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the 28th year of Augustus, and in the 25th day of (the Egyptian month) Pachon (May 20)… Further, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi (April 20 or 21).”
Various factors contributed to the selection of December 25 as a date of celebration: it was the date of the winter solstice on the Roman calendar; it was about nine months after March 25, the date of the vernal equinox and a date linked to the conception of Jesus.
Jesus chose to be born on the shortest day of the year for symbolic reasons, according to an early Christmas sermon by Augustine:
“Hence it is that He was born on the day which is the shortest in our earthly reckoning and from which subsequent days begin to increase in length. He, therefore, who bent low and lifted us up, chose the shortest day, yet the one whence light begins to increase.”
The first recorded Christmas celebration was in Rome in 336. Christmas played a role in the Arian controversy of the fourth century. In the early Middle Ages, it was overshadowed by Epiphany in January. The feast regained prominence after the year 800, when Charlemagne was crowned emperor on Christmas Day.
Associating it with drunkenness and other misbehavior, the Puritans banned Christmas in England and some New England colonies for parts of the 17th century. Though restored as a legal holiday by the 18th century, it remained disreputable. In the early 19th century, Christmas was revived.
The giving of coins, medals and tokens as Christmas gifts has a long tradition. Its origin perhaps lies with the gifts the Three Kings of Orient brought to Baby Jesus. Traditionally, gifted coins have been gold or silver.
The giving of coins has been also linked with Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus´ Fourth Century predecessor. According to the tradition, Nicholas was a wealthy man that came acquainted to a widower that had three daughters and that had fallen into hard times. The man wouldn´t accept charity, but Nicholas found out that his daughters used to hang their clean stockings to dry on the mantelpiece above the fire. One night he climbed down the chimney and placed a bag of coins in the oldest girl’s stocking.
It was Charles Dickens and other writers that reinvented the holiday by emphasizing Christmas as a time for family, religion, gift-giving, and social reconciliation as opposed to the revelry that had been common historically.
Merry Christmas to you all!