Why do we celebrate on the 25th December?  The answer it seems is not that straight forward.  I’m no bible scholar, but as far as I can tell, it took a while after the death of Jesus before anybody really worried about his birth date, and then even longer for it to become part of the established Christian calendar.  I refer to “The Christian Year” by J C J Metford.

The trouble starts with the fact that the gospels aren’t very specific about when Jesus was actually born.  It seems that Jesus’ birth really began when people realised who he was – and this came at his baptism:

Luke 3:22 – When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.  And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus’ baptism was therefore his epiphany when he was revealed to the world as the Son of God.

Now to cut a long and complicated story short, this is how Metford arrives at the 25th December:

“When he [Jesus] became man, he represented a new creation, recalling the first creation when God said ‘Let there be light’.  This happened when he divided light from darkness, presumably into equal parts, hence at the vernal equinox, 25th March in the Julian calendar, when day and night are of equal length.  He was therefore born nine months later, on 25th December, the winter solstice.”

So the twelve days of Christmas we know now start at the first evening prayer on Christmas Eve, 24th December and continue till the Feast of the Epiphany on 6th January.

To the Canons of St. Athanasius that makes mention of the feast of the Lord’s Epiphany – that is Baptism, and goes on to talk about another manifestation in the same month (apparently) namely the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee:

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.  When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”  And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.  And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it.  When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine.  But you have kept the good wine until now.”  This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.  And his disciples believed in him.

A fantastic story – but why water into wine?  Why not bread into lamb, or stones into fruit.  Whatever else was going on, the wine at the wedding was obviously a powerful symbol – something that, in the words of the gospel “manifested his glory”.  So I hope you have a very happy twelve days of Christmas, and in honouring our Lord, let the good wine flow.

cana

Jesus at the wedding in Cana [National Catholic Register]

A final thought – what sort of wine would it be?  A Cinsault perhaps?  And what if somebody had actually filled a couple of bottles and hidden them away?  Wouldn’t that be a find!

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