by Archimandrite Michael Shaheen
from The Word, December 1957
At the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, our church bells will peel out their cheerful tidings that recall the most unique event in history; for on that night almost 2000 years ago in the East, Christ was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem.
Christmas (Christ-Mass), the Birthday of Jesus, ranks supreme among all the fixed feasts of our Eastern Orthodox Church. Without Christmas, as was stated by St. John Chrysostom, we could not have Epiphany, Easter and Pentecost. Therefore, our Church acts wisely in ushering in this Holy Day with elaborate religious services befitting the One whose birthday it is.
December 25 is only the traditional date of Christ’s birth: the exact time is not really known. In the early Church the Birth of Christ was remembered along with His Baptism (Epiphany) on the 6th of January. However, in the 4th century, when Christianity took over many heathen festivals in order to facilitate their conversion, December 25 was selected for commemorating the Birth of Christ. This was originally a festival of gaiety that honored the unconquered sun. It was first celebrated in Rome around 380 A.D. and is known to have been celebrated in Antioch around 380 A.D. This explains many of the customs that prevail today, which are not in harmony with the true spirit of Christmas. Since then, December 25 became accepted everywhere as the customary time to recall the Birth of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world.