Review of Religions: December 2001 3 Seasons Greetings December is an interesting time of year. Christians celebrate Christmas Day to mark the birth of Jesus(as) and this year, Muslims will finish the month of Ramadhan and celebrate Eid ul Fitr during December also. In both cases, families will get together to celebrate, eat together and presents will be handed out. So are the two events similar or is there a difference? Obviously the two festivals have d i fferent roots, meanings and significance, but there is also an obvious difference: in five years time, Ramadhan and Eid will be in October or November while Christmas will still be in December. In the case of Christmas, it is tied to a particular date, the 25th December which was selected in Roman times because it was the festival of the Sun god Sol Invictus, and co-incided with the winter solstice on that day two thousand years ago. Adopting the Roman day of the sun god for the Christian son of God seemed a logical and safe decision at the time which meant that Christians in the Empire could celebrate in peace and anonymity. Therefore Christmas is now a seasonal festival. In Europe and the States, this is a cold time of the year and often there is snow, so the festival has come to be associated with snow, trees, a warm fire, stockings etc. Similarly in the Christian calendar, Easter occurs during the spring. Of course, just as it is associated with snow in Europe and North America, in places like Australia, it occurs during the summer and so will be associated to warm weather and barbecues! In Islam, all major events and festivals are tied to the Islamic calendar which is based on the Lunar calendar, and that is why the symbol of the crescent moon is so prominent in Islam. The Lunar calendar is 10 days shorter than the business year based on the solar calendar, and this explains why Islamic festivals move back 10 days each year. Accordingly Ramadhan will slowly move back from December towards August in a few years time. Many people in the past have mocked Islam for the fact that the dates change in this way and that festivals and major events Notes and Comments Notes and Comments Review of Religions: December 20014 cannot be tied down in a fixed way to the Gregorian calendar. So does any of this matter? After all, a festival is a festival, and the main purpose is the spiritual significance and the remembrance of God. The climate or other factors have very little to do with it. Well in the UK, there was a recent call from a Christian clergyman that Christmas should be celebrated two days after the 25th. His rationale is not based on any thoughts that the date is not the actual birth date of Jesus( a s ), rather it reflects his concern that the 25th has now been hijacked by the general public as a day of merry- making. In Europe, the run up to Christmas is now a time of many parties involving immoral behav- iour, huge consumption of alcohol and a huge emphasis on commer- cialism. He is horrified at the way the day has become such a commercial institution while the religious significance has been all but forgotten. People now associate the 25th with a family get-together, presents, alcohol, snow and cold weather. In Islam, this is not observed, partly because the festivals are not seasonal. Muslims therefore also have family get-togethers and distribute presents, but the day also revolves around attending the mosque and remembering the significance of the day just as practising Christians also attend the Church on the 25th. If these festivals were fixed to a particular day, there is every danger that the same shift to commercialism could have blighted them also. There seems to be a logic to the way Islamic events are based on the Lunar calendar which is only now coming to the fore. There are signs that true Christians are trying to rescue their festival and its significance from the commercial p a r t y. Whatever the merits or otherwise, it is a fact that more and more cards sent on this occasion have now replaced ‘Merry C h r i s t m a s ’ with ‘Seasons Greetings’. Fazal Ahmad – UK

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