Thursday 5 December 2013

Are you a Christmas Christian, or an Easter Christian?


I acknowledge that of course Easter is the main feast of the Christian year, but I still prefer Christmas.

When I became a Christian I fully expected that Easter would get more and more important to me and overtake Christmas, but it hasn't happened - and I still feel a much greater building of expectation during the weeks leading towards Christmas, which I also had before I was a Christian.


I have, indeed, some kind of residual grudge against Easter which dates from childhood when the gift of a chocolate egg did not begin to compete with the delights of Christmas - which also included the better-than-Easter-egg delights of the 'selection box' and 'smokers set' (chocolate pipe and cigars, candy cigarettes!).


For a start, I am permanently annoyed that Easter is a moveable feast: this seems wrong and absurd.

It surely made no sense for the ancient church to celebrate its main feast in a way which could only be calculated by a very advanced knowledge of astronomy and mathematics - advanced knowledge which actually did not exist!

It took several hundred years before any reasonably accurate method of predicting Easter was discovered (mostly by the Venerable Bede - who died 735) - and the prediction of Eater was required to time the preceding Lent fast and special days.

Up to then Easter (the premier Christian celebration, remember) was celebrated at a variety of times in different places, and among different groups in the same place; and this itself led then (and indeed afterwards) to infighting, schisms, and inter-denominational hostilities both temporary and permanent - and still continuing.


I just find this annoying and silly, indeed shocking - some kind of ancient bureaucratically-minded-bureaucracy must have been responsible for setting the church off down this wrong path - only a committee could make the impossible compulsory.


Obviously, Easter should have been fixed on a certain annual date - if it was necessary to predict; or else if it really must be linked to lunar cycles (to reflect the Jewish passover - but why?), then the church should have dispensed with the rigidly numerically timed advance program leading-up to Easter.

Or something... almost anything would be preferable to what they actually came-up-with.

Anyway, for whatever reason, I retain this grudge against Easter; and would not even put it as second favourite among the annual feasts - that would be Pentecost/ Whit Sunday.



MC said...

Christmas all the way. I've often wondered just what the "magical" element of Christmas is, and I can never quite figure it out. Some people say that the music, colors, food, presents, etc. distract from the real meaning, but I don't really find that to be the case. So long as I'm not at a shopping mall 1-2 days before Christmas, all of the trappings of Christmas, the Nativity scenes and the ornaments and the wrapping paper, just seem to go together.

The left, of course is going after Christmas hammer and tongs. I don't mean the atheists who try to push Christmas from the public square (though they are odious), but rather the people who take wholesome Christmas traditions and turn them to ugliness. You might have missed it, but here in the States, this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (a family event that ends with Santa Claus appearing) featured a bunch of drag queens from a Broadway show called "Kinky Boots." So there's one more bastion of wholesomeness that now is in Satan's hand.

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

...or else if it really must be linked to lunar cycles (to reflect the Jewish passover - but why?)...

Because it's best to put new wine in old wineskins.

Arakawa said...

"For a start, I am permanently annoyed that Easter is a moveable feast: this seems wrong and absurd."

That's a position on the Calendar Wars I've never heard before -- pointing out that, if the basic calendar scheme is so difficult to align to the seasons that it causes schism, it must be badly designed no matter how you align it.

While I feel a bit queasy about this observation, it does strike me as sensible; in effect, I think this is somewhat like if you came up to the Big-Endians and Little-Endians of Lilliput and suggested that the best thing to do is crack the egg on the side. Heads will boil regardless of whether it makes sense or not.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Arakawa - It seems you get my point!

@MC - Christmas was already highly commercialized and vulgar when I was a child, but somehow it seems able to withstand this - for those with eyes to see and hearts to feel - at least, so far.

Donald said...

Clearly you've never participated in the Great Fast. When you do, then you REALLY feast come Pascha!

Bruce Charlton said...

@D - No, I only fast between meals.

I think fasting would be a good thing - but only when done communally. Solitary fasting would just lead me to spiritual pride (and indigestion).

josh said...

It reflects Passover because the last supper was a Passover Seder, but I'm sure you know that, so I guess I don't really get your point.

I assume that the first Easter following the Passover is significant.

Bruce Charlton said...

@josh - The date celebrating Easter is, in a sense, arbitrary - since the first Easter happened on a certain date which we do not celebrate (or only once in a lunar month of years, on average). The decision was made to celebrate on a Sunday. Then it was decided to link it to the Passover (a lunar festival) but that need not have been the case. Then the decision was made to precede Easter with various festivals and fasts which had to be predated - but that need not have been the case. Then the decision was made that these preceding festivals should be precisely timed (rather than varying in length from year to year) - but that need not have been the case.

By the end of all this, a compulsory impossibility had been created which led to all manner of trouble.

It Should Not Have Happened.

A compulsory impossibility is INEXCUSABLE.

Hence my continued grudge against Easter.

Arakawa said...

Another thing I've read is a sentiment that *every* Sunday is an Easter, properly understood.

The Russian week even goes something like "Weekday, Twoday, Midday, Fourday, Fiveday, Sabbath, Resurrection."

By that logic, which Resurrection in the year is chosen to commemorate the Resurrection with a lavish feast and preceding strict fasting would be a matter of convenience and pastoral discipline.

Bruce Charlton said...

@A - When I am having my Byzantine daydreams, this is how I live. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, things are rather less rigorous...

Adam G. said...

Oh, Christmas, undoubtedly.

The Continental Op said...

Christmas is just a better holiday in almost every way. Everyone, even Christ-haters, wants in on it.

Easter, though, is more purely Christian (as celebrated).

Nicholas Fulford said...

I seem to recall that the rule was that Easter Sunday would be the first Sunday after the full moon following the Vernal Equinox.

It is actually not that hard to calculate. A simple method for determining the equinox arises from the hyperbolic arc that the sun follows in the sky. Since the path of the sun is hyperbolic it follows that on two days of the year, (the equinoxes,) that the shadow of the sun will be a straight line on those days. Knowing the day of the equinox, and the length of a lunar cycle, enables the determination of Easter Sunday. It really is not that complex, (although it is a little arcane.)

I have heard of two reasons why this practice was adopted. The first was so that Easter tracked with Passover, and much of the time it does. The other reason is more likely apocryphal, and that was so that pilgrims would have a full moon to travel by, thereby making them less vulnerable to bandits. (I hold that the first is the real reason.)

stephen c said...

Christmas is the future, Easter is the past. Basic theology, Catholic, Orthodox, Mormon, Christian non-denominational. Our sins ... will ... be remembered no more (promise made many times in the Bible) and in that future tense Christmas repeats in infinite ways, but Easter is at best sung about, painted, described, and lovingly commemorated, but no longer felt in the present tense.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NF - But they didn't know the date of the equinox (nor did they know the date of the solstices) and because of the *preceding* stuff (such as Lent) being timed, the Easter celebrations needed to be started in advance - you couldn't wait until it already was the equinox.

Karl said...

Christmas, of course. The astronomical drama of the sun ending her retreat (she is grammatically feminine in Germanic, as Tolkien reminded us) and beginning to return to us, together with the practicality of slaughtering the livestock as pasture grows scarce and cold weather makes it easier to keep the meat, and short days in which to work and long nights in which to feast. Perhaps the Church should have chosen Yule as the time to commemorate the Resurrection, but it's a bit late now.

Karl said...

Nicholas Fulford, I'm afraid I don't know what you mean by hyperbolic.

Gauss (the great mathematician), as a favor to the common people, reduced the Church's rule for calculating Easter to simple arithmetic, but that wasn't till 1800. In practice, if you wanted to know when Lent began, you simply had to ask your priest.

dearieme said...

But but but, Bruce, Easter is Christian and Christmas is half-pagan and a quarter invention.

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - Ah, but we Lewisite/ Tolkienian Christians know that paganism was a genuine foreshadowing of Christianity - a partial-revelation, not a complete-error.

So, that Christmas is half-pagan is a feature, not a bug.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

Thanks to Mr Fulford for reminding us of the – not so complicated –calculation for Easter. It now strikes me as more poetic than ever. I thought the symbolic meaning was only about spring, the origin of Passover being a spring feast. But the Vernal Equinox is also the beginning of the sidereal year, thus we have the symbolic beginning of a New World even in the regions where it is not spring or there is no spring.

It is very important that Easter should be on a Sunday rather than on a fixed date: the first day of the week is also symbolic of a new beginning. The Old World, the old Creation, came to its end on the last Sabbath, as there is no more waiting for the Messiah. The Death on the Cross takes place on the day where the lambs were slaughtered for this particular Passover falling on the Sabbath day. The Last Supper coincides with the Seder, as it is not compulsory to have the Seder on the night immediately before Passover.

To answer the title question, I now have a couple more reasons for my preference of Easter over Christmas.