‘Tis the Season to be Jolly…

“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas”.

Calvin Coolidge: 30th President of the USA (1930)

It is less than a month to Christmas Day, and there is very little doubt than any person in South Africa (or the bulk of the world, for that matter) is not aware of this fact. From late October the shops and malls take on the decorations and baubles that signify this special day, and Boney M and other warbling singers start belting out songs about Little Drummer Boys over the ubiquitous tannoys that are obligatory to every shopping centre on the planet.

The actual day – the 25th December – is an intriguing choice, and has been the subject of much scholarly, ecclesiastical, philosophical and astronomical research and debate for the past two thousand years. The Gospels of Luke and Matthew are silent on the issue, so a wide variety of clues and reference sources have been employed to attempt to narrow down the date. One thing is fairly certain – it wasn’t the 25th December. Apart from the fact that it was highly unlikely that shepherds would have been grazing their sheep in mid-winter, there is evidence that the day was chosen as a continuation of the feast of Saturnalia, a pagan celebration of the equinox. This in no way lessens the impact of the day itself for believers; it is just a perfectly convenient application of a variety of clues and circumstances. The birth of Christ was associated with the sun, and so some scholars believe that the birth on the shortest day of the year (the world was apparently only blessed with a northern hemisphere in those days) meant that from that day – metaphorically and literally – the sun would increase. Another thought was that creation arose at time of conception: the spring equinox on March the 25th (celebrated by Christians as Annunciation), which is nine months before the day chosen as Christmas.

A scholarly approach was taken by the 12th Century Syrian Bishop Jacob Bar-Salibi, who wrote: “It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25th December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day.” This statement caused raised hackles in 1743 when German Protestant Paul Ernst Jablonski argued Christmas was placed on December 25th to correspond with the Roman solar holiday Dies Natalis Solis Invicti and was therefore a “paganization” that debased the true church. Not so!, said the scholars of the day. On the contrary, it was the Emperor Aurelian who in 274 instituted the holiday of the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti as an attempt to give a pagan significance to a date already important for Christians in Rome. Clement of Alexandria wrote in 200 CE that “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 [1 CE], and in the 25th day of the Egyptian month Pachon. [May 20 in current reckoning.] Further, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi. ” [April 20 or 21 in current reckoning.] Or, basically, take your pick.

So: who knows? And, actually, does it matter? It’s the celebration and what lies in the hearts of those celebrating that counts, and we believe that that is the true meaning of the day. Christmas as it is honoured these days is a marvellous product of two thousand years’ worth of religion, tradition, belief, love and giving; a combination of Biblical lore and cultural interpretation, varying around the world. If we can accept that every country that celebrates Christmas does so with the purest of motives we are on the way to becoming an intelligent species.

Waterfront Charters want to add to the Christmas tradition: after you have celebrated the day in your own fashion, why not round it off perfectly – take a relaxing cruise aboard a luxury boat. Our Pre-sunset Champagne Cruises are incredibly popular, and this late afternoon venture into the Atlantic allows people to unwind, take stock, and sip on delicious sparkling wine while they count their blessings. To take this cruise on Christmas afternoon with loved ones would make all of the above even more special, and nothing beats the crisp smell of sea air on top of a Christmas feast.

All booking details in the website, with a choice of vessels too. Waterfront Charters way of saying ‘Merry Christmas’; and remember, we enjoy the adventures as much as our guests!