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A German Christmas

German Advent Calendar: Fact of the Day

9. Dezember

Das Datum für Weihnachten - C+M+B
The Date for Christmas

In the early days of Christianity, the birthday of Jesus was celebrated in various months, including March. To this day, no one really knows the true month or date of Jesus' birth, but it is highly unlikely that he was born in December or even in winter. Shepherds did not tend their flocks in the field in winter but kept them in stalls. The Bible never mentions a birth date for Jesus.

Until the Roman church set December 25 as the date for Christmas (in A.D. 354), January 6 was the day of celebration—today's Epiphany or Heilige Drei Könige (the Wise Men, Three Kings, the Magi) in German. To this day, the initials of the Three Kings—C+M+B (Caspar/Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar)—plus the year are inscribed in chalk over doorways in German-speaking countries on the eve of January 6 to protect house and home. (Although historically the three letters are supposed to come from the Latin phrase for “Christ bless this house”—“Christus mansionem benedicat”—few of the people practicing this custom are aware of this fact.) In many parts of Europe, including Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, the Christmas celebration does not end until this date, now considered the arrival of the three “kings of the orient” in Bethlehem—and the end of the “twelve days of Christmas” between Christmas and January 6.

The selection of the December 25 date is rather ironic, since that date was an important day for “pagan” religions. December 25 was a holiday honoring the sun god in Egypt, Syria, Greece, and Rome. It was also the birthday of the Persian god of light, Mithras. Mostly because it was already a day of religious celebration, the Roman Bishop Liberius declared December 25 the official date for Christmas. The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 7. Christmas Eve is on the 6th of January.

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