In conversation, several sceptics have tried to undermine our faith by pointing out that Jesus was not born on 25th December, as is commonly assumed. Now, they are quite correct in this assertion; but we’re not sure how this “revelation” is a challenge to Christian faith and practice. We don’t know of any Christian doctrine that depends on the date of Christmas. Perhaps some sceptics are worried that Christians are celebrating Jesus’ birthday on the wrong date. If so, they should relax: Christmas celebrates the Incarnation and not Jesus’ birthday.
If we reduce Christmas to a “birthday celebration” we trivialise the birth of Christ. Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna of the Meadow is a highly idealised portrait of Virgin and Child, set against a Venetian background. However, Bellini does not sentimentalise Jesus’ birth.
Bellini shows that Jesus death and birth are intimately connected. In the backgorund a serpent meets its doom;in a tree nearby, a carrion bird waits patiently. Christ lies across his mother’s lap in a pose which reminds us of Pieta; depictions of Jesus being mourned by his mother and his disciples.
The poet Stephen Turner reminds us that Christmas is for the children ; Easter is best avoided by those of a nervous disposition. While we should let the children enjoy their toys, adults would be better reflecting on what Jesus did when he grew up.