Christmas, before there was Christmas

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
December 25, 2005

Shame on you. You ought to be opening presents right now. Lots of them. If you have time to read this, you either didn't receive or buy enough stuff this year. How do you expect to keep the US economy running if you don't do your part? Let's not kid ourselves; that is at least one of the purposes of this day. Traditional retailers depend on Christmas for at least 25 percent of their annual revenues. Although toys are the gods we often worship today, I think it's fun to think back to what this day might have been like a few thousand years ago.

I always figured that God created the Earth in April or May. He would have known that it was going to be nice weather in the spring and He would not have wanted to drop Adam and Eve into a cold garden in the middle of February, especially without any clothes.

I've read Genesis; there was plenty of fresh fruit all over the place and the snakes were not yet in hibernation. Yes, God must have created the earth in the spring.

There were a lot of things young Adam and Eve didn't know; that they were naked was only one of them. They also didn't yet know anything about the solar system. Imagine their surprise when the hours of sunlight began to decline that first fall.

It got so cool that those fig leaves were no longer comfortable. By the time Daylight Saving Time came that first October, it was getting downright frigid at night. At this rate, the garden would be completely frozen by Easter.

But something miraculous happened on the way to the first ice age. About a week before New Year's, the daylight stopped getting shorter. At first, Adam might have assumed that his sundial was inaccurate. But it soon became obvious that the sun was coming out a little earlier each morning, and staying out a little later each evening. When Punxsutawney Phil came out that first Groundhog Day, neither Adam nor Eve knew about the shadow thing.

By April the change was obvious. Not only had the hours of daylight been increasing each day since late December - things were beginning to warm up again.

It took awhile to recognize the pattern. But after a couple of years, they realized that the days would get shorter each year until about December 21st or 22nd. Then the days would begin to lengthen again. The soil would warm and begin to produce food again. The air would warm and the kids could go swimming. This sun thing, whatever it was, was darn good.

Word got around. The Roman Emperor Constantine probably established the first Christmas (Christes maesse) holiday on December 25 sometime around the year 336 A.D. For centuries before that, however, civilizations around the world paid homage around that date to their own understanding of the savior, the sun. This included the Greek worship of Apollo and Helios. The Egyptians worshiped their sun god, Ra. The native North American peoples worshiped some form of sun god long before (and after) Luke penned his poetic account of the birth of Jesus.

Today we celebrate a bit more than just the winter solstice or the newest X-box. We stop, if only for a moment, to ponder the wondrous notion of God in man - even in a child.

My Christmas wish for you today isn't original; a more widely published and infinitely wiser writer first penned it centuries ago. But the message is timeless and reminds us that no matter how dark or cold our own winter may be, there is hope in this new season.

Let there be Light.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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