If you think there is only one week left until Christmas day, think again. Many Orthodox believers in the Eastern Christian churches will be waiting until 7 January to celebrate the birth of Christ, the day after Western Christian traditions mark Epiphany, or the visitation of the magi (usually depicted as ‘Three Wise Men’) to Jesus at his birthplace in Bethlehem.
This slightly confusing series of events hangs not on dispute about the actual birth date of Christ, but on the calculative errors of Julius Caesar. In 325 AD the Roman Emperor Constantine designated 25 December as Jesus’s birthday, and this became tradition across the Christian world. However, Constantine was using the Julian calendar, which Pope Gregory XIII challenged in 1582 causing a 25 December to occur on different days in different places. Julius Caesar’s administration had miscalculated the length of the solar year by a mere 11 minutes, but by 1582 the calendar no longer matched up with the seasons. In an attempt to realign Easter with the spring equinox, Pope Gregory unveiled a new calendar developed by Italian astronomer Aloysus Lilius. The result was that in the countries that adopted the Gregorian calendar, 25 December came eleven days earlier than it did under the Julian calendar. Whilst the Gregorian calendar was eventually adopted by all Western Christian traditions, Orthodox believers continue to follow the Julian calendar, and therefore celebrate Christmas later than is traditional in many countries in Europe and America.
By Carys Brown
Image: Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614), Pope Gregory XIII (http://www.wikiart.org/en/lavinia-fontana/pope-gregory-xiii)