I don’t know about you, but after December 25th comes and goes, the remaining time between then and Orthodox Christmas January 7th doesn’t feel as much like the Christmas season, because most of the world has stopped celebrating it as such. The lights begin to come down, the movies and the songs revert back to normal, and everything else just reminds us Orthodox that we celebrate Christmas on a different day. And so, it is natural that around this time of year many of us begin to think about the Christmas date and whether we should be celebrating it all together at the same time. This idea particularly made waves when Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Church discussed it with a congregation in Canada when he visited back in September, 2014. And the reaction to this was very heated, with many alarmed and even angered by such a suggestion, while others absolutely loving it.
Here is what I say to everyone: Let’s not just change the Christmas date, but let’s adjust the entire Coptic calendar!
Why the difference?
Many a time has this question been asked, and many a time this has been answered. It comes down to astrology and math. People make this so much more than it is—they make this about Faith and Tradition, when all the difference has to do with is getting the MATH and ASTROLOGY right. After all, calendars were implemented based on those two pillars, and the attempt was made to make the calendar accurate; when inaccuracy is discovered, the original intention for accuracy merits a calendar change.
About 40 years before Christ was manifested in the flesh, emperor Julius Caesar directed there to be an accurate calendar created. Based on knowledge of astrology and math at the time, that calendar (as does the ancient Egyptian calendar which the Copts used) assumed the year was 365.25 days long (365 days for three years, with a leap year having 366).
The problem is, and what Pope Gregory XIII of Rome realized some 1500 years later, is that the year is actually slightly shorter: 365.242199. Seems small, but after a long time, the difference adds up. In fact, after his scientists checked astrologically and mathematically (not based on Faith or Tradition) that the calendar was inaccurate, they realized they were off by 10 days from what the day should be.