Skip to comments.Why December 25?
Posted on 12/17/2013 1:54:02 PM PST by NYer
Its that time of year again when many Christians encounter claims that pagan deities predating Jesus Christ were born on December 25. In popular films, Internet videos, and other media you can find long lists of gods who were supposedly born on the same day.
This idea is not limited to unbelievers. I have heard many Christians claim that the date of Christmas was intended to provide an alternative to pagan celebrations. In some ways it has become a pious legend. On the other hand, some Fundamentalist denominations refuse to celebrate Christmas for this reason.
Of all the deities of whom people make this claim, only three can be found to come close: Saturn, Sol Invictus (Unconquered Sun), and Mithras.
Saturnalia was the feast dedicated to the Roman god Saturn. Established around 220 B.C., this feast was originally celebrated on December 17. Eventually the feast was extended to last an entire week, ending on December 23. The supposed connection to Christmas is based on the proximity of the two festivals to each other.
This can be found repeatedly on the Internet. In his article Saturnalia: The Reason We Celebrate Christmas in December, columnist Mark Whittington explains:
It has been suggested that Christians in the 4th Century assigned December 25th as Christ's birthday (and hence Christmas) because pagans already observed this day as a holiday. In this way the problem of eliminating an already popular holiday would be sidestepped, thus making the Christianizing of the population easier.
If the suggestion were correct, one would expect to find at least a single reference by early Christians to support it. Instead we find scores of quotations from Church Fathers indicating a desire to distance themselves from pagan religions.
Sol Invictus and Mithras
The feast of Sol Invictus was the attempt by the Roman emperor Aurelian to reform the cult of Sol, the Roman sun god, and and reintroduce it to his people, inaugurating Sol's temple and holding games for the first time in A.D. 274. Not only was this festival not annual, it also cannot be historically documented as having been established on December 25 by Aurelian (cf. Steven HijMans, Sol Invictus, The Winter Solstice, and the Origins of Christmas, Mouseion, Series III, vol. 3, pp. 377-398).
According to inscriptions on candle votives and other ancient works of art, there is a link between Mithras and Sol Invictus. In some cases it appears the Mithraists believed that Mithras and Sol were two different manifestations of the same god. In others they appear to be two gods united as one. These connections are difficult to understand given our limited knowledge of the Mithraic belief system, but they are important because they help to explain why skeptics claim the birthday of Mithras was celebrated on December 25.
A manuscript known as the Chronography of 354 shows the birth of Sol Invictus being celebrated on December 25. Given the fact that the Mithraists equated their god with Sol in one way or another, it is understandable that they may have appropriated the date as their own. The problem for the skeptic is that no evidence exists to suggest that Aurelian was a Mithraist, or that he even had Mithraism in mind when he instituted the feast of Sol Invictus. The connection of Mithra to December 25 is only coincidental.
The deathblow to both the Mithras and Sol Invictus parallels is that the Chronography of 354 is the earliest mention of any pagan god being celebrated on December 25. The celebration of the birth of Christ by Christians is also mentioned on the calendar as having been celebrated on that day, which diminishes the likelihood that the pagan feast came first. At the very least, it negates the claim that it can be proved from the historical record that any December 25 pagan festival predates the Christian tradition.
The Reason for Choosing December 25
Although the date of Christs birth is not given to us in Scripture, there is documented evidence that December 25 was already of some significance to Christians prior to A.D. 354. One example can be found in the writings of Hyppolytus of Rome, who explains in his Commentary on the book of Daniel (c. A.D. 204) that the Lords birth was believed to have occurred on that day:
For the first advent of our Lord in the flesh, when he was born in Bethlehem, was December 25th, Wednesday, while Augustus was in his forty-second year, but from Adam, five thousand and five hundred years. He suffered in the thirty-third year, March 25th, Friday, the eighteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, while Rufus and Roubellion were Consuls.
The reference to Adam can be understood in light of another of Hyppolytus writings, the Chronicon, where he explains that Jesus was born nine months after the anniversary of Creation. According to his calculations, the world was created on the vernal equinox, March 25, which would mean Jesus was born nine months later, on December 25.
Nineteenth-century liturgical scholar Louis Duchesne explains that towards the end of the third century the custom of celebrating the birthday of Christ had spread throughout the whole Church, but that it was not observed everywhere on the same day (Christian Worship, Its Origin and Evolution: a study of the Latin liturgy up to the time of Charlemagne, p. 260).
In the West, the birth of Christ was celebrated on December 25, and in the East on January 6.
Duchesne writes one is inclined to believe that the Roman Church made choice of the 25th of December in order to enter into rivalry with Mithraism. This reason, however, leaves unexplained the choice of the 6th of January (ibid., p. 261). His solution, therefore, was that the date of Christs birth was decided by using as a starting point the same day on which he was believed to have died. This would explain the discrepancies between the celebrations in the East and West.
Given the great aversion on the part of some Christians to anything pagan, the logical conclusion here is that one celebration has nothing to do with the other. In his book, Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI explains:
The claim used to be made that December 25 developed in opposition to the Mithras myth, or as a Christian response to the cult of the unconquered sun promoted by Roman emperors in the third century in their efforts to establish a new imperial religion. However, these old theories can no longer be sustained. The decisive factor was the connection of creation and Cross, of creation and Christs conception (p. 105-107).
While these explanations of how December 25 came to be the date of Christmas are all plausible, we know one thing for sure: The evidence that this day held a special significance to Christians predates the proof of a supposed celebration of Sol Invictus or other pagan deities on that day.
That the Christians chose a date so close to the winter solstice is also not proof that this was done to mimic pagan festivals. The various pagan religions all had festivals spanning the calendar. Whatever month the early Christians might have otherwise chosen would still place Christmas near some pagan celebration, and oppositional theorists would still be making the same claims.
The solstice was important to everyone for agricultural reasons in the same way water is important to the survival of human beings, and so we see rituals involving water showing up in various religions. That doesn't prove that one borrowed the idea or theme from another.
Merry Christmas, ping!
What, Christmas falls on December 25th this year? Who knew?
Won’t be long before ‘they’ move Christmas to fall on a Monday so’s we can all have a 3 day weekend.
Like Presidents Day.
Believe it or not, as an assistant RCIA instructor, for my parish, with another lay person, a gentleman, and with one of the two perminent deacons as the head RCIA instructor I have told why December 25 is celibrated each year as Christmas Day.
Christmas on a Thursday would work too, what with the opportunity for After-Christmas Sales on Friday.
This what I hear long time
Pope in ancient times was tick off that Pagans were still partying despite they became Christians to celebrate old Pagan holiday Yule
Another way for Pagan get over on the church rules in those days
I like to celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December. When our Lord was actually born is up for debate. For example, Feast of Tabernacles in late October (7th month Jewish calendar). Many parallels can be seen in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.
Doesn't matter, I'm just glad He got here.
Seems to be pretty simple...The bible says the shepherds were in their fields tending the flocks...Do they do this in the middle of winter or no???
If yes, the possibility exists for Dec. 25...If no, then your religion is again in error...
Glenn Peoples, a theologian and tax collector in New Zealand, writes one of the best apologetics blogs on the Internet and has a fantastic podcast. He’s written extensively on this issue with a solidly reasoned and well-researched analysis to conclude that anti-Christian claims that Christ was really just another pagan myth are complete garbage:
Shepherds watching their clocks at night some how equates to lambing season which would be in spring. Though I would imagine if there were thieves or wolves about, that the shepherds could have watched their flocks at night at any time during the year
Flocks. Stupid “smart” phones
I always wondered if all the world had been order to be tax, wouldn’t there possibly be a record some where of when the tax was to be collected?
Although the date of Christs birth is not given to us in Scripture,...................................... Need to find his birth certificate? Go to Hawaii, I’m sure they can come up with one there.
Tax? Or Census?
“Shepherds watching their clocks at night...”
I know it’s a typo, but it really works!
It's under water in a wrecked Cessna
That will only irritate the atheists.
Stupid smart phones and autocorrect. And yeah, It does work
Despite the Catholic Apologetics, almost everything about Christmas has its roots in Babylon:
Growing up I read such things as “Jesus was probably born in August, actually” and “it was really in 4 BC”. Even mentioned in the lyrics of Rice & Lloyd-Webber’s “Superstar”: “If you’d came today you would have reached a whole nation; Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication”.
So apparently the calendar got screwed up and He may have been born in 4 BC.
Wishing you a happy 2018 in a couple weeks :)
Amazing, never knew.
I always say that just like the Queen of the United Kingdom having an “offical birthday” holiday, Christmas is the “offical birthday” of the Lord because we do not know the real birthday date.
“Shepherds watching their “flocks” at night some how equates to lambing season....”
That’s what it looks like to me too. (I used to raise sheep)
“which would be in spring. “
Not in the Bethlehem area. Lambing occurs naturally when the grass is new. That occurs after the rainy season starts (November near Bethlehem). Lambing would then occur from December to January. It would definately NOT occur between March and October.
December 25 turns out to be very plausible.
I was always taught that the 25th of December was the beginning of the days of more light and that was most symbolic of Jesus.
Just give me that old time religion!
Very likely. Not, of course all that important when we celebrate as long as we do. I did see a presentation once that made a good case that the star shining on Bethlehem that led the wise men there was on December 25.
Thanks. My daughter was actually taught this in college this year, that Christianity came from Egyptian mythology. Also her prof actually introduced the book DaVinci Code as a historical source! And this guy went to Oxford! She came home telling me about it, and was shocked when I told her it was fiction! I will share this info with her.
Were they on a punch-clock?
`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
15 Tishri 3757 - Sukkot / Birth of Yeshua
15 Nisan 3790 - (30 C.E.) Pesach / Crucifixion of Yeshua
Christmas is Saturnalia
Nights in that region this time of year are typically in the mid to lower 30s. This year the temps for Christmas week are predicted to be in the low 30s. Sheep out eating grass being watched by Shepards? I think not. Even here in SC the grass is all dead this time of year. There ain’t no “new grass” in that region this time of year.
What is the “middle” of winter like in the Middle East ?? Surely such temperatures should be easy to find out, from a simple google search it seems like its usually around 50 degrees.
Well, in fairness to those who WANT to believe, the sheep COULD be out in 30 degree weather. What with all the wool they sport..:)
I heard next year Cinco de Mayo will be on May 5th.
Id challenge them to grow that new grass this time of year in weather like that. Did you see how much snow Jerusalem and surrounding had the other day?
lol! Yeah, I saw it! Never let FACTS get in the way of tradition, though. If the sheep were eating snowballs to survive and making snow-angels in the fields, it just adds to the serenity of it all...
“Roman Catholic Christmas, Dec. 25th.”
“Greek Orthodox Christmas, Jan. 06.”
When y’all gonna git togethuh, and git it right?
Same over there...The winter rains refresh the ground and replenish the plants that have 'gone to seed' and are no longer good for grazing...And they certainly wouldn't graze the sheep on the new shoots coming up in late winter which would deplete the grass for the summer and fall grazing...
It’s not that cold. The climate sites lists an average December temperature range of 59 degrees high and 47 degrees low around Jerusalem. Rain starts in November and ends in March.
Israels climate and growing season isn’t comparable to the eastern US. They have a rainy and (really really) dry season. Grass grows when there’s rain, herd animals give birth with the new pasture, it’s as simple as that.
A simple search for Jerusalem or Bethlehem shows that this year for the week of Christmas the lows every night are in the low 30s. Now if you think grass grows at that temperature youre kidding no one but yourself. Last week Jerusalem was virtually shut down because of a snow storm. Good grief.
I take it grass doesn’t grow in those temps in South Carolina so you think it doesn’t grow anywhere in those temps. Well, grass grows with frosts here in Pennsylvania, fancy that! Because grass grows in cold weather it doesn’t matter that Israel at present has a rare bout of cold weather. Nobody is saying it doesn’t frost there. BTW I’m not seeing any forecast of frost through the end of the month. Temps seem to be swinging back to normal.
I celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25 because my calendar has a red number on that date!
Of course, I’ve never celebrated Saturn, Sol Invictus, Mithras or any of the Babylonian gods in December, not as a Protestant, and I’m not starting now, and (for all that it might come as a surprise to some folks) I haven’t been expected to. Given that, I’ve always thought the dispute to be silly from the start.
Jewish interpitation of Christmas.