Saturnalia

Why Christmas is held on 25th December

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According to popular tradition, Christmas is celebrated on 25 th December to honour the birth of Jesus.  However, no records exist in the Bible or elsewhere to suggest that Jesus was actually born on this date, which raises the important question – why is Christmas celebrated on 25 th December?  In fact, the selection of this date has its root in both Persian and pagan traditions.

The Catholic Encyclopaedia admits "there is no month in the year to which respectable authorities have not assigned Christ's birth" ( Catholic Encyclopaedia ).  There are, however, a number of reasons to suggest that Jesus was probably not born in December.  Firstly, Luke 2:8 states that on the night of Jesus' birth " there were also in that same country shepherds living out of doors and keeping watches in the night over their flocks."  Many scholars agree that this would have been unlikely in December, as shepherds would have been keeping their flock under cover during the cold winter months. 

Some scholars have stated that shepherds would not watch their flock overnight in December, but would keep them under cover.  ‘The Good Shepherd’ from the early Christian catacomb of Domitilla/Domatilla (Crypt of Lucina, 200-300 CE). ( Wikimedia Commons )

Secondly, it is written in the Bible that Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem to register in a Roman census (Luke 2:1-4).  However, such censuses were not taken in winter, when temperatures often dropped below freezing and roads were in poor condition.

Pagan celebrations

Since it appears unlikely that Jesus was born on 25th December, it raises the logical question of why Christmas is celebrated on this date. The answer points back to the Romans' pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. Two celebrations in particular took place around December 25 - the Saturnalia, and the birthday of the Sun God, Mithra (Catholic Encyclopedia). The Saturnalia festival began on 17 th December and later expanded with festivities through to the 25 th December. It paid tribute to Saturn, the agricultural God of Sowing and Husbandry, and was associated with the renewal of light and the coming of the new year.  The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice in the Temple of Saturn, a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere

The pagan celebration of Saturnalia

The birth of Mithra

Followers of the cult of Mithras, which became popular among the military in the Roman Empire from the 1 st to 4 th centuries AD, are believed to have celebrated his birthday on 25th December, which was the most holy day of the year for many Romans. The worship of the Sun God, Mithra (proto-Indo-Iranian ‘Mitra’), has its origin in Persia, from around the 6 th century BC, and was later adapted into Greek as ‘Mithras’.  The most popular hypothesis is that Roman soldiers encountered this religion during military excursions to Persia.

While it is widely accepted that the Mithraic New Year and the birthday of Mithras was on 25 December and was celebrated on this day as part of the Roman Natalis Invicti festival, others have argued that the Natalis Invicti was a general festival of the sun, and was not specific to the Mysteries of Mithras.  Nevertheless, it is clear that 25 December was an important day for the Romans and revolved around a celebration of the sun.

Mithra divinity statue in Vatican library, old illustration. By unidentified author, published on Magasin Pittoresque, Paris, 1840. Source: BigStockPhoto

Pagan-Christian fusion

When King Constantine converted to Christianity in the fourth century, he had quite a challenge ahead of him with regard to converting an empire full of pagans.  It was therefore decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus on a date that was already sacred according to pagan traditions. So as a compromise with paganism and in an attempt to give the pagan holidays Christian significance, it was simply decided that the birthday of the Sun God would also be the birthday of the Son of God. The Catholic Encyclopaedia quotes an early Christian with saying, "O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born.... Christ should be born".

Featured image: Saturnalia by Antoine Callet ( Wikimedia Commons )

By April Holloway

Comments

Even though evidence of Christmas is pagan. A Christian should use the scriptures to justify what they practice and teach! “. . .All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work. . .” 2Ti 3:16, 17
The main reason people claim that there is nothing in the Bible that say's we can't celebrate Christmas. That reasoning is very flawed ... that's like saying I can throw garbage on my neighbor lawn because he did not post a sign not to throw garbage on his lawn! The fact is there is nothing in the scriptures that suggest to celebrate Christmas! The fact is the story told that condones and promote Christmas is full of lies and half truths! The fact that Jesus himself told us to commemorate his death (not the same as Easter) not his birth shows that we should not celebrate his unknown birth date! The fact is ... there is no evidence in the scriptures that anybody including Jesus himself celebrated his birthday. The fact is the scriptures say that God hates "lies" and want "worshipers who will worship him in spirit and truth." Christmas is a lie which God hates and therefore proves it should not be celebrated among true Christians.

YHWH Allah's picture

I was born on All Fools’ Day, not on Christmas Day.
Now get digging or die. Bluestones recharging time.

Death was on All Fools' Day also.
Taught 3 day Mag pole Reversal.

Mishkan 1.2m below Heel Stone
@ Stonehenge, United Kingdom

Excellent article and discussion, especially that everyone is being respectful of alternative theories. I do have a few comments to make.

Not all Hebrews would need not have been literate for the Bible to be written. In all ancient societies, there were some who were literate and only a few would be needed to write the Bible.

The Bible, especially the OR is a collection of Folktales, otherwise there would not have been 2 accounts of creation etc.

Although Paul (Saul) was educated he would not have been called literate in our present society where reading and writing are necessary. In the ancient world, the disciplines of reading and writing were taught separately. If you read the letters of Paul, he adds his own note at the end, apologizing for his poor writing. He employed a scribe (or scribes) to write his letters.

Christ could not have been born in 2 BC as Herod died in 4 BC

I believe that Constantine was converted to Christianity, though I think he remained a closet follower of Mithras. As stated, MIthras was very popular among the military and he was a military man. I think he realized that Christianity was a way to unite the different factions of his Empire. I will not comment on whether or not he was a true convert as arguments can be made either way. Regardless,the import fact is that he made Christianity both legal and desirable.

When Christ was actually born is not as important as that HE was born and that we celebrate with Joy is something that is truly wonderful.

In summary, who cares when the events actually occurred. As someone above stated, religion is a matter  of faith. Let’s just celebrate in JOy and Love, as the season is intended.

>The Saturnalia festival began on 17 th December and later expanded with festivities through to the 25 th December. It paid tribute to Saturn, the agricultural God of Sowing and Husbandry, and was associated with the renewal of light and the coming of the new year. -<

Doubtful since most cultures celebrated the New Year at the Spring equinox.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, quoted twice in this article, also states that Saturnalia was almost certainly NOT the reason for the selection of Dec 25. The claim that it has to do with Mithra is more sound

I believe that the important thing is that we Americans recognize the birth of the Messiah and celebrate it together as a people and a united nation of Christians. I have heard many theories about the actual month of the birth and who's to say who is accurate. The point is that American Christians recognize and give thanks and joy together. If that makes me simple then so be it.

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