The History Of Christmas: Origins and Speculations
Christmas is probably the most popular holiday in the world although it is only second (after Easter) by importance among Christians. On Christmas Eve we celebrate a birth of Jesus in Betlehem. Of course we will never know when Jesus was really born, because the writings in the Bible are contradictory and we don't have proper documentation to check it out.
Several historians tried to calculate the date of birth of Jesus (or at least a year!) and came with March 28, September 11, November 18 and so on and on. Almost all agree he was born somewhere around year zero AD (which by the way does not exist, because the count starts with number one), give it or take it three or four years...
December 25 was actually proclaimed by Pope Julius I in fourth century.
Shall we examine the origins of this feast a little more?
Did you know?
- Christmas feast is derived from pagan Saturnalia and Kalends, being held at the end of December and beginning of January.
- Many cultures built religions around the central god who represented Sun. They named it Amaterasu, Apollo, Helios, Inti, Mithra, Oziris, Ra, Sol Invictus, Utu...
- Celebration of Christmas was outlawed in 17th century by Puritans in England, colonists in New England followed them and some people still consider its celebration as inappropriate. Actually a celebration of anybody's bithday can be considered as a pagan custom!
December 25 is probably wrong
There is not a single evidence to support that date
In the Bible the date of birth of Jesus is not mentioned. But there are lots of clues about the weather and it is pretty obvious (supported with archaeologists' findings) December should be out of option. Birthplace of Jesus is (and two thousand years ago it was the same) too cold and too rainy for pasture. It is actually written shepherds started the pasture in March and stayed out with a cattle until November.
Nowadays Betleheim is still frosty in December, so you can check for yourself. But historians believe some shephards stayed out in winter at nights at colder months too, so we can't be 100 percent sure.
On the other hand there are several calculations based on given time of Jesus' ministry, time of Joseph's and Mary's arrival in Betlehem and birth of John the Baptist, which show the time in the Fall as much more possible date. Unfortunately these calculations are not reliable either, because each of starting dates can be pushed for few months in this or that direction too, thus one of speculations puts the Christ's birth on January 6 (celebrated in Orthodox Church)!
So why December 25?
End of December was always very important for pagans who worshipped Sun as the most important source of life. Even without sophisticated astronomical instruments they noticed how the time of daylight was becoming shorter and shorter. They feared the ever-lasting night with darkness and cold and several pagan religious groups managed to find out how the day becme a bit longer on December 25, so this date logically became the one to celebrate as the birth on new Sun and new hope for life on Earth. Today's neo-Pagans still do the same.
We should note in time about two thousand years ago (or few hundred years ago) there was very strong cult named Deus Sol Invictus (God of Invincible Sun), who worshiped rebirth of Sun coming back from being weakest just at the end of December. Cult was for many years one of the strongest cults in Rome. When Christian religion became an official religion, it looked like a practical solution to put Christmas on the same date. A lot of people were already accostumed to celebration and part of Christianity's success was definitely its ability to incorporate existing pagan celebrations into official Christian calendar.
Knowing Roman pagans believed in myth about god Attis, who was born by a virgin Nana (also called Cybele), crucified and re-born three days later (on December 25th) for at least six hundred years, didn't hurt either. Apart from promise of rebirth, a parallel between nature cycle and human's hope for eternal life, we can add he was crucified on pine (!) tree, he was called 'a good shepherd', 'father and son', his cult practised a sacifice of a meal, which represented his body and so on and on...
Actually Christmas was celebrated even before the cult of Sol Invictus. And guess what - it was celebrated on March 25, exactly nine month before the (re)birth of the Sun, when spring roughly begins.
Can we speculate Jesus was considered as a son of the Sun?
Knowing when and how Christianity became official religion of Roman Empire, when Emperor Constantin converted from paganism and mixing elements from popular pagan believes into Chritian teachings, it is pretty obvious. Deus Sol Invictus was official deity in Rome in the third century. The birth of sun-god Mithras was set on December 25 and he was portrayed on coins when Constantine converted to Christianity.