December 25 Is Not a Conventional Date, but the Real Date for Christmas
We often hear that the date of 25 December for the birth of Jesus is just a convention, as we don’t know the exact date, or is merely symbolic.
This is not the case.
Jesus was really born on December 25, as I’ve shown on last year’s pre-Christmas post on this blog.
As I explain there, proof of this fact comes from the Qumran papers, also known as Dead Sea Scrolls, and the scholar responsible for this particular discovery, Shemarjahu Talmon, was a professor at the University of Jerusalem in Israel.
On the basis of Qumran’s Book of Jubilees, Talmon reconstructed the priestly shifts in the Temple of Jerusalem’s service and applied them to the Gregorian calendar.
With this knowledge, what is in the Bible (in particular in 1Ch 24:1-19, Luke 1,5 and Luke 1,8) leads us to the date of December 25th for the Nativity of Our Lord.
I’ve only given a summary here, if you want to know the details refer to Christmas. Jesus Was Really Born 25 December.
The date of 25 December for the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ was established before the institution of the pagan feast of Sol Invictus (Latin for “Unconquered Sun”)
Another false and disproven claim without any historical foundations about Christmas is that Christians “appropriated” a Roman pagan festivity.
In reality, the reverse of this is true.
As William J. Tighe, Associate Professor of History at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, brilliantly summarizes, the choice of December 25 is the result of attempts by early Christians to find out the date of Jesus Christ’s birth on the basis of calendar calculations, and had nothing to do with pagan holidays.
The idea of Christmas’ date being “stolen” from pagans was advanced between the 17th and 18th centuries by two scholars, namely:
Paul Ernst Jablonski, a German Protestant, wished to show that the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25th was one of the many “paganizations” of Christianity that the Church of the fourth century embraced, as one of many “degenerations” that transformed pure apostolic Christianity into Catholicism. Dom Jean Hardouin, a Benedictine monk, tried to show that the Catholic Church adopted pagan festivals for Christian purposes without paganizing the gospel.
This is reminiscent of what happened in a different context to the Flat Earth Myth, a myth created in the 17th century by a few Protestants to attack the Catholic Church for their own agenda, part of a series of untruths now recognized by historians as anti-Catholic propaganda and named “The Black Legend”.
Let’s go back to the Winter Solstice, marking the beginning of winter, the shortest day of the year, generally today (in the northern hemisphere) the 21 December but in ancient times considered to be 25 December.
So, in Rome, in the Julian calendar, promulgated by Julius Caesar in 45 B.C., the Winter Solstice fell on 25th December, but the Winter Solstice had no religious meaning, therefore no pagan significance, until much later.
The worship of the Sun (or Unconquered Sun), an appellative for several deities in the late Roman Empire, originated in Syria and Egypt and was introduced in Rome by Heliogabalus (who was emperor from 218 to 222 A.D.), native of Emesa, Syria.
Heliogabalus was dissolute and involved in sex scandals, and at his death the Sun worship declined, until the pagan festival of the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Day of the Birth of the Unconquered Sun) was established by the Roman emperor Aurelian on December 25, 274 A.D.
This is after Christians had already identified the date of 25 December as Christmas, the Nativity of Our Lord, as is found in the Commentary on Daniel by Saint Hippolytus of Rome, from 203-204 A.D., which contains the following:
For the first advent of our Lord in the flesh, when he was born in Bethlehem, eight days before the kalends of January [December 25th], the 4th day of the week.
Hippolytus died a martyr in 235 A.D., long before Aurelian established the Sol Invictus pagan festivity in 274 A.D.
Aurelian, Roman emperor from 270 until his assassination in 275 A.D., was an enemy of Christianity and persecuted Christians. He instituted and promoted the Sol Invictus for more than one purpose. One was to unify the various pagan cults of the Roman Empire, all of which could be gathered around an annual “rebirth of the Sun god”, at a time when internal tensions, economic decline, rebellions in the provinces and attacks from Germans and Persians threatened a collapse of the Empire. In this way the Winter Solstice, when days are about to get longer and darkness to get shorter, could serve to make a political statement.
But almost certainly another purpose was to give a pagan significance to a date which was already important to Roman Christians.
Giotto, Nativity, Assisi Lower Church, Wikimedia Commons