Why Do We Celebrate Christmas On December 25?

What’s the significance of December 25th? Was Jesus really born on that day — as many Christian children are taught. The short answer is no. Christianity co-opted the much older celebration of the winter solstice and transformed it into what we know as Christmas.

Those early Christians were adept at absorbing ancient beliefs and practices into their own rituals and ceremonies: thus Ostara, the spring equinox, became Easter, and Imbolc, the February 2 festival of lights, became Candlemass, to commemorate the purification of Mary after the birth of Christ.

When Christianity was just taking hold, itsámost significant dates were Epiphany on January 6, which marked the arrival of the Magi following the birth of Christ, and Easter, which celebratedáhis miraculous resurrection from the dead.

The Pope Decided On Christ’s Birth Day 300 Years After His Death

It wasn’t until the fourth century that the church decided that the day of Jesus Christ’s birth should also be celebrated. Then they had to come up with a date. The Bible’s New Testament gives no indication of what this date might be, so in the year 350, Pope Julius 1 declared December 25 as the official day to honor Christ’s birth day.

It was a calculated choice: winter solstice festivals were extremely important throughout pre-Christian Europe, so it would have been a really bad idea to abolish these festivals in favor of strictly Christian forms of celebration. Instead, early Christian leaders chose to incorporate ancient traditions into Christian worship.

How Early Christians Stole The Winter Solstice

The winter solstice is the longest night and shortest day of the year and varies between December 20 and December 23. Also known as Yule, this date marks when the dark half of the year relinquishes to the light half. On this longest night of the year, the sun’s “rebirth” was celebrated with much joy. From this day forward, the days would become longer.

So those clever early Christians took over the deep-rooted notion of the rebirth of the sun, and turned it into the birth of Jesus Christ. Interestingly, the winter solstice has long been viewed as a time of divine births: the goddess Isis, a virgin, bore the holy child Horus on December 25, and the birth of the Greek god Dionysus was celebrated in December.

Specifically in Rome, church officials probably wanted the date to coincide with existing pagan festivals honoring Saturn (the Roman god of agriculture) and Mithra (the Persian god of light).

Once that December 25 date had been selected, it wasn’t all smoothásailing.

The Banning Of Christmas

The celebration of Christmas was slowly adopted and spread in the Western world over the next several centuries, although many Christians continued to view Epiphany and Easter as more important, and some still do.

In 1647, Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan-led English Parliament banned the celebration of Christmas, considering it to be a Catholic festival, with no justification in the Bible, and also a time of immoral behavior. The Puritans of colonial New England followed the lead of the old country, and also prohibited the observance of Christmas.

Even after that, Christmas was generallyáonly celebrated by Catholics and Protestants in the U.S., and it wasn’t until 1870 that it became a federal holiday.

And just in case you’re hooked on those extra details that have become part of the Christmas myth, the Bible never mentions Mary on a donkey, or an innkeeper turning her away, much less that Christ was born in a stable, or that three kings came to visit riding on camels.

How on earth this holiday came to be transformed from one of the holiest Pagan days to the excuse for rampant commercialism that we see today, is another story.

But we can still wonder at the beauty of nature and its cycles, as we celebrate moving from the darkness of winter toward the light of a new season.

 

301 comments

Jeanne R
Jeanne R4 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R4 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R4 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R4 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R4 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Leong S
Leong Sabout a year ago

tks

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Philippa P
Philippa Powersabout a year ago

Thanks.

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Jane R.
Jane R1 years ago

I knew much of this already. Jesus was not born in December at all. However the date we celebrate his birth is not as important as celebrating his birth.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

It really doesn't matter when we celebrate His birth, but without His birth there could not have been a death and resurrection.

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