Christmas Day 25 December - why? (part 1)
By Bosco Peterswww.liturgy.co.nzHistorically Christmas Day was probably not December 25. In fact the chancesare 364/365 against!Some people are shocked when they realise that 25 December has only onechance in 365 of being the date that Jesus was born. This shock generallydeepens when they find out Jesus wasn’t born 0 AD. In fact there was no 0 AD.The concept of zero is surprisingly late. And the year before 1 AD is 1 BC.Jesus probably was born some time in 7-4 BC (but that’s another story).
How did 25 December come to be the feast of Christ’s birth?
Attempts at guestimating a date often turn on the shepherds being in theBethlehem fields in Luke’s gospel and what time of year that might have been.This misunderstands the role that Bethlehem and the shepherds play in Luke’smasterpiece. Bethlehem is there to fulfil an expectation amongst some that themessiah would be born in David’s city. And we have so sweetened the infancystories and lost their nature as prelude and overture that we often forget thatshepherds in that culture were despised as law-breaking, irreligious, un-trustable rogues. In Luke’s story the shepherds are amongst the first to hear thegood news to set the scene for Luke’s story in which God has special care for the downtrodden and despised amongst which were Samaritans, women - andshepherds.
The pagan origin of a 25 December Christmas
The most common explanation that one hears for December 25 beingChristmas day is that in the Roman Empire December 25 (the date of thewinter solstice in the Julian Calendar introduced in 45 BC) the Romanscelebrated the festival Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, "the birthday of theunconquered sun." This celebration grew to its greatest popularity under Aurelian, who in 274 encouraged it as an empire-wide holiday.Early Christianity conflated iconography and symbolism from the Sol Invictuscult into its own traditions. The haloed Christ is an obvious example.Constantine on March 7, 321 made dies Solis, the day of the sun, "Sunday" theRoman day of rest.In the twelfth century Jacob Bar-Salibi wrote: "It was a custom of the Pagans tocelebrate on the same 25 December the birthday of the Sun, at which theykindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries theChristians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel