The True Origins of Christmas

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The True Origins of Christmas

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Constantine's reign also marked the transformation of a major pagan festival into Christianity's major holiday-Christmas. Notice how this came to pass: ". . . About the year 330, the Church in Rome definitely assigned December 25 for the celebration of the birth of Christ . . . The choice of December 25 was influenced by the fact that the Romans, from the time of Emperor Aurelian (275), had celebrated the feast of the sun god (Sol Invictus: the Unconquered Sun) on that day.

"December 25 was called the 'Birthday of the Sun,' and great pagan religious celebrations of the Mithras cult were held all through the empire. What was more natural than that the Christians celebrate the birth of him Who was the 'Light of the World' and the true 'Sun of Justice' on this very day?" (Francis X. Weiser, Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs, Harcourt, Brace & World, New York, 1952, p. 60-61).

Owen Chadwick, former professor of history at Cambridge University, gives additional details: "The high point of the Christian cult of the sun as a symbol of light was the making of Christmas Day. No one knew exactly when Jesus was born in Bethlehem . . . Christian scholars made guesses, at first that it was in spring or in autumn. But they were overtaken by the growing cult of the sun. Here was the Light of the Word, and we must remember his birth at the time that the sun is reborn at the winter solstice . . .

"They had a pastoral reason for choosing this date. The Roman people kept the winter solstice with a feast of drunkenness and riot. The Christians thought that they could bring a better meaning into that feast. They tried to persuade their flocks not to drink or eat too much, and to keep the feast more austerely-but without success . . .

"So Christmas in our age is a harmony of three elements: the junketings of the Roman crowd trying to relieve the gloom of winter; the Roman cult of the sun and of its light; and, at the heart, the memory of a birth in a manger in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem. To that harmony, much later, the North [northern Europe] added elements from folklore, such as the Germanic Christmas tree" (A History of Christianity, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1995, pp. 22, 24). GN