Christmas has nothing to do with ancient Roman holidays

I saw a History Channel special and again they repeated that old canard that Dec 25 was chosen to compete with Saturnalia, or was it Mithras or Sol Invictus?

Actually, it was none of them. No doubt Christianity has had it’s share of assimilating pagan celebrations, and some of them (Yule log and likely Christmas tree) have been taken into Christmas.

But the date has nothing whatsoever to do with any ancient Roman Pagan holidays.

As Wiki points out:The earliest source stating 25 December as the date of birth of Jesus is likely by Hippolytus of Rome, written very early in the 3rd century, based on the assumption that the conception of Jesus took place at the Spring equinox which he placed on 25 March, and then added nine months – festivals on that date were then celebrated.[42] 25 March would also roughly be the date of his crucifixion, which ancient Christians would have seen as confirming the date of his birth, since there was a notion that the great prophets were conceived into the afterlife on the same date they were conceived into the world. John Chrysostom also argued for a 25 December date in the late 4th century, basing his argument on the assumption that the offering of incense in Luke 1:8–11 was the offering of incense by a high priest on Yom Kippur (early October), and, as above, counting fifteen months forward.

Honestly, these were nothing more than educated guesswork. I certainly wouldnt count on them as solid by any means.

But yes, the ancient Romans had a big bash around the Solstice, called Saturnalia.

The holiday started on Dec 17th (but note that the ancient Roman calendar was anything but precise) and went on until the 23rd or so. Gifts giving, feating, merrymaking, costumes, etc. A real blow out.

Mithras and Sol Invictus, both of whom only lasted for a short time, also has holidays associated with the Solstice. *Dies Natalis Solis Invicti *was even celebrated one year (at least) on Dec 25th, not the 21st the usual solstice, but again- remember the ancient Roman calendar was pretty fluid.

So, why couldnt Christmas have been picked on Dec 25th to compete? Well, two things:

  1. If you wanna compete with a big party, you dont put yours after they have one, you put on the same day or before. You dont want everyone partied out. Saturnalia was the 17th, and the other two mostly on the Solstice.

  2. But the most important one is that Christmas wasn’t a party day. It was just another Saints Feasts day (which doesnt mean you have a big feast). Until the Middle ages*, it wasnt celebrated with parties, gift giving, boozing and general merriment. I mean, if you’re gonna compete, you better have something better than “Go to church and light a candle”.
    So, it’s another case of someone putting a couple of coincidences together and coming up with a hypothesis that has existed as a meme.

  • and even then, Epiphany or the end of the twelve days, was the big holiday on January 6th.

Fairly flawed argument.

You cite only some of the old writers guesses as to the birth date. Other writers had other dates in mind.

So why was this option chosen???

Answer: we don’t know for sure.

So your claim has as much backing as a lot of other claims. Deal with it.

Do we really need to have this discussion every year? Many Christians seem to be ignorant of the history of their own religion, and desperate to prove it had no connection with the cultures in which it arose.

See my posts on this thread.

In a nutshell:

  • An early Christian Bishop, John Chrysostom, stated clearly and unambiguously that the date of Christmas was deliberately set to be the same day as Natus Solis Invicti (the Birthday of the Invincible Sun).

*“On this day also the Birthday of Christ was lately fixed at Rome in order that while the heathen were busy with their profane ceremonies, the Christians might perform their sacred rites undisturbed. They call this the Birthday of the Invincible One; but who is so invincible as the Lord? They call it the Birthday of the Solar Disk, but Christ is the Sun of Righteousness.” *

  • There were large numbers of different sects and versions of early Christianity, with a great variety of way-out alternate beliefs, and there were large numbers of alternative books of Christian scripture with variant myths, doctrines, and approaches. In the early days there was no central authority and no standard doctrine. There is also evidence of people combining Christianity with Sun worship.

List of variant beliefs in early Christianity

List of alternate Christian scriptures

As late as the middle of the 5th century, there were Christians who worshiped the Sun.

Pope Leo the Great (Pope from 440 - 461) wrote:

From such a system of teaching proceeds also the ungodly practice of certain foolish folk who worship the sun as it rises at the beginning of daylight from elevated positions: even some Christians think it is so proper to do this that, before entering the blessed Apostle Peter’s basilica, which is dedicated to the One Living and true God, when they have mounted the steps which lead to the raised platform , they turn round and bow themselves towards the rising sun and with bent neck do homage to its brilliant orb. We are full of grief and vexation that this should happen, which is partly due to the fault of ignorance and partly to the spirit of heathenism: because although some of them do perhaps worship the Creator of that fair light rather than the Light itself, which is His creature, yet we must abstain even from the appearance of this observance: for if one who has abandoned the worship of gods, finds it in our own worship, will he not hark back again to this fragment of his old superstition, as if it were allowable, when he sees it to be common both to Christians and to infidels?
  – Sermon 27, IV

While the History channel has some interesting and informative programs, I take anything from a channel that also airs *Ancient Aliens * with a large grain of salt. As has been pointed out. Other scholars and sources disagree with the view of the program aired.

Sure, there are other dates, and we dont know why Dec 25th. But it had nothing to do with competing with Saturnalia, a holiday already on it’s way out. You can’t compete with wild parties with yet another in the dozens and dozens of saints days, 'celebrated" by a quiet night at church and a candle.

Yes, but De Solstitiis et Aequinoctiis altho attributed to St John Chrysostom, was not written by that worthy and was penned long after Dec 25th was chosen. And that work chose 25th March, as many others did, as the conception date, and calculated from there, altho it did mention Natali Invictus. The basis of that work was that John the baptist and Jesus were a idealized 180 days apart, thus you can calculate from there. Yes, it did mention that while the heathen were busy with their parties the faithful could have a nice day of prayer, but that is the opposite of competing.

The Roman calendar had faults, but it wasn’t that fluid. In the first century A.D., the soltice was on Dec 25 (or 24th, it moves forward about 6 hours from year to year and then back with the leap year). It’s now on the 21st, but there’s a reason for that.

Because the Julian calendar was slightly too long, the soltices and equinoxes drifted over the centuries. Pope Gregory’s adjustment in the 16th century fixed that and skipped 10 days to put the calendar back where they thought it belonged. But they weren’t concerned about getting Christmas back onto the soltice. They were much more concerned with the date of Easter. The calculations for figuring out the date of Easter were set by the Council of Nicaea in the 4th century. So they skipped enough days to get the calendar back to where it was at the time of that council. If that left Christmas a few days off the solstice, so what? It wasn’t nearly as major a holyday as Easter.

Also note that by the time they started celebrating Christmas, the soltice had already drifted by at least a day, perhaps two. (I don’t think we know when the first Christmas celebration was held.) But the 25th remained the nominal soltice for quite a while, so that’s when any soltice celebrations were usually held.

Who you gonna believe, baby, me or your lying primary sources?

Good points.

What we would think of as Christmas celebrations occurred during the Middle ages, Charlemagne perhaps started it, as it was during a Christmas mass he was crowned. So, he started celebrating Christmas. Reall, he was celebrating his Coronation, but it made a good excuse.

Cecil’s 2¢.
All I know is, there’s no way the first Xmas could’ve been held in my old neighborhood; no chance of finding three wise men and a virgin.

Not Cecil, Dex. (CDexterHaven?)

You’re impugning Dexter’s take on Xmas? I’ll be waiting over there------------>.