December 25

Thomas

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There is a common assumption that says Dec25 was chosen by Christians to supplant a pre-existing pagan festival, usually Saturnalia or Sol Invictus.

The problem is there is no extant evidence at all for any of the supposedly supplanted festivals having an association with Dec25. Saturnalia, even when extended to seven days, it finished Dec23.

That Emperor Aurelian’s quadrennial festival instituted in 274 was held on Dec25 is without foundation, and the assertion that it was to Sol Invictus is dubious – again, there’s no evidence.

The ‘Calendar/Chronography of 354’ (sometimes referred to as 'the Philocalian Calendar'), refers to a festival of ‘Natalis Invicti’ (the Birth of Invictus). This is the earliest testimony to a festival celebrating the birth of 'Invictus'. The calendar was accompanied by a register of martyrs, headed by Jesus and with reference made to his birth on Dec25. This document seems to go back to a list made in 336 – thus 336 is the latest possible date for the celebration of Christmas by Christians. Since this is only the terminus ad quem, it is likely that the celebration on this day predates this source.

Scholars had tended to assume that 'Natalis Invicti' is naturally Sol Invictus, but this has come into doubt. Nowhere is Invictus used as an honorific and a shorthand name for Sol. Furthermore, Invictus was an epithet used for many figures, including emperors and various gods, not only the sun. It is not even applied most often to Sol, and there are a multitude of references to Sol without the epithet.

Evidence for festivals dedicated to Sol put the date in August, October and the latest, Dec11 – none are astronomically significant.

Our earliest evidence then, establishes the Christian celebration on Dec25 before any pagan celebration on that date.

Moreover, we do not have any evidence that a pre-existing festival presented the impetus for celebrating Jesus’s birth on this day.

The earliest record we have of anyone referring to the date of Jesus’s birth is in Clement of Alexandria’s Stromata 1.21 (c198-201). By his reckoning Jesus was born Jan6, 2BCE, died on April20.

In Rome we have Hippolytus (there is dispute over authorship, but dated) placing Jesus’s death on March25 (the vernal equinox), 29 CE and his ‘genesis’ on April2, 2BCE, which more likely means his conception rather than his birth. It is possible that he could have conceived of a December 25 date at this time, but he does not say anything definite in this regard.

Julius Africanus, writing at the latest in 222, places the first day of creation on March25, linking this date to Jesus’s ‘advent/incarnation’ some ‘5,500 years later’. Unfortunately, in none of the surviving fragments does he say precisely what date he assigns to Jesus’s birth, but there is at least a decent probability that he could have dated Jesus’s birth to nine months later, on or around Dec25.

Tertullian of Carthage, Gregory Thaumaturgus in Asia Minor ... there are numerous references.

Ephrem the Syrian (306-373) in his Commentary on Exodus, says that Jesus entered Mary’s womb on the 10th of Nisan. He plays on a well-established typology of Jesus and the Passover lamb, linking the reference to the procurement of the lamb on the 10th of Nisan is a type for Jesus’s Incarnation (Exodus 12:3). Also, he confirms this with the notion that John’s conception was on the tenth day of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, when his father Zechariah was in the sanctuary (Luke 1:8–10). This is because of a view in the early church that Zechariah was high priest and that he was entering the sanctuary on this date because it was the Day of Atonement. In his Commentary on the Diatessaron, relying on these same arguments, he also specifies the date of Jesus’s birth in accordance with the Greek rendering, Jan6.

Two things we can establish, is that there was an interest in dates for Jesus' conception/birth and death from at the very latest 201AD, and that these proposed dates were dependent on interpreting Jewish chronological sources – such as the dates of Passover – commentaries on Scripture, such as Exodus and Daniel.
 
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Some say there is association with the date December 25 and the cult of Mithras, though this is questioned by others.

A couple of things quickly came to mind...first, the Gregorian adjustment to the calendar.
This date was important to the Christian churches because it is fundamental to the calculation of the date of Easter. To reinstate the association, the reform advanced the date by 10 days:[c] Thursday 4 October 1582 was followed by Friday 15 October 1582.[3]
Point being December 25 is not the same now as it was then in relation to the Solstice (currently Dec 21 +/-).

Second, Jeremiah 10:
1Hear ye the word of the Lord, which he has spoken to you, O house of Israel.

2Thus saith the Lord, Learn ye not the ways of the heathen, and be not alarmed at the signs of the sky; for they are alarmed at them, falling on their faces.

3For the customs of the nations are vain; it is a tree cut out of the forest, the work of the carpenter, or a molten image.

4Beautified with silver and gold, they fix them with hammers and nails;

5they will set them up that they may not move; it is wrought silver, they will not walk, it is forged silver (10:5) They must certainly be borne, for they cannot ride. Fear them not; for they cannot do any evil, and there is no good in them.
- Septuagint
Alternately:
I know of no other "holiday" short of Yule in which people cut and decorate a tree.

When did Jeremiah live? Per Wiki:
Jeremiah[a] (c. 650 – c. 570 BC)
More than 500 years before Jesus was born, people were cutting and decorating trees, and arguably it was already an ancient tradition at that time.

In the past I have noted the association between Santa Claus, Saint Nick, The Greene Knight, and other Pagan associations of the Wild Man tradition. (https://www.interfaith.org/community/threads/14824/ -my goodness, almost 12 years ago!)

Wiki:
Figures similar to the European wild man occur worldwide from very early times. The earliest recorded example of the type is the character Enkidu of the ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh.[14]

The description of Nebuchadnezzar II in the Book of Daniel (2nd century BC) greatly influenced the medieval European concepts.[15] Daniel 4 depicts God humbling the Babylonian king for his boastfulness; stricken mad and ejected from human society, he grows hair on his body and lives like a beast. This image was popular in medieval depictions of Nebuchadnezzar. Similarly, late medieval legends of Saint John Chrysostom (died 407) describe the saint's asceticism as making him so isolated and feral that hunters who capture him cannot tell if he is man or beast.[16]

The medieval wild-man concept also drew on lore about similar beings from the Classical world such as the Roman faun and Silvanus, and perhaps even Heracles. Several folk traditions about the wild man correspond with ancient practices and beliefs. Notably, peasants in the Grisons tried to capture the wild man by getting him drunk and tying him up in hopes that he would give them his wisdom in exchange for freedom.[17] This suggests an association with an ancient tradition – recorded as early as Xenophon (d. 354 BC) and appearing in the works of Ovid, Pausanias, and Claudius Aelianus – in which shepherds caught a forest being, here termed Silenus or Faunus, in the same manner and for the same purpose.[17]

I think Paganism was a lot more fluid than some would like it to be. I sense it was more about concepts...and the fact that the Church was willing to baptize these concepts on frequent basis, suggests to me the Wild Man tradition was alive and well in Pagan Rome.

Then there are the traditions of the Celts, Germanic Peoples, and Nordic Peoples that are being dismissed out of hand, yet these peoples acknowledged much the same tradition if only by different names. (Look into the association between reindeer and fly agaric mushrooms...no wonder they can fly high!)

The Winter Solstice was an important time for all peoples in antiquity, not understanding as we do how the Earth revolves around the Sun. They understood the days grew shorter, then began to grow again - without understanding why.

Wiki:
The solstice may have been a special moment of the annual cycle for some cultures even during Neolithic times. Astronomical events were often used to guide activities, such as the mating of animals, the sowing of crops and the monitoring of winter reserves of food. Many cultural mythologies and traditions are derived from this.[citation needed] The winter solstice was immensely important because the people were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as "the famine months". In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available.[9]

Because the winter solstice is the reversal of the sun's ebbing in the sky, in ancient times it was seen as the symbolic death and rebirth of the sun or of a sun god.[10][11][12] In cultures which used cyclic calendars based on the winter solstice, the "year as reborn" was celebrated with reference to life-death-rebirth deities or "new beginnings" (such as Hogmanay's redding, a New Year cleaning tradition), and "reversal" (as in Saturnalia's slave and master reversals).

I can't give precise dates, it would take a serious calculator with consideration for the Gregorian correction, but I don't think it is unreasonable to understand the Yule time in general terms, was by the time of Nicea firmly ensconced for thousands of years. That there is no record until well after Constantine had been laid to rest of assigning that date to the birth of Jesus, and frankly little mention in the Bible apart from Luke, and tempered with Ecclesiastes 7:8
 
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Santa Claus...at least his forerunner:
1024px-RochesterCathedral_Boss1.JPG

From Rochester Cathedral...in Kent

Similar concept as gargoyles, the Wild Man is a common motif throughout the great European Christian Cathedrals
 
Here's one from the 6th century, from a Byzantine Palace in Constantinople
1920px-Green_Man_mosaic.jpg

I think I am safe to say the Wild Man tradition was alive and well during the period we are discussing

The back and forth over Mithras, or Natalis Solis Invicti, or Saturnalia...is irrelevant. It is Yule that is the original reason for the season.
 
Another link to an old thread here from 2009, beginning where I entered the conversation:


Another thread from 2009:


Another thread with a post full of old broken links:


Here's one from 2006:

 
So what was the compelling reason to make it Dec 25? Did I miss that?
I'd say the 'compelling reason' for Dec 25 was based on the idea that Christ was conceived in March, and died in the same month. Other dates were put forward, the Orthodox Church still celebrates January 7th (Julian calendar).

Various Fathers put forward varied mathematical workings, some from the creation of the world, some from dates deduced from reading Luke, all with greater or lesser degrees of accuracy.

The Spring equinox and Winter solstice seemed symbolically fitting – nor can these be claimed by pagans – they're universal because they're astronomical observations.

+++

The alternative idea, that the Christians co-opted a pagan festival – eg Mithra or Sol Invictus, lacks credible evidence.

That Constantine or later Emperors decreed the date for Christianity is unfounded.

+++
 
The Spring equinox and Winter solstice seemed symbolically fitting – nor can these be claimed by pagans – they're universal because they're astronomical observations.
Pagans claimed them precisely because these astronomical observations were universal, and because they are universal the "Universal" Church laid claim.

Christmas and Easter are their own brand of confusion...but the real hair puller is All Hallow's Eve and All Saint's Day, lining up with the Pagan Day of the Dead.

Here's another:

Virgin-of-Guadalupe-oil-canvas-collection-Antonio-1720.jpg
Growing up in Southern California it was impossible not to be immersed with this. Virgin Mary?

Not quite.

This is the Virgin of Guadalupe. This is imbued within the chain of Catholic Missions established by Father Junipero Serra...engrained California history. These Missions run from San Diego to San Francisco (the northernmost terminus is still a bit vague to me). I spent my formative years not far from Mission San Gabriel, and I've visited a half dozen or so of the Missions as a kid, I think there's twenty something altogether along the El Camino Real (where the car/truck gets it's name).
 
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The Christmas Tree is more complex – the tree as we know it is quite late in the UK, going back to Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.

As @juantoo3 says, the 'Yule Log' is probably the origin, the Christmas Trees are mentioned around the 14th-16th centuries, and the Yule Log are spoken of 11th-12th centuries, but most likely go back into pagan – perhaps German pagan – antiquity.

The origin is generally assumed to be using 'evergreens' to celebrate the new year/new life at the winter solstice, and there were traditions of bonfires – again the coming of the sun – that probably underpin the domestic yule log.

The Green Man seems to be an ubiquitous symbol of rebirth. Again, its mention in texts is relatively late, although markers such as the mosaic above suggest a long-standing tradition.
 
Let us not forget mistletoe.
A very Celtic addition.

Among the Pagans outside of Roman reach, worship of trees and groves was actually pretty common:

Wiki
It is commonly believed that ancient Romans used to decorate their houses with evergreen trees to celebrate Saturnalia,[29] although there are no historical records of that.[30] In the poem Epithalamium by Catullus, he tells of the gods decorating the home of Peleus with trees, including laurel and cypress. Later Libanius, Tertullian, and Chrysostom speak of the use of evergreen trees to adorn Christian houses.[31]

The Vikings and Saxons worshiped trees.[29] The story of Saint Boniface cutting down Donar's Oak illustrates the pagan practices in 8th century among the Germans. A later folk version of the story adds the detail that an evergreen tree grew in place of the felled oak, telling them about how its triangular shape reminds humanity of the Trinity and how it points to heaven.[32][a]
 
The Christmas Tree is more complex – the tree as we know it is quite late in the UK, going back to Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.
Right, and he was of German origin, if I remember correctly.
 
I'd say the 'compelling reason' for Dec 25 was based on the idea that Christ was conceived in March, and died in the same month. Other dates were put forward, the Orthodox Church still celebrates January 7th (Julian calendar).

Various Fathers put forward varied mathematical workings, some from the creation of the world, some from dates deduced from reading Luke, all with greater or lesser degrees of accuracy.

The Spring equinox and Winter solstice seemed symbolically fitting – nor can these be claimed by pagans – they're universal because they're astronomical observations.

+++

The alternative idea, that the Christians co-opted a pagan festival – eg Mithra or Sol Invictus, lacks credible evidence.

That Constantine or later Emperors decreed the date for Christianity is unfounded.

+++
Most every Bible thumper I have run into eschews anything to do with astronomical connections.....which is why it seems weird to me that that would be anymodies compelling reason for the dates.of Easter or Christmas

Saying the dates he was conceived maybe? But what does his conception date have to do with date of his death?

While I don't see any.compelling reason for its being picked back then...and see you do
...but do you agree.theynwere wrong and with current knowledge Dec n Jan are pretty much low on possibility?
 
Most every Bible thumper I have run into eschews anything to do with astronomical connections....
Well, you'll have to take that up with your bible thumpers ... the Fathers were different fish. Your bible thumpers probably confuse astronomy with astrology ... mention that Passover is, according to Scripture, tied to the Spring Equinox, let them chew on that.

Saying the dates he was conceived maybe? But what does his conception date have to do with date of his death?
The idea of 'complete years'. It's a dubious reading of the Hebrew Traditions, but there was this general idea that everything runs in cycles, and complete cycles – that's the way nature works, and nature works that way because that's the way God works it.

While I don't see any.compelling reason for its being picked back then...and see you do
...but do you agree.theynwere wrong and with current knowledge Dec n Jan are pretty much low on possibility?
No, not really ... why ...

To be clear, I'm not hung on the date. My only point is that the idea that Christians took Dec 25 from pagan practice, or had the date enforced upon them, is ill-founded, owes more to rumour and ill-informed speculation... it's not because of Mithra, or Sol Invictus, or Saturnalia, or Constantine or whoever ... much an many would like it to be.

Same, btw, with the Trinity ... yes, there are triunes in other religions, and there are correspondences, but they are none quite like the Christian Trinity, not even close, and the idea that Christianity copied the doctrine from elsewhere is equally false and without foundation.
 
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If I were to argue anything, I'd say that while Christianity is a supernatural religion, the rejection of the natural – an issue, I think, more common in the West than in the East, is an error.

Humanity's commission to care for the planet is there in Genesis 1. To me that's a call to work with nature, not treat nature as there for us to abuse. Anyway, we're deep into my Christianity, so we both know my take on that ...

So the two points I make:
1: The major one. Christians came up with their own dates, based on their own workings, based on Scripture. That such dates should co-incide with major astronomical moments would be seen as a sign of their being right, because they saw God as working that way ... again, Genesis says as much: "And God said: Let there be lights made in the firmament of heaven, to divide the day and the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years" (Genesis 1:14).

2: The minor one. Take the remembrance of the dead. The Jews did it – it's there in the Psalms – the Christians did it. The pagans do it. In fact, everyone does it. The Celts have Samhain, the Japanese (from China) have Bon. The dates are different, but the essence is the same – that the veil between the two world becomes thin, attenuated, or drawn aside, and for a short while the living walk with the dead.

So if you are going to pick a day to remember the dead ... and no day stands out in particular ...what do you do?

Prior the Nov 1 spreading from Ireland/N England, we have 13 May in Edessa (Greece), the Sunday after Pentecost in Antioch (Turkey) and Rome and Germany, and the Friday after Easter in Syria.

By 800, there is evidence that churches in Ireland and N. England were holding a feast commemorating all saints on 1 November. In the 790s, Alcuin of Northumbria recommended 1 November to his friend, Arno of Salzburg in Bavaria. Alcuin then used his influence with Charlemagne to introduce the Irish-Northumbrian Feast of All Saints to the Franks.

The obvious link is with the Irish Samhain. Whether that is particularly a festival of the dead is doubtful, but it was a festival to mark the end of autumn and the coming of winter, the remembrance of the dead stems from that.

The question now is whether accepting a pagan festival, with all its natural sensibilities, is a suitable day to establish the Feats of All Saints and All Souls, with all its natural sensibilities – and those two sets have sensibilities very much in common – is acceptable?

I see no problem with it. The Church is big enough and strong enough by now to incorporate a 'natural' practice without fear of succumbing to a pagan heresy ... and that, I suppose, is my key – there is nothing intrinsically heretical about the world's astronomical festivals, and the symbolism that accrues to them.

It's all a fuss about not much at all, really.

+++

Same with holly, misletoe, evergreens on the door, etc., etc. The ease with which pagan ideas can be incorporated speaks beyond the ideas themselves (as does the universalism of the idea, China/Japan has O-Bon, the same thing, but different times) – What do the symbols signify, and is that signification essentially heretical? If not, no problem.
 
To be clear, I'm not hung on the date. My only point is that the idea that Christians took Dec 25 from pagan practice, or had the date enforced upon them, is ill-founded, owes more to rumour and ill-informed speculation... it's not because of Mithra, or Sol Invictus, or Saturnalia, or Constantine or whoever ... much an many would like it to be.
Does it matter?
Not to me, it doesn't. It brings people together, and has become part of tradition.

With the atheistic Cult of Reason in power during the era of Revolutionary France, Christian Christmas religious services were banned and the three kings cake was renamed the "equality cake" under anticlerical government policies.
Christmas - Wikipedia

Hmm .. extremist views are damaging, imo..

Same, btw, with the Trinity ... yes, there are triunes in other religions, and there are correspondences, but they are none quite like the Christian Trinity, not even close..
That's not surprising .. the doctrine of Christian trinity evolved over centuries. :)
 
In the U.K. Christmas is still a massive event. Everybody knows about Santa Claus/Father Christmas who travels around giving toys to good boys and girls. For some reason, his colleague Krampus, who punishes the naughty ones never caught on here. Perhaps that is why there are so many bad kids around.

Gruss_vom_Krampus.jpg
 
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