The Story Behind December 25

It is well known that the Bible does not give us the date of Jesus' birth. This fact has led a good number of well-meaning people to question whether his birth should even be celebrated at all. Some have even made the claim that the date of December 25 was deliberately settled upon as the day to commemorate his birth because it was already kept as a holy day by pagans in the Roman Empire. In settling upon December 25, the church (we are told) made an ill-advised attempt to christianize a pagan festival in the hope of helping the pagans convert to Christianity. Therefore, celebrating Christmas, is an implicit participation in paganism.

So the story goes. But William Tighe sets the story straight in his article, "Calculating Christmas," which first appeared in 2003 in Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity.

Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival. Almost no one minds, except for a few groups on the fringes of American Evangelicalism, who seem to think that this makes Christmas itself a pagan festival. But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals.

Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Son” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance... (read more)

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