There is a very widespread theory that Christmas began in Rome as a response to pagan festivities centering around the winter solstice, which was locally considered to be 25 December. The pagan celebration, which was first established by the Roman emperor Aurelian in AD 274, was called The Birth of the Invincible Sun. However, there is evidence that, some years earlier, Christians had made a sincere attempt to calculate the actual date of Jesus’ birthday. People commonly believe that Christmas was instituted on the date of a pagan holiday to supplant it, but it was actually the other way around. Christmas was there first.

In ancient Judaism, there was a common belief, which ancient Christians inherited, that the prophets of Israel died on the on the same date as their birth or conception. This may be behind the long-standing Christian custom of referring to the date of a martyr’s death as their “birthday in heaven.” According to ancient western calculations, Jesus was crucified on 25 March, so they assumed that 25 March was the date of Jesus’ conception. The Annunciation is still commemorated on that date to this day. Nine months after 25 March leads to 25 December, which would be the birthday of Jesus Christ if all those assumptions and calculations were correct. They aren’t correct, but the fact remains that the date has a Christian origin.

In AD 354, Philocalus wrote a Christian martyrology that dates the nativity of Jesus Christ on December 25, and cites an earlier work as backup. From this we can deduce that Christmas was celebrated on the present date at least as early as AD 335 in Rome.

Source: Copyright ©1995-2010 by the Rev. Kenneth W. Collins and his licensors. All rights reserved.


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