By: S.L.A. © 2016 DawahMaterials.com
How did December 25th and January 6th get attributed to be the birthday of Jesus?
Apart from Jehovah’s Witnesses and Sacred Name groups of Christians, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th or January 6th by Christians worldwide. Should they though?
Historical and Biblical records do not record these dates to be the birth of Jesus (peace be upon him).
In fact, the Bible descriptions of the time surrounding his birth suggest he was born in summer or autumn instead. In Luke 2:1-12 a description of shepherds tending to sheep in the fields at night is denoting it was not in the dead of winter as sheep would be brought in or corralled together.
Early Christian writers such as Irenaeus (130-200), or Tertullian (160-225) never mentioned anything in their writings outside of the Bible about birthday celebrations either.
Roman birthday celebrations were mocked and made fun of by Origen of Alexandria (165-264) in his Homily on Leviticus 8, denouncing them because they were pagan practices. This indicates that his birth was not followed with such traditions and celebrations marking the date.
While Paul and Mark never mention the birth of Jesus (peace and blessings be upon him), others including Matthew, give us very different accounts of it, but still do not provided a date. Apocryphal gospels such as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Proto-Gospel of James provide lots of details, but still never mentioned a date either.
It wasn’t until around 200 C.E. that interest in the date even became a topic of interest, and dates started to be discussed about his birth date.
Clement of Alexandria explained in Stromateis 1.21.145-146, that many different days were proposed by many different groups of Christians, but of all the dates he mentioned…still none of them included December 25th.
Some of the dates suggested were:
28th Year of Augustus, the 25th day of the Egyptian month Pachon. (May 20th)
16th year of Tiberius, the 25th of Phamenoth (March 21st)
24th or 25th of Pharmuthi (April 20th or 21st)
Other dates believed to be his birthday also included:
January 2nd favored by Hippolytus (170-236)
March 25th by Turtullian (220)
April 18th and 19th by Clement of Alexandria (150-215)
May 28th by Clement of Alexandria (150-215)
It wasn’t until the 4th Century that the two most well-known and accepted dates came to be mentioned for the first time.
The Western Roman Empire marked it with December 25th, while the Egyptians and Asians marked it on January 6th. January 6th came to be known as the Feast of the Epiphany. The Roman almanac listed December 25th as the birth date of Jesus.[i]
Augustine of Hippo spoke of a group of Christians that kept the celebrations on December 25th, and yet they rejected the January 6th date as an innovation that shouldn’t be followed.
Therefore it wasn’t until almost 300 years after his birth before anyone ever mentioned a date for it.
Did these people know more than those that were there at the actual time of Jesus (peace and blessings be upon him)?
Where did the date originate from? This is the question!
Christmas was a borrowed tradition from the Pagans!
The Romans were celebrating Saturnalia at this time, as well as many Europeans.
Saturnalia was a festival of light that led up to the winter solstice, symbolizing the quest for knowledge and truth.[ii] The renewal of light and the coming of the New Year was celebrated in the later Roman Empire at the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the "Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun"[iii]
Saturnalia was the holiday to honor Saturn, which consisted of a week-long festival of lawlessness. People would not be punished for crimes they did, which included rape, vandalism and other crimes. In each community they would select a person and force them to indulge in overeating and other pleasures, then at the end of the festival, they would murder this person as a human sacrifice symbolizing overcoming the dark forces of evil on December 25th. Oftentimes they hold gladiator tournaments and force the individuals to fight to the death to provide entertainment, while offering the loser as the human sacrifice to appease the gods.
Stephen Nissenbaum, a professor of history at the University of Massachussetts, Amherst, writes:
“In return for ensuring massive observance of the anniversary of the Savior’s birth by assigning it to this resonant date, the Church for its part tacitly agreed to allow the holiday to be celebrated more or less the way it had always been.” The earliest Christmas holidays were celebrated by drinking, sexual indulgence, singing naked in the streets (a precursor of modern caroling), etc.
The Reverend Increase Mather of Boston observed in 1687 that “the early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens’ Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian ones.”[iv]
It was in the 12th Century that Jesus’ (peace and blessings be upon him) birthday was intentionally celebrated coinciding with the Pagan holiday.
Dionysius bar-Salibi (a Syriac Bible commentator), wrote that the date was moved from January 6th to December 25th to coincide with the Pagan holiday of Sol Invictus (the Roman Sun God’s birthday).[v] December 25th was the day that the feast of the birth of the Roman Sun god Sol Invictus, which was established by Aurelian, the Roman Emperor at that time (around 274 C.E.).
Christians were trying to bring the Pagans to Christianity, and they thought that if they made it similar to their holidays, they would be more likely to accept it, and be more willing to accept the god of the Christians. So, the Christians adapted the idea of the Roman Pagan god ‘the unconquerable Sun’ (Sun God Sol) to become the ‘son’ of God that was born, ie. Jesus (peace be upon him), in hopes that the Pagans would accept Christianity by linking the two concepts.
However, Saturnalia was not a holiday that sounded anything like something a peaceful event as the Christian remake of it.
In the 4th Century onwards, we see the intentional ‘Christianization’ of Pagan festivals.
Constantine I, who was born nearly three centuries after Jesus (peace and blessings be upon him), was a worshipper of the Roman gods, particularly the Roman Sun God Sol.
He later converted to Christianity, did a lot to promote the church, as well as freedom of religion for others. He also convened the first Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. to deal with the ‘false teachings’ of the church, yet he never really abandoned his own Pagan roots until around 337 when he became baptized on his deathbed.
During his life as a Christian though, he began to merge the Pagan traditions and holidays to ‘Christianize’ them. He merged the traditions of the days which honored the Roman god of agriculture (Saturn), and the birth of Sol, also known as Mithras[vi], which was on December 25th with the birth of Jesus (peace and blessings be upon him). Later Bible scholars in following centuries allowed this to continue because since the date was not known, they decided to just agree to celebrate it on this date.
Interestingly, there are a dozen or more ‘deities’ from other religions that celebrate the virgin birth of their ‘gods’ on this day, and have many very similar details to that of the Christian story, that predate the Christian birth of Christ. The details match so perfectly it will leave you in shock. (I will write another article on this topic later, and link it here once it is completed.)
Read my other article The Pagan Origins of Christmas Practices and Traditions (I will cross-link it here once it is published)
[i] The Philocalian Calendar
[ii] Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.1.8–9; Jane Chance, Medieval Mythography: From Roman North Africa to the School of Chartres, A.D. 433–1177 (University Press of Florida, 1994), p. 71.
[iii] Robert A. Kaster, Macrobius: Saturnalia, Books 1–2 (Loeb Classical Library, 2011), note on p. 16.
[iv] Increase Mather, A Testimony against Several Prophane and Superstitious Customs, Now Practiced by Some in New England (London, 1687), p. 35. See also Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday, New York: Vintage Books, 1997, p. 4.
[v] A gloss on a manuscript of Dionysius Bar Salibi, d. 1171; see Talley, Origins, pp. 101–102.
Reference: McGowan, A. How December 25th Became Christmas, Bible History Daily. 2016 Retrieved December 10, 2016. www.biblicalarchaeology.org
[vi] Note: Sol is known by many to also be Mithras, while others said that Mithras and Sol were two different dieties.