Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why December 25th?

Most people who know some history about the matter think the answer is that the church took a pagan celebration of the birth of the Sun god on the winter solstice (which is when the days start to lengthen again) and set up a rival celebration of Christ's birth--the true Light, dawning in a dark world. That's essentially how Elesha Coffman explains it in this article for Christian History magazine. But is that really the case?

William Tighe says it ain't so in his article "Calculating Christmas," published in Touchtone magazine. He begins:

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 Sun” 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 the whole thing here.

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