No argument is more forcefully made against Christmas than that the date of December 25th is the birthday of all the pagan deities of ancient religion and was chosen as Christ’s birthday in an attempt to synchronize these religions with Christianity. So to effectively deal with this argument, we must address two questions: First, is December 25th the traditional date of birth for the pagan gods? Second, how did December 25th become recognized as the date of Christ’s birth?
The claim that the gods of ancient paganism were all born on December 25th is common. Any web search looking for this information will result in hundreds of thousands of hits. But, as we saw earlier, the quantity of argument doesn’t prove its validity. No matter how many scientists swore that the universe rotated around the earth, Copernicus was still right in his theory that the earth revolved around the Sun. So is there any truth to the belief that December 25th was chosen as the date for Christmas because it was the birthday of the gods?
It seems that this belief stems from the truth that numerous pagan religions had religious celebrations that were centered on the Winter Solstice. Since the Winter Solstice is December 21st, and the calendar was not firmly set at the time, it is theorized that these celebrations were held on December 25th. But there is no proof that the pantheon of gods were claimed to have been born on December 25th.
One site I visited in researching this claimed – without any source information – that Adonis, Apollo, Attis, Baal, Bacchus, Buddha, Dionysus, Freyr, Helios, Hercules, Horus, Jupiter, Krishna, Mithra, Nimrod, Osiris, Perseus, Saturn, Sol Invictus, and Tammuz were knowingly celebrated as born on this date. But by researching scholarly sites and books, I’ve come to the following conclusion: this claim is rubbish. There is no scholarly evidence that this is the case.
First, the claim that the gods were born on December 25 is absurd. Most of these gods were imagined centuries before there ever was a December 25th (The Julian calendar was not developed until the 1st century B.C.). Again, this argument is creatively twisting the fact that SOME of these gods were either said to be born at the winter solstice (only to die at the summer solstice and to continue the cycle every year), or that some of these pagan religions had festivals around the winter solstice. From that twisting, the claim is made that the gods were born on this date. Again, there is no evidence for this theory. The sole foundation of the argument that Christianity based the dating of Christmas on December 25th in an attempt to synchronize itself with paganism, is the belief that Sol Invictus was born on this date.
The only evidence that this date had any significance, whatsoever, to the worship of the pagan god, Sol, was that the claim that the Roman emperor, Aurelian, established a festival on December 25th, whereby a series of chariot races were held. Again, that’s it. The rest is conjecture, mostly driven by an attempt to criticize and demonize the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, consider this quote by the widely respected professor of Roman Art and Archaeology from the University of Alberta, Steven Hijmans:
…it must be stressed that… December 25 was neither a long standing nor an especially important official feast day of Sol. It is mentioned only in the Calendar of 354 and as far as I can tell the suggestion that it was established by Aurelian cannot be proven. In fact, there is no firm evidence that this feast of Sol on December 25 antedates the feast of Christmas at all. The traditional feast dates of Sol, as recorded in the early imperial fasti, were August 8, August 9, August 28, and December 11. Of these, only August 28 is still mentioned in the Calendar of 354, along with October 19 and October 22, the latter being the most important, judging by the 36 chariot races with which it was celebrated.
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So if early Christianity didn’t choose December 25 in an attempt to synchronize Christianity with paganism, how did this date become associated with the birth of the Messiah?
Interestingly enough, the celebration of Christmas on December 25 may be tied to ancient Jewish tradition found in the Talmud. Consider the following from Biblical Archaeology Review:
The notion that creation and redemption should occur at the same time of year is also reflected in ancient Jewish tradition, recorded in the Talmud. The Babylonian Talmud preserves a dispute between two early-second-century C.E. rabbis who share this view, but disagree on the date: Rabbi Eliezer states: “In Nisan (the first month of the Jewish religious calendar, during which Passover is observed) the world was created; in Nisan the Patriarchs were born; on Passover Isaac was born…and in Nisan they [our ancestors] will be redeemed in time to come.” (The other rabbi, Joshua, dates these same events to the following month, Tishri [The first month of the Jewish civil calendar, during which the Fall Feasts are observed].) Thus, the dates of Christmas and Epiphany (a celebration of Christ’s birth observed in most Eastern Christian traditions) may well have resulted from Christian theological reflection on such chronologies: Jesus would have been conceived on the same date he died, and born nine months later.
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This further connects with ancient Christian writings that suggest that Jesus was crucified on March 25 – nine months before December 25.
Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus died was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar. March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception. Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.
It is important to understand that we have no firm evidence for the reasons that the early Church chose to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th. While it is widely believed that Sol Invictus was born on December 25th and a celebration of his birth took place each year, historical evidence doesn’t back this up. It is important to realize that the facts on this issue make it clear that this date wasn’t chosen because of pagan festivals or the birth date of pagan deities. The evidence simply doesn’t support this claim.
Another common objection related to the date is the ancient festivals of Brumalia and Saturnalia. It is commonly said that these festivals were celebrated on December 25th, but the evidence contradicts this as well. Brumalia was never celebrated on December 25th, and Saturnalia was celebrated on December 17th.
So in the end, the evidence against the celebration of Christmas – from the Christmas tree to December 25th – is in essence creative theory and misinformation. The only common thread between these objections is the wild story of Nimrod and Semiramis, as told by Alexander Hislop. This theory has been greatly discredited, and no reputable historian accepts Hislop’s story. (The evidence refuting Hislop’s claims is so extensive that I won’t go into it here. If search online for it, you will find it in abundance.)
But the story of the Feast of Tabernacles, Hanukkah, and Christmas is firmly fixed upon December 25th.