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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Plain Truth About December 25th

Have you ever wondered about the dating of Christmas? What on earth is December 25th all about and how did we come up with that? Was it adopted from the pagans in Rome? Does your very salvation rest on rejecting or accepting the date? Do we even know what the history is? I’ve wondered about it quite a bit.

Let me guess, you don’t need to investigate it because you already know that it’s pagan, right? I understand. That’s precisely what I thought …until I investigated it. Well, there are so many theories floating around out there, so many claims, so much information, so many people saying so many things. Who has time in this busy age to study history?

When I was a teenager, I joined the Worldwide Church of God where we taught the keeping of holidays such as Easter and Christmas was pagan and sinful. One fine day, while speaking out against Easter, a question was posed to me that made me desire to look into its origins. After decades of speaking out against celebrating Easter based on what I was told, I studied Easter for myself, and what I found didn’t match what I was preaching. I was forced, at great pain and internal turmoil, to change my entire outlook. For Easter to not be completely pagan made no sense to my mind. Yet, there it was. The next logical step was to a study into Christmas. I wanted to test the spirits, so to speak. Shaken by my Easter experience, I had to know if what I had been preaching was really the truth. I wanted to know for certain how Christmas came about. “Just the facts.” The truth can handle itself. If something is true, then it’s true. If not, then not. So I set out to study Christmas as objectively as I could.

Certainly the people who are familiar with this topic should already know a little about what is being asserted on the subject. Certain religious historians, the Wiccans, the Puritans, Protestant fundamentalist groups, random YouTube and TikTok videos, your uncle in the trailer park, - they all say Christmas was co-opted from the pagans. It is a staple feature of certain groups that, annually, as people start putting out their decorations, they start rolling out a barrage of material protesting Christmas. While the Christians are saying, “Put Christ back into Christmas,” the Wiccans are saying, “Put Wicca back into Christmas.” Fifty thousand Elvis fans can’t be wrong, as they say. Christmas must be pagan. Case closed.

Is any of that correct? Did Christians really co-opt Christmas from the pagans? Where does Sol Invictus fit in? Or how about Saturnalia, or Brumalia, or Yule? Well, in this writing I hope to straighten out the claims and separate truth from tale.

What this study is about is the dating of December 25th for Christmas. I will not be getting into whether or not December 25 is the right day. I will not be getting into customs added to Christmas long after it was set to December 25th, such as evergreen swags and wreaths, bobbing for apples, caroling, and etc. This study is not intended to answer every question or touch on every issue. Some things have no answers. This study is about dates and timing.


BRUMA / BRUMALIA


The claims:

For sake of space, I cannot possibly give all details on what was claimed regarding the pagan festival of Brumalia over the years and in various places. I hear people say the wildest things! Suffice it to say that I’ve heard it claimed that the festival honored Bacchus or Dionysus and Chronos, was celebrated anywhere from November 24th to December 25th, was anywhere from one day to thirty days long, and that during Brumalia the pagans decorated their houses with greenery and there were raucous celebrations.

The facts:

People are confusing many distinct things here.

A man named John Raymond Crawford wrote what has been called “not only the latest, but by far the most careful and searching investigation ever made of two festivals which are little known.” Problem is, the writing is in Latin and there are no English translations readily available. Roger Pearse was sent a review of Crawford’s book – in English.

According to Roger's review, which he generously presents to us in his online article “A Review of Crawford on the Bruma and Brumalia”, (I will summarize here) true bruma is the Roman name for the winter solstice, which is also called “solstitium et initium hiberni” (or “solstice at the start of winter”). Roman tradition placed this solstice on December 25th. However, the solstice was not usually on that date. Meanwhile, Bruma is the name of a completely separate ancient celebration, which was celebrated on November 24th.

We are dealing with two different brumas. Notice the capitalization there. I have inserted this capitalization on my own to help you the reader distinguish the two brumas.
The word bruma (lower case b) comes from the superlative form of the Latin word for “brief”. The days grow shorter in winter, so “bruma” came to mean the shortest day of the year; the winter solstice.
Bruma (capital B) was the name of a festival on November 24th that marked a kind of unofficial start of winter.
Got that? Two brumas, only one was a festival.

Let's go on a little trip through time and space.

We start in western Rome, prior to 55 BC. Here, we find the oldest extant Roman calendar we have from before Julius Caesar's calendar reforms. It is called the Fasti Antiates Maiores. Part of what it does is shows festivals. It shows nothing at all on November 24 or December 25. The Bruma festival was either non-existent or very minor.  

Let's zip forward in time. 
By the 300s AD, calendars do mention Bruma. The Philocalian Calendar, made in 354 AD, shows Bruma on the 24th of November. Even so, it shows no bruma festival on December 25.

Now we move forward in time, and far to the east. 
From the sixth century through the tenth century AD, in the Byzantine Empire, there was a festival called Brumalia. Notice the location here. We are talking Constantinople, not Rome. Also notice the dating here. The sixth century is centuries after Christmas became popular in Rome and the western Roman Empire ceased to exist. Brumalia is now a twenty-four day festival, lasting from November 24th through December 17th. It was not celebrated for twenty-four straight days, mind you. Rather, it was divided up alphabetically – one day for each letter of the Greek alphabet – and each person celebrated on the day that matched the first letter of their name.

Roger Pearse wrote to me and informs us that it would appear that, in the course of time, Bruma was combined with Saturnalia to become Brumalia. This matches what was written in his review of Crawford I mentioned earlier. Thanks for the excellent research, hard work, and timely help, Roger!

If Bruma, on November 24th, was eventually combined with Saturnalia, on December 17th, then Saturnalia was not replaced by Christmas at all. It lived on and was merged, in the opposite direction in the month, with Bruma and other holidays.

As Bruma became Brumalia, there were dinner parties, games, and the slaughtering of a pigs and goats. To the ancient Roman mind, these things were what one would expect in the winter. They weren’t given to farming or going to war in the winter, so they would plant some seeds then slaughter some pigs and goats and throw a party. The parties were at night since Cronos was a god of time and harvest, and was pictured as being in darkness, just as seeds were in darkness. The pigs were symbolic, as were the goats. This wasn’t some random choice of animal for a generic feast. None of these symbols carried over into Christmas.

You can read more about this in Roger Pearse’s review of “De Mensibus”.
John the Lydian wrote De Mensibus (or “On the Months”) in the late 400’s AD. He points out that these things were opposed by the Christians of that time and the church turned away from them. I repeat for emphasis - opposed by Christians a century after they were supposedly adopted by Christians.
It appears that this distaste for such celebrations came to a head in the Quinisext Ecumenical Council (aka “Council in Trullo”) in 692. The Canon 62 begins this way:
“The so-called Calends, and what are called Bota and Brumalia, and the full assembly which takes place on the first of March, we wish to be abolished from the life of the faithful.”
It would appear that all of this business about the Church’s eagerness to adopt paganism after Constantine the Great’s reign is not necessarily as accurate as we would be led to believe. No doubt some did. Were there converts still holding on to old pagan practices? Yes. But was the church rushing to “cleanse” and adopt pagan practices? No!

Roger Pearse gives us a great deal more details in his article "On 'bruma' and 'brumalia' in ancient Rome, as found in the OLD".

Summary:

In Rome, “bruma” was the winter solstice, but not a festival, while “Bruma” was the winter festival in November. In the Byzantine east, Bruma eventually merged with Saturnalia and became Brumalia. As lengthy as the Byzantine celebration became, it was popular in the East long after Christmas caught on. Bruma had no bearing on the dating of Christmas.
Plus it has the distinction of being opposed by the Church a century and a half after it was supposedly adopted by the Church.


SATURNALIA


The claims:

The wildest and most inane claims are reserved for Saturnalia. Mainly, I have heard claims that Saturnalia was on December 17th and December 25th, that it was celebrated for one day, three days, eight days, nine days, twelve days, and as long as a month, that it was in honor of Bacchus and Saturn, and that it was the most vile celebration imaginable. I have heard that from Saturnalia comes the tradition of the “twelve days of Christmas.” I have probably heard more claims about Saturnalia than any other ancient festival. If you believe the stories, every last portion of Christmas, including the mistletoe and the Yule log, came from Saturnalia.

The facts:

Saturnalia honored Saturn the god of vegetation. Tom C. Schmidt at Chronicon.net, in his article "The dates of Saturnalia (and Sigillaria!) and Christmas," reviews an account from an ancient author named Macrobius.
Macrobius claims Saturnalia was originally celebrated on the 14th day before the Kalends of January. This equates to December 17th. We can corroborate this on ancient calendars. That is the one and only date of Saturnalia - December 17th.

Before we go any further, we need to learn something about the Roman calendar. I apologize, but things will make so much more sense after this.

The Romans had a unique calendar system. They didn't recon dates as we do. They would never say, "Christmas is on December 25." It's not that they didn't know the concept. There were peg calendars that counted dates from 1 to 31. They just didn't describe days that way. Instead, each month had three time-markers, called the Kalends, Nones, and Ides. The Kalends were the first day of each month. The Nones and Ides were later in the month. I would explain it, but we don't need that right now. Days were counted from those three markers.
For example, Saturnalia was 14 days before the Kalends of January, ie., 14 days before the first of January. That means Romans would start at January 1 and count back 14 days. (Bear in mind they counted inclusively - you count both the first and the last in the series. So, include January 1 in your count. To our minds, it looks like you count back 13 days. That's wrong, because we're counting like a modern, not like an ancient.) 

Now that we know more about how the Roman calendar worked, let's see why we needed to know that in the first place.

When Caesar reformed the calendar in 46 BC, he added two days to the end of December. December used to have 29 days, but now it has 31. Do you see how that made somewhat of an issue? Before, you could count back 14 days and get to the 17th day of December. Now, you count back 14 days and land on the 19th day of December. Adding days changed things.
Some people insisted on the old date, and some people preferred the old calculation. Same holiday, two different dates. The celebrating now lasted three days.

In case you are wondering, this same calendar issue does not affect any possible birth date for Jesus since He was born after Caesar's calendar reforms.

The official date of Saturnalia remained on the 17th. We know this from several sources including old calendars. I have heard much about the shouting of “Io, Saturnalia!” but Macrobius says this was on the 17th only. 

Macrubius also mentioned a decree by Augustus Caesar officially making the Saturnalia a three-day festival from 17th to the 19th. But why stop at three days when you can have even more?  Macrobius mentions it was eventually blended together with other festivals (eg. “Ops” and “Sigillaria”) and then became treated as a seven-day celebration, between the 17th and the 23rd. We know from history that Caligula limited it to five days, from the 17th to 21st.

Regardless of how long the holiday season lasts, December 25th is the one and only date of Christmas. Regardless of how long the fun lasted, December 17th is the one and only date of Saturnalia. The date of Christmas does not come from Saturnalia.

Chronicon.net gives us a great deal more information on Saturnalia in their article "The Origins of Saturnalia and Christmas."

For another fine article, I would direct you to Crisis Magazine's "Christmas, Pagan Romans, and Frodo Baggins".

As for the twelve days of Christmas, they have nothing to do with Saturnalia. Fact is, those are the twelve days after Christmas, between Christmas and the feast of Epiphany. This was set officially in the second Council of Tours.

Epiphany was the original celebration of the major events in Jesus’ life (mainly His baptism). Until the late 1900s, most people who celebrated Christmas didn’t start festivities until Christmas Eve, then they would celebrate for 12 days until Epiphany.

Summary:

Saturnalia was on the 17th. Saturnalia festivities never lasted to December 25th at any point. It has no bearing on the dating of Christmas.


NATALIS INVICTI


The claims:

I have heard this day called many things. Mostly, some variant of "Dies Natalis Solis Invicti". I have heard people state with absolute conviction that Christmas is the Sol festival (but if it is, then it can’t be Bruma, Saturnalia, or Brumalia). I have heard that the birthday of the sun was celebrated every year on December 25th, and every four years.

I am going to pull a quote from a person who should be familiar with the readers of this blog, but might not be. This person is the head of a church group that splintered off of Armsrtongism, which makes them vehemently anti-Christmas. The quote is quite typical of others you might find. This quote is from Dave Pack’s  article on Christmas:
The Dec. 25 festival of natalis solis invicti, the birth of the unconquered sun, was ordered by the emperor Aurelian in A.D. 274 as a Winter Solstice celebration…
-Dave Pack, "The True Origins of Christmas", 2017, p.9
A definite claim stated adamantly. Is it true?

The facts:

All of this talk about Natalis Invicti comes from one place and one place only: a single mention in one Roman calendar created in 354 AD. We have only copies left. The original is lost. I will go into much greater detail on this calendar in the next section. Anything and everything about Natalis Invicti is nothing but people speculating about two words in a calendar, what they mean, and where they come from.

We've heard from Dave Pack. Now let's take a quote from the other side of the debate, to make it fair.

Steven Ernst Hijmans is currently a faculty member at the University of Alberta’s History and Classics department. He wrote a book titled “Sol – the Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome”. In Volume I, chapter 9, page 588, he has this to say:
The contention that December 25th was an especially popular festival for Sol in late antiquity is equally unfounded, as is as the notion that this festival was established by Aurelian when he supposedly instituted a new cult of the sun. Aurelian did of course build the sun a magnificent new temple and he raised the priests of Sol to the level of pontifices. A new festival on December 25th would not have been out-of-place in this context, but it must be stressed, pace Usener, that there is no evidence that Aurelian instituted a celebration of Sol on that day. A feast day for Sol on December 25th is not mentioned until eighty years later, in the Calendar of 354 and, subsequently, in 362 by Julian in his Oration to King Helios.
-Steven Hijmans, “Sol – the Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome”, Volume I, chapter 9, page 588
Well, isn’t that interesting!

Out of nowhere, Hijmans has become a lightning rod in the Christmas debate due to his knowledge on Sol and views on Sol festivals. In the past, most people would just quote 19th century German scholar Hermann Usener and call it a day. This is the Usener from the above quote. Hermann Usener is the one and only source for the claim Natalis Invicti was started by Aurelian in 274 AD. Usener belonged to the German History of Religions school, which produced quite a bit of material claiming most of Christianity, including Jesus Himself, is a plagiarized version of paganism. The views of the History of Religions school have been mostly abandoned. We simply have access to more and better material now. Even so, people who remain strictly anti-Christmas will still quote Usener, because of confirmation bias.

Back in December 2010, Museumstuff.com had an article about this entitled “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti: Aurelian.” They listed some of the most common errors about what Aurelian did. WikiPedia still has the quote on their article about Sol Invictus. Look under the section "Aurelian". The third error is:
Aurelian inaugurated his new temple dedicated to Sol Invictus and held the first games for Sol on December 25, 274, on the supposed day of the winter solstice and day of rebirth of the Sun.
Please carefully read, and re-read if necessary, what they say in correction of the error:
This is not only pure conjecture, but goes against the best evidence available. There is no record of celebrating Sol on December 25 prior to CE 354/362. Hijmans lists the known festivals of Sol as August 8 and/or 9, August 28, and December 11. There are no sources that indicate on which day Aurelian inaugurated his temple and held the first games for Sol, but we do know that these games were held every four years from CE 274 onwards. This means that they were presumably held in CE 354, a year for which perchance a Roman calendar, the Chronography of 354 or calendar of Filocalus, has survived. This calendar lists a festival for Sol and Luna on August 28, Ludi Solis games for Sol for October 19–22, and a Natalis Invicti birthday of the invincible one on December 25. While it is widely assumed that the invictus of December 25 is Sol, the calendar does not state this explicitly. The only explicit reference to a celebration of Sol in late December is made by Julian the Apostate in his hymn to King Helios written immediately afterwards in early CE 363. Julian explicitly differentiates between the one-day, annual celebration of late December 362 and the multi-day quadrennial games of Sol which, of course, had also been held in 362, but clearly at a different time. Taken together, the evidence of the Calendar of Filocalus and Julian's hymn to Helios clearly shows, according to Hijmans and others, that the ludi of October 19–22 were the Solar Games instituted by Aurelian. They presumably coincided with the dedication of his new temple for Sol.
Well, isn't that also interesting!

Steven Hijmans, writing directly to Roger Pearse, which Pearse generously provides for us on his blog, explicitly states the games held every four years were on the Ludi Solis from October 19-22. You can read this on Pearse's blog post "Was there no festival of Sol on 25 December before 324 AD?".
All of this indicates claims about Emperor Aurelian are nothing but a best guess. Anyone who stands definitely on it as if it were some set in stone truth is misrepresenting the facts. It might be reasonable, but it's nowhere near definite.

Now we need to get a little information about another emperor of Rome, Emperor Julian the Apostate, a descendant of Constantine and devout sun worshipper who tried to turn Rome back to paganism. 

Emperor Julian, in his Ode to King Helios, written in 362 AD, describes two December 25 celebrations: one every year, and one every four years. You can find this hymn online in several places and read it for yourself, if you wish, but prepare to have your head spin. We here are only concerned with these two celebrations.

As for the annual festival - 
We find this spurious because what Julius did to tie the sun god to it was to reach back to Roman King Numa Pompilius, the second King of Rome, who lived in the 700s BC. He said the ancient Romans honored Helios after the solstice, when the sun became evidently stronger. It isn't possible that this should be on December 25 since, in the 700s BC, the solstice wasn't in December. December was an autumn month and Rome had no winter months at all. Julian also claimed the new year in Numa's time was January 1. That is not possible since, in the 700s BC, the new year was March 1. The year started in March, ended in December - which was in autumn - there was a long monthless gap in the winter, and there were no months of January or February at all. It seems Julian, who was obviously quite intelligent, was simply misinformed about Rome's ancient calendar. So, we reject Julian's claims about an ancient December 25 festival. The Natalis Invicti feast on December 25 was very recent to Emperor Julian, not ancient, and likely originated but a few short decades before Julian wrote that poem. But this is yet another mystery. Why did Julian try to pawn it off as ancient? When we look at old calendars, like the Fausti, there were no festivals on December 25 at all.

As for the games every four years - 
Julian claimed the games were around the time of the winter solstice, "before the beginning of the year, at the end of the month which is called after Kronos [December]." According to Steven Hijmans, these games were not in December at all but on the Ludi Solis from October 19-22 (“Sol – the Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome”. In Volume I, chapter 9, page 588,). So, we also find Julian's claims about the Solis Agon to be problematic.

This leaves us with several very large questions that have no answers. What exactly was the Natalis Invicti? Why is Invicti plural? Whom did it honor? Who started it? When did it start? And when did it end?
The answer: no one knows! All we have are questions and best guesses.

To help you get a better picture, here is the timeline of events:

·150-190 AD - Christians begin celebrating Jesus' birth, eventually as Epiphany.
·190-200 AD - Clement of Alexandria calculates Jesus' birth to late in the year.
·200 AD - Tertullian sets Jesus' crucifixion on March 25.
·202-211 AD - Hippolytus uses the March 25 date to calculate Jesus’ birth as December 25.
·221 AD - Sextus Julius Africanus agrees with the March 25 date for the conception.
·243 AD - Pseudo-Cyprian concludes the birth and the death are linked (demonstrating the idea really was popular in Christian scholarly thinking in that time).
·245 AD - Origen takes a stand against birthdays.
·274 AD - Aurelian elevates Sol worship. Dies the next year.
·354 AD - The first mention of "Natalis Invicti" on December 25th. Same document mentions Jesus born on December 25.
·362 AD - Emperor Julian “the Apostate”, who despised Christianity and tried to replace Christianity with paganism, gives us the first explicit reference to a celebration of Sol on December 25th, in the form of games every four years.

Time for Dave Pack and others to review their information, no?

THE CHRONOGRAPHY

We now circle back to the calendar mentioned earlier, because you cannot talk about Natalis Invicti without talking about that calendar. I want you to see how deep this rabbit hole goes.

This whole Natalis Invicti discussion comes from a document known as the “Chronography of 354” (that’s 354 AD; well after Aurelian). The Chronography was compiled by Furious Dionysus Filocalus, a renowned calligrapher… and Christian. Filocalus created it for another Christian named Valentinus.

The Chronography is not just a calendar; there are several other parts to it, sixteen in all.

The Philocalian Calendar

Part six of the Chronography is called the Philocalian Calendar and it lists only the words “Natalis Invicti” on December 25th. It does not say "Dies Natalis Sol Invicti", or anything like that. Sol is not mentioned. Only Invicti.

It also lists Bruma on November 24th and Saturnalia on December 17th. Thus ends any possibility that either were on December 25th.

Here is exactly what it says for December 25th:
     N INVICTI CM XXX

The “N” is short for “Natalis”. This is a term that can mean birthday, or it can refer to the dedication of a temple. Hence the conflict between people who wonder if some emperor (they assume Aurelian) initiated a new holiday or if he dedicated a temple. Invicti means “invincible”. The “CM” is short for “Circenses Misses” and it means “Games Ordered”. “XXX” is thirty and means 30 games were ordered Generally this refers to horse races run on that day.

Do you see why this is so hotly debated? Invicti is here, but Sol is not. It is invicti, not invictus, making it plural. Sol was called Sol Invictus. Yet, there were several other things called Invictus, including Jupiter, Mars, Apollo, Hercules, and Sylvanus. Natalis is here, which might be a birthday but could indicate a temple was dedicated. Yet there is no known temple to Sol dedicated on this date. Temples are known to be dedicated on other dates. Games are mentioned, which likely would not have happened for Jesus. But 30 games, specifically. Older festivals get games in multiples of 12. That this day has 30 means it was very recently added and not an ancient day, like Saturnalia. Aurelian's birthday is on the calendar, too. He only gets 24 games. If it started with Aurelian, why would Aurelian himself get but 24 games while this date gets 30? So, was it started after Aurelian? We don't know!

No one can deny something happened. Something definitely happened! But what?
And it only gets worse!

The Commemoration of the Martyrs

Part twelve of the Chronography is called the “Commemoration of the Martyrs” which lists the important dates of prominent Christian martyrs. Edwin Yamauchi, in his book "Persia and the Bible" p. 521, says the Commemoration was actually composed in 336 AD. That makes it 18 years older than the calendar! Who do you suppose is the first martyr listed? That would be Jesus Christ - listed as being born on December 25th.

Here is exactly what it says:
     VIII kal. Ian. natus Christus in Betleem Iudeae

“VIII” is the roman numeral 8. “Kal” is short for kalends, which is the first day of any month. “Ian” is January. So now we know what month we’re referring to – January. "Natus Christus in Betleem Iudeae" means "birthday of Christ in Bethlehem, Judea."
When we put this section together we get, “Eight days before the first day of January birthday of Christ in Bethlehem, Judea.”
And what date is eight days before the first of January? That is there way of saying December 25.

So now we have a very important problem! Same Chronography, two mentions of December 25th, one somewhat ambiguous, one clearly associated with Christ, and the one associated with Christ is 18 years older than the one supposedly about Sol.

Some people say Natalis Invicti refers to Christ. Some people say it refers to Sol. Some people say they can't know what it refers to, so it refers to nothing. Maybe it's a later add, or a mistake. Another group believes that it does not refer to Christ or Sol, but to the sun specifically, in an astronomical way rather than a religious way. With December 25 being the traditional date of the solstice, this mention in the Calendar could be purely astronomical. But why would that be, since the summer solstice and equinoxes are not mentioned? (Oh, how I wish it was definite!)

Let's pause and think about this for a second. The claim is that all of Rome so loved the Natalis Invicti festival that Constantine and the Catholic Church had little choice but to adopt it and paste Christ over Sol.

If Aurelian, in the last months of his life, declared a Sol festival in December 274, which may or may not be the case, and if Constantine converted at the Milvian Bridge in 312 AD, then that leaves 38 years of Sol's prominence in Rome. The last coins depicting Sol were minted in 313 AD, so Sol most definitely fell out of prominence around this time. That's not very long. IF December 25th did honor Sol, then it only did so for less than 50 years. Can you create a holiday and get it to be so popular you simply cannot get Romans to abandon it in that short a span? I doubt it. Especially since there is absolutely no other evidence for this day anywhere. It was such a popular day that if it wasn't for one calendar we would never even know it existed at all. We have detailed records of all sorts of holidays, but not this one. I am not at in any way convinced it was such a popular day that Christians felt threatened and had to adopt it.

Is there anything we can know or sure? Yes. And that is that speculation is the name of the game. People claim this or that or the other thing with fervency, but you've seen the facts and what their claims are built on. There is little to go on here.
We know this too: it has honored Christ for 1,675+ years!

Conclusion:
So, was it Aurelian who pasted a Sol festival over a Christian date? Or was it Constantine changing the Sol festival back to a Christ festival? Or was it Julian the Apostate changing the Christ festival back to a Sol festival again? Or all of the above? We don't know!
The phrase is "Natalis Invicti" not "Dies Natalis Sol Invicti" or anything like that. So why put those extra words in there? The better to lead you on with, my dear!

Something apparently non-Christian and not terribly popular, called Natalis Invicti, happened on that date, but we don't really know anything about it.
Christ is clearly listed in association with December 25th well before Sol is.


YULE


The claims:

Yule was a pagan winter solstice celebration from which Christmas borrowed heavily. Christmas is just a continuation of Yule, and a pagan holiday that should be returned to the pagans.

The facts:

Our first records of Yule come from around 700 AD by our old friend the Venerable Bede in his work "De Temporum Ratione". (See page 54 of that link.)
Nor is it irrelevant if we take the trouble to translate the names of the other months. The months of Guili derive their name from the day when the Sun turns back [and begins] to increase, because of one of [these months] precedes [this day] and the other follows.
Roughly, Bede records that Yule was the name of two months that roughly correspond to December and January. Yes, two months with the same name. The Germans had other double-months. Bede is speaking in rough terms, since he is trying to translate the German lunar calendar into the standard Julian calendar. He says the first month was before the winter solstice and the second month was after.

In searching for other things I happened across this quote from "Christmas in Ritual and Tradition" by Clement A. Miles:
One more name yet remains to be considered, Yule (Danish Jul), the ordinary word for Christmas in the Scandinavian languages, and not extinct among ourselves. Its derivation has been widely discussed, but so far no satisfactory explanation of it has been found. Professor Skeat in the last edition of his Etymological Dictionary (1910) has to admit that its origin is unknown. Whatever its source may be, it is clearly the name of a Germanic season—probably a two-month tide covering the second half of November, the whole of December, and the first half of January. 1-26 It may well suggest to us the element added to Christmas by the barbarian peoples who began to learn Christianity about the time when the festival was founded. Modern research has tended to disprove the idea that the old Germans held a Yule feast at the winter solstice, and it is probable, as we shall see, that the specifically Teutonic Christmas customs come from a New Year and beginning-of-winter festival kept about the middle of November. These customs transferred to Christmas are to a great extent religious or magical rites intended to secure prosperity during the coming year, and there is also the familiar Christmas feasting, apparently derived in part from the sacrificial banquets that marked the beginning of winter.
-Miles, Clement A., "Christmas in Ritual and Tradition", chapter 1 section IV, p.25
Some interesting things there. Yule had become the name for Christmas. Yule wasn't a solstice festival. Very interesting indeed!

There were many attempts by kings and emperors to Christianize the pagans of northern Europe. Charlemagne (768-814) was one such king. Charlemagne was a scourge of German paganism and fought bitterly to wipe it out. He changed their entire method of reckoning time, renamed months, altered the beginning and ending points of months, and otherwise “Romanized” their reckoning of time. Haakon I of Norway (934-961) is another. Haakon rearranged pagan holidays to make them more like Christian holidays, in order to make Christianity more acceptable to pagans in the hopes of converting them in time. He had to balance his desire to introduce Christianity to Norway with the political expediency necessary to unite the realm. The following is a quote from the Saga of Haakon the Good:
King Haakon was a good Christian when he came to Norway; but as the whole country was heathen, with much heathenish sacrifice, and as many great people, as well as the favor of the common people, were to be conciliated, he resolved to practice his Christianity in private. But he kept Sundays, and the Friday fasts, and some token of the greatest holy-days. He made a law that the festival of Yule should begin at the same time as Christian people held it, and that every man, under penalty, should brew a meal of malt into ale, and therewith keep the Yule holy as long as it lasted. Before him, the beginning of Yule, or the slaughter night, was the night of mid-winter, and Yule was kept for three days thereafter. It was his intent, as soon as he had set himself fast in the land, and had subjected the whole to his power, to introduce Christianity.”
The point of this quote is to show that an effort was made to bring the timing of Yule into line with Christmas in order to make Christianity more palatable to the pagan Norse. If the timing had to be brought into alignment, then it was not aligned at first. Yule was not on December 25 originally, despite what every single pagan website out there tells you.

So historians have known for decades that Yule was not a solstice celebration falling on 25 December, as many people are to this day led to believe. I have just recently received email urging me to heed this very false information. Perhaps we all need to blow the dust off of our history books, eh?

In both of the above quotes, we see hints that Christmas was called Yule in those areas. The Germans of that time had a peculiar habit of naming things after the month in which they fell. Christmas falls in the double months named Yule, so it was given the name Yule. This is the same thing that happened when Germans renamed Pashca to Easter/Ostar. It was natural for Germanic people to do this. Since Christianity gained the forefront in the region, the name Yuletide has not referred to the original Yule at all. For example, see the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (1912) article on "Yuletide." The article has almost nothing to do with Yule but is entirely about Christmas. It seems apparent that the terms Yule and Christmas were simply interchangeable, not because of the celebrations merging, but because that is how Germans named holidays. The Saxons, being German, followed those same patterns. These German names made their way west into the British Isles and on into the Americas. When we hear the name Yuletide, our natural reaction is to think of Yule, not Christmas. This simply betrays our lack of familiarity with the peculiarities of the old German and English cultures.

Which leads us to that particular log. 
The earliest written record of a Yule Log is from the 1620-30s by a man named Robert Herrick, but he used the term "Christmas Log." There are no older records. We saw a quote from Bede earlier, so, yes, we have older records of a pagan Yule festival. But we do not have older records of a Yule log. All older claims of the log tradition are unsupported speculation and conjecture. Is it possible the Yule log is a pagan carryover? Maybe. Definite? No. It is equally possible that the log is entirely a Christian log which was simply called by the name Yule by convention.
But that tradition has gone the way of the wood-burning fireplace. It was oddity anyway; never central to Christmas at any time or place.

Conclusion:

That the now practically defunct Yule Log tradition was adopted for a time in in some places in no way indicates the entire Christmas day is associated with paganism. Any way you slice it, there is no way a Germanic festival from the 600's AD influenced the Romans of the 200-300's AD.


ZAGMUK/AKITA


I have heard a little about an ancient Mesopotamian new year festival called "Zagmuk" (which is blended with a longer Babylonian festival called "Akita"). Some pretty inane claims are made about this festival, so I figured I would address it.

The claims:

Christmas comes from Saturnalia which comes from Zagmuk. Zagmuk was an ancient winter solstice festival nearly identical to Saturnalia. It started on the winter solstice and was celebrated for twelve days. Thus the origin of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

The facts:

Most people have never heard of Zagmuk/Akita. Details are utterly confused when you go looking for them. Here is a direct quote from an Encyclo.com article on Zagmuk to illustrate my point (underlining mine):
"Zagmuk is a Mesopotamian festival celebrated around the winter solstice, which literally means ‘beginning of the year’. The feast fell in March or April and lasted about 12 days."
Around the winter solstice in March or April, huh? OK. If you insist!

Zagmuk was the first day of the 12-day Akitu celebration, so it seems. So the 12-days similarity claim appears accurate, albeit superficial.
However, Zagmuk/Akita was not a winter solstice festival (neither is Christmas, nor was Saturnalia for that matter). In fact, it wasn't in the winter at all. I know Encyclo.com would like us to believe the winter solstice is in March, but that's obviously bad editing, and I'm just having some fun with it.

Truth is the exacting details of course are unknown since so much information has been lost these past 4,000 years, but we know more than enough to say that Zagmuk/Akita appears to have two main components: harvest and New Years.

It was a harvest-oriented festival.
Akita is derived the Sumerian word for barley. The base idea of Akita was to celebrate the crop-cycle; more specifically the sewing of barley in the fall and the cutting of barley in the spring. As we see in many other ancient cultures, the notions of life, death, and rebirth (in other words, the crop-cycle) appear in the symbolism of the day. Take the Isis & Osiris myths for example.
Christmas in contrast is about birth, not death and rebirth.

It was also a calendar-oriented festival.
Zagmuk is the Sumerian word for "beginning of the year". When was the beginning of the Mesopotamian/Babylonian year? Why, check your Hebrew calendar and find out for yourself. Since the Babylonian captivity, the Babylonian calendar and the Hebrew calendar are pretty much the same thing! And we should see that the beginning of the year for the Mesopotamians and Hebrews falls in the month of Nissan/Abib, which is usually March or April. Ancientworlds.net tells us that Zagmuk was the first new moon after the spring equinox.

Toss in a few traditions about Enlil/Marduk vs. Tiamat, and order vs. chaos, and you have a regular religious festival. Opa!

I can't tell you how many websites I've checked that assert something like "Zagmuk was a new year festival celebrated around the winter solstice." It is not wise to see "new year" and automatically assume January 1. The Mesopotamian/Hebrew New Year was not in winter it was in the spring! Anciently, even the Romans began their year in March when they used a lunar calendar.

It was also a harvest festival. Guess what's not going to be happening in late December at the start of the rainy season. That's right.. harvesting!

It is even less wise to see a holiday and simply assign it as a winter solstice festival. As we've seen so many, many times in this study most holidays that are commonly called winter solstice festivals were no such thing. Are people really that desperate to smear Christmas?

It has been speculated that the festival is 12 days long because they used a lunar calendar, and certain intercalations had to be made. These days are added days that help reconcile the lunar and solar calendars. It takes 11 extra days to reconcile the calendars. The twelfth day of Akitu was one where order had defeated chaos and life returned to normal, so it would seem incredibly logical that the "twelve days of Akitu" were eleven "leap days" plus one.

The idea isn't unreasonable. The Jews anciently added "leap months" every so often to reconcile their calendar. And the Egyptians had the 5 “heriu renpet” days to reconcile their 360-day year with a 365-day solar year. This is that same idea.

So far as Zagmuk/Akita being identical to Saturnalia, I cannot find any credible evidence that this is true. All such claims that Saturnalia is Zagmuk come from websites that insist Zagmuk was a winter solstice festival, therefore I give them very little weight. The twelve days of Zagmuk/Akita have defined meanings and ceremonies. They definitely do not match the symbolism of Saturnalia. As you recall, Macrobius recorded that the origin of Saturnalia was secular, and it was originally a one-day festival until Julius Caesar changed the calendar.

Conclusion:

Zagmuk wasn't a winter solstice festival after all. It was a spring festival, recalling New Years and the barley harvest. There is no good reason to believe it is the precursor to Saturnalia. It would seem that the only similarity that Zagmuk has with Christmas is the notion of twelve days. Unfortunately for this claim, we have seen where the 12 days of Christmas come from, and they aren't intercalary days. The similarity is a false cognate at best. As if anything with 12 days couldn't possibly be anything other than Zagmuk.


WINTER SOLSTICE


Touching again on the solstice, I feel it would be irresponsible to omit mentioning that the solstice is not on December 25th. People might even wonder how the solstice could have been celebrated on the 25th and not the 21st where we usually find it today (it varies somewhat). Well, it has to do with three separate calendars.

Prior to the Julian calendar, the Romans used a lunar calendar. Its accuracy was not the best.
Julius Caesar reformed the calendar in 44-45 BC. He made a solar calendar with years of 365.25 days, and leap-years every four years. It wasn’t perfect because years aren’t exactly 365.25 days long, so it still lost around 11 minutes of time each year. Over time those eleven or so minutes add up to one day lost roughly every 130 years.
So, in 1582 AD, Pope Gregory XIII reformed the calendar again. He made the calendar more accurate, but the Gregorian calendar still loses 26 seconds each year, or one day every three thousand years. This latest calendar took centuries to catch on across the globe and for a while people in various places had all sorts of dating issues.

As the story goes, by the time Gregory XIII reformed the calendar in 1582, the solstice was on December 11th. They accounted for the 10 lost days between the Council of Nicea in 325 AD and his own time, and he corrected that loss. He did not account for the 3 days lost from Julius Caesar’s time and the Council of Nicea. Therefore today we see the solstice on December 21st or December 22nd, which is where it would have been in 325 AD.

All of that back story leads to these two facts:
1) The first absolutely indisputable mention of Jesus’ birth on December 25th was in 336 AD, in the Commemoration of the Martyrs. December 25th was not on the solstice in that century or the prior. There are earlier mentions, and we'll get to those, but I want to emphasize the indisputability of this one.
2) The first indisputable mention of a non-Christian festival in Rome on December 25 was in 362 AD, in the Ode to King Helios. Rome had no ancient solstice celebration at all. There are other mentions, for example Natalis Invicti, and no doubt sun worshippers held the solstice to be of some kind of importance, but this mention is indisputable.

This information becomes important whenever someone argues that December 25th was a popular solstice festival. It wasn't. Never has been.

It also becomes important when people try to match the Roman calendar to that of other cultures, for example the Teutons, and they try to find the origin of Christmas in Yule. December 25th wasn’t the literal solstice at all. Other cultures that watched for a solstice would have no reason to arrive at the date of December 25th. Therefore I find it important to point out how December 25th was not the literal solstice.

Now I feel I would be remiss to omit that the Romans certainly did see December 25th as being the date of the solstice. The Romans tended to be less accurate than other cultures in that they focused more on the days after the solstice, when the sun begins to increase in strength.
The first reference we have to this comes from Pliny the Elder in his work “Natural History”. Pliny says this:
“The bruma begins at the eighth degree of Capricorn, the eighth day before the calends of January.
As we saw at the start of this post, “bruma” is not in reference to the festival Bruma/Brumalia, but merely the shortest day of the year. Pliny says, "bruma begins," and by this he means the return of the sun begins at the solstice. The return of the sun was more important to Romans than the actual solstice. This is confirmed by Emperor Julian in his Ode To King Helios, where he said,
"For it was not, I think, the time when the god turns [the solstice], but the time when he becomes visible to all men, as he travels from south to north, that they appointed for the festival [New Year]. For still unknown to them was the nicety of those laws which the Chaldaeans and Egyptians discovered, and which Hipparchus and Ptolemy perfected: but they judged simply by sense-perception, and were limited to what they could actually see.
So, we know the solstice had traditional significance to the Romans, and some astronomical significance, but no popular public religious or festive significance until very late.
Just because the Romans thought anything of the day does not mean the Christians did.

In 243 AD, a work was written that is claimed to have been authored by Cyprian. That claim is most likely false. The work is known as "The Pseudo-Cyprianic De Pascha Computus" or just "De Pascha Computus" (“The Calculation of Passover”). I quote this selection from Tom C. Schmidt at Chronicon.net in his article “Cyprian, Christmas, and the Birth of the Sun”:
O! The splendid and divine Providence of the Lord, that on that day, even at the very day, on which the Sun was made, 28 March, a Wednesday, Christ should be born. For this reason Malachi the prophet, speaking about him to the people, fittingly said: ‘Unto you shall the sun of righteousness arise, and healing is in his wings.’
Many people have used a shortened version of this quote to demonstrate that the birth of the sun was on December 25th. Problem is when we see the entire quote that breaks down. But one thing De Pascha Computus does in spades is demonstrate that, in the mid-200’s, Christians could care less about the Roman view of the solstice. They were more interested in the Jewish tradition of the creation of the Sun in late March.

Some people argue that "born" here does not refer to birth, but conception. It's possible. I don't want to sidetrack on that, though.

Christians in the mid 200’s didn’t seem to care what the Romans felt about the sun. Nor either did the Romans, for that matter. The evidence is that there really was nothing of great note happening on December 25th in Rome at this time. Why is it that 100 years later we see the Christians celebrating the birth of Christ on the same date as the Romans solstice? The answer is not found in some Roman solstice celebration.

If we stopped here, the evidence would be severely wanting, but we still have to view one more bit of critical material. You see, there is a second thing De Pascha Computus does in spades: it demonstrate that Christians in this era were calculating dates.


CALCULATING DECEMBER 25th


In the second century AD, many Christians began trying to deduce the dates of Christ’s birth and death. We have records from such names as Hippolytus, Tertullian, Sextus Julianus Africanus, and others. All of these were using date calculation methods to determine when Christ lived and died.

Late in the second century, Clement of Alexandria, Egypt, in his book “Stromata”, gives us details on how the Egyptian churches were calculating the date of Christ's birth. I will quote from Tom C. Schmidt’s translation at Chronicon.net in his article “Clement of Alexandria and the Original date of Christmas as December 25th”:
“From the birth of Christ, therefore, to the death of Commodus are, in all, 194 years, 1 month, 13 days. And there are those who have determined not only the year of our Savior’s genesis, but even the day, which they say took place in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus on the 25th of Pachon…”
"And treating of His passion, with very great accuracy, some say that it took place in the sixteenth year of Tiberius, on the twenty-fifth of Phamenoth; and others the twenty-fifth of Pharmuthi and others say that on the nineteenth of Pharmuthi the Saviour suffered. Further, others say that He was born on the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth of Pharmuthi."
-Stromata, book 1, chapter 21
When Clement says, "there are those", I take this to mean he was building on other works completed perhaps by the late second century. What this means is that in the 100’s AD, perhaps even as early as the mid 100’s AD, Christians were calculating and honoring the timing of Jesus’ life and death.
Clement tells us these Egyptians concluded Jesus was either born or conceived (Clement uses the word ‘genesis’ which, oddly, can mean either) on the 25th day of the Egyptian month of Pachon. He then goes on to say yet another group believed he was born on the 25th day of Pharmuthi. 

Here is a difficult spot. We have to wrestle with two things: months and genesis.

As for the months --
First, Clement tells of the month of Pachon. Pachon is the ninth Egyptian month, is most often said to correlate roughly to May. Most people understand Clement means to say that Jesus was born May 20. If you've read anything here before, you know what I say about matching the Egyptian calendar to our Gregorian calendar - it can't be done easily. So, is it May 20? I say, it's as good a match as any I can think of. Let's not strive over the date. May 20 it is! However, I want to direct your attention away from the translation and back to what Clement originally said - the 25th. These Egyptians arrived at the 25th day of the month. It takes a later English speaker to convert that to the 20th date. The Egyptians didn't do that. They didn't have 20th in mind. They had the 25th in mind.

Later, Clement tells of the month of Pharmuthi. Parmouti is the eighth month, and is said to correlate roughly to April. Again, they believed Jesus was born on the 24th or 25th day of the month.

Lastly, Clement also tells of the month of Phamenoth. Phamenoth is the seventh month, and is said to correlate roughly to March. Yet another group of people believed Jesus was crucified on the 25th day of the month.

Three different groups of people with three different ideas all centered around the 25th day. Notice how the 25th does seem to keep reemerging.

As for genesis --
We don't know which meaning of genesis Clement is using here. Genesis could be birth, as the translators choose, or it could be conception. Let's see one more thing. I think it matters.

Clement gives the time between Christ’s genesis and the death of Emperor Commodus: 194 years, 1 month, and 13 days.
Any basic check will show that Commodus died on December 31st 192 AD. Subtract 1 month and 13 days from December 31st, and we get the date November 19th. (I counted inclusively, just to be safe. If you don't count inclusively, you arrive at November 18.)
Isn't that odd, now? Pachon leads us to May 20, but the calculation leads us to November 18-19 in 2 BC. Could Clement mean to say that Jesus was not born but conceived on May 20?
If you do the math, He couldn't have been conceived in November and born in May. But there is a slight chance He could have been conceived in May and born in November. The birth would be quite premature, but viable. Let's not grumble over that, though. It doesn't really matter. They weren't natal scientists, and we aren't claiming they had nailed the correct date.

As a final detail, I want to sidebar for just a moment.
I was unaware of an interesting tidbit until I read Philip Nothaft's "Early Christian Chronology and the Origins of the Christmas Date: In Defense of the 'Calculation Theory'" (2013). On page 11, Nothaft is reviewing Clement. He makes mention that it isn't clear which calendar the Egyptians, specifically the Bassalidians, were using. Apparently, it makes a difference. Look:
"Another fascinating calendrical coincidence can be obtained if the Basilidean dates are instead interpreted as days in the Egyptian calendar, in which each year was uniformly 365 days in length. In this case, 11 Tybi would have corresponded to 24/25 December for the years 29/30 CE, i.e. the period in which the Passion is often thought to have occurred."
-Philip Nothaft "Early Christian Chronology and the Origins of the Christmas Date: In Defense of the 'Calculation Theory'" (2013), pp.11-12
I wouldn't die on this hill, but it is interesting. Once again, we can find ties to December 25. 

Why do we care what these old people thought? Because it establishes a bigger point: from perhaps even the mid-to-late 100’s AD, there were Christians calculating and honoring the conception and birth of Jesus, and believing that Jesus was born on the 25th day of a month, and using numbers that point to a time late in the year. This has nothing to do with Roman holidays. At this time, Christians didn’t care about Roman solstice traditions. That is why we start with Clement.
Not only that, but going through this information sets up a precedence for our next bit of information.

Not much later comes a writing from Hippolytus of Rome, who was a disciple of Irenaeus who was himself a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of the Apostle John. Around 202-211, in his work “Commentary on Daniel,” he calculated the date of Jesus’ birth. Hippolytus did not come to the month of November, but December. December 25th, to be exact. This is well before Sol became a thing in Rome, well before Aurelian, well before Constantine, well before the Chronography of 354, and a century and a half before Emperor Julian.

DISCLAIMER: I would be remiss if I didn't plainly state there are many people who doubt that this manuscript of Hippolytus is genuine. You need to know that I am not saying we can utterly rely on Hippolytus. This article does not stand on Hippolytus alone.
BUT!
We feel if one takes all of Hippolytus’ works together with the works of Clement and the later writers of that period, many of whom appear to draw from Hippolytus, there emerges very good reason to believe that the December 25th date is exactly what Hippolytus believed.
Tom C. Schmidt at Chronicon.net explains this in far greater detail in his article “Hippolytus and the Original Date of Christmas”. Schmidt's claims were also published in his article, "Calculating Christmas: Hippolytus and December 25th", on Biblical Archaeology Review.

No doubt someone will accuse us of relying entirely on Hippolytus and use that do dismiss everything we've said. Now you know, dear reader, that such protestations - honest as they may be - are based on a less than full understanding of what all we are doing here.

But I digress.

I mentioned Julius Africanus, but it would be rude of me not to elaborate. I expect my readers to follow my tracks and verify what I've written, so I give you this note about Africanus to help you along lest you give up from sheer frustration. Most every source will tell you Africanus puts Jesus' conception on March 25, just like Hippolytus, but few will tell you how they know this. Most don't cite a source at all. Some cite the fragments of Africanus' writings. Check those, and you'll be unable to find what you're looking for. If all the experts agree, there has to be something to it, but how?

Africanus never comes straight out and says, "Jesus was conceived on March 25". Philip Northraft gives the best explanation I've found. In summary, Africanus tried to figure out the time between the creation of the world and Jesus. He ties ties creation day 4 and Jesus' conception together, because of the sun. He puts creation day 4 on March 25. That is how we know Africanus agrees with the March 25 date. 
Here is the relevant quote from Northraft:
"The fact that Africanus began a new cosmic year from the resurrection therefore indicates that he counted the years of the world from 25 March, which was a Wednesday in 5501 BCE, Africanus' year of creation. It would hence seem that he structured his chronicle around the date 25 March, because he was pleased with the correspondence of the resurrection with the fourth day of creation, on which the sun and moon began their course (making this day the beginning of calendrical time). If he counted exactly 5500 years between the creation and the divine incarnation, this would mean that 25 March was also the exact date of the latter event, referred to as the 'sarkosis' in the text, by which he likely meant the conception in the womb. If this is the case, then Africanus implicitly dated the birth of Jesus to the following winter, perhaps to 25 December."
-Philip Northraft, "Early Christian Chronology and the Origins of the Christmas Date: In Defense of the 'Calculation Theory'", 263.
Got all that? Get his book and read the rest of that section for a whole lot more.

Moving on.

The date of the birth of Christ is not known. Speculation on when He was born started very early on. The Bible does not tell us on what day or year Jesus was born. Oh, how I wish it did!

People say, "If the date of Jesus' birth were important, the Bible would have recorded it." These people overlook that the Gospels also leave out the day and year of Jesus’ death. We may know that Passover is on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Abib/Nissan, but how do we know that? Because the Gospels say so, or because we went back to Exodus and figured it out on our own? What date Nissan 15 translates to on the Roman calendar varies greatly depending on what year it is. In one year, it could be a Thursday in March. In another year, it could be on a Saturday in April. In 33 AD, Passover began Friday night at sundown, which means Jesus could very well have been crucified on Friday in that year. See what we all are doing here? Calculating! Everyone in this debate is calculating dates, just like the Christians of old. The Bible did describe when Jesus was born, it just did so in a way that we couldn't go elsewhere in the Bible for other clues. That leaves us trying to figure it out on our own. We do it now and they did it then.

Apparently following in the footsteps of material from Clement, Hippolytus determined a year for the crucifixion, then a day. He figured that since Christ was crucified on this day, he must also have been conceived on it. Then he counted forward 9 months from conception and arrived at December 25th.
All of this in the early 200’s AD.

You might ask yourself why on earth would any sane person believe you died on the date of your conception. To understand a little more about why Hippolytus thought as he did, we can draw an example from modern claims about Jesus’ birth.

I can’t tell how very many times I have heard people speculate that Jesus was born in the Fall. “We can prove it from the Bible,” they exclaim! During the Feast of Tabernacles or Trumpets is their favorite target. (If you can prove it from the Bible you would know exactly when it was, and not give a choice of dates.) The people who claim He was born during the Jewish holy days have no more fact to draw upon than anyone else who comes to a different conclusion, but at least they are on to something.
You see, the people who claim He was born during the Jewish holidays believe that important things happen over and over on certain days of the year. Turns out this belief comes from the Jews.
For example, the Jews hold the 9th day of the month of Av (Tisha b'Av) to be a day on which repeated calamities have fallen on the Jewish people. Or again, the Jews believed the date on which a person was conceived or born is tied to the date on which they will die. Tradition states that King David was born and died on Pentecost.

As we saw earlier with De Pascha Computus, at this time Christian’s didn’t care about Roman traditions. They were, however, enamored with Jewish ones. It seems reasonable that the Jewish belief that things happen repeatedly on certain days of the year influenced the early Christians' speculation on the birth of Christ, too. They speculated that since Jesus died on a certain day, then He must also have been conceived on that same day. Hippolytus calculated the date of His conception/death to be March 25th. From conception to birth is 9 months, normally. So, 9 months from March 25th is.... December 25th!
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) in his book “The Spirit of the Liturgy” argues this exact same thing. Even WikiPedia recognizes this phenomenon in their article on Christmas. In the very first paragraph (as of 12/20/2010) it says this:
The date is not known to be the actual birthday of Jesus, and may have initially been chosen to correspond with either the day exactly nine months after Christians believe Jesus to have been conceived...
When I refer to WikiPedia, it's usually to demonstrate the information is readily available. It's easy to find that there are valid alternatives to the dating of Christmas.

Know this – these people didn’t set out to find December 25th at all. There is no way that anyone can accuse Hippolytus or Clement or any of these people of trying to co-opt a pagan December holiday that according to record didn’t exist for another several decades to come. Finding Jesus’ birth date was secondary. They primarily cared about finding the date of His death. If they weren’t trying to adopt paganism, then the roots of Christmas on December 25th are not pagan.

Apparently Hippolytus’ dating lasted. Augustine wrote his work “On the Trinity” between 400 and 412 AD. Pay attention to the dating here; this is now well after Filocalus and well after December 25th was established. In chapter V of book IV, Augusting writes this:
For He is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also He suffered…
Hippolytus apparently started this, and two centuries later Augustine confirms the notion was widely accepted. I would also have you know that, to this very day, March 25th is the Feast of the Annunciation in the Catholic Church, where the Catholics celebrate the conception of Jesus Christ. We now have book-ended evidence that the Christians calculated Jesus’ birth from a date given for His death, that date was March 25th. Nine months later is December 25th. Here is the story of how Christmas got its date.

Many people treat it as if the Christians stole the date from pagans, and that is that, case closed. This is simply not so. If you still must reject the holiday, please do. Just leave the grossly speculative story of pagan origins behind.

In addition, some people have theorized that December 25th was borrowed from the Jews in another way. Some people think it was influenced by the Jews keeping Hanukkah on the 25th of the month of Kislev, and Kislev usually falls in December. So when the Gentiles moved towards December as the date of Christ's birth, the 25th as a date may have been a natural choice as it already held significance. (Notice my use of words like "may". I'm only speculating here.)
I disagree with this assertion. Just mentioning it to tie up loose ends. But since we are talking about the Jews anyway, let's return to Philip Northaft.

Nothaft, on page 12, goes on to describe how even Tertullian can be understood to support an early January birth. He says this:
"[Tertullian's "Against the Jews"] mentions a calendrical interval of 6 months between Christ’s birth and the destruction of Jerusalem. Since the latter is traditionally assigned to the 9th day of the Jewish summer month of Av (July/August), this points to a birth in January."
-Philip Nothaft "Early Christian Chronology and the Origins of the Christmas Date: In Defense of the 'Calculation Theory'" (2013), pp.11-12
Again, very interesting! Again and again and again we see a winter birth calculated in the second and third centuries.

Hopefully you see that there is ample evidence that Christians were calculating the date of Jesus’ birth and death, and that many of those calculations lead us to late in the year, and even on December 25th, long before Diocletian. Should the 30 games ordered on December 25th truly indicate a late date of that festival, or even if indeed it does have something to do with Aurelian, we can see that the Christians beat him to it by half a century or more.

I conclude that it is impossible to say with any conviction that December 25th was only adopted because of the Natalis Invicti celebration. That claim appears to be anachronistic.


MISCALCULATING DECEMBER 25th


The more I learned about Christmas, the more I was astounded that it seems to be a genuinely Christian phenomenon – at least where the dating is concerned. People mention that, “Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church." Then they leave out any mention of Epiphany. Most Sabbatarians, the group of my background and the ones most likely to reject Christmas, wouldn’t even know what Epiphany is.

Yet, people who aren’t quite as interested in finding what is actually true persist in finding what they wanted to find in the first place and ignoring what they don’t want to see.

Within the past week, someone has told me how they saw this or that television program on the Discovery Channel or some such place that reinforced what Herbert Armstrong taught. Did they search as long and as hard for the other side of the story?

In a video called “Christmas Elements Have Pagan Roots” the Discovery Channel interviewed Joseph Wallace, Chair of the Department of Classics at Loyola.

If you start watching at 2:00 though 2:07, you will hear Mr. Wallace say this, “How did December 25th win out? Well, we don’t know exactly, but most likely what’s going on is…

If you watch at 2:33 though 2:36, you will hear Mr. Wallace say this, "What we think happened, though we have no direct evidence..."

Those are some incredibly speculative statements for a video with such a definite title.

Though they have “no direct evidence”, they proclaim “most likely what’s going on is” Christmas definitely has pagan origins. This should illustrate how ingrained the idea is that Christians took December 25th from the pagans.
But they saw it on the Discovery Channel, and that’s good enough for them. Funny how when the Discovery Channel is airing a program on Evolution, people aren’t nearly as convinced about their authority, but when they air a program that goes against Christmas, “It’s the truth!! I saw it on Discovery Channel!”

In case you are interested in more about calculating Christmas, here is a fine article on this subject from William Tighe at Touchstone Archives, called "Calculating Christmas".
Here's another fine article from Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D on Tradition In Action called "Christmas Was Never A Pagan Holiday".

GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT

How did this happen? How did we come to this state? Why didn’t we know about these things earlier? Were we lied to? Did Herbert Armstrong et al bury this information and feed us only what they wanted to believe? I believe the answer is yes and no.

Here's a quote from Ronald Nash's book "The Gospel and the Greeks" page 1:
"During the period of time running roughly from 1890 to 1940, scholars often alleged that primitive Christianity had been heavily influenced by Platonism, Stoicism, the pagan mystery religions, or other movements in the Helenistic world [by this he means the entire Roman Empire]. ... Today most Bible scholars regard the question as a dead issue."
Nash wasn’t talking about Christmas in that quote; he was talking about Christianity itself. But it goes to demonstrate something about evidence and how false information tends to persist.

Nash and most other modern historians have patently rejected the once widely accepted scholarship by groups such as the Religionsgeschichtliche schule (which in English is “History of Religions School”) and people like Richard Reitzenstein, Sir James Frazer, Franz Cumont, and Albert Schweitzer. And it was these people who influenced Herbert Armstrong.

In Lee Strobel’s book, “The Case for the Real Jesus”, Mr. Strobel interviews Edwin Yamauchi, professor at Miami University of Ohio and recognized authority on Persian religions. On page 168, Mr. Yamauchi has this to say,
Much of what has been circulated on Mithraism has been based on the theories of a Belgium scholar named Franz Cumont. He was the leading scholar on Mithraism in his day, and he published his famous work “Mysteries of Mithras”, in 1903. His work led to speculation by the History of Religion School that Mithraism influenced nascent Christianity. Much of what Cumont suggested, however, turned out to be quite unfounded.
“Dead issue”? “Unfounded”? Well, that’s rather important to know, wouldn’t you think?

Yet these unfounded dead issues are continuously promoted as “God’s truth” in anti-Christmas literature. This is exactly the same as when Ralph Woodrow wrote "The Babylon Connection" and proved Alexander Hislop to be a dead issue, yet to this very hour we still hear Hislop’s garbage from all quarters of Protestant fundamentalism. Hislop is still quoted throughout the Living Church of God's booklet on how to tell a false church from a true one. How can one use false information to find a true church? I'll guarantee you, someone out there is going to read this post and call me a Nimrod worshipper. Why? Because they still hold as true something that was long ago proven beyond a doubt to be false!

Then where does Mithra fit in to all of this? When I hear over and over again, including in the aforementioned Discovery Channel video, that December 25th was chosen as the birthday of Christ because that was the birthday of Mithra, based on no direct evidence mind you, I simply think of another quote from Edwin Yamauchi on page 171 of “The Case for the Real Jesus” where he said,
“[December 25th] was the date chosen by the emperor Aurelian for the dedication of his temple to Sol Invictus, the god called the ‘Unconquerable Sun.’ Mithras was closely associated with Sol Invictus; sometimes they’re depicted shaking hands. This is apparently how Mithras became associated with December 25.
So, in other words, Mithras became associated with Sol post facto, after Aurelian recreated his Sol Invictus. From this, we can also conclude that Mithra could not be associated with December 25th before Sol was.
And Sol was associated with the date after Christ as.

Here is a fine link to KingDavid8.com for more information on any Christ/Mithra similarities: “Jesus & Mithra Parallels – A Christian Response
You may also want to check his other similarities pages as well.

Such mistaken information was widely accepted during Herbert Armstrong's formative years. This is why when we read Armstrongist literature even to this day we see so many references to works over 100 years old. Before you came to AsBereansDid, how many times have you seen reference to the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge 1911 edition? Well, now you know why.

In Armstrong’s defense (yes, we defend him when we the situation warrants it), not everything that he said was an outright lie, even if it was incorrect. He did what he thought was right with the information available at the time. As the saying goes - garbage in, garbage out.
We simply have far better information 100 years later. What a difference a day makes!

This doesn’t excuse the current purveyors of what has been long known to be false. These ones simply have no desire to let go of the errors of the past. Too much of their income rides on tickling the itching ear with their self-serving lies. They make $MONEY$ off teaching people to judge and condemn based on false information.

So, in my opinion, no, Herbert Armstrong was not necessarily lying when he was telling the world the only information available at the time, he was sometimes simply in error – but today people really should know better, and often do, so yes they are lying to us now.

I started this section by asking 'why didn’t we know about these things earlier?' Now you know.


CONCLUSION


So what have we seen about December 25th? We have “no direct evidence” that Christians co-opted December 25th from the pagans.

· Bruma has no bearing on the dating of Christmas; it wasn’t even celebrated in the same month. Christians ignored it. 
· Brumalia has no bearing on the dating of Christmas; it is a Byzantine celebration in November from after the time of Christmas.
· Saturnalia has no bearing on the dating of Christmas; it was on December 17th, a week before Christmas, and was never observed on December 25th even at its longest.
· Yule has no bearing on the dating of Christmas. Yule was apparently not a a solstice celebration, as is often claimed. Our first records come too late and too far away to influence the beginning of Christmas.
· Zagmuk Akita has no bearing on the dating since this was a spring festival.
· The literal winter solstice (which is bruma) has no bearing on the dating. Christmas has never once been on the literal winter solstice. The date is a Roman tradition, so there is no reason to tie December 25th to solstice celebrations of non-Roman cultures.
· And what of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti? What “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti”?? People can’t even decide what the real name is. Why call it so many different things if that’s its name? Properly it should be called “Natalis Invicti”. And Natalis Invicti appears to be a late addition. We are missing more data than we have. The calculation of the December 25th predates this and was not dependent upon it.

If December 25 wasn't adopted from pagans, it must have been calculated. There are good reasons to believe traditional Christians became interested in the conception, birth, and death in response to Gnostics denying the human nature of Jesus. Over and over we see the number 25, a death in March, and a birth in winter. We have Clement telling us of three different Egyptian groups put the crucifixion on the 25th day of the month. Epiphany, which appears to have started in Egypt, puts the birth early in January. Clement himself puts the crucifixion on March 25, with the birth in late November. Tertullian puts the crucifixion on March 25. Hippolytus puts the crucifixion on March 25 and the birth on December 25. Julius Africanus puts the crucifixion on March 25. Pseudo Cyprian links the death and the birth. All from 150 to 250 AD. This is decades before any Roman festival on December 25. Christians ignored Roman mythology. They preferred these dates because they meshed with Jewish (and in their minds this meant Biblical) traditions.

Nothing in this study should be understood as claiming December 25 is the correct date. We never said that. It could be right, it could be wrong. No one on this side of eternity knows the correct date. We let other people debate that. The point here is only to show December 25 is not a co-opting of a pagan date. There is a better explanation than that.

We didn't get into this, but there is in fact a third theory to the origin of Christmas: tourism. A man by the name of Hans Forster wrote a book back in 2007 which postulates Christmas comes from fourth-century tourism trade in the Holy Land. Essentially, after Constantine legalized Christianity, his mother toured the region looking for holy sites. This made tourism popular. A festival full of traditional and symbolic ideas started, and tourists brought it back to Rome, where it replaced Epiphany.
This theory is outside of the scope of this study. See Hans Forster's book "Die Anfänge von Weihnachten und Epiphanias: Eine Anfrage an die Entstehungshypothesen" (The Beginnings of Christmas and Epiphany: An Inquiry Into the Hypotheses of Their Origins) if you are interested in more. I only mention it to demonstrate there are so many more things to consider than just, "It's all pagan, so be sure to pay your tithes".

What else did we see in this study? It all boils down to this - speculation. And here’s mine: 
Christians calculated the day in a completely natural way. It may not make a whole lot of sense to us, it may rely on Jewish superstition, and it may not be correct, but that's how it happened. Tourism might even play a supporting role. Who knows? A series of games every four years may or may not have existed on December 25, but whatever Natalis Invicti was it clearly wasn't very popular with anyone, and the Christians ignored that in their search for the correct birth date.

Important things to ponder!

The fine people at Biblical Archaeology Review have posted an article titled "How December 25 Became Christmas" that agrees with what I've told you here. Thanks to Teresa Beem for this gem!

Is the information in today’s post news to you? Do we really suppose that the self-proclaimed apostles and leaders of their own church movements would tell you about information that exonerates the dating of Christmas and proves them wrong? Do we really suppose that they forgot to tell us these things?

You want the truth, right? Any group who still at this late date would reference Alexander Hislop’s “Two Babylons” and his nonsense ideas about Nimrod obviously have no interest in genuine truth. How much more ridiculous are childish anagrams like “SANTA = SATAN”, or blatantly misleading comparisons of Saint Nicholas, whose history is known, with recent English nicknames for Satan like “Old Nick”. Have we not considered that Santa means "saint"? You're saying saint means Satan. You realize that, I hope. They proclaim how they only want “the truth” and “proven fact” yet they give us anything but. They teach as truth that Jeremiah 10 is speaking of Christmas trees, when it is speaking of no such thing!

It is far past time to demand better.

Look, I’m not telling you that you have to run out and start celebrating Christmas. Perhaps if we can clear the old misinformation we might even see that the birth of Christ is in every way Biblical. Maybe if you don’t like the idea of decorations, you could still see that Jesus couldn’t have died for our sins if He wasn’t first born into this world. Maybe that will spark some acts of charity in your heart.

I would like everyone to stop the judging and condemning each other over something that clearly isn’t as simple as they had been led to believe. At the very least, consider giving people the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t pagans for celebrating Christmas. Then go do the research for yourself. Ask the tough questions. The attaining to truth is apparently going to have to start with you.

Post Script

I have created a companion document which greatly expands the information here. I'll leave this post here, and update it as best as I can as a summary of the larger study document, but if you really want to understand December 25th, please download and read the whole study. Click here to access the document. Note that if you click this link you will be directed away from this site, and it will take a short while for the document to pop up in the browser window.

Also, we have created a Christmas FAQ. That list of frequently asked questions was designed to put information into more of a "sound byte" style. Sometimes people don't want to read a huge study, so we tried to make it easier to digest.



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It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11

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[last updated: 1/14/2024]

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Psychology of the Spirit

I was watching a presentation given by a neurologist, Vilayanur Ramachandran. What he had to say regarding the mind was fascinating. I saw in what he was talking about parallels regarding spirituality and our relationship with God.

I have often wondered about the mental condition of angels who sinned by abandoning faith in God for faith in Satan, and what happened to Adam and Eve from a mental health perspective when they abandoned faith in favor of listening to Satan and their subsequent belief they could be, or were, self-sufficient. This may be describing the issue in a somewhat overly simplistic way, but the reader should get the idea.

Something happened to the minds of the angels who sinned. Something happened to the minds of Adam and Eve when they sinned. Something happened to me and others when they bought into the legalistic false gospel of sabbatarianism. Something happens to people in general who buy into false religion. All mankind suffers from a mental illness that defies diagnosis. But, because all mankind suffers from this mental illness, to one degree or another, it goes unnoticed, for if everyone suffers from the same neurological disorder, the disorder is perceived as the norm. This disorder is described in Scripture, and uses blindness as an analogy for this disorder. The sufferer of this disorder is blind to the fact they have this disorder. They do not perceive there is a disorder, therefore they conclude there is no disorder.

But something is definitely missing. Something is deficient.

Scripture diagnoses the problem in general terms, and Scripture relates the cure.

Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment. – Isaiah 1:4-6

And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. – Ezekiel 11:19-20

Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. I will also save you from all your uncleannesses: and I will call for the corn, and will increase it, and lay no famine upon you. And I will multiply the fruit of the tree, and the increase of the field, that ye shall receive no more reproach of famine among the heathen. Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall lothe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations. – Ezekiel 36:25-31

And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. – Matthew 13:14-15

But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. – John 12:37-40

But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. – Matthew 9:12-13

The cure is this new heart. We understand this to be God's Holy Spirit. But this is only part of the equation of the cure.

The fallen angels had the Holy Spirit, and their sin resulted in mental disorders we would recognize as severe.

We also have the example from Scripture where king Saul of Israel was given God's Spirit, and he too succumbed to severe mental disorders.

The rest of the equation for a healthy individual is faith; faith in God. The cure then is twofold; faith in God in conjunction with being in possession of God's Holy Spirit. Faith is total reliance in God.

There's a category of people who refuse the cure because they think they have already gone through the therapy. These are those who have put their faith in the “quack” physicians who impersonate Christ and His ministers. Their cure is a placebo. The basis of their cure is the old covenant law they teach to be of faith, when in fact the apostle Paul stated that the law was not of faith. Their substitute Holy Spirit is also the law, for they teach that it is that law placed within the believer, and not a Spiritual “law” that Scripture shows to be God's Holy Spirit.

The result of this bogus cure is self-righteousness, arrogance, boasting, bragging, and other symptoms of an inflated Id and Ego. From this position, there is no perception of needing to be cured; there is no need of a physician. Their “righteousness” is embedded in the law and not Christ. Christ is given lip service. They have compounded their illness with a blindness now that cannot recognize the real Christ from their contrived one that is actually the law. Christ and the law become blurred. Paul recognizes this compounded illness in II Corinthians chapter 3.

When I was undergoing the process of throwing off the teachings of the old Worldwide Church of God, there was a day where I was grasping concepts of the new covenant, but the very next day, when I went to explain some aspect of it to another member, I couldn't do it. I couldn't remember what I understood so well the day before. That is when I started writing down everything. In time, I got to the point where I looked back on the beliefs of the WCG and could hardly believe that I believed that whole web of confusion. What then really happened to my mind?

It was rewired. God intervened and fixed the mind so that it was freed up from the circularly locked rationale common with those who accepted the wrong therapy.

I and others who have escaped sabbatarian legalism are now amazed when dealing with those who are still ensconced in that legalism how tenacious their minds hold on to those beliefs and reject any and all information contrary to that belief system. Why? They have a blindness we cannot cure. Like a horse, we can “lead them to water” but we can't make them drink.

When Paul preached to Jew and Gentile, some Jews believed the message of the gospel, and many did not. What was the common denominator regarding those who rejected the gospel message and thus rejected Jesus Christ? Their reliance on the law and the righteousness they believed they derived from it.

You can't drag a sick man to the doctor if he thinks he is well. They won't even admit to the symptoms they display, for the ego refuses to recognize itself as being a “hard heart.”



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It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )Acts 17:11
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