Ever since I was a kid in Catholic school, I’ve been somewhat fascinated by the date of Christmas. I often wondered where it came from, given that it doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible, and (as the feast is celebrating the birth of Jesus) it seemed rather odd to set the date so close to midwinter given the fact that the middle east gets pretty nippy in Winter and the story of the Nativity takes place pretty much outside… with lambs and stuff. So what was going on there? Was one of the sheep just looking to get a mid-year quickie and had an unscheduled surprise? Did Mary and Joseph just pack a lot of blankets and thermal undies? Or was something else going on?
Well, interestingly, there aren’t any indications that the early Christians kept a tradition of the date for the birth of Jesus. Attempts at placing the date didn’t come for centuries, and the vast majority of those trying to find a date for his birth tended to opt for Spring. In fact, it wasn’t until 354 that our current date for Christmas appeared, with it popping up in the calendar of Philocalus in Rome. From there it spread to the East, though it was resisted by some of the Churches (most notably the Armenian Church, which never adopted it)… and it would take another 200 years before that date managed to reach Jerusalem.
So why December 25th? Why that specific date?
Well, the fourth century writer, Syrus, tells us that it was because of a pagan holiday that was rather popular. We’re told that the 25th was the birthday of the Sun, so to celebrate they would light candles and such, and have a festival. This was the Imperial festival for Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun. And the celebration was a new one. While the religion had been around for several hundred years, this particular date was an official holiday for only about 80 years... but it was pretty popular.Click here to be able to read the full rough transcript.