Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Traditions #5- Christmas

OK, I saved the biggest and best for last. If you don't already know this one, you might want to sit down because it's definitely a doozy.

Why do we celebrate Jesus' birth on December 25? We have pretty much no idea exactly what Jesus' date of birth was. I've heard sometime in the "Fall" (a little broad there isn't it) and also in March. Plus, the calendar has changed several times since Jesus' birth and wasn't standardized until much later in history. So how did it land on 12/25?

I'm going to use the "P" word one more time...pagan. As Christianity spread throughout Europe, priests realized that people in pagan areas accepted the new religions basic tenets if they were able to more clearly identify with them. In places like Britain and France, there was a feast in winter each year to celebrate the Sun god. So early Christian leaders assimilated this date into the Christian feast calendar. How better to erase pagan worship of the Sun god than by turning his feast day into a day to celebrate the birth of the Son of God? Pretty smart, huh? By the late 3rd, early 4th century, Church officials all over Europe were using the same date, December 25, to celebrate Christ's birth.

Whenever I teach this in my Western Civ classes, I see looks of disgust, confusion, pain, anger, you name it on students' faces. What I always ask is...does it really matter what day we set aside to celebrate Jesus' birth? Isn't it the action that matters rather than the day? Jesus is the reason for the season (to borrow a saying off of many church signs) and I think we can also add the other seasons, every day and everything else.

So as Christmas Day 2009 is drawing to a close, I would like to say "Happy Birthday Jesus!" Thank you for the amazing gift that you gave all of us!


  1. Very interesting.. I assumed it went something like that, but I wasn't sure. Yes, Jesus is the reason for the season. He was the perfect sacrifice and the perfect Savior. Thanks so much for the post. It's my favorite of the Christmas ones. I understand your students feelings that the day coming from pagans is a little disturbing... but you're right! Does it really matter? No. It doesn't. Again thank you. The Christmas posts are wonderful. ;)

  2. You are very welcome! This is the stuff that I really love about history...all the crazy stories that nobody ever even thought about!