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Christmas, Saturnalia, and Sol Invictus

December 11th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’ve found another instance where consensus scholarship is heavily flawed. I’d always heard that Christmas Day was on December 25 because nobody knows exactly when Jesus was born and that is the date of pagan Roman festival that Christians wanted to supplant. Nope.

The big problem is that Saturnalia was December 17-23, the winter solstice is December 21, there was no traditional Roman holiday on December 25, and the evidence that Emperor Aurelian’s new quadrennial festival of Sol Invictus, first celebrated in 274, was on December 25 is weak, dating from 80 years later. From Wikipedia:

There is no record of celebrating Sol on December 25th 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 28th, Ludi Solis (games for Sol) for October 19th-22nd, and a Natalis Invicti (birthday of the invincible one) on December 25th.

Thus, Christmas is not like Reformation Day, an October 31 celebration chosen to substitute for Halloween, or like Hannukah. If it were, it would have been chosen to be December 17 or December 21. I have often read that December 25 was chosen because it is clear by then that days are getting longer, after the shortest day on December 21. How idiotic. That argument could be used for any day between December 22 and June 21. It certainly is not the case that the ancients didn’t know that December 21 was the shortest day and had to wait a few days to make sure. Even the people at Stonehenge knew about the winter solstice. I suppose Aurelian chose December 25, if he did choose that date, so as to avoid conflicting with Saturnalia. It’s also possible he did choose December 25, and picked it *because it was a Christian holiday*. He was no friend of Christians, and heavily promoted sun worship. See this:

A. Mellinus writes, “Aurelian was a stern, cruel, and bloodthirsty Emperor by nature, and although at first he had a good opinion of the Christians, he nevertheless afterwards became averse to, and estranged from them: and having, undoubtedly, by some talebearers, been instigated against the Christians, he allowed himself to be seduced so far, as to raise the ninth general persecution of the Roman monarchy against them, which persecution .he, however, did not carry out. For at the very moment in which the decrees written against the Christians, were laid before him by his secretary, that he might sign them, and when he was about to take the pen in hand, the hand of God suddenly touched him, smiting his hand with lameness, and thus preventing him in his purpose, so that he could not sign them.” First book, fol. 87, col. 3; from hopisc. Victor. Eus., lib. 7. Post. Literal, Aug. de Civit. Dei., lib. 18, cap. 52. Oral.. lib. 7, cap. 16. Theodoret. Hilt., lib. 4, cap. 17.

To be sure, as is well described in “How December 25 Became Christmas”
by Andrew McGowan we have no good evidence on how December 25 was established as Christmas Day (or January 6 for the Greeks). He shows that it is much more plausible that December 25 and January 6 were chosen because they are 9 months after March 25 or April 6, the dates (for the two groups) of the Crucifixion. How people came to think that Jesus had to be conceived on the day he died remains unclear. But this seems to be what happened.

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