December 25, 2011

Why the early Christians did not celebrate Christmas.

Rev. Brian D. Blacker explains:
It was strongly felt that the celebrating of any day or date – be they birthdays or anniversaries of an event – was a custom of the pagans. By the word ‘pagans’ they meant irreligious people who still live in the darkness of superstition. In an effort to divest themselves of all pagan practices, therefore, they did not even set aside or note down the date of their Saviour’s birth....

Most scholars agree that the birth of the Redeemer did not take place in the month of December at all. In fact, the 25th of December was not even chosen by the Christians, but by the Romans – the traditional arch enemies of the early church...

[The Romans had begun] to celebrate the “Feast of the Sol Invictus” (the Unconquerable Sun) on December 25. Soon many Christians began to join in this pagan festival and the various celebrations that went with it. Their faith wasn’t vibrant enough (or real enough) to stand against the strong pull of the festivity and celebration around them. They drifted with the crowd.

Thus, in order to keep the Christians away from all the pagan rituals that was part of this worship of the sun, Bishop Liberius of Rome declared, in 354 A.D., that all Christians everywhere should celebrate the birth of our Lord on December 25...

We must recognise a parallel in what took place in church history and what is taking place in this day and age....
Uh oh. Here comes the sermon. You can go to the link if you want to see what lessons Rev. Blacker draws from this sequence of events. It seems to me there are quite a few different lessons you might teach with that intro, and I believe the conversation we have right here will be more interesting and enlightening than what Rev. Blacker says.

And then there's the separate question whether the Feast of the Sol Invictus theory of Christmas is even correct. Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI, has observed that December 25 is simply 9 months after March 25, and March 25 was the date of the Annunciation, that is the date of Jesus' conception.

Getting the date right matters far less than the question whether we should be doing annual celebrations on a particular date — including all kinds of birthdays, death-days, and anniversaries — and which days should be the ones that we single out as the biggest occasions. Even if you're a Christian, you could decline to celebrate Christmas and even then, it could be for one of a number of reasons: 1. because it's less important than other days within Christianity, 2. because celebrating birthdays and anniversaries is not what Christianity should be, 3. because it's too closely associated with the pagan festivities having to do with the sun, or (least convincing reason) 4. because December 25th is the wrong day.

ADDED:  Sorry, but I'm going to argue with the Pope. Doctors calculate the length of pregnancy from the first day of the woman's last period, not the date of conception. If Mary conceived on March 25, then the first day of her last period — I've never before in my life thought about Mary's periods! — was  March 11th or thereabouts. (I'm assuming Mary had 28-day periods and conception occurred on the day of ovulation, 2 weeks later.) If the first day of Mary's last period was indeed March 11th, using the standard calculation, the predicted due date is December 17th. I can't believe it was so easy to point out a hole in a Pope's argument!

64 comments:

sydney said...

I find his argument about early Christians shunning celebrations because they were "pagan" a little hard to swallow. Early Christians were Jews who also had a liturgical year full of celebrations oriented to the same God, if not to the Messiah. It made sense for liturgical traditions to evolve surrounding the most important events of Christianity- the resurrection of the Messiah (which was actually the moment of recognition of who He was and the fulfillment of his message) and his arrival on earth. There's a reason Luke and Matthew have the birth narrative in their Gospel. This even was important to early Christians.

As for we Moderns, the liturgical year is important in keeping us rooted in the true source and meaning of our faith. But, that's one reason I became a Catholic. I find the Tradition ensconced within their Sacraments and teachings and liturgy comforting.

sydney said...

Sorry, but even medically you didn't punch a hole in the Pope's argument. The due date is an estimate and a baby can be born +/- 2 weeks on either side of that and still be a normal gestation. And that's without a miraculous divine conception. December 25th is just 8 days past the "expected" date of confinement. Still within the realm of normal.

Ron said...

I say we try to re-Paganize Christmas... It would be the Roman thing to do! Let's start with the songs...

"Jove, Rest Ye Merry Praetorians"

...and that's all I got! (more coffee needed!)

FuzzyFace said...

Surely a bigger hole in the Pope's theory is that Annunciation Day was first decreed in AD 431, almost 80 years after Christmas was set on Dec. 25? That makes it much more probable that the date was deliberately set to be 9 months earlier.

Oligonicella said...

"By the word ‘pagans’ they meant irreligious people who still live in the darkness of superstition."

No. It meant and means non-Christian. Don't lie.

Jose_K said...

Sol Invictus was the precedent of christianism as official religion in Rome.Aurelianus after his victory in Palmira dedicated his victory to the sun. He knew about it in Egypt... the same place where Akenaton adored the Sun as only god and god of love, the precedent of Moses and Christ.

Jove, Rest Ye Merry Praetorians" a pretorian was the man of more faith in israel

Paddy O said...

"I can't believe it was so easy to point out a hole in a Pope's argument!"

Welcome to Protestantism! Though, Sydney is right. I think we all know that the last day of a woman's period is almost certainly not the actual date of conception.

Ann Althouse said...

@ FuzzyFace There are references to dates in the Bible that support the date of the Annunciation.

Ann Althouse said...

"Though, Sydney is right. I think we all know that the last day of a woman's period is almost certainly not the actual date of conception."

I didn't say it was. I assumed she conceived on the day of ovulation, which is 2 weeks after the first day of the woman's period (if she has 28-day periods).

Sydney's point is that the baby can be born 8 days after the predicted due date. I acknowledge that. I'm arguing with the Pope's use of the March 25/December 25 idea based on the rough notion that a pregnancy lasts 9 months.

Ann Althouse said...

That is, it's true that conception on March 25 could result in childbirth on December 25. If that's all the Pope was saying (and I didn't read the original article, just the summary in Wikipedia), then that's fine. He's not the one who set the holiday at December 25th, and maybe he's only saying that December 25th was within the range of days when Mary could have given birth to a full term child if she conceived on March 25th.

Bill White said...

Well, that's not the Pope's *argument* - he's just pointing out the historical fact of how the liturgical calendar was built. Similarly, there are 9 months between December 8 (the feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrating Mary's conception) and September 8, the feast of her birth.

David said...

Since, in Christian theology, Jesus is not half Mary, but wholly God, the date of Mary's last period before conception is not relevant.

Also, the celebration of Christmas was banned as "superstitious" in the Massachusetts Bay Colony for more than twenty years. Even after the ban was lifted by the English, Christmas celebrations were relatively rare in Massachusetts until the 19th century.

Paddy O said...

That being said, Christmas is one of those curious issues in the history of American Christianity. Now, Christmas is sort of the symbol of everything Christian for some.

Back in the 1800s, however, very conservative Christians assumed that Christmas was in fact a pagan holiday and would not celebrate it.

The founder and first president of my very Evangelical college, Jonathan Blanchard, did not even want to cancel classes on that day. In a letter to his family he wrote, “Maria would please me muchly by denying herself the Christmas frolic because it’s a fool’s day.”

And maybe it is. It's almost certainly not the day Jesus was actually born, and indeed we have a lot of emphases in the New Testament about the day he died and honoring the resurrection, but nothing about celebrating his birth day.

Yet, Christian ritual is by its very nature adaptive. Unlike in the Torah, there's no liturgical prescriptions, so Christians are able to adapt within a culture, honoring their savior in culturally imbued ways. For our culture, a day of birth is the day we honor especially those we value. So, to honor the day of Christ's birth is to honor this man, to honor indeed the incarnation itself, making it a theological statement.

There's also an issue of theology and culture involved. Do Christians hide from the culture or do they interact with it? How do they interact with it? I very much like the transformative approach, shining light on a culture through culturally understood celebrations. For Christmas, this means taking a day and highlighting goodness, love, community, giving, peace, joy. We do not have a lot of ritualized feasts, especially in Protestantism, and this is one of the central ones, one in which we who celebrate explicitly the birth of a Savior celebrate together with those who celebrate much of the meaning of that salvation.

We celebrate that we are to be good, to live at peace, to sing and laugh and hope together. Christmas, much more than Valentine's Day, is really a celebration of the deepest reality of love. We wish each other love on this day, not sentimentality or cheap romance or egotistical lust, but actual deep, fulfilling, holistic love.

May your day be merry and full of life, full of love. On this day may we taste that fullness of love that is at the heart of God's work in this world, sending his son, to us, for us, with us, among us, seeking us out, because God first loved us.

Merry Christmas to all Meadehouse and all who share this commenting table!

DaveW said...

Since, in Christian theology, Jesus is not half Mary, but wholly God, the date of Mary's last period before conception is not relevant.

Bingo!

Michael said...

As all should know, children are born 9 months, to the milisecond, from the instant of conception.

gail said...

sydney said @ 8:12

It made sense for liturgical traditions to evolve surrounding the most important events of Christianity- the resurrection of the Messiah (which was actually the moment of recognition of who He was and the fulfillment of his message) and his arrival on earth. There's a reason Luke and Matthew have the birth narrative in their Gospel. This even was important to early Christians.
-------------------

I'd argue, based on the earliest history of the faith as told in the Book of Acts, the disciples did not fully grasp what had happened...and expected Jesus to return, literally the next day. And the New Testament wasn't actually written until years later, some *experts* think Mathew took until 35 AD to write his account.

But it comes down to this: is your faith based on a calendar?

James of England said...

Could I recommend this talk or, if you lack the time for the talk, this article (although I think the talk is much better) on the subject? It's not easy to explain the argument in a blog comment, but the talk is well worth listening to.

James of England said...

The only real issue I take with the talk is on his description of Origen's thought on the subject. He notes that it is not clear that Origen would have been against the celebration of Christmas, but he does not note why Origen opposes birthdays, or how Origen felt about celebrating anniversaries. Origen’s opposition stems from the fact that birthdays are biblically celebrated only by Pharoah and Herod; birthdays are celebrations of one’s own awesomeness. Celebration of others’ awesomeness are great; Passover and other Holy days are all very Origen compliant. What kind of jerk thinks that his own entry into the world is a historical event worthy of celebration?

While I’m not Origen compliant, as I celebrate my own birthday and plan to celebrate the anniversaries of my own citizenship, Origen’s complaints about birthdays are kind of tentative (Origen was kind of Newt-like, always ready to explore new ideas, and was hence formally condemned by the Church, but was, Newt-like, generally willing to accept that his position of ten minutes ago was a terrible, terrible idea (whether or not it was)). I like to think that Origen would be less offended when I made it clear that Christmas was a bigger deal than my birthday (although, embarrassingly, President’s day is a smaller deal), and Thanksgiving a bigger deal than my coming to America.

James of England said...

I don't seem to be able to edit my comments, but it seems worth explicitly saying that both links are to arguments in favor of Christmas pre-dating Saturnalia, not being based on pagan customs, and expanding on the thoughts ascribed to B XVI here. They are from Orthodox sources, though, and do not note Papal views.

DaveW said...

As far as the celebration being timed to saturnalia many of the things the church did and still does have Roman roots. I think it was St. Ambrose that turned the phrase "when in Rome do as the Romans".

Even today the procession during the Mass has many Roman aspects. And it was Diocletian that divided the empire up into more governable sections that were called "diocese", which is what we call them to this day.

roesch/voltaire said...

The mingling of other cultures into Judea begin in the
Hasmonean period when Greek/Hellenist influence started and later Roman influence later under Caesar and by way into Christianity, but what the myths have in common is the notion of hope for the future in the darkest days. I quibble not with the date, but the crass materialism/Santa fixation of a consumer society, and agree with Rev Blacker when he sates: "Holy celebration is Scriptural but must begin from within –"

Palladian said...

Christmas is for the Catholiques and the consumerists.

Trashhauler said...

There is more than a whiff of literalism in arguing about the source of dates in the Liturgical calendar. There is no requirement for celebrations such as Christmas to correspond to any particular date. The Liturgical calendar is as much a teaching device as it is a means to memorialize events. Keeping standard dates was more intended to emphasize the universality of belief than as a representation of chronology.

In any case, questioning the Pope's reasoning about the date of Christmas gets no points. Since it is a simple matter of dates, it is not a matter of dogma. Thus, the Pope would be the first to admit that he could be wrong on why the date was chosen.

caplight45 said...

I think that in the modern era Christians try to emphasize love and all that stuff that Paddy O said so well. We sort of trot out our best silverware and china so to speak and invite the world to celebrate with us. However, and this is a big however, when the angel announced, “I bring you good news of great joy for everyone! The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David!" the early church was telling the story to trot out their best dishes and inviting the world to celebrate with them. That announcement was a challenge to every other system of belief and governance. The word for "good news" or "gospel" was a word used to describe announcements of great world altering import. The birth of Augustus was termed "good news." Augustus was a savior and deliverer. He was the bringer of peace. Now the church was telling their story that Christ was the anointed one, the one to look to for safety, for expiation with God and the King of a kingdom (the whole David thing). Those who fail to honor Jesus as both Lord and Christ are outside the scope of his kingdom and the benefits that life in that realm brings.

Gotta go do a church service.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Dave:

Mary's contribution certainly does matter--because Jesus is both 100% God, and also 100% Mary's DNA. That is how God planned it.

Of course, one could argue that God caused a change in Mary's natural cycle, but what's the point of that?

Fr Martin Fox said...

FuzzyFace:

The decree in AD 431 isn't very significant, unless you are suggesting the decree created the celebration?

In fact, many times, if not most of the time, a "decree" from Rome or another authority recognizing a feast is a trailing indicator, not a leading one. It happens today: some local observance gets a head of steam, and after a long wait, Rome (or the local bishop) decides it's a good thing to recommend to everyone.

While I cannot "prove" the various dates are the right ones, I believe they are probably right, because of the power of memory.

The Apostles knew the Lord and his mother; they and other early Christians had access to his relatives. Surely someone would have remembered when he was circumcised, when he was presented in the temple; surely Mary would have remembered when she was visited by the Archangel.

The interesting fact--relevant to both the date and any connection to Roman celebrations--is that the celebration of Christmas and Epiphany came to Rome from the (Greek) East. The Latins did not invent these celebrations.

Patrick Molloy said...

Another reason to celebrate (unless you're a Byzantine) - - Charlemagne was crowned as Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day, 800 AD.  

Einhard

DaveW said...

Father Martin-

Mary's contribution certainly does matter--because Jesus is both 100% God, and also 100% Mary's DNA. That is how God planned it.

I've always thought these sorts of musings don't matter very much, although they do interest me.

What I was trying to say in my comment is that the norms of human reproduction are misapplied in the case of Mary and Jesus. I think people use these sorts of arguments - whether intentionally or not - to normalize Jesus' birth, to make it fit biologically, and as part of an argument that there was nothing at all miraculous. I think it's important to steer completely clear of discussions about what went on here as normal from a biological perspective.

One thing I've meditated on from time to time is what Mary's pregnancy was like. Did she suffer morning sickness? Was it a normal 9 month pregnancy? Did she suffer in childbirth?

I like to think God spared Mary from suffering normal childbirth. But maybe He didn't, and maybe I'm wrong. Still, I'd like to think he gave her that.

One thing is clear to me, and that is there was very little going on in that conception that was biologically normal.

madAsHell said...

Christian self-flagellation never really caught on, but Christmas did.

Go figure!?!?

Bender said...

That reference to "Bishop Liberius of Rome" (not to mention his favorable mention of Oliver Cromwell) is a dead giveaway to Rev. Brian D. Blacker's own anti-Catholic perspective. In fact, celebrating anniversaries of events, e.g THE CRUCIFIXION and RESURRECTION, as well as the deaths of early martyrs who had been killed for the Faith, was a common, everyday experience.

This is more of the theology of "if the Catholics are for it, then we are against it."

DADvocate said...

Rev. Blacker seems like the sort who takes the joy out of everything. He's wrong about Coca Cola being the first to give Santa his red suit, too.

It's pretty obvious that Dec. 25 is not likely the actual birthday of Christ. Among the evidence I've read is that the Romans weren't doing a census in December during that time. To attempt to pin point exact dates for many events during that time presents a daunting task, let alone the the birth date of the son of an obscure carpenter and his wife.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Dave:

I haven't read them, but I have a feeling there are writings on our Lady's experience of her pregnancy. Many of the saints over the centuries meditated on these things, and some claim to have been given visions, but the Church doesn't validate them or expect us to give them credence, so one can make of them what one wishes.

I am grateful for your clarification, because I was reacting to another phenomenon, which I thought I detected in your comment: a mindset that seeks to remove Mary, as much as possible, from the equation.

As far as what our Lady may have suffered during her pregnancy...

Well, after his birth, she was told by the prophetess Anna that a "sword shall pierce your heart," and there is the tradition of Mary's seven sorrows: i.e., Mary's having been conceived without sin doesn't spare her from suffering. After all, she had to behold her Son's agonies on the Cross, and what is morning sickness to that?

Thus the passage from Lamentations is often applied to her: "see if any suffering is like mine" (quoted from memory).

Secondly, I would argue the miraculous elements of our Lord's conception and birth notwithstanding, it is safest to assume the pregnancy was otherwise normal. He was conceived without a human father; and his birth did not undo Mary's virginity--these are the miraculous elements. They serve an essential purpose; otherwise, it is best to suppose a natural progression, precisely because what we profess is that God became truly human--he lived a true human life, not some sort of cosmic masquerade.

Bender said...

I think it's important to steer completely clear of discussions about what went on here as normal from a biological perspective
_____________

There was a long and very big dispute in the Church over this point, and it is one that is even highlighted in the Nicene Creed, so the biological perspective is extremely important.

Jesus is fully God, but He is also fully (biologically) man. This latter point is crucial. God became man. God merged His divinity with man's frailties.

Jesus, the new Adam, became man, fully man, being conceived of Mary, the new Eve, bone of her bone, flesh of her flesh. Jesus is not something or someone that is wholly separate and apart from mankind, God is not something or someone that is wholly separate and apart from His creation -- He has entered into it, He has merged with it, become one with it so that we might become one with Him (communion).

That Jesus is biologically fully man, and that His flesh and bone are entirely from Mary, Mother of God, ranks up there with the most important of doctrinal points.

ironrailsironweights said...

One thing I've meditated on from time to time is what Mary's pregnancy was like. Did she suffer morning sickness? Was it a normal 9 month pregnancy?

Pretty normal ... she kept sending Joseph out for pickles and ice cream.

[Note: I am surely going to burn in hell for all eternity for that comment.]

Peter

Bender said...

As for the general question of a nine-month pregnancy, is there any scientific proof, anywhere, that the average period of human gestation has remained the same throughout history?

Given that we are far healthier today due to the advances in the overall quality of life, from food to housing to medicine, which have been historically shown to have extended the human lifespan considerably, is it possible, if not likely, that the gestation period has shortened over time? That baby does not need to grow in mommy for as long before he is strong enough to come out into the world?

To rely on current gestation tables for a birth that occurred 2000 years ago would be speculation at best.

Chip S. said...

December 17 is spoken for.

Oh little town of Kitty Hawk
(or Kill Devil Hills nearby)

Above thy windswept sandy dunes
the brothers Wright did fly.

Mary Martha said...

Every time someone brings up the 'Feast of Sol Invictus' I like to point out that it wasn't until the year 274 that Aurelian instituted that feast and cult.

I tend to hold that the whole 'unconquerable sun' business was Aurelian's effort to head off the growing Christian following and their Christmas observances.

It's very chicken and the egg... did Christians take December 25th as Christmas to piggy back on the feast of Sol Invictus? Or was the feast of Sol Invictus created to try and head off the increasing attention paid to Christmas?

I have generally found that Christians (like myself) believe one direction, and non-Christians believe the other.

Charlie Martin said...

Mary's contribution certainly does matter--because Jesus is both 100% God, and also 100% Mary's DNA. That is how God planned it.

Um, Father Martin, it therefore follows that Jesus was a woman.

edutcher said...

Keep in mind Constantine, having found the faith, still practiced some of the pagan rites, so the change may have "suggested" itself to the Church.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Getting the date right matters far less than the question whether we should be doing annual celebrations on a particular date — including all kinds of birthdays, death-days, and anniversaries — and which days should be the ones that we single out as the biggest occasions

Of course we should be doing annual celebrations.

Paleolithic humans, and probably long before perhaps as much as 500,000 years ago, marked time on bones or on stones. Literally marked. Cross hatchings and grooves to keep track of the lunar cycles and solar cycles.

Eventually, the cycles and the solstices were known and marked. The celebrations of the recurrence of events that happen on an annual or other regular basis in time have been a part of being human for humdres of thousands of years.

In fact, the ability and desire to mark time and celebrate events like birthdays, the cycles of the sun, harvest and planting times are what make us human and distinguishes us from the animals.

Animals don't "mark" time or celebrate time.

Celebrate.....it is what makes you a human being.

Peter Hoh said...

I say we try to re-Paganize Christmas...

Let's start by placing trees in our homes, covered with lights and other decorations, in hope that a magical elf will use the tree as a drop off spot for some gifts.

Karnival said...

Among the important things to note is that in Judaism, the male is circumcised 8 days after birth. Counting the evening of the 24th as day one (because in Jewish Law, the day actually begins at the previous sunset), 8 days later is New Years Day.

Does that mean that the New Year is actually a celebration of The Bris?

gbarto said...

I think this is like arguing about transubstantiation. It does not matter whether the bread and wine really become flesh and blood when we take Communion. What matters is that we remember the sacrifice of Christ in flesh.

Likewise, it does not matter whether Christ was born on the 25th. What matters is that the church was canny in setting the Christ Mass (which may only coincide with Christ's birthday as the 3rd Monday in January coincides with Martin Luther King Jr's birth) to match a metaphorical coming of the light with the literal coming of the light. If they also took back Christmas from Sol Invictus, bully for them. If it was the other way around, well, not many people are celebrating Sol Invictus these days so it worked out anyway.

I think the true value of Christmas, whenever celebrated, is that it reminds us that Christ was born at once heralded as a future king but on the other hand every bit as weak and vulnerable as we are. It reminds us that he was the Son of Man, as well as the Son of God, so that we can connect with what he sacrificed for us since he connected with life as we live it.

edutcher said...

Charlie Martin said...

Mary's contribution certainly does matter--because Jesus is both 100% God, and also 100% Mary's DNA. That is how God planned it.

Um, Father Martin, it therefore follows that Jesus was a woman.


No, it just means He had her DNA.

(I know, XY chromosomes, but being God allows you to break the rules)

RigelDog said...

I can't really go with you on the 40 weeks pregnancy. Defining pregnancy as a forty week period is a modern medical construct, used for convenience sake. Human gestation is actually 38 weeks from conception...or dang close to 9 months from annunciation to birth on Dec. 25.
wv: philly. How do it know?

Anthony said...

Karnival - yes. Look up the Feast of the Circumcision.

The reason for December 25 (and March 25) is that day is the solstice (and equinox) in the Roman calendar. By the time if the Council of Nicaea, the solstices and equinotces had drifted to about the 21st of the months, and so the formula for Easter was set to use the 21st, but feasts set on the 25th stayed there.

bagoh20 said...

Isn't pretty simple with cell phone records to just figure out when God was in the Bethlehem area and when he would have had the opportunity?


And, early Christians didn't celebrate Christmas yet because it was not until Santa, Inc had his initial public offering in 1823 that he had sufficient capital to fund his worldwide enterprise, extending operations into the middle east.

C'mon people do a little research, use a little reason. This stuff is not hard.

Patrick said...

I'd agree with sydney. Human nature is celebratory. And celebrations are used to carry on traditions and project into the future. The ancient Christian was no different. There are groups of Christians who feel one should not speak the name of God from a state of imperfection. And thus speaking it totally misses the mark.

That has cosmology implications. But it harkens to a consciousness that still exists today. There are people afraid of God and unwilling to embrace the nature of what God is. And that is God in the non religion sense. And they would choose a philosophy of deny in order to make themselves feel safer in the cosmos.

The Crack Emcee said...

Jesus Would Approve (It's A Birthday PARTY! Right?)

Bender said...

It does not matter whether the bread and wine really become flesh and blood when we take Communion. What matters is that we remember the sacrifice of Christ in flesh.
______________

If the Eucharist is not the Real Presence, then to hell with it.

Dad29 said...

Other commenters note that John the Baptist's birth (memorialized on 6/24) occurred 6 months before the birth of Christ. Recall that Mary, just after the Annunciation (3/25) went to visit Elizabeth, who was at that time 6 months preggers.

By the way, "declaration" of the date of the Annunciation does not mean that the church decided, in 431, to "bolster" the 12/25 date by adding a made-up-from-whole-cloth 3/25 Annunciation.

It's FAR more likely that the oral tradition was affirmed with the proclamation, and that the proclamation was also a rebuke to a few sectarians (Tertullian's gang, or perhaps the Dualists of the time.)

Dad29 said...

Saturnalia was not declared a Roman feast until well into the 200's, if not later.

So Christians did not "baptize" Saturnalia; the Romans attempted to hijack Christmas, instead.

Bender said...

Um, Father Martin, it therefore follows that Jesus was a woman

I guess it also follows that Eve was a man?

But your attempt at a cute gotcha snark actually raises a fairly important point regarding the truth of the human person -- the original unity of man and woman -- that there is a theology in our very bodies, made male and female. God reveals an important truth about who and what we are as human persons, that we made for union, made for male and female to be two become one. (See John Paul II, Theology of the Body)

Bender said...

By the way, "declaration" of the date of the Annunciation does not mean that the church decided, in 431, to "bolster" the 12/25 date by adding a made-up-from-whole-cloth 3/25 Annunciation.

As I explained briefly here a few days ago, the identification of March 25 as the date of the Annunciation (and conception of Jesus) stems more from the determination of the date of the Crucifixion, and not from determining Christmas and then counting backwards.

More explanation here.

Paul said...

We really don't know EXACTLY when He was born (or what manger in what stable in Bethlehem.)

SO WHAT?

We celebrate His coming. 25th of Dec. is good enough.

Dad29 said...

@ Paul:

stems more from the determination of the date of the Crucifixion, and not from determining Christmas and then counting backwards.

Or maybe both are true. I'm aware of the Jewish traditions about the date(s), but you certainly cannot be claiming that only those traditions governed the actual event.

Renée said...

St. Hippolytus wrote about Christmas in the 200's, and in the 400's the heretical Donatists refused to celebrate Epiphany because it was a new holiday without any apostolic tradition behind it. They had no such qualms about Christmas.

Christoph said...

The human gestation period is 40 weeks, Ann -- 3 months and 1 week.

For real.

And I'm very non-Catholic.

Christoph said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christoph said...

*9 months, and 1 week.

I was thinking in trimesters!

Joe said...

Jesus was born on August 25, a far more sensible time to have a multi-day holiday.

PJ said...

Several years ago I read a theory about the Star of Bethlehem that suggested a reason for the selection of December 25th as the observance of the birth of Jesus. It had to do with the direct and retrograde movement of Jupiter in 3 BC and 2 BC, which I confirmed on Skyglobe.

During that period, Jupiter (associated with kings) entered Leo (associated with Judea) in direct motion, passing close to Regulus. Then Jupiter went into retrograde motion, passing close to Regulus again, then back to direct, passing Regulus a third time. This supposedly portended an important event in Judea involving a king. A few months later, while Jupiter was still in Leo, Venus (associated with fertility) passed extremely close to Jupiter, supposedly making clear that the important event in Judea was to be a birth. Put the two together, and you get the impending birth of a king in Judea.

Jupiter continued in direct motion, entering Virgo (ahem). In mid-December, its daily movement relative to the stars appeared to slow as it approached another period of retrograde motion, until December 25, 2 BC, when it appeared to pause for a few days before heading back toward Leo. So the "stop and stay" of song was a multi-night event in which Jupiter did not perceptibly move relative to the stars. Each day during that period, Jupiter appeared in the southern sky just before dawn, roughly over Bethlehem if viewed from Jerusalem.

You could look it up (if you have Skyglobe or something like it).

Robert said...

PJ,

I'm no astronomer, but is your theory the same as put forward in "The Star" by Frederick Larson? I remember seeing the simplicity of his theory and noting that it seemed internally consistent. Also, the criticisms of his theory seemed to be either "but [authority] argues otherwise, and we like [authority]!" or "but he's just a law professor doing this in his spare time!"

PJ said...

Robert, based on the Amazon reviews, the story line looks very similar, but Larson appears to have been first published in 2006 and only ever available on DVD, whereas what I saw was in writing (print or web) and I'm pretty sure it was earlier than that. Perhaps Larson blogged his theory before he made the DVD, or perhaps I'm wrong about my rading and what I saw was a review or summary based on Larson's DVD. Anyway, I also found it appealing from a "simplest explanation" point of view, and it was especially striking because I had never heard a story that involved a verifiable celestial event (or non-event) that occurred on/about December 25. As I recall, the fly in the ointment was that these events occurred in 3-2 BC and the most commonly accepted date for Herod's death is 4 BC. I don't know if there's a resolution to that problem or not, but it seems like a substantial objection.