Did Christians Really Steal Christmas From the Pagans?

It’s that time of year when families get together, we put mature trees in our living rooms and we exchange gifts in honor of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth -cold. But a careful reader of childhood stories will note that the Bible never mentions Jesus’ birth date. Do even the most brief Google search and you’ll be confronted with countless conspiracy theories about the origins of Christmas. There were no less than three different ancient pagan festivals around this time of year, and many believe that Christians planned Christmas to obliterate and monopolize the holiday season. All of this leads many to question: Do Christians steal pagan holidays?

If the celebration of the birth of Christ is based on a pre-existing festival, then there are three main candidates: the date of the birth of the ancient Sun God (Sol Invictus), the Roman festival of Saturnalia taking place. around this time and the festival was widely celebrated. Dong Chi.

Perhaps the most superficially similar festival is the birthday of Sol Invictus (“Incomparable Sun”, who is also known as Helios). Sol Invictus was one of several “sun gods” worshiped in the Roman Empire and according to the ancient calendar known as the Chronograph of 354 AD, his birthday was celebrated on the 25th.order of December. Sun God and Son of God share the same birthday? What is the chance?

From the Middle Ages on, it was rumored that December 25thorder was chosen because of Sol Invictus. The Syrian bishop Jacob bar Salibi (died 1171 C.E.), who celebrated the Nativity of Jesus on the Feast of the Epiphany, wrote “The reasons for which the Fathers of the Church passed the above solemn feast [the Nativity] from January 6 to the 25thorder of December is…[that] the custom of the pagans was to celebrate on this same day…the feast of the birth of the sun.” As an Eastern Christian who celebrates Nativity and Epiphany in January, Jacob had clear motives for canceling December, but was he right?

That’s not possible, mainly due to the slightly misleading chronology. On his Tik Tok channel, popular religion Youtuber and Scholar Dr. Andrew Henry (@religionforebreakam) explains that Sol Invictus only became popular during the third century AD. It was only in 274, after the Aurelian emperor credited Sol Invictus for assisting him in battle, that resources were devoted to god worship. Aurelian dedicated a new Temple to Sol Invictus and established what Henry called the “Olympics of Sol”. But before this time, Sol Invictus was a bit player in the Roman pantheon. Because Christians began celebrating Christmas in December in the early third century, the two celebrations appear to be independent. It was a coincidence, but perhaps a win-win for the early Christians.

Then there’s Dong Chi. You may have noticed that this year, the shortest day of the year is December 21, but Roman authors like Pliny the Elder have placed it on December 25. The event is cross-cultural: for whether you’re in Stonehenge or the Pantheon, anyone cares about time. , the seasons and the universe consider the summer solstice to be a special event. As Dr. Eric Vanden Eykel, the author of the newly released book Magician, told me, that the winter solstice was “widely understood in the Roman world to have cosmological significance.” It was observed by many ancient groups including the Druids, who (according to Pliny) marked the day by sacrificing bulls and collecting mistletoe. Some of it feels familiar.

Finally, there is the Saturnalia festival, an agricultural festival honoring the god Saturn. Just like Christmas today, it’s part religious celebration and part opportunity to quit work and drink too much. According to the agricultural writer Columella, it was officially celebrated on December 17, but by the time of Cicero (1st century BC) it lasted for three or even seven days. It was a noisy affair when people greeted each other with the traditional “Io, Saturnalia.” Catullus calls them “the best days” with food, drink, games, gambling and gift giving. The houses are decorated with garlands of evergreens and berries, and on the last day (December 23), candles and terracotta figurines (sigalaria) are given as gifts, especially to children. The noise of the celebration became so bad that the Roman statesman and writer Pliny had to build a special writing room to keep the noise out.

A religious festival involving candles, gift giving, evergreen tree decorations, songs and food, all sounds familiar but is Saturnalia a source of Christian revelry? There’s no shortage of memes and videos, but again, the timeline is a bit misleading. Saturnalia was completed by December 23, and while we might mean “good enough,” the exact date is extremely important because it says something about the importance of Jesus.

Which brings us to the Christians themselves, what do they say about the birth of Jesus? The Bible is not a huge amount of help here. Yes, the fact that in the Gospel of Luke the shepherds were watching their flock at night when the angel appeared suggests a spring day, but not much is known here. As a result, the Christians had to calculate the dates of events and here they showed a bit of creativity, largely based on the ambiguity in the Greek word. source used in the Gospel childhood stories. Does it mean conception, or does it mean birth?

According to many ancient beliefs, a person who lives a perfect life will die on the same day of their birth. Christians, who focused on the day of Jesus’ conception rather than his nativity and clearly believed that Jesus was perfect, began with the death of Jesus. -su and go backwards. Here they had better proof. According to the Gospels, it seems to have taken place on the 14th of Nissan, the day before Passover.

For the Jewish lunisolar calendar to correspond to the Julian solar calendar involved some terrible numbers, but in the middle of the third century, Hippolytus of Rome calculated the date of Jesus’ death on the 25th of May. 3. According to some Roman writers, this was the day of spring. Feces. in an academic article published in 2015, Dr. Thomas Schmidt, assistant professor of religious studies at Fairfield University, argues convincingly that Hippolytus chose March 25 because it also corresponds (according to his calculations) to Creation day. Therefore, March 25 is the day of Creation, the day of Jesus’ conception, the day of his death, and the Spring equinox. Very tidy and more importantly very auspicious.

Assuming a perfect nine-month pregnancy, Hippolytus and others set the date of Jesus’ birth as December 25 and came to celebrate the birth of Christ on this date. Dr. Dan McClellan, who debunks these biblical myths Instagram and TikTok and a scholar of religious and theological studies, told me that the proximity of significant events in Jesus’ life to the Spring equinox and Winter Solstice “seems to be universally significant.” It is more important to Christian theologians not to align Christmas with a pagan festival, but to align the date of Jesus’ conception with His death and the creation of the universe.

While bishops may misunderstand Christians who engage in pagan religious activities, Christian leaders seem uninterested in competing with Sol Invictus, Solstice, or Saturnalia. McClellan says that although the actual date of Christmas may not be determined by Solstice or Saturnalia, the celebration of pagan festivals probably influenced how Christians mark their holidays. There may have been “some motive, consciously or not, [for Christians] to commit to that date. In his video, Henry notes that if Christmas is related to these other festivals, it’s “not stealing a Roman holiday.”

When I asked McClellan why people today think Christians stole the winter festival, McClellan told me that it’s clear that many traditions are associated with Christmas (think mistletoe) no obvious connection to Jesus or Christianity. McClellan says the Christian myth of “stealing Christmas” can be a form of protest that helps people figure things out: “it offers a way to ‘punch’ institutions.” Christianity’s oppression and imperialism by exposing them as usurpers of the traditions of marginalized groups I imagine there are also people who like to feel like they have insider knowledge as opposed to common sense, even if in this case it is ‘common wisdom’ rather than insider knowledge.”

The close association of pagan festivals with Christmas; even so, allowing Christians to amplify certain elements of the Jesus story and capitalize on the celebration’s resemblance to more familiar holidays that evoke a feeling of warmth and ambiguity in everyone. Some Christians of late antiquity such as Gregory of Nyssa and Paulinus of Nola explicitly linked Jesus’ death to the Winter Solstice because of its symbolism of darkness and light. The idea of ​​Jesus as a light shining into the world on the darkest day of the year is too good to ignore.

Saturnalia also resonated with its depiction of Jesus in the Gospels as a messiah who came to save the oppressed. In essence, Saturnalia was a brief period of role reversal when lower-status people were not working and slaves were allowed to dine with their masters. Adults will serve children and limit freedom (the capsule) can be worn by anyone. Equality is temporary, of course, but it resonates with the Christian message of future salvation for the marginalized. The Christian Bible often looks forward to Judgment Day, when the poor, meek, and persecuted will see God, be fed, and inherit God’s Kingdom. If you squint a little, Saturnalia is a depraved X-rated pagan version of that; That principle of inversion of roles can be exploited in the accounts of the birth of the infant Jesus.

This means that Christians don’t steal Christmas as much as they swim in the waters of ancient Mediterranean religious images and celebrations. Knowing that Christian celebrations are influenced by contemporary religiosity does not invalidate Christian holidays or Christmases. Even in antiquity, Christian teachers observed how pagan mythology and philosophy contained kernels of truth. But it challenges some people’s belief that Christianity is unique, transcendent, and separate from the rest of the world.

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