The 5 days of Christmas myths Day 2. In this series we’re looking at 5 common Christmas myths that perpetuate each year. The culture, and many Christians, accept these myths without question. No one ever stops to think about where they come from, or if they are even accurate. We’re taking a closer look at them to see if they are in fact accurate.
The myth we’ll be looking at for day 2 of our 5 myths of Christmas is that early Christians copied the Roman Festival of Dies Natalis Sol Invictus. The ideas is that early Christians simply stole the idea of December the 25th being Jesus’ birthday from the Roman celebration of Sol Invictus. You will probably run across this assertion in your feed as some point. While not quite as popular as the Saturnalia myth, it still pops up quite a bit.
So what is “Dies Natalis Sol Invictus?”
Dies Natalis Sol Invictus is a festival practiced by the Sol Invictus Roman cult. They worshiped the “Unconquered Sun”. The full celebration is therefore “Birthday of the unconquered sun”. The first mention of it occurring on December 25th in the calendar of Philocalus in 354 A.D. The Roman Emperor Aurelian (Reigned 270 A.D.- 275 A.D.) is credited with making the both the cult and its corresponding celebration popular. Prior to this, local celebrations of Sol typically occurred in August or November.
Historian Thomas Tally that the cults celebrations didn’t seem to revolver around the winter solstice or any other set calendar point. And the word “natalis” can also mean anniversary as well as birthday. Steven Hijiman also tells us that while the Emperor Aurelian popularized the feast, it may not have been held in December until much later. According to Hinjiman:
“there is no evidence that Aurelian instituted a celebration of Sol on that day [December 25]. A feast day for Sol on December 25th is not mentioned until eighty years later, in the Calendar of 354 and, subsequently, in 362 by Julian in his Oration to King Helios.”
Getting The Timing Right
In our last post, we established that Christians were already arguing for December 25th as the date of Jesus’s birth in the early 200’s A.D. This was based on the writings of both Hippolytus and Clement of Rome. The dates for these writings are commonly accepted as being between 202 to 211 A.D. These dates are well before any established dates in December for Sol Invictus.
Lastly, we need to clarify that in the celebration of Sol Invictus was worshiping the “sun” and not “The Son”. This should go without saying, but there is a difference between the two. And while they sound similar in English, in the original language the words were very different. The word for sun is “sol”, while the word for Son is “filius”. So, it doesn’t work to claim that since the two words sound alike, the Christians were trying a clever slight of hand to get people to convert.
In summary, here is what we know about the similarities between Sol Invictus and Christmas:
- Early Christians believed Jesus was born on December 25th for reasons unrelated to pagan myths.
- Sol Invictus was celebrated on many different dates, and wasn’t always held on December 25th.
- We’ve established that the dating methods used by these early Christians pre-date any details of the pagan festival of Sol Invictus by more that 70 years at minimum, and possibly up to 150 years at the outer limit.
- All of the details of the celebration of Sol Invictus come well after the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
- There are no accounts from Christian or pagan contemporary sources that claim that Christians stole this date from the pagan mythology.
Given all this evidence, a fair question to ask is “Who stole from who here?”. But as I said earlier, Sol Invictus isn’t the only pagan holiday that critics attempt to tie to Christmas. The festival of Saturalia is also put forward as a festival that Christians copied and stole to use as the date of Jesus’ birth. On Day 3 of “The Five Myths Of Christmas”, we’ll look at this Roman festival and see if the critics are right.
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