The 5 days of Christmas myths; day 1. Merry Christmas everyone! This is always an exciting time of the year. We are given the opportunity to reflect on the birth of Jesus. It’s the time of year that we celebrate with friends and family. Many families have favorite traditions that they look forward to every year, and we are no different.
One of the other “traditions” that comes this time of year is the annual challenges to Christianity. It’s become a pretty predictable pattern that occurs between Christmas and Easter each year. And every year I wait to see what the focus of scrutiny will be this time around. Sometimes it’s a “lost gospel”. At other times it’s a new claim about the historical Jesus.
But there are certain myths about Christmas that pop up almost every year. Many of these have become so ingrained into the culture that they are rarely if ever challenged. It’s these types of myths that bother me the most. And that’s because they are so readily accepted. Even when shown to be false, people will not let go of them.
So I have decided to do a series of articles on the 5 most prevalent Christmas myths in the culture today. I think you’ll find them interesting and helpful. So let’s dive into our first myth!
Early Christians Stole The Date Of Jesus’ Birth From Pagan Religions.
This challenge actually relates to the first 3 myths we’ll cover in the series. Those next posts will deal with the specifics of each pagan practice that’s associated with Christmas. But how exactly did the Christians originally arrive at December 25th as the date of Christ’s birth?
What Does The Bible Say?
The Bible doesn’t tell us when Jesus was born. There isn’t any day, date or year given. We can make some assumptions based on the facts surrounding His birth.
Herod the Great
The Gospel of Luke states that Jesus was born “in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king.” Herod is believed to have died around 4 B.C. So most historians place Jesus’ birth between 6-4 B.C.
John the Baptist
The birth of John the Baptist gives us some great clues as to what time of year Jesus may actually have been born. John was conceived during Sivan (mid-May to mid-June on modern calendars). His mother Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant when the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she was pregnant with Jesus. This would mean Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit sometime in December. Fast forward 9 months, and we arrive at a birth date somewhere in September.
If we combine these two schools of thought, we arrive at a date of mid-September of the years 6-4 B.C. For a more detailed look at this dating that also factors in the Census mentioned in Luke, refer to my article here.
So How Did The Early Church Arrive At December 25th?
This one is actually fairly easy to figure out. Why? Because we are told how they came to the decision! And contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t to draw people away from pagan practices. It has to do with the date of Easter.
There was a common belief in the early Church that Jesus’ death occurred on the same day as His conception. This same tradition applied to the Old Testament prophets as well. How do we know this? Because several of the early church fathers describe this in their writings.
Both the early church fathers Hippolytus and Clement of Alexandria mention dates of December 25th as dates of Jesus’ birth I. Hippolytus and Clement both worked on the assumption that Jesus’s conception took place at the spring equinox, or March 25th. Therefore His birth would have been on December 25th.
These writings occurred in the early 200’s A.D. Remember that date, because it’s going to come into play with some of the other myths on our list.
So How Accurate Was This Method In Predicting Jesus’ Actual Birth Day?
Probably not very. Again, we have no way of knowing for sure when Jesus was born. But that’s not really the point here. What’s important is the thought process behind how the early Church arrived at December 25th as the date. And as we see from these early writings, the date seems to come from Christian and Jewish traditions, not from an attempt to coopt pagan celebrations.
But what about some of those other pagan celebrations like Saturnalia and Sol Invictus? Didn’t they pre-date the Christians? And wouldn’t the early Christians have a motive to steal the dates to aid in making converts of these religions? In the next two posts, we’ll look at the origin of these two Roman festivals and see if the dates do indeed lead us to December 25th.