The Birthday Of The Sun Was Selected


“The early Christians, who attributed to Christ not only the title (Kyrios) but also many other honors that the pagans paid to their ‘divine’ emperors, naturally felt inclined to honor the birth of the Saviour. In most places the commemoration of Christ’s birth was included in the Feast of the Epiphany (Manifestations) on January 6, one of the oldest annual feasts.

“Soon after the end of the last great persecution, about the year 330, the Church of Rome definitely assigned December 25 for the celebration of the birth of Christ. For a while, many Eastern Churches continued to keep other dates, but toward the end of the fourth century the Roman custom became universal.

“No official reason has been handed down on ecclesiastical documents for the choice of this date. Consequently, various explanations have been given to justify the celebration of the Lord’s nativity on this particular day. Some early Fathers and writers claimed that December 25 was the actual date of Christ’s birth . .

“It was expressly stated in Rome that the actual date of the Saviour’s birth was unknown and that different traditions prevailed in different parts of the world.

“A second explanation was of theological-symbolic character. Since the Bible calls the Messiah the ‘Sun of righteousness’ (Malachi 4:2), it was argued that His birth had to coincide with the beginning of a new solar cycle, that is, He had to be born at the time of the winter solstice . . This explanation, though attractive in itself, depends on too many assumptions that cannot be proved and lacks any basis of historical certitude.

“There remains then this explanation, which is the most probable one, and held by most scholars in our time: the choice of December 25 is influenced by the fact that the Romans, from the time of Emperor Aurelian (275), had celebrated the feast of the sun god (Sol Invictus: the Unconquered Sun) on that day. December 25 was called the ‘Birthday of the Sun,’ and great pagan religious celebrations of the Mithras cult were held all through the empire. What was more natural than that

the Christians celebrate the birth of Him Who was the ‘Light of the World’ and the true ‘Sun of righteousness’ on this very day? The popes seem to have chosen December 25 precisely for the purpose of inspiring the people to turn from the worship of a material sun to the adoration of Christ the Lord. This thought is indicated in various writings of contemporary authors.

“It has sometimes been said that the Nativity is only a ‘Christianized pagan festival.’ However, the Christians of those early centuries were keenly aware of the difference between the two festivals—one pagan and one Christian—on the same day. The coincidence in the date, even if intended, does not make the two [p. 62] celebrations identical. Some newly converted Christians who thought- lessly retained external symbols of the sun worship on Christmas Day were immediately and sternly reproved.”— Francis X. Weiser, Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1958), 60-62.

Christmas, Easter, and Halloween

by Vance Ferrell

 

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