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The Date of Christmas

There are claims that the date of Christmas was a pagan holiday that was copied or adopted by the early Church. Even though Scripture does not explicitly state a date, there is actually enough data there along with Tradition to arrive at late December.


I will not repeat here the arguments for Christmas being in late December on the Gregorian calendar since they are easily accessible. If interested, see the short article “Christmas Was Never a Pagan Holiday” by Marian T. Horvat or, for a more comprehensive treatment, the video “Yes, Jesus was born on Dec 25!” by Dr Taylor Marshall.


Here I will mention two points that are often overlooked. The first is a general consideration that does not actually apply to the date of Christmas but is worth mentioning. The second is specifically about the date of Christmas.


Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 14th-century icon
Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 14th-century icon

1. Who Is Copying Whom?


Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the date of Christmas was copied from some pagan feast. And?


There are many parallels between the ancient religions. Taking the academic approach of tracing who copied whom and when is practically impossible since written history mostly stops at around 3000 BC and dating before that has too many uncertainties. The argument “all religions have similarities, therefore none of them are true” is a rather massive leap in logic. A more realistic possibility is a single source that pre-dates all that and the Christian view conveniently fits what we see.


If one considers the Christian view to be true or at least a possibility, then Adam and Even had whatever infused knowledge God had given them and after the Fall, whether intentionally or unintentionally or accidentally-on-purpose, some knowledge got partially altered or lost over time. God also revealed things to prophets and mystics throughout history, some of which also got altered or lost. And since then it is apparent that various parties copied each other, which explains the divergences and similarities.


Look at the Christian calendar and whatever pagan calendars out there and one can find something on every day. Even if coincident feasts imply some historical link, so what if Christendom took back and reformed something that was previously usurped by pagans? If someone stole your bike, there is nothing immoral about “stealing” it back. Even if certain aspects were pagan in origin, so what? What one does is important but why is more important.


If, as Christians, some non-Christian resemblance or connection is reason enough to stop doing or using something, then one will have to ban everything. After all, what in this world hasn’t been tainted? To ban everything is the mentality of a pseudo-fundamentalist pharisaical moron.


The commonsensical approach would be to ban the bad aspects, maintain the good aspects and everything in between is arguable—that is, they can be banned or reformed to fit Christian thought. The point is that “Christians copied XYZ”, even if true, is a weak argument to begin with because why one does something is important.


2. Christmas in Late December Avoids Calendar Weirdness


The Gregorian calendar currently in use is basically the Julian calendar with corrections given by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. Obviously, it was not in use at the time of Christ. Nonetheless, if the Gregorian calendar is ultimately the corrected calendar to be used, then it must somehow “work”.


Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Christ was born in July (if one retroactively applies the Gregorian calendar). Do we begin the new year immediately and in effect wipe over five months off the calendar? Or do we wait five months? Either option is weird.


If, however, Christ was born in late December (specifically December 25) and 1 AD does not begin until days later, then it avoids wiping days off the calendar. And although not switching immediately is also a bit weird, there is a reason for that since Jewish boys were circumcised on their eighth day. After His conception and birth, Christ’s circumcision and formal naming is the next “milestone”, perhaps a foreshadowing and affirmation of His salvific mission which requires His suffering and death.


Also, one does not turn 1 year old until the end of the first year after birth. If the new year began on Christ’s birth, then His first year would be in 1 AD but He would not turn 1 year old until 1 January 2 AD. If it was anyone else, it would not matter since that is just the way we count.


However, if this is the Person we are basing our calendar on, then it looks weird. By being born towards the end of the year but without immediately beginning a new year, most of His first year is in 1 AD and his first birthday is also in 1 AD. This arrangement is much neater without messing up the calendar, and is something a human would probably not think of.


This is hardly the most important reason for Christ showing up when He did, but it is clear that God is not stupid and thinks of everything.

 

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