The Xmas Story Part 4

This is from "Heathen Holidays" by Denise Snodgrass - part4


Why did the catholic church choose December 25 for the birth date of Christ? It was chosen in order to compete with the pagan winter solstice festivals. It was not chosen because it is the correct historical date for the birth of Jesus. When was Jesus born? No one knows. There seems to have been too many calendar errors for anyone to be exact. The traditional date of the year 1 A.D. for his birth stands greatly in need of correction. Before the mode of reckoning time "by the year of our Lord," or A.D., which was introduced by Dionysius Exiguus, a Roman, time was computed from the founding of the city of Rome, usually designated by A.U.C. Dionysius made his New Era to begin on the first day of January in the 753rd year from the building of Rome; because in that year he supposed Christ to have been born. St. Matthew says Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King. According to the best authorities this monarch died a short time before the Jewish Passover 750 U.U.C. Someplace the birth of Jesus between the years 748 and 747 A.U.C., this is, 5 and 6 B.C. Others go as far back as 8 B.C.

But the Season in which he was born definitely was not winter. The Gospels tell us that at this time Caesar Augustus had decreed that all the world should be taxed. We may be assured that Rome would not order a census to be taken at the worst possible period for travel; but Luke's account that the shepherds were abiding in the field keeping watch over their flocks by night lets us know that Jesus was born in summer or early fall. Since December is cold and rainy in Judea, it is likely the shepherds would have sought shelter for their flocks at night. So December 25 is no more the correct historical date for the birth of Jesus Christ than any other date.

December 25th was sacred, not only to the pagan Romans, but to the religion from Persia, Mithraism, whose followers worshipped the sun and celebrated its return to strength on that day. Mithras had attained such popularity and favor in the eyes of the emperors that Aurelian proclaimed the cult of Sol Invictus the Roman Empire's official state religion. December 25 fell between the week long feast of the Saturnalia and the Kalends of January, and it coincided more or less closely with all those mid-winter festivals at which the primitive peoples of Europe and Asia had celebrated, from time immemorial, the sun's rebirth at the Winter Solstice.

To the pagans, the Saturnalia were fun. To the "Christians" the Saturnalia were an abomination in homage to a disreputable god who had no existence anyway. The "Christians" were now dedicated to the slow task of converting the pagan Romans. There were many immigrants into the ranks of the Church by this time, but the Church Fathers discovered that they were facing an invasion of pagan customs. Christianity and Paganism began contending, and for a while Mithraism was Christianity's greatest contender. But how did the catholic church convert the pagans with their December 25th sun-worship festival? It became the policy of the church to "transform" pagan festivals wherever possible instead of trying to abolish them and give the ancient practices a "christian" significance. It definitely was a clever trick.

The Church, in choosing December 25th to celebrate the birthday of Christ, would persuade the followers of Mithras to forsake him and turn to Christ as a the true "light of the World." The Catholic Church chose this date to celebrate the rising of the sun of Righteousness that she should thus strive to draw away to His worship the adorers of the god whose symbol and representative was the earthly sun!. The Church Fathers sought to point the pagan festival in worship of the sun toward the "Christian" Sun of Righteousness, and if these could be done then the festival in its turn must of necessity grow worthy of him it celebrated. The Church finally succeeded in taking the merriment, the greenery, the lights, and the gifts from saturn and given them to the babe of Bethlehem.

By choosing December 25th, the indications are, that the Catholic Church grasped the opportunity to turn the people away from a purely pagan observance of the winter solstice to a day of adoration of Christ the Lord. She simply made the old heathen festival of the sun analogous to the birth of the "sun of Righteousness" The birth of Christ as the "Light of the World" was linked to the rebirth of the sun. The Church by making the pagan festival also the Feast of the Nativity, "sanctified" it, and thus as Christianity gained ground slowly but surely changed its ancient worship of the material sun into that of the true Light of the World.

That the new festival should not be lacking in splendor and appeal the days between December 25 and January 6 (the days between the Saturnalia and the Kalends of January) were caught up into one "holy" season, with the birth of the divine Child at the beginning and the coming of the Magi (the three Wise Men) at the end. The days between Christmas and Epiphany became known as the Twelve Nights of Christmas.

The word, "Christmas," came into use through the medieval custom of celebrating MASS at midnight on Christmas Eve, the only time in the year when this was permitted. BECAUSE OF THE OPPOSITION TO THE TRACES OF PAGANISM SURVIVING IN THE CHRISTMAS CUSTOMS, THE CHURCH CREATED SPECIAL MASSES TO BE PERFORMED AT MIDNIGHT, DAYBREAK, AND MORNING. Hence, the word, Christmas.

-to be continued-

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