Why Christmas is not pagan in origin
At this time of the year (and at any time of the year), there can be the charge that Christmas is originally a pagan festival because two Roman pagan festivals took place around December 25th every year: Saturnalia (in honour of the god Saturn) and Die Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun) and. The charge goes further to state that, when Christianity became the dominant religion in Rome (in the 4th century), the Church chose December 25th in order to replace these big pagan festivals with a big Christian one (the birthday of Christ) and so the people would forget about these pagan festivals.
In regards to Saturnalia, this was a festival that began on December 17th and carried on until December 23rd, at the latest, which is still too early for December 25th. If there was any attempt to replace Saturnalia with Christmas, Christmas would have been set to December 17th or 23rd; not the 25th.
While it is true that the date of December 25th was formally set in 350AD, the date of December 25th for the birth of Christ can be traced back to as early as 204AD in a text written by St Hippolytus of Rome in his Commentary on Daniel. In it, St Hippolytus explicitly mentions that Jesus was born eight days before the Kalends of January (which is December 25th in our modern calendar). In regards to Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun was named an official Roman god in 274AD and the earliest record of Die Natalis Solis Invicti is from 354AD. This means that the date Christmas is NOT based on the date of Die Natalis Solis Invicti because Christmas and it’s date can be traced back further back even before Sol Invictus was declared a Roman god.
The date of December 25th actually came about because March 25th had first been set as the date of Jesus’ conception which we celebrate as the Annunciation; so, nine months after March 25th (when we celebrate Jesus being conceived in Mary’s womb), we celebrate on December 25th the day Jesus was born. The date of March 25th came about because Jesus was conceived six months after John the Baptist was and there is a way to determine that John the Baptist’s father (Zechariah) was told of John the Baptist’s birth in September as that could have been the time of the year that Zechariah was serving in the Temple.
The Meaning of Christmas
Christmas, when it comes around each year, is the celebration of the event Christ coming into our world being born as a baby. Hopefully, with each year, Christmas can take on a deeper meaning when we reflect on that baby born in a stable in Bethlehem and see in that baby God’s gentle invitation for us to come closer to Him, to believe in Him more and trust even more in Him. God only wants our love and, because of that, He comes first into our world in a very non-threatening way: as a baby. It’s by loving God more that we learn to love as God loves and that’s how God wants to transmit His love to all the world; through us as the fruit of our own personal relationship with God.
Christmas is God’s great love letter to humanity because the letter is Himself in the form of a baby. Even though we, as humans, can be unfaithful, untrustworthy, selfish etc; God still comes among us vulnerable, defenseless and in need. Even if there is some sadness for whatever reason at this time, Christmas is a reminder of the hope we have in this baby who, though appearing little and small, is mightier and stronger than all the forces of evil, sin and death and He will show that in the culmination of His Mission in His Cross, Death and Resurrection which we will celebrate at Easter.
In the meantime, in the midst of all the Christmas lights, hopefully we don’t lose sight of Him who is the true light of Christmas and, among all the joys of this season, we also don’t forget the reason for the joy of this season: Jesus Christ.
May the gift of God’s love, joy and peace in the baby whose birth we celebrate at Christmas touch you all in a special way at Christmas this year.
A very merry, happy and holy Christmas to you all!