Dating Christmas
Sunday December 23rd 2007, 3:44 pm
Filed under: Patristics

Word from Carl Sommer, author of We Look for a Kingdom: The Everyday Lives of the Early Christians:

I’m sending you this link now, while it’s still on my mind, because the archaeologist expresses a new iteration of a theory that’s been around for almost two hundred years. The theory is evocative, and unobjectionable in most of its forms, but it is almost certainly false, since our old friend Hippolytus of Rome wrote about celebrating the birth of Christ on December 25 almost a hundred years before the Council of Nicea … I’ll look up the reference from Hippolytus after the New Year. Whatever the origin of the December 25 celebration of Christmas, it clearly predates the Council of Nicea, at least in Rome.

I was unaware of any testimony from Hippolytus, though I knew about Clement of Alexandria and Julius Africanus, and they go back still further. Thanks to Carl for clueing us in.


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Here’s what Hippolytus wrote: “The first coming of our Lord, that in the flesh, in which he was born in Bethlehem, took place eight days before the Kalends of January [which would be December 25], or Wednesday, in the forty second year of the reign of Augustus…” (Commentary on Daniel, 4:23.) This does not prove that Jesus was born on December 25, but should put to rest the old shibboleth about December 25 being chosen to counteract the pagan festival of Sol Invictus. Sol Invictus did not have a date on the Roman calendar until about 275 A.D., and Hippolytus wrote his Commentary on Daniel at least fifty years earlier. So Merry Christmas, everybody! I think December 25 has a greater likelihood of being Jesus’ actual birthday than any other day that has been put forth.

Comment by Carl Sommer 12.23.07 @ 10:54 pm

Yep, and as I said: Clement and Julius push Dec. 25 much earlier on the timeline (though not in Rome, but Africa).

Comment by mike 12.23.07 @ 11:25 pm

Thanks for passing this along. This myth is extremely widespread even from otherwise trustworthy sources.

Comment by TheGodFearinFiddler 12.24.07 @ 1:04 pm

I’m sure that there were churches celebrating Christmas on Dec. 25 from very early, if not the earliest days. There was, however, an obvious push at the end of the fourth century to make the feast universal and introduce it where it wasn’t customary. This may indeed have been done to supplant the feast of Sol Invictus. As I’ll put it in tonight’s post: both accounts can be true — right along with others, too!

Comment by Mike Aquilina 12.24.07 @ 1:32 pm

Hello…came over here through Godfearin’s Blog.

First off, Merry Christmas!

The way I understand it, the date was chosen as it was the Winter Solstice (back then at least…it shifted over time) and from that day forward, the days grew longer–which makes sense that it would coincide with the feast of the Sol Invictus.

This was the natural day of choice to pick the Incarnation as the day points to Scripture in at least a couple ways:

1. On this day, the “Light overcame the darkness” as the days start to grow longer and longer.

2. This day is the exact opposite of 6/25 (St. John the Baptist’s Feast Day) signifying, “Where He must increase…I must decrease”

In all, I don’t know how important it is to know exactly when the birth of Christ is. We need to celebrate it sometime and now’s as good of time as any other day.

Comment by Dennis 12.25.07 @ 3:15 am

NO.1.luke recorded an angel announced to a man named Zacharias that he and his wife were to have a child 2.Zacharias returned home after his days of service during the 8th month of the hebrew cal.3.thus his son could have been conceived sometime between oct 15 to end of month.4.Elizabeth secluded herself for 5 months..in the 6th month (around march 15) till april 15…the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive Jesus..if this took place around March 25..add 270 days gestation and Marys child would be due on december 25th…also sheperds tend their flock when their ewes give birth..so five months after june 21..the lambing starts mid december..so the shepherds tended to their newborn lambs as the Lamb of God was born on that first Christmas day…

Comment by John Pascendi 12.26.07 @ 9:32 pm



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