Why December 25?
December 25. The holiest day of the year.
Isn’t that what the Bible says? This blog has no intention to debunk the Bible, but it might come as a surprise that this date appears nowhere in its pages. The fact is: No Christian scholar can prove or disprove when Jesus was born. More is known when he died than when he was born. There are certain clues that hint at when he was born. It is possible he was born somewhere around September, but again that’s just one of many theories. Let’s focus on what December 25 is. This blog is also not intended to take away from the magic and mystery of Christmas. Rather, it is intended to expand on that magic.
Early Christians had many arguments on when they should celebrate Jesus’s birth and what became known as Christmas—The Feast of Christ. The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25 was in the year 336. This was during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine. A few years later Pope Julius I officially declared this as the date to celebrate the birth of Jesus. They took some clues from the Bible that may or may not be accurate in context. Regardless, the date stuck. There are many who do not accept this theory at face value. In fact, it may have been more politically motivated than religiously motivated.
December 25 may have been chosen because it directly follows the Winter Solstice on December 21. In the northern hemisphere, December 21 is the shortest day of the year with the least sunlight. Pagan Romans referred to the solstice as a midwinter festival called Saturnalia. A day dedicated to the god Saturn.
The Celts use the word Solstice which means “standstill” because the three days around December 21 the sun seems to stand still. The earth seems to falter as the darkness tries to hold on to the sun, leaving nights long and dark.
December 25 is the first day after the Solstice where day becomes noticeably longer. Christians refer to Jesus as the Light of the World. This date may have been incorporated from paganism because of the reference to light.
A day where light triumphs over darkness would appeal to both Christian and pagan.
Believe it or not, this is but one “pagan” ritual that has become a standard part of traditional Christianity. In many cultures, indigenous rituals were incorporated into the Church as a means to make Christianity more acceptable. Also, as indigenous peoples throughout the world turned to Christianity, it should come as no surprise that they would naturally merge their culture with Christianity.
It might also surprise you to know that many saints were rebranded. Originally many were also pagan gods and goddesses. This is very true with some Celtic gods and goddesses. Saint Bridget is one example. Many people adore Saint Bridget. Before she became a saint, she was the daughter of the Dagda, one of the higher Celtic gods. But more on her later. February 1 is the Feast of Saint Bridget and the first Celtic quarter day of the year, February 1.
According to the Celts, the year is split into quarters: February 1, May 1, August 1, and November 1. There are also two solstices: Winter (December 21) and summer (June 21).
Standing stone sites like Stonehenge in England or the Newgrange Stone Age Passage Tomb in Ireland celebrate quarter days and solstices. Likewise, America’s Stonehenge in New Hampshire also holds its own tradition of welcoming the light that marks these days. These sites are designed for the sun to hit a specific marker stone on a set date much like a sundial. Likewise, Newgrange’s passage allows the sun to enter around the solstices but no other time of the year. People of millennia past were exceptionally “modern” in their understanding of calculating and understanding these dates and designing structures to mark them.
Regardless of how you wish to approach December 25, it is a significant day. It is well established in the Christian Christmas tradition. That shows no sign of ever changing. It is helpful to note its origin and reflect on the fact that Christmas is far broader than the traditions we celebrate today. Modern society has a lot to thank our ancestors for. Our society is built on a strong foundations of millennia of knowledge.
This season, however you wish to recognize it, we at Jamie Poole Books, wish to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Solstice!