According to popular tradition, Christmas is celebrated on 25th December to honour the birth of Jesus Christ.However, no records exist in the Bible or elsewhere to suggest that Jesus was actually born on this date, which raises the important question – why is Christmas celebrated on 25th December? In fact, the selection of this date has its root in pagan traditions. The Catholic Encyclopaedia admits "there is no month in the year to which respectable authorities have not assigned Christ's birth" (Catholic Encyclopaedia). There are, however, a number of reasons to suggest that Jesus was probably not born in December. Firstly, Luke 2:8 states that on the night of Jesus' birth "there were also in that same country shepherds living out of doors and keeping watches in the night over their flocks." Many scholars agree that this would have been unlikely in December, as shepherds would have been keeping their flock under cover during the cold winter months. Secondly, it is written in the Bible that Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem to register in a Roman census (Luke 2:1-4). However, such censuses were not taken in winter, when temperatures often dropped below freezing and roads were in poor condition. Since it appears unlikely that Jesus was born on 25th December, it raises the logical question of why Christmas is celebrated on this date. The answer points back to the Romans' pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. Three celebrations in particular took place around December 25 - the Bacchanalia, the Saturnalia, and the birthday of the Sun God, Mithra (Catholic Encyclopedia). The Bacchanalia was a time of celebrating Bacchus, the god of wine, while Saturnalia honoured Saturn, the god of time. Lastly, followers of the cult of Mithra celebrated his birthday on 25th December, which was the most holy day of the year for many Romans. When King Constantine converted to Christianity in the fourth century, he had quite a challenge ahead of him with regard to converting an empire full of pagans. It was therefore decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus on a date that was already sacred according to pagan traditions. So as a compromise with paganism and in an attempt to give the pagan holidays Christian significance, it was simply decided that the birthday of the sun god would also be the birthday of the son of God. The Catholic Encyclopaedia quotes an early Christian with saying, "O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born . . . Christ should be born" (Catholic Encyclopedia).
By April Holloway
See more at: http://www.ancient-origins.net/