Friday, December 02, 2005

Christmas and Christianity

How did December 25th become associated with Christianity? The actual birth date of Jesus is not known. Best guess by some is in the Fall of the 4th century BC. In early Christian times it was celebrated on Jan 6, Apr 21 and May 1. It wasn’t until the 4th century AD that the church decided that Jesus’ birth should be celebrated around the winter solstice which occurs on Dec 21. Seems like a good choice because this is the longest night of the year. Each succeeding day becomes longer providing more light and warmth. There is no evidence, biblical or historical, that Jesus' birthday was celebrated at all before the 4th century AD.

Many other pre-Christian pagan religions honored the birth of their god around that time of year.

In Rome Attis was born in 200 BC, the son of the virgin Nana. He died when crucified on a tree and returned 3 days later. His followers symbolically ate his body in the form of bread.

In Greece Dionysus’ birth was also celebrated on Dec 25th. There was a center of worship for Dionysus in Jerusalem in the 1st century. His body was also symbolically eaten in the form of bread and wine.

In Egypt Osiris was a savior-god who had been worshipped in pre-history. Three wise men announced his birth. Many sayings by Osiris were taken over into the bible. His birthday was celebrated on Dec 25th.

In Persia Mithra was worshipped as a savior, especially among Roman civil servants and soldiers. Mithrism was a direct competitor to Christianity in the 4th century. He was believed to have been born on Dec 25th. It was believed that he was born of virgin, performed miracles, and cast out devils. He celebrated a last supper, had 12 disciples and ascended into heaven around Mar 21st.

Saturnalia was celebrated from Dec 17 to 23rd in the Roman Empire. The early Christian church chose Dec 25th as the birth date of Jesus to coincide with worship of this pagan god.

The Roman Emperor Constantine was largely responsible for the popularity of Christianity. In fact, he decreed that worship for Christianity switch from the seventh day Sabbath (Saturday) to the first day of the week – Sun-day – the day the pagans worshiped the sun.

Christmas as it is celebrated today is more about retail merchandising than the birth of a savior.

No comments: