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December 25 as Christmas

Finally, in about 200 C.E., a Christian teacher in Egypt makes reference to the date Jesus was born. According to Clement of Alexandria, several different days had been proposed by various Christian groups. Surprising as it may seem, Clement doesn’t mention December 25 at all. Clement writes: “There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the 28th year of Augustus, and in the 25th day of [the Egyptian month] Pachon [May 20 in our calendar]…And treating of His Passion, with very great accuracy, some say that it took place in the 16th year of Tiberius, on the 25th of Phamenoth [March 21]; and others on the 25th of Pharmuthi [April 21] and others say that on the 19th of Pharmuthi [April 15] the Savior suffered. Further, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi [April 20 or 21].”...

The earliest mention of December 25 as Jesus’ birthday comes from a mid-fourth-century Roman almanac that lists the death dates of various Christian bishops and martyrs. The first date listed, December 25, is marked: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae: “Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea.”(3) In about 400 C.E., Augustine of Hippo mentions a local dissident Christian group, the Donatists, who apparently kept Christmas festivals on December 25, but refused to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6, regarding it as an innovation...

Despite its popularity today, this theory of Christmas’s origins has its problems. It is not found in any ancient Christian writings, for one thing. Christian authors of the time do note a connection between the solstice and Jesus’ birth: The church father Ambrose (c. 339–397), for example, described Christ as the true sun, who outshone the fallen gods of the old order. But early Christian writers never hint at any recent calendrical engineering; they clearly don’t think the date was chosen by the church. Rather they see the coincidence as a providential sign, as natural proof that God had selected Jesus over the false pagan gods.

It’s not until the 12th century that we find the first suggestion that Jesus’ birth celebration was deliberately set at the time of pagan feasts. A marginal note on a manuscript of the writings of the Syriac biblical commentator Dionysius bar-Salibi states that in ancient times the Christmas holiday was actually shifted from January 6 to December 25 so that it fell on the same date as the pagan Sol Invictus holiday.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Bible scholars spurred on by the new study of comparative religions latched on to this idea....

There is another way to account for the origins of Christmas on December 25: Strange as it may seem, the key to dating Jesus’ birth may lie in the dating of Jesus’ death at Passover. This view was first suggested to the modern world by French scholar Louis Duchesne in the early 20th century and fully developed by American Thomas Talley in more recent years. But they were certainly not the first to note a connection between the traditional date of Jesus’ death and his birth.

Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus died was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar. March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception. Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.

This idea appears in an anonymous Christian treatise titledOn Solstices and Equinoxes, which appears to come from fourth-century North Africa. The treatise states: “Therefore our Lord was conceived on the eighth of the kalends of April in the month of March [March 25], which is the day of the passion of the Lord and of his conception. For on that day he was conceived on the same he suffered.” Based on this, the treatise dates Jesus’ birth to the winter solstice.

Augustine, too, was familiar with this association. InOn the Trinity (c. 399–419) he writes: “For he [Jesus] is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since. But he was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th.”

In the East, too, the dates of Jesus’ conception and death were linked. But instead of working from the 14th of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar, the easterners used the 14th of the first spring month (Artemisios) in their local Greek calendar— April 6 to us. April 6 is, of course, exactly nine months before January 6—the eastern date for Christmas. In the East too, we have evidence that April was associated with Jesus’ conception and crucifixion. Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis writes that on April 6, “The lamb was shut up in the spotless womb of the holy virgin, he who took away and takes away in perpetual sacrifice the sins of the world.” Even today, the Armenian Church celebrates the Annunciation in early April (on the 7th, not the 6th) and Christmas on January 6.

Thus, we have Christians in two parts of the world calculating Jesus’ birth on the basis that his death and conception took place on the same day (March 25 or April 6) and coming up with two close but different results (December 25 and January 6).

The War on Christmas

"Happy Holidays?" No

In December of 2021 I posted on Twitter:

Note to unbelievers: please do not wish me "Happy Holidays". Just don't say anything.

To a Christian, "Happy Holiday" is an insult, an attempt to appear friendly but showing such extreme antipathy that even saying "Christmas" would leave a foul taste in your mouth.

It's sort of like going up to a black person saying "I'm pleased to meet you," then putting one gloves and shaking hands. Just stick to "I'm pleased to meet you."

I know this sounds unmannerly and touchy. Indeed, it requires some mental effort for me to respond this way, because I, like you, have been trained to respond graciously to slights and that the Christian should shrug them off. We are a society where honor and holiness has been redirected. You may insult dress up as Jesus for Halloween, but you may not dress up as Mulan. You may mock Jehovah, but not Allah. Profanity is nothing--- racial slurs must not be seen in print. Indeed, I notice that the very word "profanity" is being lost, with people now using it in place of "obscenity". I think that's because profane language is so common now that people don't realize it could offend anyones at all or offend God, and all that is left is a vague sense that "profanity" means words that offend old-fashioned people and that old-fashioned people are offended by toilet language. Half the concept of the four-letter word is completely gone.

So American Christians have lost the sense that God is Holy, or that anything is Holy. Our church buildings certainly are not. They are built, inside and outside, to look like gyms. My own church is like that. Our funds are very limited, and our origins are with the Puritans, and so we chose practicality. We have a space that is good for proclaiming the Word, but bad for projecting Awe. Our church services cannot help but give us some touches of the Holy. Our music often attains it, and the reading of the Scripture, recitations of traditional creeds, and at times, prayer and preaching. The Holy Spirit is still with us. But Holiness is not our strong point. Even the Holiness denominations don't stand for Holiness; they stand for good behavior.

What American Christians do have is Niceness. We are effeminate, and we believe in being outwardly benevolent and polite, whatever we may say behind people's backs. We want to avoid hurt feelings. We want things to seem peaceful. We want to avoid trouble, by evading trouble--- not by solving problems.

And we have been the Boiled Frog. As the water in the pot is gradually brought to a boil, the frog could jump out at any time, But it is done slowly, so slowly he does not realize it, and so he dies of the heat before he even realizes what is happening. His lifeless body continues to be heated as the temperature rises still further, and he is cooked till he is suitable for the decidedly unfroggy purposes of the chef. The chef does like frogs, remember--- just not in the same way that a frog like frogs. Christians don't realize they are being cooked, killed, and eaten. They don't realize that even when they pass by a beautiful and prosperous episcopalian church with a rainbow banner outside and a notice board telling them that they should come inside and help fight Climate Change.

So let us return to Happy Holidays. Does it sound offensive to me? Not really, unless I think about it. Is it offensive to me? Yes. Those are two different things. Imagine yourself a dignified old man dressed in a suit in 1925 in Alabama, a black man.

  • Is "holy day" what people mean when they say "holiday"?
 No more than "Wotan's Day" is what they mean when they say "Wednesday". 
     A Christian can say "Wednesday", and an anti-Christian can say "holiday" without violating their consciences. 
  • Many, probably most American Christians do not mind it when God is insulted. They not only think it should be tolerated, they don't even have any emotional reaction.