Pastor’s Corner – December 14, 2014

LITURGY CORNER 15
with Fr. James

Is Christmas Pagan?

Many Catholics gleefully repeat the old canard that our celebration of Christmas on December 25 is simply a pagan feast that was re-invented as Christian. But is that true? Probably not.

Historians and biblical scholars agree that there is no historical basis for December 25 as Jesus’ actual birth date. However, there was a theological basis as to why Christians picked this date.

Coming out of the 2nd century controversies as to the dating of Easter, Latin Christians concluded (mistakenly) that Jesus died on March 25 in AD 29. Following a notion of “the integral age” – that the great prophets died on the anniversary of their birth or conception – they then figured that the date of the Annunciation was also March 25. Since Jesus was the perfect human, his gestation would be a perfect period of 9 months, which brings us to December 25.

But what about the Roman feast of Sol Invictus? It was instituted by the pagan Emperor Aurelius in AD 274. Rather than Christians appropriating an ancient pagan feast, it may well be that part of Aurelius’ motivation was to taunt Christians instead. Later on, of course, Christians could incorporate the theme of the sun applied to Christ, who is indeed the “Sun of Righteousness” prophesied by Malachi 3:20.

There is no record of the actual date of Jesus’ birth. No matter what biblical scholars and historians make of this fact, what is certain is that Jesus was conceived and born, and Christians through the ages have considered these events as worthy of solemn celebration. So the Annunciation (March 25) celebrates his virginal conception and Christians celebrate the first visible manifestation of the one prophesied to be called the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:31-32) on Christmas. So, no, Christmas is not a pagan festival that has been “baptized”, but a Christian feast through and through.

 

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