Origins & Traditions ☃ Christmas in December

Why do we celebrate Christmas in December?

Today, Christians all over the world celebrate and some accept December 25 as the day of the birth of Christ. However, there is nowhere in the Bible that actually indicates the date of his birth. Before this, it had long been a tradition to celebrate winter festivals. The winter solstice was a time of great celebration that the midpoint of winter had passed and the nights would now be getting shorter.

In Rome, the festival of Saturnalia was celebrated in honor of Saturn, the god of Agriculture. Food and drink flowed in abundance and at this time, servants and masters exchanged roles for one month. Businesses were closed and everyone took part in the celebrations, including exchanging gifts with each other. The Romans also celebrated Juvenalia, in honor of children, during the solstice, and on December 25, members of the upper classes celebrated the birthday of Mithra.

In the 4th century, the Church decided to start celebrating the birth of Jesus. Up until this point, Easter was the only Christian celebration and Jesus’ birth was never a consideration. Pope Julius I decreed December 25 to be the Feast of Nativity — the day on which the church would officially recognize the birth of Christ. It is widely thought that this day was chosen so that other winter solstice celebrations, already occurring during this period, would be absorbed as a part of the celebrations of the birth of Jesus. This would be more agreeable to the vast majority of people than cancelling Saturnalia and other secular celebrations altogether.

Today, Christmas is, let’s face it, a commercial success. But we owe all the gift-giving, partying, lights, and feasting to the pagans and early Romans who existed well over 2,000 years ago.

Io Saturnalia!

Saturnalia  by Antoine-Francois Callet (1741-1823). Oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

Saturnalia by Antoine-Francois Callet (1741-1823). Oil on canvas.
Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

Next time: The Origin of Santa Claus

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11 replies

      • Oh, by now means let me keep you from saying what you want to on the subject of reindeer. I have nothing against reindeer, I just envy them a little. Some humans seem to think they can fly (a guy named Rudolph in particular). I guess it’s envy. Everybody knows Rudolph, but a beaver that blogs (a miracle of equal proportions I would say) is all but unheard of:(
        Anyway, I look forward to your post on Santa!

        Like

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