On December 25th, Christians all over the world celebrate the birthday of Jesus, Christmas. But the stories in the New Testament never talks about the date when Jesus was born. However, there are only two Gospels that talk about the birth of Jesus, Matthew, and Luke. And both of them agree on a lot of things like the place of Jesus’s birth, Bethlehem, they agree on the name of his mom and dad, Joseph and Mary, and they generally agree on the time when he was born, under the reign of Herod the Great. Still, there is no mention when in the clinical year this occurred.
So, why December 25th? Well, a super popular theory today is that the ecclesiastical authorities chose December 25th to coincide with a Roman holiday, either to help spread Christianity or to put a Christian label on an already popular pagan holiday. Thus in this article, we’re going to look a little bit more closely at the theory of the pagan origin of December 25th for Christmas, so that we can try to connect the dots.
By the time Christianity started becoming popular in the third and fourth centuries, the Romans had already been celebrating a massive festival at the end of December for centuries called the Saturnalia. Now, the Saturnalia shows up throughout Roman literature, but no single text describes the festival in its entirety. And to make matters even worse, the ways people celebrated the Saturnalia differed wildly depending on their region or era.
That is to say; if you celebrated it in Italy in 100 BCE, you’re going to celebrate it differently than if you lived in Gaul in 100 CE. The Saturnalia was the festival of god Saturn and was at its height of celebration between 200 BCE and 200 CE. During this time, celebrations began on December 17th, and they could go for either three or seven days, depending on the historical period, and the festivities could include public banquets or sacrifices at local temples of Saturn.
The most significant part of the Saturnalia was private household feasts, and I’m not talking about small kinship groups. Some Roman households were huge and could include the male head of the household called the paterfamilias, along with all his kids, his slaves, and their kids. And such family dinners were often very strange because the masters dined with the salves, an act that was very conspicuous given the nature of class division in Roman society. In other words, it was often a celebration of something special.
In a nutshell, even though we aren’t sure of Jesus’ birth date, some people believe that the old Roman Empire were the ones that fixed the date.
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