An interesting bit of historical sleuthing and reconstruction at Biblical Archaeology Review suggests that claims that Christians chose December 25th as Jesus' birthday because it coincided with pagan celebrations is probably incorrect. In How December 25 Became Christmas, Andrew McGowan examines the evidence for the pagan roots of Christmas and the, well, Christian roots of Christmas. Here is a selection:
"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 titled On 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."
Read the rest by clicking on the title of the article above.
P.S. You will also notice a link in the article for a free e-book on The First Christmas: The Story of Jesus' Birth in History and Tradition. You must give your e-mail address, which obviously will result in subsequent e-mails, but the e-book is quite good. A quick glance over suggests interesting and informative articles, with such fine scholars as Robin M. Jensen, Dale C. Allison Jr.,Steve Mason and Jerome Murphy O'Connor contributing. A Christmas gift for the historians amongst us!
John W. Martens
Follow me on Twitter @johnwmartens.