Christmas may be a festivity for people all across the globe but there was a time when it was actually banned by law. This festival has always been surrounded in controversies since ancient times even among the Christians. The main issue with lack of a proper date arose because Jews and Christians unlike the Romans in the 1st century did not recognize birthdays. The famous book Flavius Josephus of the Antiquity of the Jews Against Apion-II, written around CE 94, states “Nay indeed, the law does not permit us to make festivals at the births of our children, and thereby afford occasion of drinking to excess: but it ordains that the very beginning of our education should be immediately directed to sobriety.”
One of the foremost theologist and Christian scholar Origen Adamantius of Alexandria in VIII 3.2 of Homilies on Leviticus says “Not one from all the saints is found to have celebrated a festive day or a great feast on the day of his birth. No one is found to have had joy on the day of the birth of his son or daughter. Only sinners rejoice over this kind of birthday….the saints not only do not celebrate a festival on their birthdays but filled with the Holy Spirit, they curse the day.”
The Bishop of Salamis, Epiphanius (death AD 403) mentioned “Greeks, I mean idolaters, celebrate this day on the eighth before the Kalends of January (25 December), which Romans call Saturnalia….For this division between the signs of the zodiac, which is a solstice, comes on the eighth before the Kalends of January, and the day begins to lengthen because the light is receiving its increase. And it completes a period of thirteen days until the eighth before the Ides of 6 January, the day of Christ’s birth.” In his book Panarion, Epiphanius says in the chapter Refutation of All the Heresies,” IV.22.5-6; IV.24.1: “For Christ was born in the month of January, that is, on the eighth before the Ides of January—in the Roman calendar this is the evening of January fifth, at the beginning of January sixth.”
Christmas is mentioned in since AD 129 when a roman bishop decreed “In the Holy Night of the Nativity of our Lord and Saviour, all shall solemnly sing the Angel’s hymn.”
Sextus Julius Africanus posulated his theory “Sextus Julius Africanus’s Chronographiai” in 2nd century that Jesus was concieved on 25 March and was born on 25 December. In those days the church celebrated 25 March as the Feast of Annunciation.
But historians such as Thomas Talley, Louis Duchesne and various others hold the stand that Emperor Aurelian in AD 274 started a festival for Sol Invictus, the unconquered sun. Sol Invictus was the official sun god of the Romans and was an officially recognized religion.
The importance of 25 December is first mentioned in a Chronography of 354 AD, where the calendar Calendar of Philocalus mentions “N INVICTI CM XXX,” presumably Natalis Invicti for the birth of the syrian sun god Sol.
The first references to birth of Jesus is mentioned in the chronography of ‘Disposition of Martyrs’ of the Roman as “natus Christus in Betleem Iudeae,” (Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea).
Julian calendar marked 25 December as the winter solstice. In Chapter 9.3.3 of the book “On Architecture,” it says “This time for the shortness of the days, is called Bruma (winter) and the days Brumales.” Historians of that era considered 25 December to be the day when the new sun comes along “a novo sole, ed est a bruma,” as mentioned in XXI.13 of the book De Die Natali.
Various customs such as the Christmas tree, burning of logs are said to have been adopted from various cultures. The burning of logs is said to have been in vogue in the Germanic pre-Christian times since stone and bronze ages.
In the Victorian era of 1647, when England was ruled by the Puritan Parliament, it put a ban on the Christmas feast established by the Anglican church by stating it to be “a popish festival with no biblical justification”. Similarly, the pilgrims of New England stood against Christmas being celebrated in America in colonial times. The Puritans outlawed Christmas in Boston in 1659 which stayed so until a British governor Edmund Andros changed the law in 1681. During that time the fine to celebrate Christmas was five shillings. The US Congress did not officiate Christmas as a holiday until 1870.
Since the early 2000s, various big American corporations like The Home Depot Walmart, GAP, Starbucks etc have been in controversies for promoting Hanukkah openly and sidelining the verbiage “Christmas”.
Various countries across the world have been boycotting Chrismas too. Tajikistan’s education ministry outlawed Christmas tree, festive meals and banned Santa Claus in 2014. Brunei too banned Christmas. Christmas is celebrated secretly in Saudi Arabia. In 2013 North Korea and South Korea had a tussle over a Christmas tree at their borders as North Korea is strongly against Christianity. Fidel Castro had banned the festival in Cuba since 1969 and Pope John Paull II had to personally visit and persuade Castro to declare it as a national holiday in 1998. Somalia banned Christmas celebrations in 2013 and celebration of the Gregorian New Year since 2015 as it considers itself to be a Muslim country.
China banned Christianity in 1949. It does not fine or punish people for celebrating it but it does not consider it as a national holiday either. People are not allowed to sing Christmas carols on street. The Modern College of Northwest University, China in 2014 banned Christmas and made their students compulsorily watch three hours propaganda films including philosophies of Confucious. Various provinces of China have banned the celebration of Xmas even in Kindergarten.
It can thus be concluded that there is ample documented evidence of 25 December being adopted into the Christianity with its roots in Paganism. Even the year of Jesus’s birth is ambiguous. Jesus was born during the reign of King Herod and the Star of Bethelem was visibile in the night sky.
Bulmer-Thomas in his paper titled “The Star of Bethlehem” in the quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 33, No.4/Dec goes against the jewish astronomer and astrologer Masha’ Allah (762-815 AD) from Baghdad that the star of Bethlehem was the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn that took place in 7 BC. The research paper concludes that The ‘star’ was a single object and it was the same seen in Bethlehem. The star ‘went before’ them as they went to Bethlehem. He notes the fact that Chinese and Babylonian records mention an astronomical event. He notes that Matthew 2:I-12 says that the Magi in their journey from the east to Jerusalem and Bethlehem were tracking the motion of the planet. He points out in reference to a paper by Lewis and Short in 1879 that it must have been ‘Jupiter’, Latin: Servator, meaning Saviour as they were seeking ‘King of Jews’ and Jews always considered Jupiter as the most regal planet. But the doubt arises yet still as the Babylonian astronomers observed Jupiter and Saturn conjunction in 7 BC, the conjunction of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in 6 BC and comet in 5 BC. The paper interestingly refers to the stated by Rabbi Abrabanel and later Messiah-Haggadah “A star shall come out of the Jacob and the fifth great abundance, a start shall shine forth from the East of for fifteen days… in the seventh work, and at the start of the seventh Messia is to be expected.” The paper concludes that this statement is similar to works of other Midrashim and the Babylonians would have been aware of the birth of the special person two years after the star conjunction happened.
The paper finally concludes in consulation with Dr Bernard Yallop, Superintended of the Nautical Almanac Office, Royal Greenwich Observatory, that the Magi would have commenced their journey at the end of 5 BC May and Jupiter was in its first stationary point during that time, as a result it can be determined that Jesus was born in the fourth week of September in 5 BC. The letter mentions that it is reasonable as it was the time when Herod was massacaring children of 2 years and under before this death in March, 4 BC.
Thus even though Jesus existed, his date of birth shall need more scientific research.