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December 04, 2009

Comments

I wonder does the book gives the explanation for the name "Christmas" which is from the RCC sacrament of the mass done on that day, the Christ Mass.

Thank you for the recommendation Melinda!

The book does briefly address the Mass of Christ. Much of the information from the general history section is posted at: http://www.celebratingholidays.com/christmas_history.html

Merry Christmas!

And it's possible that the pagans actually attempted to co-opt December 25 from Christians when the Roman Emperor Aurelian established a holiday in 274 AD. Further explanation of this is in the book.

Can somebody summarize that further explanation? The Julian calendar dates from 45 BCE and makes 25 Dec the winter solstice. So how does what happens some 300 years later come into it?

RonH.

Hmmm, is there a church today that celebrates the conception of Christ on March 25th?

RonH wrote:

"Can somebody summarize that further explanation? The Julian calendar dates from 45 BCE and makes 25 Dec the winter solstice. So how does what happens some 300 years later come into it?"

I discuss some of the other relevant data in an article here. William Tighe, one of the sources I cite, comments:

"In the Julian calendar, created in 45 B.C. under Julius Caesar, the winter solstice fell on December 25th, and it therefore seemed obvious to Jablonski and Hardouin that the day must have had a pagan significance before it had a Christian one. But in fact, the date had no religious significance in the Roman pagan festal calendar before Aurelian’s time, nor did the cult of the sun play a prominent role in Rome before him....And the pagan feast which the Emperor Aurelian instituted on that date in the year 274 was not only an effort to use the winter solstice to make a political statement, but also almost certainly an attempt to give a pagan significance to a date already of importance to Roman Christians. The Christians, in turn, could at a later date re-appropriate the pagan 'Birth of the Unconquered Sun' to refer, on the occasion of the birth of Christ, to the rising of the 'Sun of Salvation' or the 'Sun of Justice.'"

As I explain in my article, the December 25 date probably was chosen by Christians for a variety of reasons and for different reasons in different places and times. Even if some or all of those Christians were motivated by the winter solstice, that motivation probably was only one factor involved, and the Christian intent would have been to compete with the most significant aspects of paganism while accommodating some less significant aspects of it. It's not as though you have to be a pagan in order to see some significance in the time of year when the amount of daylight lengthens. The fact that pagans recognized such things doesn't prove that such a recognition is inherently pagan or wrong.

"is there a church today that celebrates the conception of Christ on March 25th?" -BillyHW

Is that a trick question? Your link is broken so I can't be sure. But obviously the Annunciation is celebrated on March 25. I suspect, though, that its date is set from Christmas and not the other way round.

The first Christmas probably did not happen on Dec 25th. I would guess the sheep would be in the fold in winter, not abiding in the fields with the shepherds. There also would probably be no room in the stable, because the animals would be there. The inns, on the other hand, would probably be empty, for who would be traveling in the cold wet winter.

March 25 was being used by Christians, in multiple contexts, in the ante-Nicene church. Some Christians assigned Jesus' death to March 25. Some assigned His conception or birth to that date. It was often believed that some men, such as prophets, were conceived or born on the same day they died. Thus, if Jesus was crucified on March 25, some people would estimate His conception or birth at March 25. For those who estimated His conception at March 25, His birth would be estimated at December 25. A December 25 birthdate for Christ was just one date among others that was circulating, but it does seem to have been one of the early dates proposed, largely or entirely independent of pagan influences. It later became popularized as the mainstream estimate for Jesus' birth. It seems that paganism had more of a role in the popularization of the Christian use of December 25 than it had in the origination of it. And even that popularizing role seems to have been less than people often suggest. Some Christians were partially motivated to choose December 25 in order to compete with paganism by using a day that already had Christian significance and natural significance (the lengthening of daylight) that was independent of paganism. Notice the italicized words in my last sentence. Those qualifiers are often neglected in discussions of this issue.

Regarding an inn in Luke 2, see here. Luke probably isn't referring to an inn.

I've heard a few arguments about what the "room in the inn" was. Whatever it was has to take these two implications of the Gospel story into account:

1) It was a place for travelers.
2) It would have been preferable to a stable.

Aside from these points, my argument above is completely agnostic about what the "room in the inn" was. It seems to me that any plausible rendition of "room in the inn" will give you something more likely to be available in winter than other times of year.

On the flip side, there is a third implication of the Gospel story:

3) The stable was available as an alternative to the "room in the inn".

The stable would not have been available in winter, since it would have been crowded with animals.

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