With the advent of the personal computer, people today have access to far more information than they ever had before. Consequently, we are hearing more and more people assert the historical fact that December 25th is not the actual birthday of the historical Jesus. Some highlight this fact merely for historical interest, while others try to use this information in an attempt to stump us and somehow undermine our Christian faith.
In response, we can simply say that it doesn’t matter what time of year the actual birthday of Jesus is — and this would be basically true. However, it would be wrong of us to say that it doesn’t matter what time of year we celebrate Jesus’ birth, because it really does matter what time of year we Christians have chosen to celebrate it.
Since our Christian faith draws from both Hebrew spirituality and Pagan spirituality, we would miss the wonderful meaning gleaned from the nature-wisdom of our Pagan roots if we dismissed the traditional Christian date for celebrating the birth of Jesus. In fact, by dismissing the date of December 25th as completely irrelevant to our Christian faith, because the historical Jesus was probably born sometime in spring or autumn, I am convinced we will lose the deep meaning of celebrating Jesus’ birth on the particular date of December 25th.
So, knowing that the historical Jesus was not born in December at all, why is it important to our Christian faith to celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th? Well, the answer to this question has everything to do with the winter solstice on December 21st and the spirituality associated with the winter solstice.
From the earliest days of human society we can observe the highest reverence and adoration for the Sun depicted in carvings and paintings. And this made sense because the Sun would rise each day, bringing light, vision, warmth, and security. It was credited as daily saving humanity from the dark, blind, cold night which was filled with all kinds of nocturnal predators. Therefore, the Sun was understood as being the physical representation of the unseen Creator God. Furthermore, the Sun Disk image (often depicted with wings) was seen as the image of the invisible God, and it was called the Light of the World, the Savior of the World, and literally the Sun of God. However, ancient people understood the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year) to be the death of the Sun, betrayed on the longest night of midwinter and killed by the darkness.
As we all know, the Sun rises and sets each day more south than the day before as we approach the winter solstice. Also, the Sun appears to the human eye to perceivably stop moving south for three days from December 22nd through December 24th. Then on December 25th the birthday of the Sun of God was celebrated by ancient peoples, because they perceived the Sun to begin moving north on the 25th. However, the final victory of the Light over darkness was not celebrated until the spring equinox, when the days would become longer than the nights and the world would spring into full bloom out of the death of wintertime.
As a result, December 25th was the official birthday of the Sun of God within a variety of ancient civilizations, and the spring equinox was the official victory day of the Sun. Moreover, in the ancient pre-Christian world, December 25th was the birthday of Ra-Horus for the Egyptians, of Mithra for the Persians, of Sol Invictus for the Romans, and so on. In fact, the season of the winter solstice for the Romans was a time of festivities, lighting candles, gift-giving, etc. Also, for the Romans, December 25th was called “Natalis Solis Invicti” meaning “Nativity of the Invincible Sun.”
After the life and ministry of the historical Jesus, the great movement inspired by him interacted with the Pagan Gentile world, performing good works and acts of charity according to the grace and love taught by Jesus. In the process, these Christians, inspired by the Holy Spirit, synthesized Hebrew spirituality with Pagan spirituality. As the Church of Jesus Christ moved out into the Pagan world, it incorporated various Pagan symbols, metaphors, philosophies and practices. And celebrating the birth of Christ on December 25th is an excellent example of this.
Additionally, and interestingly, the Sun Disk image continues today within Christian art and worship. For instance, the halo around the head of Jesus in Christian art is a remnant of the Sun Disk image. The cross with a circle around it is a remnant of this as well. Also, the round Holy Communion wafers are essentially representations of the Sun Disk which have literally become for us Christians spiritual ‘Son’ Disks.
So, yes, the historical Jesus was not literally born on December 25th. However, for us Christians, December 25th is the great celebration of the birth of the Christ Jesus of our faith — the Son of God, our Lord and Savior, and Light of the World. This is because the way and truth and life of the historical Jesus is God’s Light and salvation for us and the entire world. Jesus’ way of love, truth of grace and life of the Spirit constitute the essential heart of God for universal salvation and eternally new life.
As it says in the Holy Bible:
“For you who revere my name, the Sun of Righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” — (Malachi 4:2)
“By the tender mercy of our God, the Dawn from on high will break upon us, to give Light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” — (Luke 1:78-79)
Because of all this, we can hold our heads high and boldly celebrate December 25th as The Nativity of Christ our Lord. Fully knowing that December 25th is not the literal birthday of Jesus, we can nevertheless celebrate the birth of Christ Jesus at this special time of year during the winter solstice. And we can be free to celebrate it with all the other Pagan traditions that the Christian faith has absorbed.
Although we associate Santa Claus with Saint Nicholas, the truth is that the Santa mythology borrows much more from the Germanic and Scandinavian solstice celebration of the 12 days of Yule. At this time of year, these people would bring evergreens into their homes and light candles. They also told the story of the great celestial hunting party of Odin, who was said to ride across the sky leaving treats in boots, shoes and stockings hung near the fire.
Yes, as Christians, we can be free to enjoy the Spirit of Christmastime in all of its various biblical and non-biblical representations. The actual star of Christmas may be Sirius in the constellation of Virgo (pointing to the Sun’s rise on December 25th), but to us Christians the star of Christmas is the Star of Bethlehem (pointing to the birth of Christ our Lord). The Christmas tree and wreaths may come from our Pagan spiritual heritage, but for us Christians these symbols are a Christo-Pagan synthesis of symbolic meaning. The mythological story of Santa Claus may be drawn primarily from Odin’s annual Wild Hunt, but for us Christians Santa represents the Spirit of Christmas that is in full agreement with the spiritual heart of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.
Happy birthday, Lord Christ, and may you be born anew within our hearts this year…
Merry Christmas Everyone!