Whose idea was it to have Christmas in the first place? Why December 25, a day no one could prove was Jesus’ birthday? Turkey dinner, holiday cards, decorated trees, mistletoe, carols, Santa Claus—who came up with all these traditions?
Church fathers first suggested December 25 as a good day to celebrate the nativity early in the fourth century, in the hope of eclipsing the festi
vities of a rival religion they felt threatened Christianity.
For two centuries after Christ was born, the actual day of the event was unknown, and in truth, few people cared. Death days counted more at the time than birthdays. Religious leaders felt that, since Christ was divine, his birth date didn’t matter. In fact, the Church taught that observing Christ’s birthday was sinful and demeaned Christianity.
Theologians, however, disagreed and proposed several different dates: January 1, January 6, March 25, and May 20. Of all these days, the latter one became the most popular because of the statement of Luke that the shepherds who received the announcement of Christ’s birth were watching their sheep by night. Shepherds guarded flocks day and night only during the spring lambing season. At all other times the sheep were penned and unguarded.
The final straw that forced the Church to legitimize December 25 as the day of the Lord’s birth came about because of the growing popularity of Christianity’s major rival religion, Mithraism. Pagan Romans, still in the majority, celebrated Natalis Solis Invicti, the “birthday of the Invincible Sun God,” Mithras. This cult came into existence in Persia and took root with the Romans in the first century B.C. By A. D. 274, Mithraism was so popular with the masses that the emperor proclaimed it the official state religion.
Church fathers decided the time had come to do something about their rival. So, to give their converts a chance to enjoy a celebration they could take pride in, Christ’s birth was officially recognized. Of course, by their dictate, the day was to be one of prayer at a special mass. The celebration of Christmas took hold and stuck. Upon the occasion of the baptism of Roman emperor Constantine, Christianity was proclaimed the state religion.
I'd like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year.