Have you ever stopped and asked yourself why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25th?Biblically and historically speaking, there is no reference to the day or month of when Jesus was actually born. However if you read the gospels, we can at least figure out that Jesus was not born in the winter like we celebrate today. How can we at least know that you may ask yourself? The gospel of Luke discusses how an angel appeared to the shepherds who were grazing their flock out in the fields. If it was truly winter time when Jesus was born, the flocks would not have been eating out in the fields. Instead, the flocks would have been penned up and eating the grass that was harvested in the fall.
OK, so we eliminated the fact that Jesus could not have been born in the winter, yet the church has us celebrate his birth in the winter. On top of that, not just any winter day but the 25th of December. Why?
Close your eyes and imagine this world over 2,000 years ago. Imagine a world stripped of its modern technology. No cellphones, no grocery stores and most definitely no indoor plumbing. Imagine a world where you built your home from the wood, stone and mud that you found in nature. Imagine a world where you had to grow your own crops, raise livestock or hunt for your meat.
This was the daily grind for the Pagans who lived in that time period. Who are the Pagans? The Pagans in essence were nature worshipers. They had a god that they worshiped for almost everything from fertility to the moon. However their two biggest gods that were worshiped above all were the sun and the Earth. To the Pagans, the sun god impregnated mother Earth with his light and warmth and therefore mother Earth gave birth to crops, trees and all things Earthly that the early people needed to survive.
As you can imagine, as the days grew shorter and colder after the summer equinox, the Pagans would grow more and more depressed. No more long warm days and bountiful crops growing. No more wild game to hunt as the animals set in to hibernate for the winter. In fact, the winter was a time period when people would have struggled to not only stay warm, but alive. The early days of winter were a time of great sadness and darkness for the Pagans.
The Day of the Unconquered Sun
Nevertheless the winter solstice, December 25, rolls around and the Pagans celebrate. Why do they celebrate the winter solstice? Because the winter solstice is the rebirth of the sun. This is a time of great celebration because the days will now get longer and the sun will give the people their much needed light and warmth. This is a day to celebrate hope and light in their world of darkness. To the Pagans, the winter solstice was a holy day. The winter solstice to the Pagans was the birthday of the sun. To the Pagans, the the winter solstice on December 25 was the Day of the Unconquered Sun.
Now picture yourself in the middle of Rome over 2,000 years ago. On top of all that, imagine a world that was a melting pot of religions. Your top religions of that time period would have been the Pagans, the Jews, the Muslims and the early Christians. However, the pagans would have been by far the biggest religious sect in existence. Politically, there was no separation of church and state like we have here in America. No, religion controlled politics. Like today, the various religions of the world all did not get along. In fact, Rome was the epicenter of a religious war between the Pagans and the early Christians. While the old Romans and the Pagans were polytheistic, the Christians are monotheistic. The Roman Empire was struggling to keep together with religion causing the great divide. If Emperor Caesar Flavius Constantine did not do something and fast, the Roman Empire would crumble.
The Council of Nicea
In the year 325, Roman Emperor Caesar Flavius Constantine held and directed over the Council of Nicea. The Council of Nicea was a gathering of the leading bishops, scholars and teachers of Christianity at that time. The mission of this gathering was to put to rest any controversy, content and confusion about Jesus. Everything from the holy trinity to when Easter falls onto the calendar, was discussed and settled. After all, keep in mind that there was no Wikipedia, Facebook or anything else to follow and chronicle Jesus and his ministry.
So why would a traditional Pagan Roman Emperor care so much about a rising monotheistic religious group? Why would this Roman Emperor want to finally iron out every single one of the most minuscule details of this religion? Because although Caesar Flavius Constantine was born into the traditional Pagan Roman religion, he publicly declared his conversion to Christianity. In addition to that, Constantine saw the necessity for Rome to be unified under one religion to finally put an end all the fighting and turmoil ravaging his empire. The message of the cross is one about love, peace and faithfulness under God. Constantine believed that if there was one religion to unify them all, it was going to be Christianity and he was going to use the Council of Nicea to his full advantage.
Christmas and the Day of the Unconquered Son become One
Earlier we discussed that on December 25th, the Pagans celebrated the winter solstice and the birthday of the unconquered sun. Constantine and the Council of Nicea set the birthday for Jesus, God's unconquered son for December 25th. Why? Constantine was fully aware that unifying the Pagans and Christians was not going to be an easy task and it was not going to happen overnight. Nonetheless, something had to get the ball rolling in that direction. It is my humble opinion, that Constantine’s next move was absolutely the most brilliant of them all. Constantine concluded that to ease the Pagans into converting to Christianity, it would be strategic to have both groups celebrate similar holidays on the same day.
Herein lies the beauty of this plan. Once again imagine yourself living 2,000 years ago in Rome. You are a Christian and your neighbor is a Pagan. You ask your neighbor to come over your house for a party on December 25th. Your Pagan neighbor asks what you are celebrating on that day. You say to them that you are celebrating the birthday of the son. “Wow” your neighbor thinks, we also celebrate the birthday of the sun. You tell your neighbor that the son you celebrate is the hope and light in a world of darkness. Again you neighbor cannot believe that the sun they celebrate is also the hope and light in a world of darkness. All in all, it was a brilliant plan that Constantine and Council of Nicea put together to merge the two holy days and make Christmas the Day of the Unconquered Son.