The date of Christmas had been declared to be the same day as that of a popular festival of an ancient religion in Rome predating Christianity. This was done by the Roman Catholic Church to promote its mission of conversions and to take away from people’s memory the then popular ancient Roman culture predating Christ.
December 25 is NOT the birth date of Christ. Here’s why.
Why NOT December 25?
Why was December 25 declared as the birthday of Christ by the Church?
The celebration of December 25 as Christmas was started by the Church in Rome, and officially declared by Constantine I , (first Christian Roman Emperor) in 314 CE, which was more than three centuries after the birth of Christ! Constantine himself was more than 40 years old when he first declared himself as a Christian!
In the first two centuries of Christian history, no mention has been made about the date of Jesus’ birth. The earliest reference to Christmas being celebrated on December 25 is in the Philocalian Calendar, which represents the Roman practice of the year 336 CE.
In fact Origen (185CE-254CE), the christian scholar who taught in Alexandria in those days opposed declaring December 25 as the birthday of Christ saying,
In the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners who make great rejoicings over the day in which they were born into this world (Ref Catholic Encyclopedia 1908, Vol. 3, p. 724, Natal Day)
Mithraism was the religion that was practised by the ancient Romans (Pagans) before they converted to Christianity. Mithra is an ancient vedic deity who was worshipped along with Varuna. Varuna was worshipped in the ancient vedic times as the lord of heavens, and Mitra was worshipped as the lord of light. The birth day of Mitra was celebrated in those days in Rome as the Sun Festival (called dies natalis solis invicti meaning Birth of Invincible Sun) on the Winter Solstice which was on December 25 in those days. Note that winter solstice is one of the most important sacred days in the vedic hindu calendar too. The celebration is to mark the longer days that arrive in the northern hemisphere after winter solstice.
Mithra was popularly called Sol Invictus in ancient Rome. Mithra’s worship spread from ancient India to ancient Iran ( Zoroastrianism/Parsis where Varuna and Mithra were worshiped), and from there to ancient Rome.
The Church wanted to make it easy for the roman pagans to convert into Christianity and also override their existing popular fests and hence declared December 25 as the Birthday of Christ with three major intentions,
First, making it easy for the romans to continue celebrating their festival while being Christians.
Second, to make Sun Festival of Paganism (of ancient Romans) irrelevant!
Third, to make Christian celebrations on different dates than that of Jewish festivals.
Its propaganda of December 25 being the birthday of Christ has worked, as we witness all over the world today!
Theodosius I – The Person behind it all
Theodosius I (well refer to him only as Theodosius from now), another Christian Roman Emperor of the fourth century declared in 391 CE, Christianity the state religion of Rome, in fact making it the only legitimate religion, and banned all other religions including pagan Mithraism which was pretty popular and was practiced all across Rome then.
In fact through a series of Theodosian decrees in 389 CE he declared that all those Pagan/Mithraic festivals of Rome that had not yet been declared as Christian ones by Church were now to be working days and there would be no official holidays declared to celebrate them. December 25 which was celebrated as the birthday of Mithra escaped this law because it was declared by Church as Christmas! Finally two years later, in 391 CE, Theodosius declared all other religions illegal in Rome.
Destruction of Mithraism/Paganism/Ancient Roman Rituals/Shrines and Temples
Since none of the Mithraic festivals were celebrated and all romans slowly converted to Christianity, the Mithraic temples became ruins. Theodosius had declared no one is to go to the sanctuaries, walk through the temples.. , and those temples were closed and abandoned. Bishop Theophilus of Alexandria immediately applied for permission to demolish such temple sites and cover it with Christian churches. Thus started the era of churches in Rome. Ancient Roman Pagan sites like the gigantic Serapeum of Alexandria and its library were destroyed by the Church led, state supported actions.
The eternal fire in the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum was extinguished by Theodosius. The ancient cult of Vestas in Rome, had considered this fire to be sacred and had kept tending this holy fire for centuries. They believed that extinguishing it would result in a great disaster to Rome. One can just imagine the kind of feelings of those ancient Romans that would have been hurt by this action of writing off ones beliefs and practices. The disaster soon followed after the extinguishing of the holy fire, where by the entire Roman empire ended with Theodosus, and was permanently split into two!
Contrary to the common belief, Olympic games were actually played in ancient Rome BEFORE the Christian era. After the last Olympic Games in 393, Theodosius even canceled those games!! That was because there were ancient roman rituals that were practiced as a part of these games. So, the Christian Clement of Alexandria declared it illegal saying Olympian games are nothing else than the funeral sacrifices of Pelops! And Theodosius banned these games. (NOTE: Pelops was the king of Olympia to whom offerings were made during the games).
There has been ample archaeological , historical, textual evidence which provide ample evidence about the Mithraism practiced by ancient Romans. In fact, Ernest Renan said in his book The Origins of Christianity that if the growth of Christianity had been arrested by some mortal malady, the world would have been Mithraic
Similarity between Mithraism and Christianity
Franz Cumont was the first scholar who observed the similarity of Christianity with Mithraism. He said that Christianity had borrowed iconographic themes from Mithraism, like the Mithraic images of the Heavens, Earth, Ocean, Sun, Moon, Planets, signs of the Zodiac, Winds, Seasons, and the Elements all are found on Christian sarcophagi, mosaics, and miniatures between the third to the fifth centuries, not before that!
According to Cumont, the Christian story of Moses striking Mount Horeb (Sinai) with his staff to release drinking water was inspired by the earlier Mithraic reference to Mithras shooting arrows at rocks causing fountains to spring up. This is again a pretty common event in the stories of vedic deities in the ancient Indian texts.
Read in detail about the Ancient Mithraism here .
If NOT December 25, When?
First of all Christ was not born in 0 CE, for there is nothing called 0 CE, after 1 BCE its directly 1 CE. Next, the Gospels record Jesus being born during the reign of Herod the Great. Herod the great died in the spring of 4 BCE (New Testament History, F.F. Bruce, Anchor Books, p.23), so Jesus was born before 4 BCE.
There is no specific date mentioned anywhere in the ancient scriptures about the actual date of the birth of Christ. However there are ample number of indications about the possible period of the year during which he was born.
First, there is the information about the shepherds keeping their flocks out in the fields on the night on which Christ was born.
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night (Luke 2:8).
Even today in that region it is a common practice by shepherds to leave their flocks out in the warm summer/spring nights between April to October to feed in the green fields. After the month of October they will not leave their sheeps out in the night, and will lock them inside stables since the winter will be very cold and/or rainy. This itself proves that Jesus was born somewhere between April and October, and NOT in December.
No Shepherds will be out in the cold freezing nights of December!
Also it is said that Mary and Josef returned to Bethlehem because of a census ordered by Augustus. Now no king orders for a census to be carried out in peak winter!
In spite of all these evidences against December being the month of Jesus birth, the church still went ahead with it.
The Roman Catholic writer Mario Righetti admits, to facilitate the acceptance of the faith by the pagan masses, the Church of Rome found it convenient to institute the 25th of December as the feast of the birth of Christ to divert them from the pagan feast, celebrated on the same day in honor of the Invincible Sun Mithras, the conqueror of darkness (Manual of Liturgical History, 1955, Vol. 2, p. 67).
The Encyclopedia Americana says, In the fifth century, the Western Church ordered it [Christ’s birth] to be observed forever on the day of the old Roman feast of the birth of Sol [the sun god], as no certain knowledge of the day of Christ’s birth existed (1944 edition, Christmas).
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church says, Though speculation as to the time of year of Christ’s birth dates from the early 3rd century, Clement of Alexandria suggesting the 20th of May, the celebration of the anniversary does not appear to have been general till the later 4th century. The earliest mention of the observance on Dec. 25th is in the Philocalian Calendar, representing Roman practice of the year 336. This date was probably chosen to oppose the feast of the Natalis Solis Invicti [nativity of the unconquerable sun] by the celebration of the birth of the Sun of Righteousness and its observance in the West, seems to have spread from Rome (1983 edition, Oxford University Press, New York, 1983, p. 280, Christmas).
Then we have the information of the new star that was visible on the night when Jesus was born. Some researchers today believe that the new star that was visible on that day (and only on that day) was actually a conjunction of venus and jupiter which made it look like a new bright object in the sky.
Some others believe that the new star was actually a conjunction of venus and the two day old crescent of moon, which made it look like a comet with tail.
Some other biblical experts, based on the astronomical and other circumstantial evidences suggest that Jesus was born in the April month of the year 5 BCE. But they do not mention any specific date, since there is still no solid evidence about the exact date on which Jesus was born.