December 25th & Paganism

december-25-paganism

happy birthday

This meme sums up the belief that Christians adopted the date of December 25th for the birthday of Jesus Christ to counteract the births of the pagan gods.  However is this true or just repeated enough that it becomes common belief?

I have been greatly convicted in regards to these claims in recent years. This picture personifies the problem with the “Christianity is pagan” beliefs of many. On the surface level, those familiar with the claims that Christians supposedly “synchretized” paganism into Christianity will see this picture as truth and move on. The fact of the matter is that this image is full of falsehoods.

There is no legitimate evidence of who Tammuz was historically.  There is much conjecture but most of this is based upon faulty research of men like Alexander Hislop.  Tammuz’s “birth/rebirth” came in the Spring.

There’s no evidence of when Nimrod was born other than speculation.

Horus’ birth was actually celebrated during the month of Khoiak, (October/November).  There is no record of this date being significant for Dionysus/Bacchus. Like Attis, Dionysus is associated with the annual return of spring.  The festival of Bacchus/Dionysius was celebrated during the time period of December (by some) but not the winter solstice in particular, others celebrated Bacchanalia in March.

The Greeks didn’t celebrate the birthdays of the gods. Zeus for example was said by some to be born on December 25th but history says March 26th in 700 BC.

There is historical evidence that the birthdays of ‘sol invictus’ and Mithras were on ‘December 25th’ but these things came AFTER the days of Jesus Christ. One cannot say that Christians took this date because of the pagan sun gods, it was actually the opposite that occurred.

Many who have gotten involved in the “Christianity is pagan” camp, or certain aspects thereof, have done so because they were led to believe that the Church lied to them yet haven’t examined the claims of the “pagan origins” camp thoroughly enough to see that there are many more falsehoods coming from this side than from the Church.

Scripture declares the church (body of Christ) is the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). When the Church’s teachings are attacked and condemned as deriving from “paganism” it undermines the foundation of truth, Christ Himself (Ephesians 2:20; Acts 9:4-5). If one is going to make these claims, much research and examination must be done to ensure that these claims are fact and not antichrist lies.

I’ve believed, shared and taught many of the “pagan Christianity” claims in the past but I’ve come to find that teaching these things were not building up the body of Messiah as I had hoped but were rather tearing it down. I thought I was serving Christ but in reality I was persecuting Him (Acts 9:5). In some ways I was teaching truth (in varying degrees), but doing so in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18).

I encourage all believers in Messiah to research and study into this subject. Look at the claims and then look at all of the excellent research out there that absolutely refutes these claims. I see many believers innocently/ignorantly repeating the claims made by those in the “Christianity is pagan” movement when they are not based in fact. This is bearing false witness and is especially dangerous as it is false witness about our Lord and Savior.

“To believe there is connection when there is none, is only superstition…by mixing facts and fables together, nearly anything can be made to appear “pagan.”  Babylon Connection? – Ralph Woodrow pg 109

 

Christmas and Paganism Part 1: December 25th was not an Ancient Pagan Holiday – Throwback Christianity

According to popular myth, Christmas was an ancient Pagan Holiday. As a result of the wide range of belief in this myth Christmas has become an extremely touchy and controversial subject not only between Atheists and Christians, but sadly even among fellow believers in Christ. It is common around Christmas to hear, read or see protests by Atheists calling for the removal of Christ from the holiday. But in the last few years opponents of Christmas from within Christianity have steadily risen beyond the historical minority cults/sects into mainstream Christianity. Some follow Atheists seeking to remove Christ from Christmas stating that “He was never in it in the first place” and others advocate that Christians shouldn’t observe this holiday at all.

>As the myth goes, Christmas is linked to ancient pagan celebrations either for the false deities Mithras, Sol Invictus or the winter solstice celebration of Saturnalia. Constantine and his emerging Roman Catholic Church installed one of these three celebrations in place as Jesus’ birth date to counteract paganism, therefore, historically December 25th had nothing to do with Christianity or Christ.

Historically no one related Christmas to paganism until the 12th century when a Syrian bishop named Jacob Bar-Salibi wrote this in reference to the nativity being moved from January 6th to December 25th:

It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25 December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day.[1]

Sadly, many people believe that ancient proof exists to support these claims, but, in reality, there are only two pagan sources linked to December 25th. Both, however, postdate the Christian sources. The first is from 274 A.D. when Emperor Aurelian installed the games of Sol. The problem with this source is that these games took place in August, October, and December; it was December 11th, though, not the 25th when these games took place.

This leaves us with the second source—the Chronography of 354 A.D.—which lists Natalis Invicti on December 25th, as the one, sole source:

…on December 25 “N·INVICTI·CM·XXX” = “Birthday of the unconquered, games ordered, thirty races”[2]

As mentioned above, the Chronography is predated by the early Church writings which point to December 25th as the birth date of Christ. Furthermore, Scholars do not know for certain if Natalis Invicti was or was not used in reference to Christ as some Roman Christians called Jesus the Unconquered as well.

Alexander Hislop and Hermann Usener are two of the most frequently cited sources for the December 25th-is-pagan myth. Many people simply trust their research, yet few realize that their research was not based on the actual ancient texts from the cults of Sol, Mithras, and the festival of Saturnalia. During the 18th and 19th centuries authors like Hislop and Usener assumed that Sol and Mithras were the same deity. Therefore, if the Chronography of 354 listed an observance for Sol on December 25th, these authors presumed that there must have been an observance for Mithras long before this time on December 25th. This idea would, of course, predate the early Church, but nothing has ever been found to prove this presumption correct.

Many modern encyclopedias, including the Encyclopedia Britannica, reflect this fact in their updated works:

This view presumesas does the view associating the origin of Christmas on December 25 with pagan celebrations of the winter equinox—that Christians appropriated pagan names and holidays for their highest festivals. Given the determination with which Christians combated all forms of paganism, this appears a rather dubious presumption.[3]

If ancient texts using the December 25th date that predate Christianity do not exist, then the myth is proven to be fictitious. And that is exactly what Scholars have discovered today, but the popularity of the pagan Christmas myth still persists:

And indeed, ever since Usener’s studies of the feast of Christmas, the idea that December 25 was chosen as Christ’s birthday to counteract this important pagan festival has received wide acceptance.[4]

Fortunately that widespread acceptance is dying out among historians and scholarship as true historical data is being researched. Historians and Scholars now report that there isn’t any evidence in any original ancient text giving proof that December 25th is related to pagan festivals prior to the Chronography listed above:

The idea, particularly popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, that the date of 25 December for Christmas was selected in order to correspond with the Roman festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, or “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun”, is challenged today.[5]

In point of fact, the evidence for a religious festival of any kind for the sun god on December 25 is not only meager but also exceptionally late, as it dates to the second half of the fourth century AD. In fact, it postdates our earliest evidence for the celebration of Christmas.[6]

In short, we have no firm evidence for a festival for Sol on December 25 until Julian wrote his hymn to Helios in December of 362.[7]

The contention that December 25th was an especially popular festival for Sol in late antiquity is equally unfounded.[8]

There is no evidence that a religious celebration of Sol on that day antedated the celebration of Christmas … The traditional feast days of Sol, as recorded in the early imperial fasti, were August 8 and/or August 9 , possibly August 28 , and December 11. These are all dates that are unrelated to any important celestial alignment of Sol, such as the solstices and equinoxes.[9]

This means that in the early fourth century, when Christmas was established by the church on December 25, anyone surveying the calendar of festivities in honour of Sol would identify the period from October 19 to October 22 as far more important than December 25, and the festival of August 28 as far older. If the aim was to “neutralize” the cult of Sol by “taking over” its major festival, December 25th seems the least likely choice.[10]

So Christians did not borrow the birth date of Sol or Mithras for Jesus, but instead Jesus’ birth date was literally stolen beginning with Aurelian in 274:

There is quite simply not one iota of explicit evidence for a major festival of Sol on December 25th prior to the establishment of Christmas, nor is there any circumstantial evidence that there was likely to have been one.'[11]

The specific nature of the relation of Christmas to the then-contemporary feast of the birth of the sun, Natalis Solis Invicti, has up to now not been conclusively proven from extant texts, no matter how much some sort of causal relation might make perfect sense.[12]

Mithras

As far as Mithras (who is considered to be the same deity as Sol by some Scholars), history is absent of any connection to December 25th as well:

‘There is no evidence of any kind, not even a hint, from within the cult that this, or any other winter day, was important in the Mithraic calendar. Although three seasonal zodiacal signs are singled out in the iconography (Taurus, Leo and Scorpius), Aquarius, the sign that would correspond to notional mid-winter, being diametrically opposite to Leo, is never paid special attention. No Mithraic votive is dated 25th December (VIII A.D. KAL. IAN.). Nor is there any mention among the dipinti in the mithraeum of S. Prisca of Mithras’ birthday, though the first line of a zodiacal poem was written up on the wall, starting, quite unconventionally, with Aries, the first sign of Spring.[13]

Of the mystery cult of Sol Invictus Mithras we know little with certainty, and even if we leave aside the problem of the relationship between the Mithraic mysteries and the public cult of Sol, the notion that Mithraists celebrated December 25th in some fashion is a modern invention for which there is simply no evidence.[14]

Polemicists (and The Da Vinci Code) frequently state that 25 December was Mithras’ birthday, yet the renowned Mithraic scholar, Dr. Richard Gordon has corresponded to me that he is unaware of ‘a single date on a Mithraic inscription that falls in the winter, let alone late in DecemberWe know nothing about the cycle of rituals in the cult…’ So, Christmas owes nothing to Mithraism.[15]

Even those who claim that December 25th was the birth date of Mithras or Sol admit there is no evidence to prove it:

That an important Mithraic feast also fell on December 25th can hardly be doubted, although there is no direct evidence of the fact.[16]

Both the sun and Christ were said to be born anew on December 25. But while the solar associations with the birth of Christ created powerful metaphors, the surviving evidence does not support such direct association with the Roman solar festivals. The earliest documentary evidence for the feast of Christmas makes no mention of the coincidence with the winter solstice. Thomas Talley has shown that, although the Emperor Aurelian’s dedication of a temple to the sun god in the Campus Martius probably took place on the ‘Birthday of the Invincible Sun’ on December 25, the cult of the sun in pagan Rome ironically did not celebrate the winter solstice nor any of the other quarter-tense days, as one might expect. The origins of Christmas, then, may not be expressly rooted in the Roman festival.[17]

Since Sol is linked to Mithras and Mithras to Tammuz of Ancient Babylon, those who claim that Christmas began in Babylon have nothing to prove their claims. Remember the only semi-pagan source using the December 25th date is from 354 A.D.

Saturnalia

Another pagan festival is often cited as the precursor to Christmas. This celebration of the winter solstice was called Saturnalia. However, history and Scholarship once again prove that Saturnalia was not celebrated on December 25th, thus debunking the myth that Christians adopted this pagan holiday as the birthday of Christ:

But all our surviving calendars that preserve the month of December mark 17 December as the date for the Saturnalia. In his discussion of the origins of the Saturnalia, Macrobius explains that the Saturnalia was often celebrated over three days from 14 to 17 December, since the former was the date given by the Numan calendar, the latter the date given by the Julian calendar after Caesar added two days to the month[18]

The Saturnalia occupy a position exactly between the Consualia of the 15th and the Opalia of the 19th of December.[19]

Saturnalia was not a festival held on December 25th. Not even in the latter times of this festival when it was moved to December 17th through the 23rd:

Eventually, the carnival expanded to a full seven days, December 17 to 23.[20]

Although Saturnalia was close to December 25th, it was never on the same day. Thus Christmas is a distinct date from that of Saturnalia.

Conclusion

With the given information, we learn that Christmas was not historically pagan. The problem arises from the fact that people have been so indoctrinated with this myth, they simply believe it as a widely known fact without researching the actual evidence themselves.

The cults of Sol or Mithras and the festival of Saturnalia did not historically have any association with December 25th. The myth has been based on nothing more than presumption which scholarship and historical information have proven to be fictitious. It is clear the early Church observed this date prior to the other pagan groups. If there is any resemblance between the two, one must have to admit that it is the pagans who copied the Christians not vice versa. As a result modern scholarship has proven Christmas to be an entirely Christian holiday.

 The Plain Truth About December 25th – As Bereans Did

· Bruma has no bearing on the dating of Christmas; it wasn’t even celebrated in the same month. Christians opposed it. Brumalia has no bearing on the dating of Christmas; it is a Byzantine celebration from after the time of Christmas.
· Saturnalia has no bearing on the dating of Christmas; it was a week before Christmas and was never observed on December 25th.
· Yule has no bearing on the dating of Christmas. Yule was apparently not a merely a solstice celebration, as is often claimed. Our first records come too late and too far away to influence the beginning of Christmas.
· Zagmuk Akita has no bearing on the dating since this was a spring festival.
· The literal winter solstice has no bearing on the dating. Christmas has never once been on the literal winter solstice. The date is a Roman tradition, so there is no reason to tie December 25th to solstice celebrations of non-Roman cultures.
· And what of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti? What “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti”?? People can’t even decide what the real name is. Why call it so many different things if that’s its name? Properly it should be called “Natalis Invicti”. And Natalis Invicti appears to be a late addition. We have good reason to believe Sol was added to the day in 363 AD. The calculation of the December 25th predates this and was not dependent upon it.
 
We have ample evidence to believe that Christians were calculating and celebrating the birth of Christ since before 200 AD, perhaps even the mid 100’s. There are good reasons to believe that Hippolytus of Rome, following the example of his teacher Clement, calculated Christ’s birth to be December 25th between 202-211 AD. Multiple Christians at that time were trying to determine the timing of Christ’s conception/death. They were not borrowing from paganism. They ignored Roman mythology. They preferred these dates because they meshed with Jewish (and in their minds this meant Biblical) traditions. It would appear that March 25th as the date of Jesus’ conception caught on in the West. Augustine was still writing about it in the 400’s. To this day it is the Feast of the Annunciation. Calculation from March 25th seems to be the way the Latin Church came to December 25th. When you count forward 9 months from March 25, you get December 25. It appears to be purely coincidental that December 25th was the Roman traditional date of the solstice. The church universally agreed on a winter birth at that time. Even in the East their celebration of the birth of Christ was a mere 12 days later.
In the late 200’s or early 300’s, the festival of Natalis Invicti was created to commemorate the Roman traditional solstice. We have no reason whatsoever to believe this festival was so popular the Christians had little option but to adopt it; the popular festival was Saturnalia which was over a week earlier. Moving forward in time again – in 363 Julian the Apostate appears to have applied Sol worship to the festival. Christmas was already well-established in the Latin West by this point. Julian the Apostate was trying to undo Constantine’s reforms and return Rome away Christianity. I believe he applied Sol to this date specifically to co-opt it from Christ.
After this point, it appears the Christians began to use the sun imagery to explain how Jesus was greater than the Roman gods. Using imagery to explain Jesus to pagans is not the same as adopting pagan festivals. The Church leadership at that time, and for the next two centuries after, was in no mood to “adopt” anything. In 381-394, Emperor Theodosius I declared paganism illegal and took steps to eliminate all pagan worship.
 
Bruma/Brumalia

 

The claims:

 

For sake of space, I cannot possibly give all details on what was claimed regarding the pagan festival of Brumalia over the years and in various places. I hear people say the wildest things! Suffice it to say that I’ve heard it claimed that the festival honored Bacchus or Dionysus and Chronos, was celebrated anywhere from November 24th to December 25th, was anywhere from one day to thirty days long, and that during Brumalia the pagans decorated their houses with greenery and there were raucous celebrations.

 

The facts:

 

People are confusing many distinct things here.

 

A man named John Raymond Crawford wrote what has been called “not only the latest, but by far the most careful and searching investigation ever made of two festivals which are little known.” Problem is, the writing is in Latin and there are no English translations readily available. Roger Pearse was sent a review of Crawford’s book – in English.

 

According to this review which Roger Pearse generously presents to us in his online article “A Review of Crawford on the Bruma and Brumalia”, (I will summarize here) true bruma is the Roman name for the winter solstice, which is also called “solstitium et initium hiberni” (or “solstice at the start of winter”). Roman tradition placed this solstice on December 25th. Meanwhile, Bruma is the name of a completely separate ancient celebration, which was celebrated on November 24th.

 

Notice the capitalization there. I have inserted this capitalization on my own to help you the reader distinguish the two brumas.
The word bruma (lower case b) comes from the superlative form of the Latin word for “brief”. The days grow shorter in winter so “bruma” came to mean the shortest day of the year; the winter solstice.
Bruma (capital b) was also the name of a festival on November 24th that marked a kind of unofficial start of winter, and this led up to the winter solstice.

 

It is important to keep in mind that bruma was the name of the winter solstice (or to be specific it was the name of the day when the sun began to grow stronger, which is usually after the solstice), and Bruma was the name of a winter festival, but they were not the same thing. The festival of Bruma was celebrated a month earlier than the solstice, on November 24th, lasted only one day, and was not observed on December 25th at any time.

 

Now we move forward in time, and far to the east. From the sixth century through the tenth century AD, in the Byzantine Empire, there was a festival called Brumalia. Notice the location here. We are talking Constantinople, not Rome. Also notice the dating here. The sixth century is centuries after Christmas became popular in Rome and the Roman Empire ceased to exist. Brumalia was a twenty four day festival lasting from November 24th through December 17th. It was not celebrated for twenty four straight days, rather it was divided up alphabetically – one day for each letter of the Greek alphabet – and each person celebrated on the day that matched the first letter of their name.

 

Roger Pearse wrote to me and informs us that it would appear that in the course of time Bruma was combined with Saturnalia to become Brumalia. This matches what was written in his review of Crawford. Thanks for the excellent research, hard work, and timely help, Roger!

 

Keep in mind this was centuries after Christmas became popular, and far to the east of Rome. If Bruma on November 24th was eventually combined with Saturnalia on December 17th by the sixth century, then Saturnalia was not replaced by Christmas at all. It lived on and was merged, in the opposite direction in the month, with Bruma and other holidays.

 

As Bruma became Brumalia it did come to honor Dionysus, Cronos/Saturn, and Demeter. There were dinner parties, games, and the slaughtering of a pigs and goats. From the ancient Roman mind, these things were what one would expect in the winter. They weren’t given to farming or going to war in the winter, so they would plant some seeds then slaughter some pigs and goats and throw a party. The parties were at night since Cronos was a god of time and harvest, and was pictured as being in darkness, just as seeds were in darkness. The pigs were symbolic, as were the goats. This wasn’t some random choice of animal for a generic feast. None of these symbols carried over into Christmas.
If we are looking at Bruma and Brumalia for sources of Christmas traditions, there is little resemblance here.

 

You can read more about this in Roger Pearse’s review of “De Mensibus”.
John the Lydian wrote De Mensibus (or “On the Months”) in the late 400’s AD. He points out that these things were opposed by the Christians of that time and the church turned away from them. I repeat for emphasis – opposed by Christians a century after they were supposedly adopted by Christians!
It appears that this distaste for such celebrations came to a head in the Quinisext Ecumenical Council (aka “Council in Trullo”) in 692. The Canon 62 begins this way:
“The so-called Calends, and what are called Bota and Brumalia, and the full assembly which takes place on the first of March, we wish to be abolished from the life of the faithful.”
It would appear that all of this business about the Church’s eagerness to adopt paganism after Constantine the Great’s reign is not necessarily as accurate as we would be led to believe. Were there converts still holding on to pagan practices? Yes. But was the church rushing to “cleanse” and adopt pagan practices? No!

 

Roger Pearse gives us a great deal more details in his article “On ‘bruma’ and ‘brumalia’ in ancient Rome, as found in the OLD“.

 

Summary:

 

In ancient Rome, “bruma” was the winter solstice while “Bruma” was the winter festival. Bruma wasn’t celebrated in the same month as Christmas. Bruma eventually merged with Saturnalia and became Brumalia. As lengthy as the Byzantine celebration became, it was popular in the East long after Christmas caught on in the West and was never observed on the 25th. Neither had any bearing on the dating of Christmas.
Plus it has the distinction of being opposed by the Church a century and a half after it was supposedly adopted by the Church.

 

Saturnalia

 

The claims:

 

The wildest and most inane claims are reserved for Saturnalia. Mainly, I have heard claims that Saturnalia was on December 17th and December 25th, that it was celebrated for one day, three days, eight days, nine days, twelve days, and as long as a month, that it was in honor of Bacchus and Saturn, and that it was the most vile celebration imaginable. I have heard that from Saturnalia comes the tradition of the “twelve days of Christmas.” I have probably heard more claims about Saturnalia than any other ancient festival. If you believe the stories, every last portion of Christmas (with the exception of mistletoe and the Yule log) came from Saturnalia.

 

The facts:

 

Saturnalia honored Saturn the god of vegetation. Tom Schmidt at Chronicon.net, in his article “The dates of Saturnalia (and Sigillaria!) and Christmas,” reviews an account from an ancient author named Macrobius.

 

Macrobius claims Saturnalia was originally celebrated on the 14th day before the Kalends of January (“Kalends of January” is the first day of January).

 

Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar in 45 BC and added two days to December (he took Rome from a lunar calendar to a solar calendar which is called the “Julian calendar”, and took December from 29 days to 31 days). The original date of Saturnalia now fell on the 16th day before the Kalends of January (and that’s how we see it in the Philocalian Calendar), while the new date remained on the 14th day before the Kalends of January.

 

Filocalus, writing in 336 AD, agrees that Saturnalia was the 16th day before the Kalends of January.

 

Confused? Let me explain.

 

The Romans had a very messy calendar system; the details of which are still under much debate. But they never dated their days. They wouldn’t ever say, “December 25.” Instead, they divided each month into three parts, called the Kalends, Nones, and Ides, then counted their days from that. For example, Saturnalia was 16 days before the Kalends of January, and Christmas was 8 days before the Kalends of January.

 

The calendar was a general mess. I quote Wikipedia again to show that this information is readily available to anyone who is interested:

 

Nevertheless, we do know that the pre-Julian calendar could be substantially out of alignment with the Julian calendar. Two precise astronomical synchronisms given by Livy show that in 168 BC the two calendars were misaligned by more than two months, and in 190 BC they were four months out of alignment.

 

Isn’t it obvious why Julius Caesar had to reform it? But reforming a calendar would necessarily create some issues.
I’ll just put this in plain language for you:

 

Saturnalia was on December 17th. Julius Caesar comes along, adds two days to December, and now it’s on the 19th.

 

Most people kept it on the old date, some on the new date, with the result becoming a multi-day festival.

 

I have heard much about the shouting of “Io, Saturnalia!” but Macrobius says this was on the 17th only.

 

Macrubius also mentioned a decree by Augustus Caesar officially making the Saturnalia a three-day festival from 17th to the 19th. He mentions it was eventually blended together with other festivals (eg. “Ops” and “Sigillaria”) and then became treated as a seven day celebration, between the 17th and the 23rd.

 

We know from history that Caligula limited it to five days, from the 17th to 21st.

 

As mentioned above, Roger Pearse suspects Bruma and Saturnalia eventually joined to become Brumalia. Notice how we’re moving away from the dating of Christmas, however, not towards.

 

Chronicon.net gives us a great deal more information on Saturnalia in their article “The Origins of Saturnalia and Christmas.”

 

For another fine article, I would direct you to Crisis Magazine’s “Christmas, Pagan Romans, and Frodo Baggins“.

 

As for the twelve days of Christmas, there aren’t 12 days between Saturnalia and Christmas. Fact is, those are the twelve days after Christmas, between Christmas and the feast of Epiphany. This was set officially in the second Council of Tours.

 

Epiphany was the original celebration of the major events in Jesus’ life (mainly His baptism). Until very recently, most people who celebrated Christmas didn’t start festivities until Christmas Eve, then they would celebrate for 12 days until Epiphany.

 

Summary:

 

Saturnalia was never celebrated on December 25th, ever. The official day of the Saturnalia was on the 17th. It has no bearing on the dating of Christmas.

 

Natalis Invicti

 

The claims:

 

I have heard this day called many things. Mostly, some variant of “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti”. I have heard people state with absolute conviction that Christmas is the Sol festival (but if it is, then it can’t be Bruma, Saturnalia, or Brumalia). I have heard that the birthday of the sun was celebrated on December 25th, and in August and October.

 

The facts:

 

Here is a quote straight from Dave Pack’s own article on Christmas:

 

The Dec. 25 festival of natalis solis invicti, the birth of the unconquered sun, was ordered by the emperor Aurelian in A.D. 274 as a Winter Solstice celebration…
A definite claim stated adamantly. Is it true?
Steven Ernst Hijmans is currently a faculty member at the University of Alberta’s History and Classics department. He wrote a book titled “Sol – the Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome”. In Volume I, chapter 9, page 588, he has this to say:

 

The contention that December 25th was an especially popular festival for Sol in late antiquity is equally unfounded, as is as the notion that this festival was established by Aurelian when he supposedly instituted a new cult of the sun. Aurelian did of course build the sun a magnificent new temple and he raised the priests of Sol to the level of pontifices. A new festival on December 25th would not have been out-of-place in this context, but it must be stressed, pace Usener, that there is no evidence that Aurelian instituted a celebration of Sol on that day. A feast day for Sol on December 25th is not mentioned until eighty years later, in the Calendar of 354 and, subsequently, in 362 by Julian in his Oration to King Helios.

 

Well, isn’t that interesting!

 

Back in December 2010, Museumstuff.com had an article about this entitled “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti: Aurelian.” They listed some of the most common errors about what Aurelian did. WikiPedia still has the quote on their article about Sol Invictus. Look under the section “Aurelian”. The third error is:

 

Aurelian inaugurated his new temple dedicated to Sol Invictus and held the first games for Sol on December 25, 274, on the supposed day of the winter solstice and day of rebirth of the Sun.
Please carefully read, and re-read if necessary, what they say in correction of the error:

 

This is not only pure conjecture, but goes against the best evidence available. There is no record of celebrating Sol on December 25 prior to CE 354/362. Hijmans lists the known festivals of Sol as August 8 and/or 9, August 28, and December 11. There are no sources that indicate on which day Aurelian inaugurated his temple and held the first games for Sol, but we do know that these games were held every four years from CE 274 onwards. This means that they were presumably held in CE 354, a year for which perchance a Roman calendar, the Chronography of 354 or calendar of Filocalus, has survived. This calendar lists a festival for Sol and Luna on August 28, Ludi Solis games for Sol for October 19–22, and a Natalis Invicti birthday of the invincible one on December 25. While it is widely assumed that the invictus of December 25 is Sol, the calendar does not state this explicitly. The only explicit reference to a celebration of Sol in late December is made by Julian the Apostate in his hymn to King Helios written immediately afterwards in early CE 363. Julian explicitly differentiates between the one-day, annual celebration of late December 362 and the multi-day quadrennial games of Sol which, of course, had also been held in 362, but clearly at a different time. Taken together, the evidence of the Calendar of Filocalus and Julian’s hymn to Helios clearly shows, according to Hijmans and others, that the ludi of October 19–22 were the Solar Games instituted by Aurelian. They presumably coincided with the dedication of his new temple for Sol.

 

If Aurelian didn’t create a Sol festival on December 25th but on another date entirely, then there is no reason to insist he did, is there? No. There is not. And if we don’t beg that question, then there is no claim regarding Sol worship on December 25th prior to Christ being honored on that date, is there? No. There is not.

 

To help you get a better picture, here is the timeline of events:
· 202-211 AD – Hippolytus calculates Jesus’ birth as December 25.
· 218 AD – Elagabalus becomes Emperor at age 14. Introduces Sol to Rome. Attempts to force Sol as the only god. Fails.
· 274 AD – Aurelian elevates Sol worship. Dedicates a temple and institutes games to Sol – but not on December 25th. Dies the next year.
· 336 AD – The first mention of “Natalis Invicti” on December 25th (notice Sol is not mentioned). Same document mentions Jesus as born on December 25.
· 363 AD – Emperor Julian “the Apostate”, who despised Christianity and tried to replace Christianity with paganism, gives us the first explicit reference to a celebration of Sol in December.

 

Well, isn’t that interesting! Time for Dave Pack to review his information, no?

 

The Chronography

 

I need to introduce something to you at this point to help explain a few things.

 

The above mention of Natalis Invicti comes from a document known as the “Chronography of 354” (that’s 354 AD; well after Aurelian). The Chronography was compiled by Furious Dionysus Filocalus, a renowned calligrapher… and Christian.

 

Edwin Yamauchi, in his “Persia and the Bible” p. 521, says the calendar was actually composed in 336 AD, but that it was written for the year 354. That is why you see me placing the year 336 on some things.
Also, bear in mind that Filocalus didn’t invent any of these things. We can safely assume that what he recorded was already well known by 336. I would give an earlier date but I simply have no definite fact telling me what to give, so I’ll go with 336.

 

The Chronography is not just a calendar; there are several other parts to it, sixteen in all.

 

Part six of the Chronography is called the Philocalian Calendar and it lists only the words “Natalis Invicti” on December 25th. But if it doesn’t say “Dies Natalis Sol Invicti” then we have no reason to inser that phrase here, do we? No. We do not. One might say Sol is implied. Problem is the evidence gives us no reason to imply that. If the evidence doesn’t imply that, then it’s improper for us to insist upon it, isn’t it? Yes. It is.
It also lists Bruma on November 25th and Saturnalia on December 17th. Thus ends any possibility that either were on December 25th.

 

Here is exactly what it says for December 25th:
N INVICTI CM XXX

 

The “N” is short for “Natalis”. This is a term that can mean birthday, or it can refer to the dedication of a temple. Hence the conflict between people who wonder if some emperor [they assume Aurelian] initiated a new holiday or if he dedicated a temple. Invicti means “invincible”. There is no mention of Sol here. The “CM” is short for “Circenssus Misses” and it means “Games Ordered”. Generally this refers to horse races run on that day. There were usually 24 games on the ancient holidays. The odd thing about this date is there are “XXX” or 30 games ordered. This means the day was very recently added and not an ancient day, like December 17th.

 

Part twelve of the Cronography is called the “Commemoration of the Martyrs” which lists the important dates of prominent Christian martyrs. Who do you suppose is the first martyr listed? That would be Jesus Christ – listed as being born on December 25th.
Here is exactly what it says:
VIII kal. Ian. natus Christus in Betleem Iudeae

 

“VIII” is the roman numeral 8. “Kal” is short for kalends, which is the first day of any month. “Ian” is January. So now we know what month we’re referring to – January. When we put this section together we get, “eight days before the first day of January.” The rest is “birthday of Christ in Bethlehem, Judea.”

 

So now we have a very important problem! Same document, two mentions of December 25th, neither associated with Sol at all, one clearly associated with Christ. Does “Natalis Invicti” refer to Christ or to Sol?

 

This is heavily debated.

 

Many assert that “Natalis Invicti” refers to Sol because the rest of the calendar’s dates are all pagan or secular. Games were ordered on that day. That would not have been done for Christ. That’s a valid point, but how do we get Sol specifically from this? We can’t. Sol festivals are clearly listed on other dates but not here. There is no evidence of any Sol celebration on this date nor any other solstice or equinox.

 

Others assert that it refers to Christ because the author was a Christian during the time of Constantine, and he clearly states Christ was born on this date. But this doesn’t explain the 30 games ordered on this day.

 

These facts lead a third group to believe that it does not refer to Christ or Sol, but to the sun specifically, in an astronomical way rather than a religious way. Sol is a sun god, but Sol is a specific sun god, not a generic sun god. Nor is Sol the sun itself. Helios was a sun god, but he pulled the sun in a chariot. With December 25 being the traditional date of the solstice, this mention in the Calendar could be purely astronomical. (Oh, how I wish it was definite!)

 

As a side note, I want to mention that I have heard many people blame Constantine for changing the December 25th festival from Sol to Christ. We do not know that is what happened! We have no proof that Constantine did this. But let’s think about this for a second.

 

The claim is that all of Rome so loved the Sol festival that Constantine and the Catholic Church had little choice but to adopt it and paste Christ over Sol. (The claim confuses Sol with Saturnalia, but let’s overlook this for now.)
If Aurelian in the last months of his life declared a Sol festival in December 274 as some claim, and if Constantine converted at the Milvian Bridge in 312 AD, then that leaves 38 years of Sol’s prominence in Rome. But let’s just say we count from the Edict of Milan where Christianity was officially legalized. This Edict was written in 313 AD. That leaves 39 years. The last coins depicting Sol were minted in 313 AD, so Sol most definitely fell out of prominence around this time.

 

So what did we see? If December 25th did honor Sol, it only did so for less than 50 years. That’s not very long.
It has honored Christ for 1,675+ years!

 

Be aware of this fact – it wasn’t until decades later, in a poem by Julian the Apostate, that the first solid connection between Sol and December 25th arrives. So, was it Constantine changing the Sol festival to a Christ festival? Or was it Julian the Apostate changing the Christ festival to a Sol festival?

 

Is there anything we can know or sure? Yes. And that is that speculation is the name of the game. People claim with fervency that December 25th is a pagan day. Not so fast! That is not only not proven, it isn’t even the most compelling explanation for the facts. It is only speculation. We don’t know for absolutely certain either way.

 

Are we willing to be so bold in accusing billions of Christians of paganism when we simply do not know that?

 

Conclusion:
There is no compelling evidence that there was a Sol festival on December 25th. If not, then Sol specifically has nothing to do with it. So we have no “Dies Natalis Sol Invicti” at all during the proper time period. So why put it there? The better to lead you on with, my dear! Something apparently non-Christian called “Natalis Invicti” happened on that date, but a Sol festival doesn’t appear to be it. And we’ll get to that later.
Christ is clearly listed in association with December 25th well before Sol is.

 

Yule

 

The claims:

 

Yule was a pagan winter solstice celebration from which Christmas borrowed heavily. Christmas is just a continuation of Yule, and a pagan holiday that should be returned to the pagans.

 

The facts:

 

Our first records of Yule come from around 700 AD by our old friend the Venerable Bede in his work “De Temporum Ratione.” [See page 54 of that link.]

 

Nor is it irrelevant if we take the trouble to translate the names of the other months. The months of Guili derive their name from the day when the Sun turns back [and begins] to increase, because of one of [these months] precedes [this day] and the other follows.

 

Roughly, Bede records that Yule was the name of the months of December and January. Yes, two months with the same name. Bede is speaking in rough terms, since he is trying to translate the German lunar calendar into the standard Julian calendar.

 

In searching for other things I happened across this quote from “Christmas in Ritual and Tradition” by Clement A. Miles:

 

One more name yet remains to be considered, Yule (Danish Jul), the ordinary word for Christmas in the Scandinavian languages, and not extinct among ourselves. Its derivation has been widely discussed, but so far no satisfactory explanation of it has been found. Professor Skeat in the last edition of his Etymological Dictionary (1910) has to admit that its origin is unknown. Whatever its source may be, it is clearly the name of a Germanic season—probably a two-month tide covering the second half of November, the whole of December, and the first half of January. 1-26 It may well suggest to us the element added to Christmas by the barbarian peoples who began to learn Christianity about the time when the festival was founded. Modern research has tended to disprove the idea that the old Germans held a Yule feast at the winter solstice, and it is probable, as we shall see, that the specifically Teutonic Christmas customs come from a New Year and beginning-of-winter festival kept about the middle of November. These customs transferred to Christmas are to a great extent religious or magical rites intended to secure prosperity during the coming year, and there is also the familiar Christmas feasting, apparently derived in part from the sacrificial banquets that marked the beginning of winter.
-Miles, Clement A., “Christmas in Ritual and Tradition“, chapter 1 section IV, p.25

 

So historians have known for decades that Yule was not a solstice celebration falling on 25 December, as many people are to this day led to believe. I have just recently received email urging me to heed this very false information. Perhaps we all need to blow the dust off of our history books, eh?

 

It was only much later, when Christianity was widely accepted throughout Germania, that a certain tradition from Yule was associated with Christmas. The tradition we generally are referring to is the Yule Log. But that tradition has gone the way of the wood-burning fireplace. It was oddity anyway; never central to Christmas at any time or place.

 

Conclusion:

 

That the now practically defunct Yule Log tradition was adopted for a time in in some places in no way indicates the entire Christmas day is associated with paganism. Any way you slice it, there is no way a Germanic festival from the 600’s AD influenced the Romans of the 200-300’s AD.

 

Zagmuk/Akita

 

I have heard a little about an ancient Mesopotamian new year festival called “Zagmuk” (which is blended with a longer Babylonian festival called “Akita”). Some pretty inane claims are made about this festival, so I figured I would address it.

 

The claims:

 

Christmas comes from Saturnalia which comes from Zagmuk. Zagmuk was an ancient winter solstice festival nearly identical to Saturnalia. It started on the winter solstice and was celebrated for twelve days. Thus the origin of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

 

The facts:

 

Most people have never heard of Zagmuk/Akita. Details are utterly confused when you go looking for them. Here is a direct quote from an Encyclo.com article on Zagmuk to illustrate my point (underlining mine):

 

Zagmuk is a Mesopotamian festival celebrated around the winter solstice, which literally means ‘beginning of the year’. The feast fell in March or April and lasted about 12 days.

 

Around the winter solstice in March or April, huh? OK. If you insist!

 

Zagmuk was the first day of the 12-day Akitu celebration, so it seems. So the 12-days similarity claim appears accurate, albeit superficial.
However, Zagmuk/Akita was not a winter solstice festival (neither is Christmas, nor was Saturnalia for that matter). In fact, it wasn’t in the winter at all. I know Encyclo.com would like us to believe the winter solstice is in March, but that’s obviously bad editing, and I’m just having some fun with it.

 

Truth is the exacting details of course are unknown since so much information has been lost these past 4,000 years, but we know more than enough to say that Zagmuk/Akita appears to have two main components: harvest and New Years.

 

It was a harvest-oriented festival.
Akita is derived the Sumerian word for barley. The base idea of Akita was to celebrate the crop-cycle; more specifically the sewing of barley in the fall and the cutting of barley in the spring. As we see in many other ancient cultures, the notions of life, death, and rebirth (in other words, the crop-cycle) appear in the symbolism of the day. Take the Isis & Osiris myths for example.
Christmas in contrast is about birth, not death and rebirth.

 

It was also a calendar-oriented festival.
Zagmuk is the Sumerian word for “beginning of the year”. When was the beginning of the Mesopotamian/Babylonian year? Why, check your Hebrew calendar and find out for yourself. Since the Babylonian captivity, the Babylonian calendar and the Hebrew calendar are pretty much the same thing! And we should see that the beginning of the year for the Mesopotamians and Hebrews falls in the month of Nissan/Abib, which is usually March or April. Ancientworlds.net tells us that Zagmuk was the first new moon after the spring equinox.

 

Toss in a few traditions about Enlil/Marduk vs. Tiamat, and order vs. chaos, and you have a regular religious festival. Opa!

 

I can’t tell you how many websites I’ve checked that assert something like “Zagmuk was a new year festival celebrated around the winter solstice.” It is not wise to see “new year” and automatically assume January 1. The Mesopotamian/Hebrew New Year was not in winter it was in the spring! Anciently, even the Romans began their year in March when they used a lunar calendar.

 

It was also a harvest festival. Guess what’s not going to be happening in late December at the start of the rainy season. That’s right.. harvesting!

 

It is even less wise to see a holiday and simply assign it as a winter solstice festival. As we’ve seen so many, many times in this study most holidays that are commonly called winter solstice festivals were no such thing. Are people really that desperate to smear Christmas?

 

It has been speculated that the festival is 12 days long because they used a lunar calendar, and certain intercalations had to be made. These days are added days that help reconcile the lunar and solar calendars. It takes 11 extra days to reconcile the calendars. The twelfth day of Akitu was one where order had defeated chaos and life returned to normal, so it would seem incredibly logical that the “twelve days of Akitu” were eleven “leap days” plus one.

 

The idea isn’t unreasonable. The Jews anciently added “leap months” every so often to reconcile their calendar. And the Egyptians had the 5 “heriu renpet” days to reconcile their 360-day year with a 365-day solar year. This is that same idea.

 

So far as Zagmuk/Akita being identical to Saturnalia, I cannot find any credible evidence that this is true. All such claims that Saturnalia is Zagmuk come from websites that insist Zagmuk was a winter solstice festival, therefore I give them very little weight. The twelve days of Zagmuk/Akita have defined meanings and ceremonies. They definitely do not match the symbolism of Saturnalia. As you recall, Macrobius recorded that the origin of Saturnalia was secular, and it was originally a one-day festival until Julius Caesar changed the calendar.

 

Conclusion:

 

Zagmuk wasn’t a winter solstice festival after all. It was a spring festival, recalling New Years and the barley harvest. There is no good reason to believe it is the precursor to Saturnalia. It would seem that the only similarity that Zagmuk has with Christmas is the notion of twelve days. Unfortunately for this claim, we have seen where the 12 days of Christmas come from, and they aren’t intercalary days. The similarity is a false cognate at best. As if anything with 12 days couldn’t possibly be anything other than Zagmuk.

 

Winter Solstice

 

Touching again on the solstice, I feel it would be irresponsible to omit mentioning that the solstice is not on December 25th. People might even wonder how the solstice could have been celebrated on the 25th and not the 21st where we usually find it today (it varies somewhat). Well, it has to do with three separate calendars.
Prior to the Julian calendar, the Romans used a lunar calendar. Its accuracy was not the best. Julius Caesar reformed the calendar in 44-45 BC. He made a solar calendar with years of 365.25 days, and leap-years every four years. It wasn’t perfect because years aren’t exactly 365.25 days long, so it still lost around 11 minutes of time each year. You might wonder why that matters, but over time those eleven or so minutes add up to one day lost roughly every 128 years.

 

So, in 1582 AD, Pope Gregory XIII reformed the calendar again. He made the calendar more accurate, but the Gregorian calendar still loses 27 seconds each year, or one day every three thousand years. This latest calendar took centuries to catch on across the globe and for a while people in various places had all sorts of dating issues.

 

As the story goes, by the time Gregory XIII reformed the calendar in 1582, the solstice was on December 11th. He accounted for the 10 lost days between the Council of Nicea in 325 AD and his own time, and he corrected that loss. He did not account for the 3 days lost from Julius Caesar’s time and the Council of Nicea. Oops! Therefore today we see the solstice on December 21st or December 22nd, which is where it would have been in 325 AD.
The first indisputable mention of Jesus’ birth on December 25th was in 336. December 25th was not on the solstice in that century.

 

Splitting hairs? Perhaps. But this fact becomes important whenever someone argues that December 25th was a solstice day for other cultures, for example the Teutons, and they try to find the origin of Christmas in Yule. December 25th wasn’t the literal solstice at all. It was merely Roman tradition that it was the day the sun starts its return. Other cultures that watched for a solstice would have no reason to arrive at the same date of December 25th. The name “December 25th” is purely a construct of the Roman calendar which other cultures didn’t use, and the date was a matter of Roman tradition which other cultures didn’t follow. Therefore I find it important to point out how December 25th was not the literal solstice.
Now I feel I would be remiss to omit that the Romans certainly did see December 25th as being the date that the sun begins to increase in strength. In other words, December 25th had traditional and astronomical significance to the Romans.
The first reference we have to this comes from Pliny the Elder in his work “Natural History”. Pliny says this:

 

the bruma begins at the eighth degree of Capricorn, the eighth day before the calends of January

 

This “bruma” is not in reference to the festival Bruma, but merely the shortest day of the year. Take note that Pliny is not referring to this in a religious way at all, but merely astronomical. So we know the Romans saw this as a form of a solstice.

 

Just because the Romans thought anything of the day does not mean the Christians did.

 

In 243 AD a work was written that is claimed to have been authored by Cyprian. That claim is most likely false. The work is known as “The Pseudo-Cyprianic De Pascha Computus” (or “The Calculation of Passover”). I quote this selection from Tom Schmidt at Chronicon.net in his article “Cyprian, Christmas, and the Birth of the Sun”:

 

O! The splendid and divine Providence of the Lord, that on that day, even at the very day, on which the Sun was made, 28 March, a Wednesday, Christ should be born. For this reason Malachi the prophet, speaking about him to the people, fittingly said: ‘Unto you shall the sun of righteousness arise, and healing is in his wings.’

 

Many people have used a shortened version of this quote to demonstrate that the birth of the sun was on December 25th. Problem is when we see the entire quote that becomes impossible. But one thing it does in spades is demonstrate that in the mid-200’s the Christians could care less about the Roman view of the solstice. They were more interested in the Jewish tradition of the creation of the Sun in late March.
Christians in the mid 200’s didn’t seem to care what the Romans felt about the sun. Nor either did the Romans, for that matter. The evidence is that there really was nothing of great note happening on December 25th in Rome at this time. Why is it that 100 years later we see the Christians celebrating the birth of Christ on the same date that the Romans began honoring the return of the sun? Did the Christians adopt the solstice festival after all?
We are left with a hole in history.

 

If we stopped here, the evidence would be pretty damning. But even after all of this we still have to view one more bit of critical material that will muddy up the waters even more: Hippolytus. We’ll get to that in the next section.

 

Calculating December 25th

 

For those who wish to paint Christmas as a pagan celebration, the section on the solstice may come as welcome news. For others, that section may dismay you. However, I assure you, just because Christmas is on the Roman traditional date of the solstice is not prima facie evidence that Christmas is therefore a copy of the Roman solstice celebration. That would be hasty conclusion to come to without proving it out. We have not established that Christmas was taken from the solstice celebration, just that they are both on the same day.

 

I promised you muddier waters, and so I shall deliver. We have some crucial testimony to consider that might yet vindicate December 25th.

 

In the mid second century and early third century AD many Christians were trying to deduce the dates of Christ’s birth and death. We have records from such names as Tertullian, Sextus Julianus Africanus, and others. All of these were using date calculation methods to determine when Christ lived and died.
At that time, Clement of Alexandria in his book “Stromata” mentioned that the Egyptian churches were calculating the date of Christ’s birth in May as May 20th. I will quote from Tom Schmidt’s translation at Chronicon.net in his article “Clement of Alexandria and the Original date of Christmas as December 25th”:

 

From the birth of Christ, therefore, to the death of Commodus are, in all, 194 years, 1 month, 13 days. And there are those who have determined not only the year of our Savior’s genesis, but even the day, which they say took place in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus on the 25th of Pachon…” ~Stromata 1.21.145-146 [my translation]

 

Clement says, “there are those”. I take this to mean he was building on other works completed perhaps by the late second century. What this means is that in the 100’s AD, perhaps even the mid 100’s AD, Christians were calculating the timing of Jesus’ life and death.
What Clement is saying is that Jesus was conceived (Clement uses the word ‘genesis’) on the 25th day of the Egyptian month of Pachon. Now, we don’t know what Egyptian calendar Clement was using. This throws a huge monkey-wrench into correctly translating that date into the Gregorian calendar that we use today. Most people think Clement means to say that Pachon is in late April and into May, therefore Jesus was conceived in mid-to-late May.
Notice how the 25th does seem to keep reemerging.
To put a second point on Clement, he also gives the time between Christ’s birth and the death of Emperor Commodus.
Any basic check will show that Commodus died on December 31st 192 AD. Subtract 1 month and 13 days from December 31st (we aren’t interested in the year) and we see that Clement believed Jesus was born on or around November 28th.
Why do we care what this old man thought? Simple. It establishes that from perhaps even the mid-to-late 100’s AD there were Christians believing that Jesus was born late in the year. And we know from what we learned earlier that in this time and decades afterwards Christians didn’t care about Roman solstice traditions. Right or wrong, it tends to take the legs out from under the claim that Christians only got December 25 by co-opting a pagan date. Not only that, but going through this information sets up a precedence for our next bit of information.
Here’s the real kicker – around 202-211 AD, Clement’s student, a man by the name of Hippolytus of Rome, in his work “Commentary on Daniel,” calculated the date of Jesus’ birth to be December 25th. This is well before Aurelian, and well before the Chronography of 354.

 

There are many people who doubt that this manuscript is genuine, but if one takes all of Hippolutys’ works together, along with the works of other writers of that period who appear to draw from Hippolytus, and along with the work of Clement his teacher, there becomes very good reason to believe that the December 25th date is exactly what Hippolytus believed. Tom Schmidt at Chronicon.net explains this in far greater detail in his article “Hippolytus and the Original Date of Christmas”.
People will no doubt be curious to know how people like Hippolytus came up with the December 25th date.
The date of the birth of Christ is not known. Speculation on when He was born started very early on. The Bible does not tell us on what day or year Jesus was born. Oh, how I wish it did!

 

But what most people overlook is that the Bible also leaves out the year of Jesus’ death. We may know that Passover is on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Abib/Nissan, but how that translates to the Roman calendar varies greatly depending on what year it is. In one year it could be a Thursday in March. In another year it could be on a Saturday in April. In fact, in 33 AD Passover began Friday night at sundown, which means Jesus could very well have been crucified on Friday in that year.

 

Apparently following in the footsteps of his teacher, Hippolytus determined a year for the crucifixion, then a day. He figured that since Christ was crucified on this day, he must also have been conceived on it. Then he counted forward 9 months from conception and arrived at December 25th.
All of this in the early 200’s AD.

 

You might ask yourself why on earth would any sane person believe you died on the date of your conception.
To understand a little more about why Hippolytus thought as he did, we can draw an example from modern claims about Jesus’ birth.

 

I can’t tell how very many times I have heard people speculate that Jesus was born in the Fall. “We can prove it from the Bible!”, they exclaim. During the Feast of Tabernacles or Trumpets is their favorite target. (If you can prove it from the Bible you would know exactly when it was, and not give a choice of dates.) The people who claim He was born during the Jewish holy days have no more fact to draw upon than anyone else who comes to a different conclusion, but at least they are on to something.
You see, the people who claim He was born during the Jewish holidays believe that important things happen over and over on certain days of the year. Turns out this belief comes from the Jews.
For example, the Jews hold the 9th day of the month of Av (Tisha b’Av) to be a day on which repeated calamities have fallen on the Jewish people. Or again, the Jews believed the date on which a person was conceived or born is tied to the date on which they will die. Tradition states that King David was born and died on Pentecost.
Well, turns out that at this time Christian’s didn’t care about Roman traditions but they were enamored with Jewish ones. It seems reasonable that the Jewish belief that things happen repeatedly on certain days of the year influenced the early Christians’ speculation on the birth of Christ, too. They speculated that since Jesus died on a certain day in a certain year, then He must also have been conceived on that same day. Hippolytus calculated the date of His conception/death to be March 25th. From conception to birth is 9 months, normally. So, 9 months from March 25th is…. December 25th!
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) in his book “The Spirit of the Liturgy” argues this exact same thing. Even WikiPedia recognizes this phenomenon in their article on Christmas. In the very first paragraph (as of 12/20/2010) it says this:

 

The date is not known to be the actual birthday of Jesus, and may have initially been chosen to correspond with either the day exactly nine months after Christians believe Jesus to have been conceived…

 

I quote WikiPedia here only to demonstrate that there are valid alternatives to the dating of Christmas, and that this information is readily available to anyone who is interested.

 

Know this – these people didn’t set out to find December 25th at all. There is no way that anyone can accuse Hippolytus or Clement or any of these people of trying to co-opt a pagan December holiday that according to record probably didn’t exist for another several decades to come. Finding Jesus’ birth date was secondary. They primarily cared about finding the date of His death. They were after March 25th. Add 9 months to that and you get December 25th as a bonus prize. If they weren’t trying to adopt paganism, then the roots of Christmas on December 25th are not pagan.

 

Apparently Hippolytus’ dating lasted. Augustine wrote his work “On the Trinity” between 400 and 412 AD. Pay attention to the dating here; this is now well after Filocalus and well after December 25th was established. In chapter V of book IV, Augusting writes this:

 

For He is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also He suffered…

 

Hippolytus apparently started this, and two centuries later Augustine confirms the notion was widely accepted. I would also have you know that to this very day March 25th is the Feast of the Annunciation in the Catholic Church, where the Catholics celebrate the conception of Jesus Christ. We now have book-ended evidence that the Christians calculated Jesus’ birth from a date given for His death, that date was March 25th. Nine months later is December 25th. Here is the story of how Christmas got its date.
Many people treat it as if the Christians stole the date from pagans, and that is that, case closed. This is simply not so. If you still must reject the holiday, please do. Just leave the grossly speculative story of pagan origins behind.

 

In addition, some people have theorized that December 25th was borrowed from the Jews in another way. Some people think it was influenced by the Jews keeping Hanukkah on the 25th of the month of Kislev, and Kislev usually falls in December. So when the Gentiles moved towards December as the date of Christ’s birth, the 25th as a date may have been a natural choice as it already held significance. (Notice my use of words like “may”. I’m only speculating here.)
I disagree with this assertion. Just mentioning it to tie up loose ends.

 

At the start of this section I mentioned that Hippolytus would muddy up the claim that December 25th was adopted because of a solstice festival. Hopefully you do see that there is ample evidence that Christians were calculating the date of Jesus’ birth to be late in the year and even on December 25th long before Diocletian. Should the 30 games ordered on December 25th truly indicate a late date of that festival, or even if indeed it does have something to do with Aurelian, we can see that the Christians beat him to it by half a century or more.

I conclude that it is impossible to say with conviction that December 25th was only adopted because of the Natalis Invicti celebration. That claim appears to be anachronistic.

Miscalculating December 25th

The more I learned about Christmas, the more I was astounded that it seems to be a genuinely Christian phenomenon – at least where the dating is concerned. People mention that “Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church”, then they leave out any mention of Epiphany. Most Armstrongists wouldn’t even know what Epiphany is.

 

Yet people who aren’t quite as interested in finding what is actually true persist in finding what they wanted to find and ignoring what they don’t like.

 

Within the past week someone has told me how they saw this or that television program on the Discovery Channel or some such place that reinforced what Herbert Armstrong taught. Did they search as long and as hard for the other side of the story?

 

In a video called “Christmas Elements Have Pagan Roots” the Discovery Channel interviewed Joseph Wallace, Chair of the Department of Classics at Loyola.

 

If you start watching at 2:00 though 2:07, you will hear Mr. Wallace say this, “How did December 25th win out? Well, we don’t know exactly, but most likely what’s going on is…

 

If you watch at 2:33 though 2:36, you will hear Mr. Wallace say this, “What we think happened, though we have no direct evidence…
 
Those are some incredibly speculative statements for a video with such a definite title.
Though they have “no direct evidence”, they proclaim “most likely what’s going on is” Christmas definitely has pagan origins. This should illustrate how ingrained the idea is that Christians took December 25th from the pagans.
And I am supposed to take “no direct evidence” as an excuse for condemning over a billion people, especially when we have direct evidence that things are not so definite as we were led to believe? But they saw it on the Discovery Channel, and that’s good enough for them. Funny how when the Discovery Channel is airing a program on Evolution, the Armstrongists aren’t nearly as convinced about their authority, but when they air a program that goes against Christmas, “It’s the truth!!”
One might say, “I am not condemning anyone” to which I would reply, very good!
However, I know from experience that there are many who condemn others over this. I mean condemn in a very literal sense. People are called “worldly”, “non-Christian”, “pagan”, “Nimrod worshipers”, “rebellious”, “cursed by God”, “anti-Christ”, “Satanic” and etc. Good for you that you aren’t condemning anyone over this. But keep in mind some people take this quite seriously (and not in a good way). And I know from first-hand experience that many of these both do not know the truth, nor do they care when they are presented with it.
In case you are interested in more, here is a fine article on this subject from William Tighe at Touchstone Archives, called “Calculating Christmas“.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
How did this happen? How did we come to this state? Why didn’t we know about these things earlier? Were we lied to? Did Herbert Armstrong et al bury this information and feed us only what they wanted to believe? I believe the answer is yes and no.
Here’s a quote from Ronald Nash’s book “The Gospel and the Greeks” page 1:
During the period of time running roughly from 1890 to 1940, scholars often alleged that primitive Christianity had been heavily influenced by Platonism, Stoicism, the pagan mystery religions, or other movements in the Helenistic world [by this he means the entire Roman Empire]. … Today most Bible scholars regard the question as a dead issue.
Nash wasn’t talking about Christmas in that quote; he was talking about Christianity itself. But it goes to demonstrate something about evidence and how false information tends to persist.
Nash and most other modern historians have patently rejected the once widely accepted scholarship by groups such as the Religionsgeschichtliche schule (which in English is “History of Religions School”) and people like Richard Reitzenstein, Sir James Frazer, Franz Cumont, and Albert Schweitzer. And it was these people who influenced Herbert Armstrong.
In Lee Strobel’s book, “The Case for the Real Jesus” Mr. Strobel interviews Edwin Yamauchi, professor at Miami University of Ohio and recognized authority on Persian religions. On page 168, Mr. Yamauchi has this to say,
Much of what has been circulated on Mithraism has been based on the theories of a Belgium scholar named Franz Cumont. He was the leading scholar on Mithraism in his day, and he published his famous work “Mysteries of Mithras”, in 1903. His work led to speculation by the History of Religion School that Mithraism influenced nascent Christianity. Much of what Cumont suggested, however, turned out to be quite unfounded.
“Dead issue”? “Unfounded”? Well, that’s rather important to know, wouldn’t you think?
Yet these unfounded dead issues are continuously promoted as “God’s truth” in Armstrongist literature. This is exactly the same as when Ralph Woodrow wrote the Babylon Connection and proved Alexander Hislop to be a dead issue, yet to this day we still hear Hislop’s garbage from all quarters of Protestant fundamentalism. Hislop is still quoted throughout the Living Church of God’s booklet on how to tell a false church from a true one. How can one use false information to find a true church? I’ll guarantee you, someone out there is going to read this post and call me a Nimrod worshipper. Why? Because they still hold as true something that was long ago proven beyond a doubt to be false!
Then where does Mithra fit in to all of this? When I hear over and over again, including in the aforementioned Discovery Channel video, that December 25th was chosen as the birthday of Christ because that was the birthday of Mithra, based on no direct evidence mind you, I simply think of another quote from Edwin Yamauchi on page 171 of “The Case for the Real Jesus” where he said,
“[December 25th] was the date chosen by the emperor Aurelian for the dedication of his temple to Sol Invictus, the god called the ‘Unconquerable Sun.’ Mithras was closely associated with Sol Invictus; sometimes they’re depicted shaking hands. This is apparently how Mithras became associated with December 25.

So, in other words, Mithras became associated with Sol post facto, after Aurelian recreated his Sol Invictus. From this we can also conclude that Mithra could not be associated with December 25th before Sol was, and our first record of Sol being associated with December 25th comes two decades after Christ was shown to be associated with it (and if Hippolytus can be believed, more than a century after).

Here is a fine link to KingDavid8.com for more information on any Christ/Mithra similarities: “Jesus & Mithra Parallels – A Christian Response

You may also want to check his other similarities pages as well.
Such mistaken information was widely accepted during HWA’s formative years. This is why when we read Armstrongist literature even to this day we see so many references to works over 100 years old. How many times have you seen reference to the Catholic Encyclopedia 1911 edition? Well, now you know why.
In HWA’s defense (yes, we defend HWA when we the situation warrants it), not everything that HWA said was an outright lie, even if it was incorrect. He did what he thought was right with the information available at the time. We simply have far better information 100 years later. What a difference a day makes!
This doesn’t excuse the modern purveyors of what has been long known to be false. People like Dave Pack and Gerald Flurry simply have no desire to let go of the errors of the past. Too much of their reputation and income rides on tickling the itching ear with their self-serving lies. They teach people to judge and condemn based on false information for their own gain.
So, in my opinion, no, HWA was not necessarily lying when he was telling the world the only information available at the time, he was simply in error – but today people really should know better, and often do, so yes they are lying to us now.
Conclusion
So what have we seen about December 25th? We have “no direct evidence” that Christians co-opted December 25th from the pagans.
· Bruma has no bearing on the dating of Christmas; it wasn’t even celebrated in the same month. Christians opposed it. Brumalia has no bearing on the dating of Christmas; it is a Byzantine celebration from after the time of Christmas.
· Saturnalia has no bearing on the dating of Christmas; it was a week before Christmas and was never observed on December 25th.
· Yule has no bearing on the dating of Christmas. Yule was apparently not a merely a solstice celebration, as is often claimed. Our first records come too late and too far away to influence the beginning of Christmas.
· Zagmuk Akita has no bearing on the dating since this was a spring festival.
· The literal winter solstice has no bearing on the dating. Christmas has never once been on the literal winter solstice. The date is a Roman tradition, so there is no reason to tie December 25th to solstice celebrations of non-Roman cultures.
· And what of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti? What “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti”?? People can’t even decide what the real name is. Why call it so many different things if that’s its name? Properly it should be called “Natalis Invicti”. And Natalis Invicti appears to be a late addition. We have good reason to believe Sol was added to the day in 363 AD. The calculation of the December 25th predates this and was not dependent upon it.
It boils down to this – speculation. And here’s mine:
We have ample evidence to believe that Christians were calculating and celebrating the birth of Christ since before 200 AD, perhaps even the mid 100’s. There are good reasons to believe that Hippolytus of Rome, following the example of his teacher Clement, calculated Christ’s birth to be December 25th between 202-211 AD. Multiple Christians at that time were trying to determine the timing of Christ’s conception/death. They were not borrowing from paganism. They ignored Roman mythology. They preferred these dates because they meshed with Jewish (and in their minds this meant Biblical) traditions. It would appear that March 25th as the date of Jesus’ conception caught on in the West. Augustine was still writing about it in the 400’s. To this day it is the Feast of the Annunciation. Calculation from March 25th seems to be the way the Latin Church came to December 25th. When you count forward 9 months from March 25, you get December 25. It appears to be purely coincidental that December 25th was the Roman traditional date of the solstice. The church universally agreed on a winter birth at that time. Even in the East their celebration of the birth of Christ was a mere 12 days later.
In the late 200’s or early 300’s, the festival of Natalis Invicti was created to commemorate the Roman traditional solstice. We have no reason whatsoever to believe this festival was so popular the Christians had little option but to adopt it; the popular festival was Saturnalia which was over a week earlier. Moving forward in time again – in 363 Julian the Apostate appears to have applied Sol worship to the festival. Christmas was already well-established in the Latin West by this point. Julian the Apostate was trying to undo Constantine’s reforms and return Rome away Christianity. I believe he applied Sol to this date specifically to co-opt it from Christ.
After this point, it appears the Christians began to use the sun imagery to explain how Jesus was greater than the Roman gods. Using imagery to explain Jesus to pagans is not the same as adopting pagan festivals. The Church leadership at that time, and for the next two centuries after, was in no mood to “adopt” anything. In 381-394, Emperor Theodosius I declared paganism illegal and took steps to eliminate all pagan worship.
Important things to ponder!
The fine people at Biblical Archaeology Review have posted an article titled “How December 25 Became Christmas” that agrees with what I’ve told you here. Thanks to Teresa Beem for this gem!
Is the information in today’s post news to you? Do we really suppose that the self-proclaimed apostles and leaders of their own church movements would tell you about information that exonerates the dating of Christmas and proves them wrong? Do we really suppose that they forgot to tell us these things?
You want the truth, right? Any group who still at this late date would reference Alexander Hislop’s “Two Babylons” and his nonsense ideas about Nimrod obviously have no interest in genuine truth. How much more ridiculous are childish anagrams like “SANTA = SATAN”, or blatantly misleading comparisons of Saint Nicholas, whose history is known, with recent English nicknames for Satan like “Old Nick”. Have we not considered that Santa means “saint”? They proclaim how they only want “the truth” and “proven fact” yet they give us anything but. They teach as truth that Jeremiah 10 is speaking of Christmas trees, when it is speaking of no such thing!
It is far past time to demand better.
Look, I’m not telling you that you have to run out and start celebrating Christmas. Perhaps if we can clear the old misinformation we might even see that the birth of Christ is in every way Biblical. Maybe if you don’t like the idea of decorations, you could still see that Jesus couldn’t have died for our sins if He wasn’t first born into this world. Maybe that will spark some acts of charity in your heart.
I would like everyone to stop the judging and condemning each other over something that clearly isn’t as simple as they had been led to believe. At the very least, consider giving people the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t pagans for celebrating Christmas. Then go do the research for yourself. Ask the tough questions. The attaining to truth is apparently going to have to start with you.

 Nimrod’s Birthday Was January 6? – As Bereans Did

Everyone who attends a Church of God splinter group knows the teaching that Christmas is nothing but a modern celebration of Nimrod’s birthday. Year after year this claim is taught throughout the Churches of God, and sent out into the wide world by print, television, and Internet. But I’ll bet you didn’t know that the Church of God has two completely different dates for the birth of Nimrod. It’s true!
Today I want to dive into this and show you, dear reader, how the Church of God undoes its own teachings. Some parts of this post are going to be difficult to wade through, but I found it was necessary to approach it as I did or we wouldn’t see how the COGs got their doctrines in the first place. My apologies in advance.

“December 25th was the birthday of Nimrod.”
Herbert Armstrong, Plain Truth magazine, December 1957, p.7

Herbert Armstrong, the “founder, Pastor General, and spiritual and temporal leader” of the Churches of God, tells us December 25th originated as the birthday of Nimrod.
 
This is interesting considering the Babylonians had no month of December. December is a Roman month. Rome didn’t exist in Nimrod’s time. December is an English translation of a Latin word. Neither of these languages existed in Nimrod’s time. It is impossible for the Babylonians to believe Nimrod was born on December 25th.

“In Egypt, it was always believed that the son of Isis (Egyptian name for “Queen of Heaven”) was born December 25th. Paganism celebrated this famous birthday over most of the known world for centuries before the birth of Christ.”
Herbert Armstrong, Plain Truth magazine, December 1956, pp.8-9

Egypt didn’t have a “December” either, let alone most of the known world.
As for the Egyptians always believing the son of Isis was born on December 25th, we deal with that in detail in our article “On Nimrod and Christmas Trees part2”. In short – this claim is simply not true.
 
Still, Herbert Armstrong seemed to very much believe any December 25th holiday ultimately came from Nimrod. That is what he taught, and that is what his church believes.

“The Romans used to celebrate December 25 as the Saturnalia birthday of Saturn or Nimrod.”
Herman Hoeh, Plain Truth magazine, December 1958, p.6

Saturnalia was never on December 24th or 25th. It was never once celebrated on either of those dates. We deal with that in detail in our article “The Plain Truth About December 25“. But more to the point, when you read that quote above would you believe Herman Hoeh agrees with Herbert Armstrong?
It would only be proper to agree with the founder of your church while writing in the church magazine he started. Herbert Armstrong claimed to be an Apostle inspired directly by God, after all. Armstrong’s approval does make the claim official church doctrine. Herman Hoeh appears to be saying that December 25th was Nimrod’s birthday.
But there’s something important you should know:
     Herman Hoeh didn’t believe December 25th was Nimrod’s birthday.You read that correctly. Herman Hoeh, the official historian of the Worldwide Church of God, believed that Nimrod was born on January 6 …and it was printed in not just one but three separate editions of the Plain Truth magazine. This makes it an official church teaching as well.
The Churches of God have two official dates for the birth of Nimrod. And if Herman Hoeh was any kind of historian at all, as Herbert Armstrong said he was, that means December 25 was the wrong one.Just listen to how Herbert Armstrong lauds Hoeh’s work:

“Studying, delving into intricate research from the vantage-point of THIS BASIC KNOWLEDGE, Mr. Hoeh has made vitally important discoveries. It is my personal opinion that he is today the most accurately informed historian in the world.”
Herbert Armstrong, Plain Truth magazine, Aug. 1956, p.4

Hoeh did base his claims from actual evidence, right? He didn’t just make this up, right?

I want to go over this January 6 date with you today because this says quite a lot about the way Armstrongism treats history in order to achieve the goal of demonizing mainstream Christianity; Christmas is merely a tool in this larger game.
If you’re not from an Armstrongist background, don’t worry. Enjoy the read anyway! You’ll see how “research” is done by those church groups who tell you Christmas is pagan.

 
The quote above from Herman Hoeh is taken from a larger article that was run in the Plain Truth magazine in 1958, 1960, and 1962 (with heavy edits). What I would like to do here is quote for you from the version of Hoeh’s article that ran in the December 1958 edition of the Plain Truth magazine. I want to give you some of what Hoeh wrote, then I will insert some of my own commentary to point some important things out to you.
Ready?IT’S LIKE CHRISTMAS IN JANUARY

“In the western and especially the eastern parts of the Roman Empire, many sects were beginning to follow a false tradition that Jesus was born on January 6.”
Herman Hoeh, Plain Truth magazine, December 1958, p.6

Hoeh is describing the early adoption of Nimrod’s birthday into the pagan Roman culture long prior to the birth of Jesus. He claims that tradition was given to Rome while it was yet a Republic and was kept through the centuries. Then this tradition was handed unchanged to the early church. They began to follow it on January 6 because the tradition had been this way for centuries.
This claim has no basis in fact. It is simply untrue. But it is noteworthy.

Why is this important to point out? Because he is saying that the entire world adopted Nimrod’s birthday on January 6, not December 25!
Hoeh claims the entire world, for centuries and centuries, celebrated January 6th with no regard to December 25. This length of time is important to point out because just imagine how hard it would be to change the traditions of the whole world after centuries of unaltered observation.
It is also important to point out because it demonstrates that even though the date of the solstice was supposedly moving, no one on earth cared. They maintained January 6th regardless.
It is also important to point out because it undoes Herbert Armstrong’s claims that from the beginning it was December 25th that was observed. Hoeh says no!

Just think of the implications of this, and how deeply it contradicts Herbert Armstrong and the church’s claims on December 25th over the years. If Nimrod wasn’t born on December 25th and if the entire world wasn’t celebrating December 25th from time immemorial, then the whole foundation of Armstrongism’s claims about Christmas is destroyed.

“Even the church at Rome for nearly two centuries OBSERVED THIS FALSE DATE FOR CHRIST’S BIRTH ON JANUARY 6. This festival was called Epiphany. (Bingham’s Antiquities, Book xx, chapter iv.)”
Herman Hoeh, Plain Truth magazine, December 1958, p.6

Notice how Hoeh says “the church at Rome”. Keep this in mind for later. It will be important.
Hoeh tells us that the entire church – what Armstrongism would call “the Catholic Church” – did not celebrate anything on December 25th for over two centuries.
In other words, Hoeh claims January 6th was being observed from the start, down through 2,000 years of time, and well into the first two centuries after Christ.Just think of the implications and contradictions in this! If  Romans weren’t celebrating anything on December 25th, then they couldn’t force it on the Catholics. And if the Catholics weren’t celebrating on December 25th, then there couldn’t have been any pressure at all on Constantine the Great. Everything the Churches of God teach against December 25 is vaporized.
Yet there is the claim, right there in the Plain Truth.

“The celebration of January 6 was anciently introduced in Babylon as the birthday of Nimrod at the time when the winter solstice occurred on that date-before 1900 B.C. (See page 35 of The Evolution of the Christian Year by A. Allan McArthur.)”
Herman Hoeh, Plain Truth magazine, December 1958, p.6

To seal the deal, Hoeh now un-does everything Herbert Armstrong claimed about Nimrod’s birthday. Hoeh makes it absolutely clear that Nimrod was not born on or near December 25th.

Consider the implications and contradictions in this! Yet, there it is, in print, written by the official church historian and published thrice in the Plain Truth magazine for the entire world to read.

We are about to get into some confusing territory. I’ll try to guide you through it gently.

“The introduction of the birthday of Nimrod among the Romans occurred when the winter solstice on their religious calendar occurred on December 25! That occurred about 300 B.C., shortly after Alexander the Great conquered the Persian empire and introduced the Mystery Cult of Babylon into the West.”
Herman Hoeh, Plain Truth magazine, December 1958, p.6

Hoeh is saying that in Nimrod’s time, 2000 BC, the winter solstice was January 6. Hoeh says that over the next 1,700 years the date of the solstice slowly crept back. Hoeh says by 300 BC the solstice was on December 25.
Now, just think of how this sentence makes a mockery of Armstrongist claims on December 25th. Hoeh just got done saying that everyone in the world was observing January 6th even well into the Christian era, regardless of when the solstice fell on the calendar. No one on earth cared when the solstice was on January 5th, or 4th, or 3rd, or 2nd, or 1st. No one cared when the solstice crept into December. According to Hoeh, they observed January 6 no matter when the solstice was.
Hoeh is saying the solstice was important, but no one on earth seemed to think so.I will say this plainly to you. What Hoeh is really doing is this: Hoeh is trying to tie Nimrod’s birthday both to Christmas and to Epiphany, and the way he hopes to pull this off is by making both dates into solstice festivals.
Hoeh is saying that Nimrod was born on the winter solstice. He says in extreme antiquity, the solstice fell on January 6. He says when the tradition came to Italy in 300 BC, the solstice fell on December 25. He’s trying to kill two birds with one stone. He’s just making a terrible mess of it.THREE BIG PROBLEMSThere are several problems with Hoeh’s claims. For instance, they contradict. How can Rome celebrate January 6th even into the Christian era, yet when the tradition came to them five hundred years prior it was on December 25th? This is a contradiction. Or for another example, the Armstrongist claims against the holidays is that they are supposedly unchanged traditions from Nimrod’s day. But Hoeh claims the dates did change with the solstice. This is a contradiction. But there are bigger issues we should focus on.The three big problems with Hoeh’s claims are, 1) he has to keep saying that the solstice occurred on dates when it did not, 2) he has to say the solstice was generally ignored even though it was supposedly the truly important factor in his equation, and 3) his math is all wrong.
It is a crude fact of history that the solstice was most likely not on December 25th in 300 BC. In order to understand this, I need to bore you with a little history about the Roman calendar. I will try to make this as painless as I can. Please, don’t skip past this, though. It’s important to know for later on.In deep antiquity, from around 700 BC, Rome used a lunar calendar. Their calendar was originally only 304 days long and had ten months, with a huge month-less winter gap. There were no months in winter at all. The first month was March, and the last month was December, but December was in autumn. For centuries, the winter solstice was in no month whatsoever.
The calendar was so confusing that in the 500’s BC they added two months – January at the start of the year and February at the end of the year. You read that right; February used to come at the other end of the year from January. For several centuries the winter solstice should have been in February. Problem was, due to a superstition against even numbers they only allowed 355 days in their year, so their calendar was still horribly inaccurate. Every once in a while they would add an extra month to correct the year.
Around 450 BC or so, February was moved from the end of the year to where we know it now; between January and March. Now December was the last month again, and now it generally fell in winter.
What this means is that only after 450 BC did the winter solstice have any chance of falling in December. All of the claims of Armstrongism about December and the solstice prior to 450 BC are absolutely impossible! But this still doesn’t mean the solstice fell on December 25th. (Just because December is a winter month doesn’t mean the solstice is on December 25th. December is our winter month now, as you read this, yet the solstice is not on December 25th, and hasn’t been for almost 1,900 years.) Their calendar was often months out of sync. The Roman officials who were in charge of the calendar would often purposely manipulate it for political ends. Almost nothing was reliably on a given date.
Now, here comes the truly important part. — In 46 BC, Julius Caesar reformed the calendar and set it up with 365¼ days, and leap years. He also added two days to December. December used to only have 29 days; now it has 31. This is the calendar system that we know as the Julian calendar.To reiterate:
Only after 46 BC did December have 31 days. Only after 46 BC was the solstice more or less reliably on December 25th. Only after 46 BC did anyone have a year that was 365¼ days long.
Except, the year isn’t exactly 365¼ days long, so the Julian calendar was wrong by 11 minutes a year or roughly a day every 130 years. The solstice was only reliably on December 25th only for a little more than one century. By the second century AD, December 25 was no longer the date of the solstice.You still with me? Hoeh claimed the solstice fell on days it didn’t, and when we check into that we find that Hoeh inadvertently claims no one cared when the solstice was anyhow. As the solstice supposedly moved back from January 6, no one cared; they observed January 6. As it moved into December, no one cared; they observed January 6. As it moved to December 25th suddenly they care?? Then, when the solstice moves past December 25th, as we see it today, no one cared.I told you all of that so you could know for certain that Hoeh’s claims are built on how things work today. He uses a calendar as we see it today. He attacks holidays as we see them today. He failed to adjust his claims for how things worked anciently. When we think it through, everything falls to pieces.
And it’s about to get worse! I haven’t yet explained why Hoeh’s math is wrong.

“Alexander wanted to found one world and one religion – AND THE ONE RELIGION TO WHICH ALL COULD TRACE BACK THEIR ORIGIN WAS THE BABYLONIAN MYSTERY CULT! It claimed to be a universal or catholic form of religion in which all peoples could find unity! According to the religious calendar maintained by the priests of the mystery cults, each year averaged 365 1/4 days.”
Herman Hoeh, Plain Truth magazine, December 1958, p.6

As we just saw, this claim is utterly false. This claim is inexcusably false. Hoeh is crediting the calendar of Julius Caesar (ca. 46 BC) to Alexander the Great (ca. 300 BC). In fact, Hoeh is crediting the calendar of Julius Caesar to Nimrod (ca. 2000 BC)!
Alexander died some 223 years before Caesar was even born! Hoeh knew good and well the Romans, let alone the Greeks, did not have a 365¼-day solar year in 300 BC. No one did!
Keep in mind that Alexander never conquered Rome. Alexander had no say in the Roman calendar or their religion. Alexander was a Greek emperor. He spent most of his time in Asia. The Greeks, Medo-Persians, and Egyptians – among whom Alexander spent most of his time – had no December nor did their years average 365¼ days.
So why did Hoeh choose Alexander the Great at all? It all has to do with math …wrong math.BAD MATHThe foundational claim in this entire article is that in 2000 BC the solstice was on January 6. This is the cornerstone. Everything hinges on this.
Next, Hoeh needs to get the solstice from January 6th to December 25th. It has to move to December 25th. Hoeh must demonize both Epiphany and Christmas or he betrays his ideology. He can’t simply say January 6 is the right date or he calls his Apostle a liar! He must move that solstice date. So Hoeh did a little math.
January 6 is how many days from December 25? If you count it out, chances are you’ll count 12 days. The 12 days of Christmas! Except the Romans counted inclusively, so ancient Romans would have counted 13 days. Hoeh needs to move the solstice 13 days. How?
Hoeh employs the error of the 365¼-day Julian calendar. That calendar lost one day roughly every 130 years because the solar year is not 365¼ days long exactly (it’s about 11 minutes and 14 seconds shy of that). Hoeh says it loses a day every 133, but let’s not squabble over the minutiae. I will use his numbers to better recreate what he did. We need to multiply 133 years by the number of days Hoeh wants the calendar to move. If we take 133 years and multiply that by 13 (the number of days Hoeh needs to move the calendar) we get 1,729 years. It would take 1,729 years to move the solstice the 13 days from January 6 to December 25. Just round that off to 1,700 because we are only talking rough numbers anyway. Now, if the solstice was on January 6 in 2000 BC, 1700 years later it should be on December 25th. That equates to 300 AD.It was this math, not any historical document, that causes Hoeh to claim the solstice was on December 25th in 300 BC, in Alexander the Great’s day.

“This made the year a fraction too long. It caused the winter solstice to drop back over the centuries about the rate of one day in about 133 years. In Rome the winter solstice – “Christmas” – had gradually dropped back to December 25, beginning 300 years before Christ.”
Herman Hoeh, Plain Truth magazine, December 1958, p.6

It was math that got him to 300 BC; but it was bad math! Why? I’ll show you why.

It was bad math because the 365¼-day calendar didn’t exist in Nimrod’s time. It didn’t exist in Alexander’s time either. It first existed in Julius Caesar’s time – 46 BC. You cannot use the error of this calendar in years before the calendar ever existed!
But not only that, Hoeh counted 13 days from January 6 to December 25. Except, until 46 BC December wasn’t 13 days from January 6. December only had 29 days, not 31. In 300 BC, December 25 was 11 days from January 1. Hoeh’s math is off by two whole days – which means his math is off by 266 years! If Hoeh had thought through what he was doing, he would have ended up in the 500’s BC, not the 300’s. And, as we saw earlier, in the 500’s BC the solstice wasn’t in a month named December, it should have been in a month named February!

Truth be told, the real number by which Hoeh’s math was off is incalculable. How do we compensate for the centuries when there was no winter month? How does anyone do that math?

If Hoeh was the great historian he was held to be, then he knew this without a doubt. Did he get this so very wrong because he didn’t know, or because he was deliberately passing on false information? You decide! But the fact remains — this is official COG doctrine, written by the church historian, published in the flagship church magazine.

WHEN IN ROME…

“The early Babylonian date of January 6 as the birthday of the pagan savior Nimrod was first applied to Jesus by the apostatizing Eastern Christians.”
Herman Hoeh, Plain Truth magazine, December 1958, p.6

Keep that sentence in mind as we read this next part.

“But this date for the birth of Christ was not universally accepted. In 245 A.D., Origen, like numerous other Catholic leaders, still repudiated the idea of observing any day as Christ’s birthday. The traditional date of January 6 therefore did not gain a very strong foothold in the western parts of the Roman Empire because certain heretical sects were also following the same tradition.”
Herman Hoeh, Plain Truth magazine, December 1958, p.6-17

At first, Hoeh said that the west kept the January 6 tradition alive. Remember when he said this, “Even the church at Rome for nearly two centuries OBSERVED THIS FALSE DATE”?
Now Hoeh says the east kept the January 6 tradition alive, and it didn’t really catch on in the west.Then, for some unknowable reason, despite the January 6th date being continually observed since 2000 BC, and despite it being in Rome for 600 years, and despite it being church tradition for 200 years, now certain Romans in the west suddenly decided December 25th would be a better day.Why? Why would anyone trash 2,300 years of tradition and suddenly assume December 25th was important? Hoeh says January 6th was the accepted date in that place and time. Then why the sudden change?
The main reason anyone in the Armstrongist COGs say Christmas is on December 25th is because that date was supposedly Nimrod’s birthday. But Nimrod wasn’t born on that day!  He was born on January 6th according to the “most accurately informed historian in the world”. So why change?
Hoeh says Nimrod’s birthday followed the solstice, but then he amply demonstrates no one seemed to care about the solstice. If it was tied to the solstice, why did no one celebrate it that way? Know this: December 25 wasn’t the solstice in the fourth century AD anyway! So why change?
If the solstice is so important, and for 2,300 years no one cared about the solstice, and December 25th wasn’t the solstice — then why change from January 6 to December 25? Hoeh never really tells us why.I’ll tell you why. He has to smear both Christmas and Epiphany, and he has to point a finger at Constantine the Great, and that’s all that matters. In short — there was no change. Hoeh made it all up!Lest you think perhaps there is some misunderstanding on my part, here’s a quote from this article in its edited form run in the Plain Truth 1962:

“The celebration of January 6 was anciently introduced in Babylon as the birthday of Nimrod before 2000 B.C, when the winter solstice-the shortest day of the year-occurred on that date. (See page 35 of The Evolution of the Christian Year by A. Allan McArthur.) But the winter solstice did not continue to fall on January 6 because the pagan calendar was not accurate. When the birthday of Nimrod was first celebrated in Rome, the winter solstice had dropped back to December 25. But the Babylonian priests in Rome continued to celebrate January 6.”
Herman Hoeh, Plain Truth magazine, December 1962, p.29

There was no misunderstanding.
Hoeh said plainly that the Romans ignored the solstice and just celebrated January 6th. Then, for no real reason, a date that wasn’t the solstice is suddenly important.

Why? How is that even possible? In one place, Armstrongism teaches the Catholic Church had no choice but to adopt a pagan date because the Romans were so adamant that they celebrate a certain traditional date, but in another place, Armstrongism teaches that Romans didn’t care much for 600 years of unbroken tradition.

We know from history that in the fourth and fifth centuries AD the solstice was not on December 25th. But according to Hoeh, it should have been roughly three more days farther away than it actually was. Hoeh’s timeline is worse for his explanation than actual history. There was absolutely no reason whatsoever, according to Hoeh’s claims, to change from the ancient tradition of January 6th to December 25th.

CONCLUSION

The Worldwide Church of God had two different, irreconcilable dates for the birthday of Nimrod. If this is so true, and so plain, then why the discrepancy?

Today we’ve seen many contradictions.
Herman Hoeh claimed January 6 was the real date of Nimrod’s birthday, but if January 6 is the right day then December 25 cannot be! He claimed the whole world observed January 6 for over 2,000 years, but if the whole world was observing January 6 then no one could be observing December 25! He claimed, starting in 2,000 BC, the solstice crept backwards from January 6, but if that’s true then every day the solstice touched is Nimrod’s birthday. Nimrod went from one, to two, and now has dozens of birthdays! He tried to claim that both January 6th and December 25th were days for traditional solstice celebrations, but he ended demonstrating no one cared about the solstice. In one place he said the Italian pagans and then the church in Rome observed the January 6 date. In another place he said the Greek east preserved the date, because it never caught on in the west. Assumptions were made about ancient cultures that are based on modern circumstances. Features unique to the Latin calendar were ascribed to Babylon and Egypt and Greece. He said Alexander the Great and even Nimrod had access to a calendar that wasn’t invented yet. Then, because he had the wrong number of days in December, he miscalculated his conclusion by over 250 years.
This is the plain truth??

In short – in one article Herman Hoeh managed to destroy the Church of God’s teachings regarding Christmas on December 25th.

I bet you didn’t know about Nimrod’s January 6th birthday, did you? What I’m telling you today shouldn’t be a surprise to you. It was printed in the Plain Truth magazine three times!

Hoeh says Nimrod was born on Jamuary 6th, then Hoeh says the celebration was moved to December 25th by Constantine. But why? How? Hoeh never says. The truth is there was no change!! No one ever celebrated Nimrod on January 6th or December 25th. January 6th celebrated events in Jesus’ life (like His baptism); December 25th celebrated Jesus’ birth. Never did January 6th “change” to December 25th. Every stitch of it is made up using terrible pseudo-history.

In its zeal to trash mainstream Christianity, the Worldwide Church of God simply couldn’t pass up on the temptation to connect Epiphany (January 6) to Nimrod. It was unfortunate that Hoeh was not creative enough to invent some other explanation. Nimrod’s birthday was already taken! No one seemed to care. After all, why should they? The Church of God leadership knew the regulars wouldn’t notice. And if they did notice, they would be called “demon influenced” and put out of the church.
They call it “God’s truth”, but it isn’t true. They knew it then, and they know it now.

Are you surprised? I sure was! For thirty years of my life I followed Armstrongism. That is, until I began fact-checking the material.
But this January 6 business isn’t sitting well with you, is it? You’ve seen too much before now that supposedly proved December 25th was always the date, haven’t you? Yet, there January 6 is, in print, in the church’s flagship magazine, from the most accurately informed historian in the world. Don’t think that the solution is simply to disregard the Plain Truth magazine’s articles about January 6. This is the Plain Truth we’re talking about. They wouldn’t put anything untrue in the Plain Truth, would they? That date is official church teaching. You know, in your heart of hearts, that something is wrong with the official church teaching that Nimrod was born on January 6 and December 25, don’t you? You automatically know one birthday cannot be on two different dates. Hoeh did read some history, didn’t he? He cited some sources, didn’t he? Herbert Armstrong read history and cited sources, didn’t he? How can both claims be right? They are mutually exclusive. How can both January 6 -and- December 25 be the original date of Nimrod’s birth? They can’t! How can the whole world celebrate December 25 -and- the whole world celebrate January 6? They can’t!
What do you propose to do about that?

As Bereans Did has many articles showing why you should give a second look at the facts about Christmas. In my next article, I hope to demonstrate several more contradictions in the claims about Christmas printed in the Plain Truth magazine from the 1950’s through the 1970’s.

Previous articles:

Christmas 2016

In Defense of Christmas

Christmas & Herbert Armstrong

Christmas and the Bible

Christmas – Little Guy in the Eye

December 25th

YES! Evidence Indicates Jesus Really Was Born Dec. 25th – Kurt Simmons

“Unto You is Born this Day” – Kurt Simmons

John the Baptist Six Months Older than our Lord – Kurt Simmons

The Nativity of Christ & Death of Herod the Great – Kurt Simmons

Star of Bethlehem or Nazareth? – Kurt Simmons

Objections to Christmas and the Dec. 25th Birth of Christ Answered – Kurt Simmons

Refutation of Ernest Martin’s “The Star that Astonished the World” – Kurt Simmons

Dating the Birth of Jesus of Nazareth – Michal E. Hunt

How December 25 Became Christmas – Biblical Archaeology Society

Calculating Christmas: The Story Behind December 25 – William J. Tighe

Christmas – Throwback Christianity

Next article: Is Christmas Lawful, or Is It Pagan? – Kurt Simmons

Holidays christian-holidays-2

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