Whether you are Christian or not, you will probably try to make the most of the holiday on Christmas day today. It is a great opportunity to rest from work and spend some time with family, friends and loved ones. It is also that day of the year when everything becomes magical and everyone exchanges gifts. Last but not least, it is a time to enjoy a tasty, calorific meal with the whole family. While non-religious people will only talk about Father Christmas to their children, Christian families will also celebrate Jesus Christ’s birth by perhaps attending mass.
The first Christmas dates back to 336AD, under the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine. However, there is no historical evidence of Jesus Christ being born on the 25th December under Constantine’s rule. For this reason, it is possible that the first Christian writers selected this particular date taking into account other existing celebrations held around that day all over Europe. The majority of them were pagan midwinter festivals, for example, the Romans used to hold their midwinter feasts called ‘Saturnalia‘ during late December to honour the winter solstice. The latter was strongly intertwined with the birthday of the divinity of ‘Solis Invicti’’ (the Unconquered Sun). In fact, the Winter Solstice symbolised the end of the cold season, as well as the victory of the Sun over the ‘darkness’.
Pagan Scandinavia used to hold a winter festival too called Yule, which started in late December to end in early January. Its most famous icon was the Yule log, a large wooden log burned in the hearth as a part of traditional Yule or modern Christmas celebrations in several European countries. Originally, the holiday consisted of placing a tree into your house as a symbol of warmth. It has no doubt inspired two modern Christmas traditions: the first being the decoration of a tree and and the second the baking of a traditional Christmas cake in many European countries known more commonly as a ‘bûche de Noël’.
Finally, it is certain that the Roman emperor Aurelian was the first to choose December 25 to celebrate the sun god Mithras together with the winter solstice in 274. Under Constantine, some Christian writers linked this celebration to the birthday of their God. Some years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus had to be fixed on 25 December.
Even if today is unlikely to be the exact date of birth of Jesus Christ, it has been chosen to celebrate his birthday. Whatever your faith, religion or beliefs, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Photo credits: Toby Hudson