Sunday, November 29, 2015

Redeeming Christian Holy Days: The Christians Stole December 25th

How does a Christian deal with claims like this?

The tactic used in this meme is intimidation. There is no way most readers could research all these claims. The implication is that the maker of the meme must have done the research. Therefore it must be true. After all, how can I possibly argue. This is the use of the Snow Job fallacy []

The meme is not really historical. It is a type of Big Lie Technique [], and the Half-Truth [].

Contrary to the closing claim: “Most scholars” do not actually make such a claim as this meme pretends. Nor were early church leaders wanting “to seize the enthusiasm from crowds already gathering on” that day.

I would encourage readers to spend some time actually reading these myths to discover that none of the claims are true. That has great value in refuting these arguments in the future. But don't read the folklorist stuff. Read the old myths in translation from the ancient languages. What you will find is that the people who put out memes like this do not have any legitimate claim. They are just passing along a group of lies.

And there is another valuable way of showing the claims that these other pagan gods cannot possibly have been born on December 25th. December 25th did not exist as a month or a day in any of the calendars of any of the cultures in the list. December is an exclusively Roman cultural month name.

For Those Who Want Some More Detail

But, But, Buts:

Some might object, “Don't be silly, we mean the equivalent date on their calendar!” Really?!! The meme has the audacity to make a specific historical claim that it was December and it was the 25th of that month. It is precisely this particular date that the meme claims is a demonstration of the falseness of Christianity. Which way do they want it?

They may further object, “Hey, what we mean is that December 25th is the winter solstice, and all these were born on the winter solstice.” Really? First, that is not what the meme claims to be about. Again, this is dishonesty. Second, The ancient mythologies do not place the births of all these different pagan gods on the winter solstice. Again, that is dishonesty.

And third, December 25th was only equated with the winter solstice by the Julian reforms of the calendar. And even with these reforms the actual date of the solstice only matched up with December 25th rather sporadically and for a very limited period of history. When the Julian calender was instituted they had too many leap years (1 every 3 years) which put the date off the solstice within 4 years. After the correction made by Augustus, the calendar date drifted away from the solstice after 128 years. Again, the meme claims the important date is December 25th, a date that wasn't equated with the solstice until 46 BC. So the new date of December 25th was on the solstice for about 5 years in that period. And then from A.D. 8 until about A.D. 136 December 25th was on or overlapped with the winter solstice.

No Equivalence to December 25th in Other Ancient Calendars

Horus, Osiris, Zoroaster, Mithra: these are Egyptian and Persian. The Egyptian and Persian cultures had a fixed number of days in their calendars. This means that the calendar year would cycle through 1/4th a day every year so that at last, after 1,460 years, the solar year and the calender would match up for one day. The the whole cycle [called a Sothic cycle] would start all over again. They had no month “December” nor did they count their days within their months the same way as the Romans. To claim that any of these false gods were born December 25th and that Jesus is an imitation is a lie. And those claims are worthy of ridicule based on both the history of calendars as well as the reading of the ancient myths.

Attis, Heracles, Dionysus, Adonis, Hermes, Prometheus, Krishna: The Phrygian/Greek/Indian gods. The Indian and Greek calendars present another set of problems. Which calendar does one use? Ancient India and ancient Greece had no standard calendar. Each region or city-state established their own calendar. Each had their own set of religious holy days. Both the calendars and the holy days differed from place to place. The start of the year was different from one city to the next. The counting of the months, when months or days would be intercalated was different (leap days and months). The names of the months were different from city to city. Even the way the new month would be declared and published was different. The method of counting days within a month and the reasons for them varied. There is no simple equivalent that can be made to “December” or to the 25th in these calendars.

That leaves us with Tammuz, a Babylonian false god. Again, there is no month “December” in what today is referred to as the Babylonian or the Mesopotamian calendar. One could note that the Babylonian calendar appears to have been much more consistent annually than the Roman Republican calendar. But the moths of the Babylonian calendar began when the king declared a new month after his astrologers first sighted the setting of the new moon. There is no possible regular synchronization between Roman Republican December or any particular day in Roman Republican December.

For Those Who Want A Lot of Detail:

No Equivalence in the Old Roman Republic Calendar

I asserted just above that there is no possible regular synchronization between Roman Republican December or any particular day in Roman Republican December.

As a month, December did not come to be fixed around the winter solstice until the Julian reforms of 46 B.C. Before that the Roman Calendar was a much more loose lunar/solar calendar and had possibly been as much as half a year out of synchronization with the solar year.

In the late first century A.D. the Roman historian Plutarch wrote:
59 1 The adjustment of the calendar, however, and the correction of the irregularity in the computation of time, were not only studied scientifically by him, but also brought to completion, and proved to be of the highest utility. 2 For not only in very ancient times was the relation of the lunar to the solar year in great confusion among the Romans, so that the sacrificial feasts and festivals, diverging gradually, at last fell in opposite seasons of the year, but also at this time people generally had no way of computing the actual solar year; the priests alone knew the proper time, and would suddenly and to everybody's surprise insert the intercalary month called Mercedonius. [Caesar 59.1-3,*.html]
Macrobius (A.D. 5th century) wrote in his dialog on the Saturnalia 1.12.39
Sed cum is numerus neque solis cursui neque lunae rationibus conveniret, nonnumquam usu veniebat ut frigus anni aestivis mensibus et contra calor hiemalibus proveniret: quod ubi contigisset, tantum dierum sine ullo mensis nomine patiebantur absumi quantum ad id anni tempus adduceret quo caeli habitus instanti mensi aptus inveniretur. [*.html]
But since that number [of days in Romulus' year] matched neither the revolution of the sun nor the phases of the moon, it sometimes happened that the cold season fell out in the summer months and, conversely, the hot season in the winter months: when that happened, they let pass as many days—assigned to no particular month—as were needed to bring them to the time of year when the conditions of the heavens matched the month they were in. [Kaster, p. 155]
These documents are just two clear examples of many. They demonstrate there is no foundation for those who would promote the meme at the top of the article and claim that what they mean is that December 25th means the winter solstice.

The last year of the old Republican calendar was called the “Year of Confusion” []. Emperor Julius made that year last 445 days in order to bring his new calendar plan into operation. It is only after the Julian reforms that one can start to talk about a consistent month and day of the year.

The only example of a pre-Julian Roman Repubicancalendar that has come down to us is the fragmented Fasti Antiates maiores.

This calendar was found in Antium (modern Anzio), Italy, in the year 1915. It is broken, but largely readable.

The thirteen month names head the columns: JAN, FEB, MAR, APR, MAI, IVN, QUIN, SEX, SEPT, OCT, NOV, DEC, INT. January through June (IVN) are the same month names we use. Then come Quintus and Sextus. Quintus was renamed Julius in his honor when he reformed the calendar in 46 B.C. Sextus was renamed Augustus in his honor after he fixed a leap year problem that was introduced with the Julian reforms. September through December carried through. INT stands for the Intercalation month that was to be used to keep the months in the appropriate season when those in charge of the calendar determined it necessary to do so.

Note that at the bottom of each column is the number of days in the month. So under December is the number XXIX, meaning that December has 29 days in the Republican calendar.

On the right is a close-up of the November/December columns (based on Degrassi and Michels). What you will notice is that in each month there is no ordinal reckoning or numbering of days from 1 to the last numbered day. There is no “25th” of the month at all.

What this particular calendar shows us is that days were lettered A to H, then A to H. This is called a nundinal (“nine-day”). It is an eight day long cycle that the Romans used for their business and worship. It corresponds to the 7 day work week but is one day longer. And anyone using a 7 day week would need to take this into account. Sunday worship for Christians, Sabbath for Jews would be on a different letter of the nundinal in each nundinal cycle. Those using Greek calendars would have the same problem. The Greeks generally began their seven day week on Saturn's day. Because the Greek and Mosaic weeks both had seven days they overlapped consistently. Thus, Sabbath, or the Seventh Day in the Mosaic order would always have happened on the same day of the week in the Greek method. So, generalizing a bit, Saturn's day, or Saturday, aligned with the Sabbath.

The next column after the nundinal markings tells whether the day is according to Roman law a: F-Fastus='lawcourt day'; C-Comitialis='assembly day' or 'N-Nefastus='non court day.

There are three special divisions of the month marked on the columns. The first day of the month is at the top, heading the column. Next to the nundial letter is the letter K. This stands for kalendae 'kalends.' The word probably meant that this day would be “called out” as the new month. We can just use it as a reference to the first day of the new month. But in the time before the Julian reforms, this day was most likely announced by a priestly leader (pontif) and established based both on seasonal and lunar considerations.

The fifth day of November and December (along with January, February, April, June, August, and September) are marked NON. For March, May, July and October the seventh day of the month is marked NON. NON is short for Nonae=ninth. That is, it marks the ninth day before the Ides.

Eight days later is the Ides, marked EIDVS on the calendar. Probably this was meant to indicate the full moon. The Republican calendar puts the Ides of a particular month either on what we would number as the 13th or the 15th of the month. But that is not how the Romans counted the days.

How the Roman Republic and the Julian Reform Counted Days

There is no known general practice of Romans using a serial day numbering system for the whole month. The closest common practice was the eight-day long nundinal. There is no December 25th. Serial numbering individual days for the whole month came into widespread practice after the Gregorian reforms from the 16th century and later.

The Romans would name their days by an inclusive count of how many days the date happened before the Nons, Ides, or Kalends. Thus, for example, Hippolytus wrote in between 202-211 AD.

Ἡ γὰρ πρώτη παρουσία
τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν ἡ ἔνσαρκος,
ἐν ᾗ γεγέννηται ἐν Βηθλεέμ,
ἐγένετο πρὸ ὀκτὼ καλανδῶν
ἡμέρᾳ τετράδι,
βασιλεύοντος Αὐγούστου
τεσσαρακοστὸν καὶ δεύτερον ἔτος,
ἀπὸ δὲ Ἀδὰμ πεντακισχιλιοστῷ
καὶ πεντακοσιοστῷ ἔτει·
ἔπαθεν δὲ τριακοστῷ τρίτῳ ἔτει
πρὸ ὀκτὼ καλανδῶν ἀπριλίων,
ἡμέρᾳ παρασκευῇ,
ὀκτωκαιδεκάτῳ ἔτει Τιβερίου Καίσαρος
For the first advent
of our Lord in the flesh,
when he was born in Bethlehem,
which happened eight days before the kalends
of January [December 25th
on the 4th day of the week [Wednesday],
while Augustus was reigning
in his forty-second year,
but from Adam five thousand
and five hundred years.
He suffered in the thirty third year,
8 days before the kalends of April [March 25th],
the Day of Preparation
the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesaer
We can note that Hippolytus (who wrote over a century before Constantine's Council of Nicea) was using the Julian calendar and stated that Christ's nativity was eight days before the kalends of January. This, as a calendar day name, is equivalent to the Gregorian date name of December 25th.

This equivalency works because the Julian Calendar gave December 31 days. But if you look at the Republican Calendar you can see that December was given XXXIX or 29 days. Thus eight days before the kalends of January would be comparable to the Gregorian naming convention of December 23rd. But it would not be the correct date on the Gregorian Calendar. For most named dates in the literature of the Roman Republic before the Julian reforms there is very little chance of determining a Gregorian equivalence unless there is some other event dated in a different way—such as astronomical events.

What we can say is that well before Constantine there were Church leaders using the Julian calender who pointed commemorated the birth of Christ on the 8th day before the Kalends of January. A date we would legitimately equate with December 25th in our current system.


When someone presents an argument like the meme above which claims all sorts of ancient pagan gods actually had claim to a birthday on December 25th there is no need to panic. They are attempting to undermine faith in Christ by this attack. But the attack has no merit. The information is dishonest. The various ancient mythologies of these false gods do not support the claim. And, as we have seen above, the use of the Julian/Gregorian calendar date of December 25th is a flat out impossibility when we look at what is known from actual historical documentation.

For other articles dealing with specific challenges to Christmas and holy days associated with the date of Christmas:

-- Annunciation-March 25 --resources
-- Nativity of St. John the Baptist-June 24 (Annunciation + 3 months)
      Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
-- Christmas-December 25 (Annunciation + 9 months)
-- Candlemas/Presentation-February 2nd (Christmas + 40)

Some Pagan days claimed as sources for the Christmas cycle 
--  Sol Invictus 
--  Juvenalia [Old article Juvenalia]
--  Saturnalia [Old article Saturnalia]
--  --  -- resources
--  --  Nativity Scenes-Sigillaria 
--  Brumalia
--  -- resources
--  -- Ancient Sources: Statistics and Concordance
-- --  Ancient Sources: Pre 46 BC, Republican Calendar 
-- --  Ancient Sources: post 46 BC Julian Calendar Reforms

--  Misuse of the Church Fathers regarding paganism
-- Christ Myth Theory -- [covering the following]
-- -- Horus [virgin birth from Isis]

Cohen, Mark E. The Cultic Calendars of the Ancient Near East. Bethesda, Md: Capital Decisions, 1993.

Grout, James, Encyclopedia Romana Fasti Antiates
Michel, Humm. “Chapitre 9. La Publication Des « Actions de La Loi » et Du Calendrier civique1.” In Appius Claudius Caecus : La République Accomplie, 441–80. Bibliothèque Des Écoles Françaises d’Athènes et de Rome. Rome: Publications de l’École française de Rome, 2013.

Michels, Agnes Krirsopp, 1967 The Calendar of the Roman Republic, Princeton, NJ.

Stern, Sacha. Calendars in Antiquity: Empires, States, and Societies. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

For some general introduction:

Wikipedia article Fasti Antiates Maiores

Wikipedia article Roman Calendar