Go to Lutheran Public Radio for round-the-clock Christmas music, starting today. Here is the ad that shows what they are trying to do:
Go to Lutheran Public Radio for round-the-clock Christmas music, starting today. Here is the ad that shows what they are trying to do:
In his continuing series that we’ve been blogging about exploding the myth that Christmas was based on a pagan holiday, Rev. Joseph Abrahamson takes on the view recently pushed on the History Channel that Christmas, along with customs like singing carols, doing things for children, and gift-giving, grew out of the Roman solstice feast of Juvenalia:
The claim about Juvenalia is usually that it was the Roman solstice or early January holiday where the celebration of the youth, singing carols, and gift giving came from. Claims like this are usually made by people who watched the History Channel’s programs and their views of Juvenalia:
“Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome.” HC
Juvenalia was actually instituted in A.D. 59 by Emperor Nero to celebrate his first shave at the age of 21.
In other words, he was no longer a child, but an adult. Juvenalia was not a celebration of youth, but of coming out of adolescence to be a real man.
In this article I am listing sources instead of copying the quotes because they are long, but please don’t gloss over what the source says. Go to it and read it. Read each of them.
We can go back to Tacitus (AD 56 – 117), the earliest historian who recorded the invention of Juvenalia. Tacitus was 2 or 3 years old when Nero celebrated his Juvenalia.
Tacitus records Nero’s creation of Juvenalia in his Annales, XIV.15-16 [English/Latin Parallel] XV.33 [English/Latin Parallel] XVI.21 [English/Latin Parallel]
Again, no particular date, nothing about a childhood celebration or gift giving. Nero did command his people to sing or perform lewd songs and acts in the theaters he had constructed for this occasion.
Next is Suetonius (c. AD 69 – c. 122) [roughly contemporary with Tacitus], who wrote in his The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, [English/Latin] but gives only a very brief account, stating nothing about the date of Nero’s beard shaving party, nor about any child’s gathering or gift giving.
Born almost 100 years after the Nero invented Juvenalia, Cassius Dio (AD c. 150 – 235) gives a description that is more detailed than that of Tacitus or Seutonius in his Roman History 62.19-21 [Greek Text][English Text] Found in Vol. VIII of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1925 LXI:19-21, pp. 77-82.
No date for Nero’s Juvenalia is mentioned by Cassius Dio. He does mention that Nero had theaters constructed for the event. He also mentions that Nero forced people from the high end of society in to humiliating and lewd acts in honor of the emperor’s first shave, which they did because they had a not unreasonable fear that Nero would kill them if they displeased him.
Dio also writes that Domitian (AD 51 – 96, emperor from 81-96)gave Juvenalia games but assigns no date.
So, now we are 175 years after Nero instituted Juvenalia, and we have no date of the year, no mention that this festival is for the good of children, and no mention of gift giving. We do have the fact that Nero constructed theaters for this celebration and commanded performances that included a singing competition. And, of course, Nero was declared the best singer of all.
The choice of December 25th and January 6th for the Christmas observance is already established by the end of the 2nd century AD.
In another in his series on the historical roots of Christmas (see our post on why he says it takes place on December 25), Pastor Joseph Abrahamson explodes the scholarly myth that Christmas was a Christian attempt to co-opt the pagan feast of the sun god known as Sol Invictus.
The claim is that Sol Invictus “Invincible Sun” is a more ancient pagan holiday in Rome celebrated on December 25th. The claim assumes that this pagan holiday was so popular and dangerous that the Christian Church sought to suppress it by establishing the celebration of Christ’s Nativity on December 25th. By doing this, the claim continues, the Christians adopted the pagan day and some of the practices of that pagan festival to make the celebration of Christmas more appealing to pagans. . . .
While pagan worship of the sun certainly existed in Rome before the spread of the fulfillment of that promise in Christ came to the city; the celebration of Sol Invictus as a god in Rome actually came as pagans attempted to suppress Christianity. This early attempt as suppressing Christianity by means of the pagan worship of Sol is found in the Historia Augusta, a pagan history of Rome compiled in the fourth century AD.
The Historia Augusta in The Life of Elagabalus (1.3) relates events from the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, a particularly twisted man, who reigned from 218-222 AD. Marcus Aurelius Antoninus came to be called Elagabalus after the name of the Syrian sun god, and was himself initiated as a priest of that false god. He viewed himself as the personal manifestation of the Syrian sun god. After coming to Rome and being established as emperor at the age of 14, the Historia states:
4 Elagabalus [established himself] as a god on the Palatine Hill close to the imperial palace; and he built him a temple, to which he desired to transfer the emblem of the Great Mother, the fire of Vesta, the Palladium, the shields of the Salii, and all that the Romans held sacred, purposing that no god might be worshipped at Rome save only Elagabalus. 5 He declared, furthermore, that the religions of the Jews and the Samaritans and the rites of the Christians must also be transferred to this place, in order that the priesthood of Elagabalus might include the mysteries of every form of worship. [Latin]
And, coincidentally, very shortly after Elagabalus tried to establish worship of the Syrian sun god, Sol Invictus, he was thought to be too licentious and was assassinated by his own people, pagan Romans, at the age of 18 years old.
From that time there is no mention of the celebration of Sol Invictus in Roman history until the rule of Aurelian (A.D. 270-275). Aurelian did try to re-introduce the worship of Sol Invictus by decree in the year 274. But there is no record of this festival being held on December 25th. “The traditional feast days of Sol, as recorded in the early imperial fasti, were August 8th and/or August 9th, possibly August 28th, and December 11th.”(Hijmans, p. 588 )
Aurelian did declare games to Sol every four years. But there is no record from the period or early historiographers that these games were associated with December 25th in any way. The best evidence suggest that the games were held October 19-22 of their calendar. Anyway, on another coincidence, a year after Aurelian declared these games in honor of Sol Invictus, he was assassinated by his own pagan Roman officers out of fear he would execute them based on false charges.
The earliest calendar to mention that Invictus as a specified date for Roman religious life comes from a text of the Philocalian Calendar, VIII Kal recorded in an illuminated 4th Century manuscript called The Chronography of 354. In this late manuscript the date is listed in Mensis December (The Month of December) as N·INVICTI·CM·XXX.
Many scholars through the years have assumed that INVICTI in this calendar must mean “Sol Invictus.” This is possible. However, elsewhere the calendar does not hesitate to make explicit mention of festivals to Sol, for example: on SOLIS·ET·LVNAE·CM·XXIIII (August 28th) and LVDI·SOLIS (October 19-22).
Even if INVICTI does refer to Sol Invictus on December 25th of this calendar, all this shows is that the celebration of Sol Invictus was placed on December 25th after Christianity had already widely accepted and celebrated December 25th as the Nativity of Christ.
There are many historians and people following them who will still assert that December 25th is Sol Invictus in ancient Rome. Some will even claim that another religion, Mithraism, has close connection to this December 25th celebration. In actual fact there is no ancient documentation tying Mithraism to December 25th or Sol Invictus. The Christian celebration of the Nativity of Christ as December 25th predates anything in the earliest actual documentation for Sol Invictus on December 25th.
Christians typically every year take up the cause of keeping Christ in Christmas. The American Atheists organization has taking up the cause of keeping Santa in Christmas and dropping Jesus. Here is a sign they put up in Times Square:
Similarly, Christians regularly decry the commercialization of Christmas. Ayn Rand, conservatives’ favorite atheist, says commercialization is the best thing about it. From Michael Schmitz:
“The best aspect of Christmas is the aspect usually decried by the mystics: the fact that Christmas has been commercialized. The gift-buying . . . stimulates an enormous outpouring of ingenuity in the creation of products devoted to a single purpose: to give men pleasure. And the street decorations put up by department stores and other institutions—the Christmas trees, the winking lights, the glittering colors—provide the city with a spectacular display, which only ‘commercial greed’ could afford to give us. One would have to be terribly depressed to resist the wonderful gaiety of that spectacle.”
-Ayn Rand, The Objectivist Calendar, December 1976
Pastor Joseph Abrahamson has started a fascinating series on why the church celebrates Christmas on December 25 and when this started. He includes a number of links and references, and he critiques the notion that Christians co-opted a pagan holiday.
I was fascinated by the evidence he offers about the Feast of the Annunciation (when the angel appeared to Mary and she conceived by the Holy Spirit), which was celebrated on March 25, a date established before 200 A.D. The church added nine months from that date, which gives us the Baby so conceived being born on December 25.
I have heard it said that the date of Christ’s birth was once considered to be March 25, but that claim is based on a mistranslation and misunderstanding of “genesis.” Rev. Abrahamson quotes Clement of Alexandria, in his “Stromata,” dated between 193 and 215 A.D.:
And there are those who have determined our Savior’s genesis
not only the year, but even the day, which they say took place
in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus on the 25th of Pachon.
Rev. Abrahamson comments:
The important line is “our Savior’s genesis.” The month of Pachon in the Egyptian calendar at that time corresponded to March in the Julian Calendar.
Christ’s genesis, or conception on the 25th of Pachon was in what our calendar would equate with March 25th. The celebration of Christ’s birth would be nine months later: December 25th, in our calendar. ANF 2:333 translates “birth” rather than “conception”. The translation of “genesis” as conception is consistent with Clement’s usage of this word in other contexts, for example:
“It is not therefore frequent intercourse by the parents, but the reception of it [the seed] in the womb which corresponds with genesis.” (Clement of Alexandria Stromata 22.214.171.124)
So the early church believed that a person’s “genesis” begins with conception and not with birth. That’s an important point for the pro-life cause today.
Eastern Orthodox folks celebrate Christmas on a different day than we Western Christians do. They don’t go along with the change in the calendar that was orchestrated by Pope Gregory XIII back in 1582 in order to re-align our calendar with the motions of the solar system. The so-called Gregorian calendar was accepted throughout the European-heritage nations by 1752. But the Eastern nations remained under the old Julian calendar.
What I didn’t know is that some Protestants also kept using the Julian calendar. They could be found in Appalachia as late as the 20th century. From the Kairos Quarterly, a publication of an Orthodox monastery in West Virginia, via Trystan Bloom at First Thoughts:
As a Russian Orthodox monastery which observes the Julian, or “old”, calendar, we were surprised to learn about Appalachian “Old Christmas”, which is a most solemn and reverent time for families living in the mountains. The initial change-over from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar by the British Empire and the American colonies in 1752 caused a difference of eleven days. Thus, the date of “new” Christmas on December 25th was eleven days ahead of “old” Christmas, which fell (at that time) on January 5th. Some Protestants refused to honor the new calendar because it was decreed by the Pope, so their celebration of Christmas remained on the Julian calendar – which now falls on January 7. In the Appalachian Mountains, the celebration of Old Christmas remained until about World War I. Though they might also observe ‘new’ Christmas on December 25th, the festivities were very different. December 25th was marked with revelry and parties and visiting, but January 6th was primarily a reverent family observance.
I’m fascinated by such living relics of past history. One of these days I intend to get on a boat and travel to Tangier Island here in Virginia in the Chesapeake Bay. This island was settled by British colonists in 1686, and the people have been so isolated that to this day they still speak the English dialect of that day. Which means they talk pretty much the way Shakespeare did.