Many of the traditions, customs, and stories of the Advent Seasonhave Christian roots while others have non-Christian sources. Some arelegendary, and others are firmly rooted in history. The Catholic Encyclopaedia states “there is no month in the year to which respectable authorities have not assigned Christ’s birth” ( Catholic Encyclopaedia). 

This is perhaps ironic that the actual date for the Nativity or birth of the Christ Child, which our Western calendar system is based upon, is not known with certainty. Indeed, the Feast of Christmas was not an early festival for the church, like Resurrection Sunday (Easter) was, and in fact did not see general observance until the 4th century. The western church did not agree upon the current date of December 25 until the early part of the 5th century under Pope Leo I, though this date for Christmas was first mentioned in the 4th century illuminated manuscript the Chronography of 354.

Some historians, especially in the Eastern Church, suggested that the date of Christmas was derived as 9 months after the Annunciation (to Mary) which is celebrated on March 25. This would place it on December 25. Many 18th century scholars, including Isaac Newton, argued that this date was picked to supplant the pagan year-end holiday Saturnalia that was celebrated by the Romans and many of whose customs survive today: decorations of evergreen, holly, mistletoe, feasting and the exchange of gifts.

As is often the case, when new religions bump into cultures with preexisting belief systems, the new religion often adopts aspects of the older faith. December 25th was the Roman festival of Saturnalia. It was also the birthdate of Persia’s Mythras and the log burning fun fest of Northern Europe’s Yule. When the Christian faith spread into Europe the Church Fathers saw it expediant to adopt some of the aspects of popular cultural belief (Yule trees, Easter eggs, Samhain costumes) as a way to make the new Christian faith more palatable.

However, if one is a Christian, don’t let this information dissuade them from celebrating Christmas, which is a joyful and generous time. For instance, if someone’s savior, like the Queen of England, has a birthday to celebrate, and the date you pick doesn’t matter. Lots of religions have the impulse to celebrate the coming of hope and new light in the dead of winter, so this one works fine.

DISCLAIMER: The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article. The author carries the responsibility for citing and/or licensing of images utilized within the text.