It is important to also address the subject of the Christmas celebration. Referring to history, it will be noted that all agree that before the Roman era, Europe celebrated the rebirth of nature and the new hope of life in late December, without much specificity. For the Christian religion, the Christmas celebration was hardly existent. It was from the 2nd century, with changes in the calendar, that the Church began to seek the precise date of the birth of Christ.
During this same period, the Romans had a solar deity they worshipped, Sol Invictus (the Invincible Sun), whose cult appeared in the Roman Empire at the same time. This deity incorporated aspects of the mythology of Apollo and the cult of Mithras. Emperor Aurelian (270-275) officially established Sol Invictus as the supreme god of the Romans and the principal patron of their Empire, inaugurating a new temple in his honor on December 25, 274, and making this date an official holiday called the “Day of the Birth of the Invincible Sun,” from the Latin dies natalis solis invicti.
Since the early Christians already celebrated Sunday as the day of Christ’s resurrection and the first day of the week, and gathered to partake in the Holy Communion together on Sunday evening, a syncretism with the symbolism of the Roman solar cult was performed in the Christian context, especially considering that one of the messianic titles applied to Jesus Christ is the “sun of righteousness.”
This is how Sunday retained two appellations: “the Lord’s Day” and “the day of the sun,” and thus, the Christmas celebration was born. The date of December 25 was set around the year 300 by Rome to Christianize the rites derived from popular culture. Thus, it was easier to convert the population to Christianity based on secular traditions. Christmas thus comes from the Latin words natalis dies, “day of birth,” and the Greek and Gaulish words noio (new) and hel (sun).
Between the 18th and 19th centuries, the exchange of gifts became a custom, symbolizing the presents that the Magi offered to Jesus. The culture of Santa Claus was added to this. Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas or Kris Kringle, has a long history rooted in Christmas traditions since the 3rd century. Born around 280 CE in Patara, near Myra in Turkey, Santa Claus was the jolly man in red who brought toys to good girls and boys on Christmas Eve.
Dying on December 6, he was revered as the one who traveled the earth at night to distribute gifts to children, becoming venerated as the patron saint. Different colors are attributed to him, some to assign a sacrificial mission to his gifts for children, others for commercial advertising reasons.
It is also noteworthy that December is a winter month in Israel, and when Jesus was born, the shepherds were in the fields with their flocks, placing the period of Christ’s birth in the spring season (cf. Luke 2:8). Certainly, December 25 is the day globally chosen for the commemoration or celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, but it is only a conventional date where the whole world stops to speak only of the One who came to fulfill everything; it is therefore important not to fall into idolatrous practices condemned by the Word of God.
It is also important to emphasize that in the most spoken Germanic language in the world, which is English, the oldest word used to refer to Christmas is “Yule.” This word came from Old Norse, a language of the ancient Vikings, where they worshipped “jol,” the name of an ancient pagan festival of the winter solstice. During this ritual, the ancient Germans sacrificed a boar and a goat, then they drank and celebrated, calling it the “sacred night,” a name that characterizes the same period, called “Weihnachten” in German.
With Christianization, the word “Yule/Jol” began to refer to the Nativity feast. Moreover, it is from the word “Jol” that the French word “joli” came, speaking of what is beautiful and venerable. As it attracted crowds, in the 12th century, the Christmas celebration began to be referred to as the mass attracting crowds (to the birth) of Christ. From there came the Old English word Cristesmæsse, from which the word “Christmas” originated.
This text is an excerpt from the book ” TIME & CIRCUMSTANCES: Learning to count our days correctly” written by Dr. Rhema Divin Ngoy.