Why Is Christmas Celebrated on December 25?

On December 25, ancient Romans celebrated the birth of a savior god, who was born to virgin. During his time on earth, this savior god performed miracles, such as turning water into wine. He was revered as a promoter of civilization, as a lawgiver, and a lover of peace. He was eventually killed, giving his blood as a sacrifice. After three days, he was resurrected and ascended into heaven. At the festivals devoted to his honor, his devotees would get drunk and parade around with a huge phallus—a gigantic statue of an erect penis. I am referring, of course, to Dionysus, whom the Romans knew as Bacchus.

bacchus photo
Photo by Boston Public Library

It comes as no surprise that the birth of Dionysus was celebrated on December 25. Dionysus started off as a sun-god. All of the ancient sun-gods of the northern hemisphere were born on December 25, which is three days after the winter solstice—just long enough after the shortest day of the year for you to tell that the days are, in fact, starting to get longer. In other words, everyone can see that the sun has just been reborn.

It may seem to be a coincidence that Jesus Christ was also born on December 25. However, neither of the two Biblical accounts of the Nativity specifies a date, or even a year, for the birth of Christ. For this reason, the early church fathers disagreed among themselves about when to celebrate Christ’s mass. They finally picked December 25 because it was such a popular pagan holiday. That’s why Christmas is celebrated on December 25. Rather than trying to get pagans to give up their favorite traditional holidays, the church fathers decided to coopt the pagan holidays by scheduling important Christian holidays on the same days. For this reason, many pagan traditions were carried on in Christian holiday traditions.

For the past few years, Christian conservatives in the United States have complained that secular humanists have been carrying out a war against Christmas. Their complaints are absurd. The war against Christmas is being carried out only by our cats. If you come home to find that your Christmas tree has been knocked over, its ornaments scattered all over the floor, do not blame an atheist, blame your cat.

Unfortunately, some militant Christians become obnoxious at Christmastime. They attack non-Christians for not taking part in Christmas celebrations. They attack thoughtful people for not presuming that everyone else celebrates Christian holidays. They criticize judges for upholding the First Amendment by not allowing governmental institutions, such as public schools, to endorse Christianity by setting up Nativity scenes. (Because of the Constitutional separation of church and state, governmental agencies cannot endorse one religion over another, or get entangled with religious institutions.)

Nothing that atheists, or Jews, or Muslims, or Hindus, or any other non-Christians have been doing is preventing any Christians from celebrating Christmas at home or putting up a Nativity scene on the lawn of their church. In reality, the people who wanted to prevent others from celebrating Christmas were devout Christians, such as the Puritans.

The English Puritans who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony disapproved of Christmas celebrations. The Puritans were called Puritans because they wanted to purify the Church of England by removing all pagan and other non-Biblical ideas and practices. They were opposed to the celebration of Christmas Day for several reasons. One is that the Bible does not tell Christians to celebrate Christmas. Another was that the Bible does not specify that Christ was born on December 25. Yet another was that Christmas is a pagan holiday. Some of the Puritans had a classical education and knew that many Christmas traditions were clearly of pagan origin. Thus, in 1649, the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony banned Christmas observances in Boston. Anyone caught doing anything to celebrate Christmas, such as by taking the day off from work, could be fined 5 shillings, which was a lot of money back then. For this reason, Christmas Day was largely ignored in New England until 1870, when it became established as a federal holiday.

In a free country, Christians and even non-Christians can celebrate Christmas if they so desire. But they should not be forced to take part in celebrations that offend their sensibilities in some way. If you would not want to be forced to march in a parade with a bunch of drunks who are carrying around a giant phallus, don’t force other people to celebrate Christmas.

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