Although it may seem untrue to us, the truth is that Christmas, as we understand it today, that is, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, has not been celebrated since the dawn of time, but it was in the fourth century when the church officially designated this day, December 24, as the representative day for this event.
Today it is almost certain that Jesus must have been born in the spring. In fact, for some historians the celebration of the historical Christmas should be between April and May, since, following the account in Luke 2:8 that indicates that on the night of Jesus’ birth, shepherds tended the flocks outdoors and the sky was full of stars, it is unlikely that this event would have occurred in winter. The Christian Church keeps December 25th as the conventional date, since in spring or autumn the Church celebrates Easter.
So why did the church choose this particular day?
Christmas, as we know it today, is based on the religious tradition of the birth of Jesus, the visit of the wise men and the miracles performed by Father Christmas (St. Nicholas).
However, as I mentioned earlier, Christmas celebrations only began to be celebrated from the 4th century onwards and it was the popes of that time who set the date at 25 December, precisely so that the faithful would pay less attention to the pagan festivities of the winter solstice and other religious celebrations. Even the typical Christmas tree is of Celtic origin.
Well, Christmas was the result of combining pagan and religious traditions. In these days, many cultures celebrated different festivities:
The festival of the birth of the Unconquered Sun (or dies natalis Invicti Solis) was celebrated by the Romans on December 25th. In this respect, on the first day after the six days of the (apparent) solar stagnation of the winter solstice, the duration of the first light of the day begins to increase, like the sun, once again, and the sunrise begins its movement towards the North, which was interpreted as the rebirth of the sun.
In ancient Rome, the SATURNALIA was held in December, in honour of the reign of the god Saturn over Rome in the Golden Age. In that age, the land in Rome produced abundantly and there was no war or discord.
During the SATURNALIA there were feasts for a whole week, with feasting and drinking. During that week the social order was reversed: the masters served the slaves, the slaves became masters and held high positions in the state.
It was traditional to exchange gifts made of silver, although almost anything could be used as a gift for the occasion.
The festival was also a celebration of the end of darkness and the beginning of a new year. Here you can see a fragment of the words that the priestess pronounced for the rite of SATURNALIA:
This is the night of the solstice, the longest night of the year. Now darkness triumphs and yet there is still a little light left. The breath of nature is suspended, everything waits, everything sleeps. The Dark King lives in every little light. We wait for the dawn when the Great Mother will again give birth to the sun, with the promise of a new spring. Such is the eternal movement, where time never stops, in a circle that envelops everything. We turn the wheel to hold the light. We call the sun from the womb of the night. So be it.
In fact, there were many changes before the church officially designated this day, and it did so because precisely this day had many connotations of pagan origin, but fundamentally because it was the time of the winter solstice, esoterically considered as the ‘door of the gods’ the cosmic moment when the divine forces manifest on earth – in St. John, summer solstice, the door that opens is the ‘door of men’ and was the Roman celebration of MITHRA – hero and sun god – who was symbolically born on December 25th. By transferring the date of Jesus’ birth to this day, the church intended the Christian celebration to overlap the pagan one; by assimilating both cults, it strengthened the Christian message.
Coinciding with the winter solstice, many other deities were born, which is why Christmas is celebrated almost everywhere in the world. For example, in China these dates are dedicated to various religious solemnities; in India the birth of Buddha is celebrated. The date of December 25th has also been attributed to the birth of the Greek Orpheus and Dionysus is said to have been born from the union of Zeus – king of the gods – and the virgin SEMELE and it is still said that he too descended into hell and rose again.
Today Christmas – which comes from the Latin ‘novitas’: birth – is one of the most important holidays in Christianity – along with Easter and Pentecost. It is the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem.
This feast is celebrated on December 25th by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, some Protestant churches and the Romanian Orthodox Church, although there are others that celebrate it on January 7th, as they have not accepted the Gregorian calendar, which is ours.
For Catholicism, Christmas is not only a holiday, but a season of festivities, and just like Easter, it contains a time of preparation, called Advent, which begins four Sundays before December 25th.
It is customary for several masses to be held at Christmas, with different content depending on the time of day. Thus, the night before – Christmas Eve – even if it is a Sunday, the famous MISA DE GALLO or MIDNIGHT MASS is prayed; in some places there is even an AURORA MASS which is celebrated precisely at dawn on the 25th December. And the MIDNIGHT MASS, in which it is customary that before or after it, the Pope gives a Christmas message to all the faithful of the world, this message is known as URBI ET ORBI (in Latin: to the City of Rome and the World).
After the celebration of Christmas on the 25th December, the feasts of St. Stephen (26th December), St. John the Evangelist (27th December), the Holy Innocents (28th December), the Holy Family (Sunday after Christmas or 29th December) and the Holy Mass are held. if Christmas falls on a Sunday), Mary Mother of God (1st January), the Epiphany which is celebrated on the 6th January although in some dioceses it is moved to the second Sunday after Christmas, and the Baptism of Our Lord (Sunday after Epiphany), with which the liturgical time of Christmas ends.
It should be noted that in Bethlehem, the city where Jesus Christ was born, Christmas is celebrated twice. This is because the Basilica of the Nativity is administered by the Catholic Church which celebrates Christmas on December 25th; and the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem which celebrates it on January 6th.
In that church there is an underground cave with an altar over the place where according to tradition Jesus was born. The exact spot is marked by a hole in the middle of a 14-pointed silver star surrounded by silver lamps.