Professor William Tighe argues that, actually, the pagans co-opted it from the Christians.
As we approach the Feast of the Nativity – “Christes Messe,” or Christmas – we begin to hear once again the complaints that Christians “stole” Christmas from Pagans, replacing an ancient pre-Christian celebration of the Solstice with the celebration of the Messiah’s birth.
It is unquestionable that many of the symbols and trappings we have adopted for our secular celebrations, from cut greenery to Christmas trees, have pre-Christian roots. And why should they not? In purely secular terms, every culture that moves into a new area adopts elements of what already existed.
And from a theological perspective, as I have mentioned on more than one occasion, the religious impulse comes from God and leads toward God; by that understanding, pre-Christian religions and spiritual traditions were reaching imperfectly toward the truth that Christianity expresses perfectly.
Why, then, should not aspects of those traditions which aren’t intrinsically opposed to the Christian message – and which, as in the case of light born amidst darkness, may even help to explicate it – be “baptized” into it? The answer is obvious: of course they should.
But with respect to the date itself, it appears that either fortuitous coincidence or – more likely – divine Providence led to the juxtaposition between the Winter Solstice and the birth of Him who is hailed as the Sun of Righteousness. As this article notes,
Professor William Tighe … argues that the December 25th date ‘arose entirely from the efforts of early Latin Christians to determine the historical date of Christ’s death.’ He also goes so far as to claim that the December 25th pagan feast of the ‘”Birth of the Unconquered Sun”… was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance of Roman Christians.’
Follow the link to read more, and if you feel so inclined, continue with Professor Tighe’s original Touchstone article for further details. Of course, as Intellectual Takeout’s Daniel Lattier points out in the linked article,
“Of course, to Christians, it really doesn’t matter that much whether or not they co-opted December 25th from the pagans, or vice versa. The Christian faith doesn’t stand or fall on that detail. But it’s nevertheless valuable for all of us to give closer scrutiny to shibboleths—such as that of the pagan origins of Christmas—which are continually repeated without being examined.”
Such claims, however seemingly plausible and even attractive they may be, are nonetheless in error; and in today’s climate, are often weaponized to become part of the overall assault on Western and Christian civilization against which The Anglophilic Anglican – and many others – strive to stand.
May you enjoy a holy and blessed remainder of Advent, and an equally holy, blessed, and Merry Christmas!