Christine Lovatt

Christmas is coming and once again we prepare for the big day, as people have done for over a thousand years.

The date of 25th December was first declared by Pope Julius I, around 336 AD. The exact day on which Jesus was born was not recorded, so why was this date chosen? There were several possible reasons.

March 25th is thought to be the day of the Annunciation, when Mary was told she would give birth to Jesus. This date comes from being the sixth month of her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist. It was also the first day of the New Year in many countries, including England. It is roughly the date of the northern spring equinox. So, nine months after the Annunciation would be a reasonable date for Jesus’ birth.

Another reason is that the Roman festival of Saturnalia took place from 17th – 23rd December, to honour the Roman god Saturn, and on 25th, when the Romans thought the winter solstice took place, was the festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, ‘birthday of the unconquered sun’. Early Christians might have given this festival a new meaning, the birthday of Jesus.

In the first few centuries AD, the persecuted Christian minority were keen to distance themselves from the larger, public pagan religious observances, such as sacrifices, games and holidays. This was still true as late as the violent persecutions that followed after 303 AD, when the Roman emperor Diocletian issued a number of edicts against the Christians.

Christmas is celebrated in January by some religions, such as some of the Orthodox and Coptic Churches, which still use the Julian calendar, and celebrate Christmas on 7th January. This is when December 25th would have been, before the Gregorian calendar was introduced.

So whenever you are celebrating, I wish the very best of health and joy to all our wonderful puzzlers!

Happy Christmas!