For many years, I thought the Church picked December 25 as Jesus’s birthday to counteract the popular pagan winter festivals. Although that has something to do with the date for the Christian holiday, a peek at the 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia reveals the background is more complex.
Madonna and Child, a 1460 painting by the master of the Osservanza (public domain image via Wikimedia Commons)
In Christianity’s first couple of centuries, the birth of Christ was not celebrated. St. Irenaeus and Tertullian, who were second- and third-century fathers of the Church, don’t list Jesus’s birth among Christian festivals. Until the third century, the only universal holidays were Easter and Pentecost.
Third century author and teacher Origen thought birthdays were for sinners, and Christian apologist Arnobius (second and third centuries) ridiculed the birthdays of gods.
Yet others who lived at that time were calculating when Jesus was born, and there were multiple…
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