Today is St. Lucia’s Day, the first of the 12 Days of Light honoring the Star of Bethlehem. Time to put up the lit decorations! But, also a good time to reflect on the importance of Christmas.
A celebration of the Nativity was never a foregone conclusion in Christianity. Tertullian’s list of major holidays among North African Christians in the 2nd Century makes no mention of Jesus’s birthday. Origen specifically denounced the idea of celebrating the birth of Jesus in the 3rd Century as something more fitting to the followers of a “pharaonic king.”
Despite this evidence that the earliest Christians did not observe Christmas, ironically some have used the December 25th celebration of the Nativity as “proof” that Jesus was a fictional character, invented as the last in a long series of sun gods considered by ancient mystics to be born/reborn on the Winter Solstice.
While this absurd and counter-factual argument holds no water historically, the evidence certainly does demonstrate that aspects of this pre-existing Middle Eastern holiday were added to Christian worship just as northern European traditions associated with Yuletide—including the tree—were also later adapted to Christianity.
Indeed, Christmas continues to accrete moving imagery and morally-instructive traditions (like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer) even today.