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Author Topic: Earliest sources on Christmas date calculation  (Read 628 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: September 05, 2014, 10:26:46 PM »

I'm gathering any sources on this topic.  Do you have any good ones?   I'm looking for excerpts, books, letters, etc. on the subject.  I would like to see"talks" of when the earliest Christians talked about knowing the date of the nativity.

I've found Nicea+ which is easy.  But looking for Ante-Nicean sources.     BTW, this is not a loaded question.  I know I argue and bicker a lot on here on many issues...  This is straight up to gather sources and learn all about it.  Thanks!
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« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2014, 10:34:03 PM »

I've recommended this to you before.  It has a chapter or two on the origins of the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany cycle of feasts, with copious footnotes, citations, etc.  If you are doing a general study, I would start there.  If you have any specific questions, I could try to look through the book and see what might be helpful. 
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« Reply #2 on: September 05, 2014, 10:39:53 PM »

I've recommended this to you before.  It has a chapter or two on the origins of the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany cycle of feasts, with copious footnotes, citations, etc.  If you are doing a general study, I would start there.  If you have any specific questions, I could try to look through the book and see what might be helpful.  

Yes, I but I hesitate before I buy as I want to be sure it has very early information.   I have an interest in anything that points to early stuff.  I can find a lot of into post Nicea (time frame),  but I'm looking for pre-274A.D. info.

I know you'd appreciate where I'd go with that info too. Smiley
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« Reply #3 on: September 06, 2014, 08:40:02 PM »

Yes, I but I hesitate before I buy as I want to be sure it has very early information.   I have an interest in anything that points to early stuff.  I can find a lot of into post Nicea (time frame),  but I'm looking for pre-274A.D. info.

I know you'd appreciate where I'd go with that info too. Smiley

The authors generally start from Scripture and go forward in time.  Obviously sometimes it's not possible to go that far back (e.g., there are no references in the NT to the keeping of feasts in honour of our Lady), but they generally start as early as possible and trace their development. 
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« Reply #4 on: September 07, 2014, 07:28:15 PM »

I've recommended this to you before.  It has a chapter or two on the origins of the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany cycle of feasts, with copious footnotes, citations, etc.  If you are doing a general study, I would start there.  If you have any specific questions, I could try to look through the book and see what might be helpful.  

Yes, I but I hesitate before I buy as I want to be sure it has very early information.   I have an interest in anything that points to early stuff.  I can find a lot of into post Nicea (time frame),  but I'm looking for pre-274A.D. info.

I know you'd appreciate where I'd go with that info too. Smiley
Why 274?
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« Reply #5 on: September 07, 2014, 07:55:11 PM »

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/274

Um, Pope Felix died?
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« Reply #6 on: September 08, 2014, 08:58:55 AM »


It's the year the pagan Roman emperor established the winter sun feast on 25 December.
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« Reply #7 on: September 08, 2014, 09:13:12 AM »


It's the year the pagan Roman emperor established the winter sun feast on 25 December.

Aha!  Tongue
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« Reply #8 on: September 08, 2014, 10:52:08 AM »

Further proof that with the death Pope Felix, the Church turned to apostasy.  I am now persuaded to be a sedevacantist.
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« Reply #9 on: September 08, 2014, 06:50:01 PM »


It's the year the pagan Roman emperor established the winter sun feast on 25 December.

Aha!  Tongue

Exactly.  And if there is proof that the Christians celebrated the Nativity before 274 on December 25, it would help me come to peace with the church on this issue, as I have with Pascha.
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« Reply #10 on: September 09, 2014, 09:08:07 AM »

The earliest proof of the celebration of Christmas was from 354 AD. Who knows how long it was celebrated before that. There are not many Christian manuscripts from pre 4th century. For conspiracy theorists, it is also notable that this is also the first reference to the celebration of Sol Invictus on that day. Sol Invictus was established as a cult in 274, but there is no evidence that Dec 25 was celebrated at that time.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronography_of_354
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« Reply #11 on: September 09, 2014, 02:32:07 PM »

I thought it was well known the earliest Christians did not celebrate even birthdays, much less Christ's. The day of someone's death was the appropriate memorial. Siting Christ's birthday, then, was an ecclesiastical exercise similar to choosing a calendar day for a saint. An auspicious day was chosen, agreement was found, and that's that. (Nor was this done in a corner, and there are records of the discussion.)

The book Mor linked is one I'd sure like to have.
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« Reply #12 on: September 09, 2014, 03:19:29 PM »

I thought it was well known the earliest Christians did not celebrate even birthdays, much less Christ's. The day of someone's death was the appropriate memorial. Siting Christ's birthday, then, was an ecclesiastical exercise similar to choosing a calendar day for a saint. An auspicious day was chosen, agreement was found, and that's that. (Nor was this done in a corner, and there are records of the discussion.)

The book Mor linked is one I'd sure like to have.

What is interesting about this comment (if correct) is that if it is true, then based on tradition there is no reason to celebrate it.   I'm still trying to gather deep sources and find super early stuff.
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« Reply #13 on: September 09, 2014, 03:25:02 PM »

I thought it was well known the earliest Christians did not celebrate even birthdays, much less Christ's. The day of someone's death was the appropriate memorial. Siting Christ's birthday, then, was an ecclesiastical exercise similar to choosing a calendar day for a saint. An auspicious day was chosen, agreement was found, and that's that. (Nor was this done in a corner, and there are records of the discussion.)

The book Mor linked is one I'd sure like to have.

What is interesting about this comment (if correct) is that if it is true, then based on tradition there is no reason to celebrate it.   I'm still trying to gather deep sources and find super early stuff.
Does celebrating Christ's birth bring you closer or further from Him?  I think that is the more important question, not whether there can be located some text from the 2nd or 3rd century that references it.
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« Reply #14 on: September 09, 2014, 03:29:19 PM »

While it might be nigh impossible to find a festal celebration of Christ's birth pre-4th Century, there are plenty of 3rd century sources speculating about the date of His birth being the 25th of December based off the belief that His conception (also not celebrated as a feast quite yet) must have happened on the 25th of March. Various reasons are given for this speculated date - the belief that the creation of the world happened on that date some 4000 years prior, the Jewish custom that a prophet died on the same date as his conception, and one or two others.

This website gives a good list of primary sources: http://www.ancient-future.net/christmasdate.html

I would also not be too surprised to find that pre-Nicea the Church didn't have too many feasts. It might be kind of difficult to celebrate regular feasts with one's religion being generally illegal.
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« Reply #15 on: September 09, 2014, 03:58:58 PM »

In case nobody has referred to this article:

http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/new-testament/how-december-25-became-christmas/
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« Reply #16 on: September 09, 2014, 04:23:06 PM »

I thought it was well known the earliest Christians did not celebrate even birthdays, much less Christ's. The day of someone's death was the appropriate memorial. Siting Christ's birthday, then, was an ecclesiastical exercise similar to choosing a calendar day for a saint. An auspicious day was chosen, agreement was found, and that's that. (Nor was this done in a corner, and there are records of the discussion.)

The book Mor linked is one I'd sure like to have.

What is interesting about this comment (if correct) is that if it is true, then based on tradition there is no reason to celebrate it.   I'm still trying to gather deep sources and find super early stuff.

If your cut-off date is A.D. 150 or something, then sure. But that's not how Holy Tradition works.
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« Reply #17 on: September 09, 2014, 04:24:35 PM »

...

I would also not be too surprised to find that pre-Nicea the Church didn't have too many feasts. It might be kind of difficult to celebrate regular feasts with one's religion being generally illegal.

It's more like pre-Diocletian.
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« Reply #18 on: September 09, 2014, 05:33:27 PM »

...

I would also not be too surprised to find that pre-Nicea the Church didn't have too many feasts. It might be kind of difficult to celebrate regular feasts with one's religion being generally illegal.

It's more like pre-Diocletian.

I was speaking strictly of the celebration of Christmas, which was stated earlier in this thread as having 354 as being the first record of its celebration. The references I mentioned and linked to were all speculation as to the date of the birth (in most cases, actually conception, after which I believe most of us posters are capable of counting to 9) of Christ without any evidence of the intent to celebrate said birth. Indeed, the one reference that has anything at all to do with celebration is a pseudo-Cyprian work about celebrating... Pascha.
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« Reply #19 on: September 09, 2014, 06:06:20 PM »

Yet references we have, to Traditional beliefs and practices, in manuscripts that survive (remember most don't), treat such things as already believed and practiced. That's why I tend to push the origins back to before the sources -- it's only respectful to the authors of the sources, if nothing else.
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« Reply #20 on: September 09, 2014, 08:42:16 PM »

Yes, but if you have two 3rd Century sources from very different geographic locations speculating on the date of the conception, it makes it pretty clear that both the Annunciation and Nativity were not celebrated throughout much of the Church at that time. Origen considered the matter to not even be worthy of speculation - certainly not something one would say about about a celebration already being practiced. Indeed, of the 4th Century sources, I am having a hard time for anyone claiming that such things were already believed and practiced. St John Chrysostom is all for separating the celebration of Nativity in Antioch from Jan 7's Theophany celebration to its own feast on the 25th.

The closest we can come to "already believed and practice" was the widespread practice of the Church of celebrating Theophany in early January, which covered a whole range of events in the Lord's life - a sort of jack-of-all feasts before it became (for us) about the Baptism and (for the West) about the Magi. But no one was claiming this date as the actual date for the birth- or for the Baptism or the Wedding at Cana. That the celebration existed is, of course, good enough for you or me, but I doubt Yesh is willing to accept January 7 as being close enough for clerical work. But the Jan 7 celebration combined with pre-Diocletian speculation placing the date of the birth to December 25th might work for the purposes of the OP as placing Christmas as being above pandering to a pagan audience.
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« Reply #21 on: September 09, 2014, 09:34:07 PM »

Well you're absolutely right I'm sure, and at any rate I was speaking in general terms.
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« Reply #22 on: September 09, 2014, 11:26:14 PM »

Yes, but if you have two 3rd Century sources from very different geographic locations speculating on the date of the conception, it makes it pretty clear that both the Annunciation and Nativity were not celebrated throughout much of the Church at that time. Origen considered the matter to not even be worthy of speculation - certainly not something one would say about about a celebration already being practiced. Indeed, of the 4th Century sources, I am having a hard time for anyone claiming that such things were already believed and practiced. St John Chrysostom is all for separating the celebration of Nativity in Antioch from Jan 7's Theophany celebration to its own feast on the 25th.

The closest we can come to "already believed and practice" was the widespread practice of the Church of celebrating Theophany in early January, which covered a whole range of events in the Lord's life - a sort of jack-of-all feasts before it became (for us) about the Baptism and (for the West) about the Magi. But no one was claiming this date as the actual date for the birth- or for the Baptism or the Wedding at Cana. That the celebration existed is, of course, good enough for you or me, but I doubt Yesh is willing to accept January 7 as being close enough for clerical work. But the Jan 7 celebration combined with pre-Diocletian speculation placing the date of the birth to December 25th might work for the purposes of the OP as placing Christmas as being above pandering to a pagan audience.

It's not really a matter of acceptance of proof of specifics.  I'm just gathering all the sources I can.  Many things point, and speculation existed....

Ananias of Shirak (post 274) had a very interesting way he calculated the date. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/pearse/morefathers/files/ananias_of_shirak_on_christmas_02_text.htm

Of course that is latter calculation, but interesting none the less.
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« Reply #23 on: September 10, 2014, 01:45:44 AM »

I don't think the date Christ was born can be precisely discovered, but I'm not sure what the purpose, besides respectful curiosity, of discovering it would be. After all, we do celebrate the fact of his being born, and when the Church celebrates is when the Christian celebrates. To cut oneself off and celebrate in a closet would be not to celebrate at all.
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« Reply #24 on: September 19, 2014, 12:26:44 AM »

The thread was kind of dying off so I'm going to see if anybody has any other types of sources.

Forgetting the date of the Nativity of our savior (as in actual day or time frame etc.) 

Are there any pre 274 A.D. sources, quotes, etc., giving glory to the birth of Christ or speaking about it?
(outside of the Bible)

It may help me in my quest.

Something that brings glory to his birth spoken by the earliest Christians or ? ? ?
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« Reply #25 on: September 19, 2014, 02:19:28 AM »

The thread was kind of dying off so I'm going to see if anybody has any other types of sources.

Forgetting the date of the Nativity of our savior (as in actual day or time frame etc.) 

Are there any pre 274 A.D. sources, quotes, etc., giving glory to the birth of Christ or speaking about it?
(outside of the Bible)

It may help me in my quest.

Something that brings glory to his birth spoken by the earliest Christians or ? ? ?

How can the birth of Christ, and the means of salvation and reconciliation with God coming into the world, NOT be celebrated and glorified by Christians?

Honestly, Yesh, I often wonder why you ask such things.  Huh
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« Reply #26 on: September 19, 2014, 03:03:57 AM »

The thread was kind of dying off so I'm going to see if anybody has any other types of sources.

Forgetting the date of the Nativity of our savior (as in actual day or time frame etc.) 

Are there any pre 274 A.D. sources, quotes, etc., giving glory to the birth of Christ or speaking about it?
(outside of the Bible)

It may help me in my quest.

Something that brings glory to his birth spoken by the earliest Christians or ? ? ?

What do you mean "giving glory to the birth of Christ" or "brings glory to his birth"? 

What do you mean "outside of the Bible"? 

What do you mean "sources" and "quotes"?
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« Reply #27 on: September 19, 2014, 08:35:10 AM »

For me, I celebrate Christmas because is is kind of an important point in Christ's life. I don't really care what the actual day that he was born on. It could be Dec 25 or July 4 for all I care. The important thing is the rememberance that God incarnated and walked among us. If that isn't cause for celebration, I don't know what is.
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« Reply #28 on: September 19, 2014, 10:13:03 AM »


It's the year the pagan Roman emperor established the winter sun feast on 25 December.

Aha!  Tongue

Exactly.  And if there is proof that the Christians celebrated the Nativity before 274 on December 25, it would help me come to peace with the church on this issue, as I have with Pascha.
well if that is the case, then you can make your peace with when the birth of the Prince of Peace was announced with "Peace on Earth."
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Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Son” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance.
IOW, the pagans copied the Christian festival, not the reverse.
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« Reply #29 on: September 19, 2014, 10:16:50 AM »

Dec 25 seems to be a strange date to pick to worship the sun. Dec 21 is the shortest day of the year, so you would think you would pick either Dec 22, the day that the sun begins to lengthen in the sky, or June 21, the day that the sun is in the sky the longest. Why pick Dec 25?  That doesn't make much sense. Unless, perhaps, you are trying to co-opt someone else's holiday. The Christians gave their reasoning for calculating Dec 25, perhaps they did it incorrectly, but at least they had a rational for it.
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yeshuaisiam
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« Reply #30 on: September 20, 2014, 03:04:16 PM »

The thread was kind of dying off so I'm going to see if anybody has any other types of sources.

Forgetting the date of the Nativity of our savior (as in actual day or time frame etc.) 

Are there any pre 274 A.D. sources, quotes, etc., giving glory to the birth of Christ or speaking about it?
(outside of the Bible)

It may help me in my quest.

Something that brings glory to his birth spoken by the earliest Christians or ? ? ?

What do you mean "giving glory to the birth of Christ" or "brings glory to his birth"? 

What do you mean "outside of the Bible"? 

What do you mean "sources" and "quotes"?

Anything that the early Christians would mention the birth at all or put any emphasis on the event.  Quotes from their writings or whatever.   

I just meant with "outside the bible" writings of early Christians that are not in the bible.
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yeshuaisiam
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« Reply #31 on: September 20, 2014, 03:05:44 PM »

The thread was kind of dying off so I'm going to see if anybody has any other types of sources.

Forgetting the date of the Nativity of our savior (as in actual day or time frame etc.) 

Are there any pre 274 A.D. sources, quotes, etc., giving glory to the birth of Christ or speaking about it?
(outside of the Bible)

It may help me in my quest.

Something that brings glory to his birth spoken by the earliest Christians or ? ? ?

How can the birth of Christ, and the means of salvation and reconciliation with God coming into the world, NOT be celebrated and glorified by Christians?

Honestly, Yesh, I often wonder why you ask such things.  Huh

No I agree with you. Smiley  I'm just looking for sources of how - why - and what was thought about it by early Christians.
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« Reply #32 on: September 20, 2014, 03:15:32 PM »

The Armenians celebrate it on January 6/18 (depending on which calendar they use). If I'm not mistaken, this date is the original, dating back long before Constantine, and the Dec25/Jan7 date was adopted by the other churches later. LittleArmenia's article about it is here: http://www.littlearmenia.com/html/little_armenia/armenian_christmas.asp

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcMxSF7QTMs
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yeshuaisiam
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« Reply #33 on: September 20, 2014, 03:33:58 PM »

The Armenians celebrate it on January 6/18 (depending on which calendar they use). If I'm not mistaken, this date is the original, dating back long before Constantine, and the Dec25/Jan7 date was adopted by the other churches later. LittleArmenia's article about it is here: http://www.littlearmenia.com/html/little_armenia/armenian_christmas.asp

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcMxSF7QTMs


Thank you for the links.   I'm trying to get a bit before the "override part" (as spoken in the link) as an intense study on the nativity.  I think it's better to do while the nativity is still months away.
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« Reply #34 on: September 20, 2014, 08:57:43 PM »

To add to my own thread, here is Anania Shirakatsi's writings:
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/pearse/morefathers/files/ananias_of_shirak_on_christmas_02_text.htm

He quotes St. Polycarp, but I don't know if that was from one of Polycarp's writings or oral teachings.
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