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The History of Christmas: Day 5 – The Change (322 CE) December 20, 2012

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The History of Christmas
Day 5: The Change To A Christian Christmas – 322 CE

day 5

The period around 280 years after the death of Christ held confusion for both the new Christian populace and those who worshiped the old Roman gods. The Emperor Constantine had given up the worship of the Sun god, Mithra, and was said to have converted to worshiping Jesus, of the Christians. In the earlier years of his reign, he officially proclaimed Christianity to be one of the state religions of Rome. The Emperor’s pronouncement resulted in stability throughout the realm though it brought misunderstandings for pagans and Christians alike.

The great majority of people in the Empire still celebrated the old pagan holidays, worshiping the gods and goddesses they had grown up to know. Constantine’s proclamation helped to decrease the persecution of Christians, and occurrences of such maltreatment began to back lash upon their pagan perpetrators. Constantine put it upon the shoulders of the Church of Rome to bring about the conversion of the Empire to Christianity with all haste.

It would be another three years until Constantine called together the first Council of Nicaea in an effort to solidify Christian beliefs throughout the Empire. At this point, he had just defeated Licinius and solidified his own rule as Emperor.

*

A year or two later, on a balcony above a street near the Temple of Saturn, two Christian leaders watch the Roman crowd below celebrating the festivities of Saturnalia. Their conversation might have gone like this:

“Father Vincentius, it will be difficult to get the people to give up this pagan celebrating in exchange for the pure worship of the child of the Holy Virgin. Listen to them down there.”

In the streets below, celebrating Romans were shouting, “Io Saturnalia!” and taking part publicly in every excess of vice known to man. On top of the release of moral restrictions, presents were passed around, small clay dolls and wax candles. Slaves were given temporary freedom and a mock king was chosen. The people celebrated as they do today at our modern Mardi Gras.

Vincentius looked out over the merriment. The longer he watched, the stronger an idea burned into his mind. “They celebrate the birth of the god Mithras, do they not?”

“Yes Father. Aurelian established the festival of Dies Invicti Solis – The Day of the Invincible Sun.”

“And wasn’t Constantine a worshiper of Mithras before accepting the true religion?”

“Again, that is true.”

“What we need to do, Vincentius, is to transfer these old pagan holidays to Christian holidays so the people won’t have to give up their old ways to become Christian.”

“Father Victor?”

“We have some time until next year. Dress our priests in the same sort of garb used by their pagan counterparts. We have power now and it should be used to establish a Christian hierarchy. Set up statues of the Apostles, Mary, and the Saints in the churches so it appears we worship more than one God. But most importantly, merge this Dies Invicti Solis and the Saturnalia and make it all one holiday celebrating the birth of the Christ child. We have the stories in Matthew and Luke. It shouldn’t be that difficult. Allow them their revelry for the sake of the conversion of millions.”

“You know Victor, there are people that dislike the fact that the Emperor has accepted our faith. They are spreading vicious rumors. My own brother told me his daughter was accosted on the street and asked why her father worships the son of a woman raped by Panthera, a Roman legionary.”

“Yes, Vincentius, I’m aware of such things. This is why we must make changes – to appeal to the people. If my plans are carried out, few will make issue of lies like that. We must get Constantine to agree and make public declarations. By this time next year the Saturnalia will be a Christian holiday and after a few years, the people won’t think twice about it.”

“I think we must continue to get Constantine to promote a council to solidify our beliefs as well. We need to put one face on our beliefs for all time, Vincentius. Will you support me in this?”

“Of course Father Victor. I certainly will.”

*

It all came about as planned. The First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea was held in 325 AD and Victor and Vincentius were attendees. Twenty Church canons were agreed upon and those not agreeing to the formula were anathematized. The Christian religion, along with its celebration of Christmas had begun to take shape. Of course the narrative above is fictional, but the facts contained are historical and indisputable.

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