Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies — Christmas and Sol Invictus

Did Christianity Steal the Date of Sol Invictus?

The claim is that Sol Invictus “Invincible Sun” is a more ancient pagan holiday in Rome celebrated on December 25th. The claim assumes that this pagan holiday was so popular and dangerous that the Christian Church sought to suppress it by establishing the celebration of Christ’s Nativity on December 25th. By doing this, the claim continues, the Christians adopted the pagan day and some of the practices of that pagan festival to make the celebration of Christmas more appealing to pagans.

Remember first that the Christian faith is as old as the curse on Satan in Genesis 3:15. And while pagan worship of the sun certainly existed in Rome before the spread of the fulfillment of that promise in Christ came to the city; the celebration of Sol Invictus as a god in Rome actually came as pagans attempted to suppress Christianity. This early attempt as suppressing Christianity by means of the pagan worship of Sol is found in the Historia Augusta, a pagan history of Rome compiled in the fourth century AD.

The Historia Augusta in TheLife of Elagabalus (1.3) relates events from the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, a particularly twisted man, who reigned from 218-222 AD. Marcus Aurelius Antoninus came to be called Elagabalus after the name of the Syrian sun god, and was himself initiated as a priest of that false god. He viewed himself as the personal manifestation of the Syrian sun god. After coming to Rome and being established as emperor at the age of 14, the Historia states:

4 Elagabalus [established himself] as a god on the Palatine Hill close to the imperial palace; and he built him a temple, to which he desired to transfer the emblem of the Great Mother, the fire of Vesta, the Palladium, the shields of the Salii, and all that the Romans held sacred, purposing that no god might be worshipped at Rome save only Elagabalus. 5 He declared, furthermore, that the religions of the Jews and the Samaritans and the rites of the Christians must also be transferred to this place, in order that the priesthood of Elagabalus might include the mysteries of every form of worship.  [Latin]

And, coincidentally, very shortly after Elagabalus tried to establish worship of the Syrian sun god, Sol Invictus, he was thought to be too licentious and was assassinated by his own people, pagan Romans, at the age of 18 years old.

From that time there is no mention of the celebration of Sol Invictus in Roman history until the rule of Aurelian (A.D. 270-275). Aurelian did try to re-introduce the worship of Sol Invictus by decree in the year 274. But there is no record of this festival being held on December 25th. “The traditional feast days of Sol, as recorded in the early imperial fasti, were August 8th and/or August 9th, possibly August 28th, and December 11th.”(Hijmans, p. 588 )

Aurelian did declare games to Sol every four years. But there is no record from the period or early historiographers that these games were associated with December 25th in any way. The best evidence suggest that the games were held October 19-22 of their calendar. Anyway, on another coincidence, a year after Aurelian declared these games in honor of Sol Invictus, he was assassinated by his own pagan Roman officers out of fear he would execute them based on false charges.

The earliest calendar to mention that Invictus as a specified date for Roman religious life comes from a text of the Philocalian Calendar, VIII Kal recorded in an illuminated 4th Century manuscript called The Chronography of 354. In this late manuscript the date is listed in Mensis December (The Month of December) as N·INVICTI·CM·XXX.

[The calender can be seen by clicking here ]

Many scholars through the years have assumed that INVICTI in this calendar must mean “Sol Invictus.” This is possible. However, elsewhere the calendar does not hesitate to make explicit mention of festivals to Sol, for example: on SOLIS·ET·LVNAE·CM·XXIIII (August 28th) and LVDI·SOLIS (October 19-22).

Even if INVICTI does refer to Sol Invictus on December 25th of this calendar, all this shows is that the celebration of Sol Invictus was placed on December 25th after Christianity had already widely accepted and celebrated December 25th as the Nativity of Christ.

There are many historians and people following them who will still assert that December 25th is Sol Invictus in ancient Rome. Some will even claim that another religion, Mithraism, has close connection to this December 25th celebration. In actual fact there is no ancient documentation tying Mithraism to December 25th or Sol Invictus. The Christian celebration of the Nativity of Christ as December 25th predates anything in the earliest actual documentation for Sol Invictus on December 25th. That documentation is from the much later Philocalian Calendar Chronography of 354.

[For those interested in a more technical look see T.C. Schmid’s article at]

About Pastor Joseph Abrahamson

Pastor Joseph Abrahamson serves Faith Ev. Lutheran Church, Clara City, Minnesota (E.L.S.). He and his wife, Mary, have 10 children. Pastor Abrahamson is a graduate of Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, and of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies. He has served on the Faculty/Staff at Bethany Lutheran College teaching Religion, Linguistics, Archaeology, and Self-Defense; and was on Staff at the University of Wisconsin as an Information Processing Consultant (Computer Geek) while doing graduate work in Semitics. Pastor Abrahamson served Clearwater Lutheran Parish (ELS) from 2001 to April 2015.


Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies — Christmas and Sol Invictus — 9 Comments

  1. This is an excellent series and resource. Thank you so much for each article you’ve produced for it. I have found them to be very helpful and illuminating.

  2. Edited from a comment on your earlier post:

    It seems that every year some time about December twenty first someone throws down this challenge: You know Jesus wasn’t born in the winter. He was really born in the summer. Christmas is really a Pagan celebration.

    I’m not really quite sure what this challenge is supposed to do. Is it supposed to shake my faith? Is the fact that there are other traditions that celebrate their rites at the same time as I remember the birth of Christ supposed to make me doubt the truth of the Incarnation?

    One of the wonderful things about Christianity is its ability to acculturate folk customs and imbue (or baptize) them with a certain grace.

    Facts may make us doubt, but the truth is that traditions imbued with grace can only strengthen faith. Truly Jesus is the Unconquered Son; born of a virgin at the turning of the year; adored by Zoroastrian wizards; baptized in the Jordan; the one who, in Cana, turned the water in to wine; the one who overcame death, and hell, and will return.

  3. Pope Leo the Great had an interesting statement in regard to making a clear distinction between pagan worship practices and Christian worship. He is commenting on the worship of the sun:

    “From such a system of teaching proceeds also the ungodly practice of certain foolish folk who worship the sun as it rises at the beginning of daylight from elevated positions: even some Christians think it is so proper to do this that, before entering the blessed Apostle Peter’s basilica, which is dedicated to the One Living and true GOD, when they have mounted the steps which lead to the raised platform, they turn round and bow themselves towards the rising sun and with bent neck do homage to its brilliant orb. We are full of grief and vexation that this should happen, which is partly due to the fault of ignorance and partly to the spirit of heathenism: because although some of them do perhaps worship the Creator of that fair light rather than the Light itself, which is His creature, yet we must abstain even from the appearance of this observance: for if one who has abandoned the worship of gods, finds it in our own worship, will he not hark back again to this fragment of his old superstition, as if it were allowable, when he sees it to be common both to Christians and to infidels?

  4. @Peter Slayton #1
    I found this site while researching information about christmas to teach some chinese students. Its the first site i have found that suggests Jesus was actually born on the 25th December. It’s a shame I can’t use the source. Could you possibly get your oppinion in a peer reviewed site or document I could reference. Otherwisr I have to go with the prevailing view that while 25th December is celebrated as the birth of Jesus (at least by people in the west) most of what most people associate with christmas originates from other traditions.
    How about we consider it like the queens birthday an official on and the real one. Can’t see it really matters, its his message that’s important not his date of birth.

  5. LOL…this website is funny. And just as I thought full of fiction.

    “Remember first that the Christian faith is as old as the curse on Satan in Genesis 3:15” HAHA! Are you serious? Just because a book says that’s when it came about, that’s not what the facts and common sense say. People were pagan LONG before your Jesus ever saw the light of day!

    Plus, who the heck said that Dec. 25th as Jesus’ birth was widely accepted by that time?! According to this website from the University of Chicago states that even many other Christians argued that Jesus’ birth fell on Jan. 6th which most of the Orthodox sects still honor as Jesus’ birth day to this day!

    “And yet Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis who died in AD 403, continued to argue that January 6 was the date of Jesus’ birth. “Greeks, I mean idolaters, celebrate this day on the eighth before the Kalends of January [December 25], which Romans call Saturnalia….For this division between the signs of the zodiac, which is a solstice, comes on the eighth before the Kalends of January, and the day begins to lengthen because the light is receiving its increase. And it completes a period of thirteen days until the eighth before the Ides of January [January 6], the day of Christ’s birth” (Panarion, IV.22.5-6; also IV.24.1: “For Christ was born in the month of January, that is, on the eighth before the Ides of January—in the Roman calendar this is the evening of January fifth, at the beginning of January sixth”).” So clearly even before the year 403 CE, we pagans were honoring the holy Sun on Dec. 25th!

    So who are trying to kid?!

    And to the guy that asks why we tell Christians that Jesus wasn’t really born on Dec. 25th, it’s because a) He WASN”T! and b) Why must YOU people feel the need to shove YOUR religion down our throats during the holidays when even most church leaders and scholars beleive that “Christmas” was stolen (and most other things!) from us pagans and then you DARE to try to claim as your own originally! Well, where’s the holly, misteltoe, Yule log, tree and decorations, etc. in your precious Bible of all these things?! Oh right. It’s not there…because those truly are PAGAN customs.

    Face facts and admit it already. Throughout history pagans have stolen or adopted very little things of the Christian customs but they have stolen many traditions and holidays from us! And the 25th is no different.

  6. If Caesar had called families to return to their native cities during any of the 3 planting and harvest seasons, which also included the holy days of Israel which must be celebrated in Jerusalem, there would have been a rebellion amongst the Jews of the day.
    Winter was the only time of year when a census could safely be called for as no harvests or holy days occur.
    To state as some do that sheep are not kept outdoors in winter is silly. Were they kept in inns and hotels? Did THAT account for no room at the inn? Of course it is ridiculous. Sheep are outdoors and the land of Judea was not that cold anyway.

  7. Also, the date of Dec 25th as marking Christ’s birth on the church calendar is based on the date of the feast of the Annunciation, March 25th. Nine months later is Dec 25. From what I understand, the date was chosen because of the belief that holy people died on the date of their conception. The belief that Christ was crucified on March 25th is the basis for the assigned date of his conception.

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