Artificial date

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I NOTE a “News Digest” (14 December), which states that a survey found that 16 per cent of those questioned failed to recognise the real significance of 
25 December. It is quite heartening, therefore, that 84 per cent presumably knew the origin – that the Roman festival of Saturnalia concluded on 25 December with the ritual execution of a locally-chosen “Enemy Of The Romans”, who had been forced to engage in extensive drinking, overeating and fornication during the preceding week.

Perhaps you meant “the Christian significance” of 25 December? Early Christians claimed Saturnalia by naming the concluding day as an official observance of Jesus’s birthday (no-one initially claimed or believed that it was his actual birthday), while encouraging conversion to the new religion by allowing the accompanying week of debauchery. 

The date of Jesus’s birth was, and remains, unknown – although I note also that almost 
5 per cent thought it occurred on Good Friday. Strangely, Jewish tradition would dictate that this was the date of his conception (conveniently allowing birth at the end of December). Any Jewish prophet, such as Jesus, worth his salt was conceived and died on the same date. That is the historically accurate reason that 25 December is an important date in the Christian calendar – an artificial birthday for Jesus designed to help incorporate a popular pagan festival. It is perhaps human nature that, after almost 2,000 years, the over-indulgence aspect of Saturnalia remains!

Angus Mair

High Street 
New Deer, Aberdeenshire