Perfect Circles

In my last post I touched briefly on why Christmas takes place on December 25th. There is so much controversy surrounding the date that I am extremely reluctant to stick my neck out on the topic, but there is one theory that deserves some elaboration for consideration.

One version I heard of how Christmas ended up on that date points to the Roman Catholic Church. I was told that they believe God does everything in perfect circles. And since Christ was crucified in the spring, he must have been conceived in the spring also, in order to complete the year. This would put his birth in December, and thus the date for Christmas was chosen.

At first this seems a little far-fetched. But I always wondered, if Christmas was just another winter solstice celebration, how come we celebrate on the 25th instead of the 21st? It doesn’t make sense that the date would shift by so little. If it were going to shift at all shouldn’t it have been a bigger difference? It seems too close to the Solstice to be completely independent, but it’s too far to actually be the Solstice.

Now I’m going to talk about the Ptolemaic System of the Solar System. The Ptolemaic system is, as you know, the version where the Earth stands still and the sun and all the planets revolve around it. This system was widely accepted and used for many, many years before being overturned by the simpler, messier Copernican system.

Ah, you noticed I said messy. That’s because the Ptolemaic system was beautiful, both visually and mathematically. You see, all the planets had orbits that were perfectly circular. The system was perfect. Except it had some issues. It didn’t always predict the planets orbits correctly. Ptolemy realized there were some discrepancies and so he developed epicycles. The planets all moved in little circles as they went around the Earth in big circles. Everything was still done in perfect circles.

The church persecuted Copernicus, and all of Galileo’s problems can be traced to his defiant support of the Copernican system as the correct one. Copernicus’ theory was thrown out not because it meant the Earth was no longer at the center of the universe, but because his planetary orbits were elliptical and no longer symmetrical. His version was less perfect, and thus disrespectful to the glory of the Creator.

I am telling this story for a reason. The catholic church was very obsessed with the idea of perfect circles. We don’t have any records of their decrees regarding Christmas, but we have a mountain of evidence in how they treated Copernicus over the same issue. It is my opinion that, given their obsession with circles, it is entirely plausible that they chose the birthdate of Christ based on the same reasoning.

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