Members of Fellowship Bible Church in Winchester, Va., portray Roman soldiers at the time of Christ’s birth during their live nativity presentation in Winchester on Dec. 3. (Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star via Associated Press)

Candida Moss’s Dec. 18 Outlook essay, “Five Myths: The Nativity,” said, “The real reason for the selection of Dec. 25 seems to have been that it is exactly nine months after March 25, the traditional date of Jesus’ crucifixion (which can be inferred from other dates given in the New Testament). As Christians developed the theological idea that Jesus was conceived and crucified on the same date, they set the date of his birth nine months later.”

In ancient civilizations, the winter solstice was traditionally a time of celebration. In early Roman times, solstice celebrations honored pagan gods Saturnas (harvest) and Mahranas (light), a form of sun worship that had come to Rome from Syria with the cult of Sol Invictus. The winter solstice of 274 A.D. fell on Dec. 25. Roman Emperor Aurelian (since known as “Father of Christmas”) proclaimed a new holiday, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, after a series of military victories restoring the Roman Empire. At the time, it was dangerous to be a Christian in the Roman Empire. Worshiping Jesus and celebrating his birth were discouraged. To avoid detection, early Christians celebrated his birth on Dec. 25, coinciding with the pagan festivities.

The celebration of the rebirth of the sun became the celebration of the birth of the son. It was not until 325 A.D. that the Christian Emperor Constantine I officially approved the holiday of Christmas, celebrated openly on Dec. 25 of each year.

Robert D. Hampton, Chevy Chase