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Could December 25 as the birthday of Jesus have come from Pagan influences?

I am asking this due to the information in the following sources:

  1. “NIMROD” – The LORD of Christmas
  2. Church of Satan Holiday FAQ

This question is asked for information to engage in solid & meaningful apologetics with pantheists & satanists and not to bash Roman Catholics.The comments to Caleb gives more info.

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    I don't see how it could be, seeing as no one could know the birthday of Nimrod. – curiousdannii Apr 19 at 22:28
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    I wonder why there are silent down votes. Giving a reason would have helped rephrase the question. – Siju George Apr 21 at 2:55
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    @SijuGeorge I am not one of the downvoters, but please be aware that pestering people for downvote reasons is not allowed on this site (nor any SE site really). The vote score in a signal to other users, not necessarily to you. That being said the popup tip when you hover over the vote arrows gives the suggested reason(s) to use those tools. I would suggest this post hits at least 2 of the 3 suggested reasons. You've done no real research and a few provocative links to a satanist website is hardly going to endear the question. – Caleb Apr 21 at 5:49
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    Please edit this to add quotes or references to a Christian group which do say that December 25 was actually Jesus's birthday. – curiousdannii Apr 21 at 11:17
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    Possible duplicate of Why is Christmas on December 25th? – fredsbend Apr 22 at 22:31
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+50

From the Bible, we can be pretty sure that Jesus was not born on December 25.

Late September or early October, perhaps even on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, is the most likely time.

Here is an part of an essay written elsewhere, in which I summarized the birth date:

Though it seldom snows there, December in Jerusalem is a cold and wet time. From early Spring to late Fall, it was common for sheep, goats, and cattle to graze on the grassy lands in the area. But after the Fall harvest, animals would be kept close to home where they could eat hay and be sheltered at night.

That any shepherds would be out in the fields, tending flocks at night in late December is very unlikely.

The Bible

While not explicitly condemning the practice, the Bible hardly encourages the celebration of birthdays. The few times that birthdays are mentioned, they are unpleasant events such as the presentation of John the Baptist's head as a birthday present.

The Bible records the date and time of Jesus's death, but not of his birth. There are sufficient clues that one can make a reasonable estimate though.

Elisabeth conceived (John the Baptist) immediately after Zacharias finished his Abia priestly duties (Luke 1):

[5] ... priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia ... [8] ... he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course [23] ... as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. [24] And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived ...

Her cousin Mary conceived (Jesus) six months later:

[26] And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth [27] To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. [36] And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. [40] And [Mary] entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. [56] And Mary abode with her about three months ...

The "course of Abia" is defined in the First book of Chronicles:

[24:10] The seventh to Hakkoz, the eighth to Abijah
[24:19] These were the orderings of them in their service ...

Each priest served for a week, with the cycle beginning on the 1st day of Nisan. But during the week of Passover (Nisan 14) and Pentecost (7 weeks later) all priests served together, so Zacharias, being of the 8th course, would have finished his first course after the 10th week of the year. Six months after that (Jesus's conception) would have been around what the Romans called late December, and nine months after that (Jesus's birth) would have been late September or early October.

That would be around the time of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles). Sukkot is one of three times each year when people made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In addition to the normal tithe given to support the priesthood, people were encouraged to save a second tithe to use for their own expenses and celebrations during these times (Deuteronomy 14:26): "And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household".

Even today, most people that observe this fall festival travel away from home, or if they can't, they arrange to sleep in a tent or some other location different from their normal home.

It's by no means a certainty that this is when Jesus was born, but if Jesus had been born during the Feast of Tabernacles, it then confirms why his parents stayed in their family's home town of Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem.

Why

Roman Christianity was developed during the first few centuries after Jesus, and was largely canonicalized during the reign of Emperor Constantine. Though he was largely responsible for defining Roman Christianity, throughout this process Constantine remained a Sun worshipper, and didn't formally convert to Christianity until shortly before his death.

One way for the official Roman religion to subsume the many existing religions and cults, both in Rome and throughout the Empire, was for it to incorporate their more popular practices while requiring nothing more than that the names be changed. A single universal religion, regardless of what it believed, would make the Empire stronger and easier to control.

If people wanted to continue to celebrate December 25, whether in honour of Mithras or of the Sun God Apollo, they could continue to do so, just so long as they now call him Jesus.

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    Excellent answer. I hadn't thought about timing it with Zachariah's priestly duties. – jlaverde Apr 24 at 14:50
  • @RayButterworth Is there any book or Resource from which I can learn more about incorporation of practices of existing religions in the time of Constantine? – Siju George Apr 27 at 2:09
  • @SijuGeorge, the general topic is called syncretism. One of the best ways to research is to start with an encyclopedia and look up the origins of modern practices (e.g. history of Christmas) to see how their origins predate Christianity. Even a religiously biased reference such as the Catholic Encyclopedia is fine. Or look at controversial issues, such as the switch from Passover to Easter under Constantine. – Ray Butterworth Apr 29 at 13:40
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The Bible gives no information on the birth date of Jesus. So we do not know if Jesus' birth date was December 25 and any date is speculation. However, the Bible is clear that Jesus was born and so it is appropriate to accept that as fact. While some condemn the practice of celebrating His birth at the time of Christmas, failing to recognize the event as real and something to celebrate seems to be contrary to how His birth was acknowledged by those who knew the date:

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2) [ESV]

If an angel, the heavenly host, and shepherds saw fit to proclaim and celebrate the birth, surely all who believe in this birth may likewise acknowledge and celebrate.

If I were to venture a guess, here are 2 Biblical possibilities:

  1. Passover
  2. First day of Booths

First, these are two of the three times a year all men are to be in Jerusalem and it seems likely God would orchestrate this momentous occasion accordingly.

Second, since the Passover is the time of His death a Passover birth would mean He died on the same day as He was born. This would follow the extra-Biblical traditions for Reuben and Moses:

Jacob's first born died on his birth date; God's monogenesis Son died on His birth date. Moses, the giver of Law died on his birth date; Jesus the Giver of Life died on His birth date.

Third, Booths became the time of year for ordination of kings; it was also the time of year at which Solomon dedicated the Temple (1 Kings 8; 2 Chronicles 5:3). If Jesus was born on the first day Booths, His circumcision would have taken place on the eighth day, a special Sabbath observed after the 7-days of Booths.

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Could December 25 as the birthday of Jesus have come from Pagan influences?

It is always possible, but traditions says otherwise.

We apply the name of Christmas to the forty days which begin with the Nativity of our Lord, December 25, and end with the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, February 2. It is a period which forms a distinct portion of the Liturgical Year, as distinct, by its own special spirit, from every other, as are Advent, Lent, Easter, or Pentecost. One same Mystery is celebrated and kept in view during the whole forty days. Neither the Feasts of the Saints, which so abound during this Season; nor the time of Septuagesima, with its mournful Purple, which often begins before Christmastide is over, seem able to distract our Holy Mother the Church from the immense joy of which she received the good tidings from the Angels [St Luke ii 10] on that glorious Night for which the world had been longing four thousand years. The Faithful will remember that the Liturgy commemorates this long expectation by the four penitential weeks of Advent.

But it was not till the fourth century that the Churches of the East began to keep the Feast of our Saviour’s Birth in the month of December. Up to that period they had kept it at one time on the sixth of January, thus uniting it, under the generic term of Epiphany, with the Manifestation of our Saviour made to the Magi, and in them to the Gentiles; at another time, as Clement of Alexandria tells us, they kept it on the 25th of the month Pachon (May 15), or on the 25th of the month Pharmuth (April 20). St John Chrysostom, in the Homily we have just cited, which he gave in 386, tells us that the Roman custom of celebrating the Birth of our Saviour on December 25 had then only been observed ten years in the Church of Antioch. It is probable that this change had been introduced in obedience to the wishes of the Apostolic See, wishes which received additional weight by the edict of the Emperors Theodosius and Valentinian, which appeared towards the close of the fourth century, and decreed that the Nativity and Epiphany of our Lord should be made two distinct Festivals. The only Church that has maintained the custom of celebrating the two mysteries on January 6 is that of Armenia; owing, no doubt, to the circumstance of that country not being under the authority of the Emperors; as also because it was withdrawn at an early period from the influence of Rome by schism and heresy. - The History of Christmas (Dom Guéranger)

But what are its' origins as a feast?

The gospels

Concerning the date of Christ's birth the Gospels give no help; upon their data contradictory arguments are based. The census would have been impossible in winter: a whole population could not then be put in motion. Again, in winter it must have been; then only field labour was suspended. But Rome was not thus considerate. Authorities moreover differ as to whether shepherds could or would keep flocks exposed during the nights of the rainy season.

Zachary's temple service

Arguments based on Zachary's temple ministry are unreliable, though the calculations of antiquity (see above) have been revived in yet more complicated form, e.g. by Friedlieb (Leben J. Christi des Erlösers, Münster, 1887, p. 312). The twenty-four classes of Jewish priests, it is urged, served each a week in the Temple; Zachary was in the eighth class, Abia. The Temple was destroyed 9 Ab, A.D. 70; late rabbinical tradition says that class 1, Jojarib, was then serving. From these untrustworthy data, assuming that Christ was born A.U.C. 749, and that never in seventy turbulent years the weekly succession failed, it is calculated that the eighth class was serving 2-9 October, A.U.C. 748, whence Christ's conception falls in March, and birth presumably in December. Kellner (op. cit., pp. 106, 107) shows how hopeless is the calculation of Zachary's week from any point before or after it.

Analogy to Old Testament festivals

It seems impossible, on analogy of the relation of Passover and Pentecost to Easter and Whitsuntide, to connect the Nativity with the feast of Tabernacles, as did, e.g., Lightfoot (Horæ Hebr, et Talm., II, 32), arguing from Old Testament prophecy, e.g. Zacharias 14:16 sqq.; combining, too, the fact of Christ's death in Nisan with Daniel's prophecy of a three and one-half years' ministry (9:27), he puts the birth in Tisri, i.e. September. As undesirable is it to connect 25 December with the Eastern (December) feast of Dedication (Jos. Ant. Jud., XII, vii, 6).

Natalis Invicti

The well-known solar feast, however, of Natalis Invicti, celebrated on 25 December, has a strong claim on the responsibility for our December date. For the history of the solar cult, its position in the Roman Empire, and syncretism with Mithraism, see Cumont's epoch-making "Textes et Monuments" etc., I, ii, 4, 6, p. 355. Mommsen (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, 12, p. 338) has collected the evidence for the feast, which reached its climax of popularity under Aurelian in 274. Filippo del Torre in 1700 first saw its importance; it is marked, as has been said, without addition in Philocalus' Calendar. It would be impossible here even to outline the history of solar symbolism and language as applied to God, the Messiah, and Christ in Jewish or Christian canonical, patristic, or devotional works. Hymns and Christmas offices abound in instances; the texts are well arranged by Cumont (op. cit., addit. Note C, p. 355).

The earliest rapprochement of the births of Christ and the sun is in Cyprian, "De pasch. Comp.", xix, "O quam præclare providentia ut illo die quo natus est Sol . . . nasceretur Christus." — "O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born . . . Christ should be born."

In the fourth century, Chrysostom, "del Solst. Et Æquin." (II, p. 118, ed. 1588), says: "Sed et dominus noster nascitur mense decembris . . . VIII Kal. Ian. . . . Sed et Invicti Natalem appelant. Quis utique tam invictus nisi dominus noster? . . . Vel quod dicant Solis esse natalem, ipse est Sol iustitiæ." — "But Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December . . . the eight before the calends of January [25 December] . . ., But they call it the 'Birthday of the Unconquered'. Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord . . .? Or, if they say that it is the birthday of the Sun, He is the Sun of Justice."

Already Tertullian (Apol., 16; cf. Ad. Nat., I, 13; Orig. c. Cels., VIII, 67, etc) had to assert that Sol was not the Christians' God; Augustine (Tract xxxiv, in Joan. In P.L., XXXV, 1652) denounces the heretical identification of Christ with Sol.

Pope Leo I (Serm. xxxvii in nat. dom., VII, 4; xxii, II, 6 in P.L., LIV, 218 and 198) bitterly reproves solar survivals — Christians, on the very doorstep of the Apostles' basilica, turn to adore the rising sun. Sun-worship has bequeathed features to modern popular worship in Armenia, where Christians had once temporarily and externally conformed to the cult of the material sun (Cumont, op. cit., p. 356).

But even should a deliberate and legitimate "baptism" of a pagan feast be seen here no more than the transference of the date need be supposed. The "mountain-birth" of Mithra and Christ's in the "grotto" have nothing in common: Mithra's adoring shepherds (Cumont, op. cit., I, ii, 4, p. 304 sqq.) are rather borrowed from Christian sources than vice versa.

Other theories of pagan origin

The origin of Christmas should not be sought in the Saturnalia (1-23 December) nor even in the midnight holy birth at Eleusis (see J.E. Harrison, Prolegom., p. 549) with its probable connection through Phrygia with the Naasene heretics, or even with the Alexandrian ceremony quoted above; nor yet in rites analogous to the midwinter cult at Delphi of the cradled Dionysus, with his revocation from the sea to a new birth (Harrison, op. cit., 402 sqq.).

The astronomical theory

Duchesne (Les origines du culte chrétien, Paris, 1902, 262 sqq.) advances the "astronomical" theory that, given 25 March as Christ's death-day [historically impossible, but a tradition old as Tertullian (Adv. Jud., 8)], the popular instinct, demanding an exact number of years in a Divine life, would place His conception on the same date, His birth 25 December. This theory is best supported by the fact that certain Montanists (Sozomen, Church History VII.18) kept Easter on 6 April; both 25 December and 6 January are thus simultaneously explained. The reckoning, moreover, is wholly in keeping with the arguments based on number and astronomy and "convenience", then so popular. Unfortunately, there is no contemporary evidence for the celebration in the fourth century of Christ's conception on 25 March.

Conclusion

The present writer in inclined to think that, be the origin of the feast in East or West, and though the abundance of analogous midwinter festivals may indefinitely have helped the choice of the December date, the same instinct which set Natalis Invicti at the winter solstice will have sufficed, apart from deliberate adaptation or curious calculation, to set the Christian feast there too. - Christmas (Catholic Encyclopedia)

In 2000, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (future Pope Benedict XVI) wrote in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy has some key incites into our subject at hand. If the annunciation was on the 25th of March, then it stands to reason Christ was born nine months later, December 25.

In 2000, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy that a Jewish tradition holds that Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac on Mount Moriah on March 25. Mount Moriah is Jerusalem (see 2 Chron 34:1), and March 25 is the date on which Christ was crucified on the solar calendar (Easter like the Mosaic Passover is calculated by a lunar phenomenon). I think that you can see that there is a geographical and temporal parallel here. We see that the Father willingly offers His only-begotten Son.

Cardinal Ratzinger also noted that March 25 was thought to be the first day of creation. Hence, March 25 has a cosmic significance. His Eminence also describes how the zodiac and Aries relates to this cosmic significance in the Spring, but that is a bit too much for our purposes. The important thing is that March 25 was the traditional date for the creation of the world, for the sacrifice of Abraham, and for the sacrifice of God the Son.

On pages 107-108, Cardinal Ratzinger makes the observation that the day of Christ’s death was also reckoned as the day he was conceived by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. March 25, then was the annunciation of Gabriel. Add nine months to that and you arrive at December 25 as His birthday.

Ratzinger then dismisses what he calls “these old theories” that teach that December 25 was chosen to cover over pagan holidays. Rather, the Holy Father recognizes December 25 as the true birthday of Christ the Lord. He expands that this alignment of meanings has liturgical significance.

While we’re on the topic, Pope Saint Leo the Great spoke of the cosmic meaning of Christ’s birth in the depth of winter:

"But this Nativity which is to be adored in heaven and on earth is suggested to us by no day more than this when, with the early light still shedding its rays on nature, there is borne in upon our senses the brightness of this wondrous mystery." (St Leo Magnus, Sermo 26)

Also, Pope Benedict XIV argued that the church fathers would have known the correct date of birth from Roman census records. - Pope Benedict XVI: December 25 as the Historical Date of the Christ’s Birth

Although Christmas does not appear on the lists of festivals given by the early Christian writers Irenaeus and Tertullian. Origen and Arnobius both fault the pagans for celebrating birthdays, which suggests that Christmas was not celebrated in their time. Arnobius wrote after AD 297. The Chronography of 354 records that a Christmas celebration took place in Rome in 336.

Nimrod could not be of any influence on the date of Christmas, for one thing we do not know the exact year of his birth or death. To top it off, the Babylonian calendar was a lunisolar calendar with years consisting of 12 lunar months, each beginning when a new crescent moon was first sighted low on the western horizon at sunset, plus an intercalary month inserted as needed by decree. The calendar is based on a Sumerian (Third Dynasty of Ur) predecessor preserved in the Umma calendar of Shulgi (c. 21st century BC). This means that festivals varied in date from year to year, just as the ancient Jewish calendar did.

The website of the Church of Satan has no historical bases for any of their claims.

As for myself, I believe that it is possible that the winter solstice may have had a greater influence in the decision of the date of December 25th, than we may realize.

Since the Julian calendar looses about three days every four centuries, it is not impossible that the actual birth of Christ could have been on the actual winter solstice (December 21/22) and St. John’s birth could have been on the summer solstice (June 20-23). Of course this is only a side note in making this a more liturgical symbolic statement of St. John in his Gospel: “He must increase, but I must decrease!” - St. John Baptist (John 3:30)

Winter & Summer Solstices are symbols for Christ and St. John the Baptist respectfully. The summer solstice is another symbolic date in the medieval Catholic world. The summer solstice, also called St. John's Eve, occurs on June 21, the longest day of the year, presaging the birth of St. John the Baptist on June 24. This has significance, for St. John Baptist was understood to be preparing the way for Christ, with St. John (3:30) stating: "He must increase, but I must decrease." This declaration is symbolized in the fact that the sun begins to diminish at the summer solstice. On the contrary at the winter solstice, the sun begins to increase.

Further reading:

Was Jesus Really Born on Dec 25? Yes – A Biblical Argument for the Birth of Christ in Late December

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TLDR: According to the Bible, there is no reason to believe Jesus' birthday was on December 25th.

Biblically, what do we know about the approximate time of year that Jesus was born?

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

Luke 2:8

If Jesus was born in December 25th, it would be winter in the Northern Hemisphere. It is highly unlikely that shepherds would be out in the field with their sheep during a winter night as it would be way too cold. December temperatures in the Bethlehem area range from 47-57 Fahrenheit. Snow fall in not uncommon and cold rain is very common.

Though the December 25th date likely has pagan origins, as you pointed out, many Christians use this holiday as an opportunity to share the Great Gift that was given to the world by the Father. The long-awaited Savior, Jesus Christ, had finally come to save humanity from sin.

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More than likely the answer to the OP is yes; the choice of 12/25 as Christ's birth came out from the Roman festival of Brumalia. Brumalia evidently means shortest or briefest, which corresponds to the winter solstice day.

This choice of days is not without some forced misunderstanding of metaphor from scripture wherein John the Baptist said he must decrease and Christ must increase.

He must increase, but I must decrease. He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. John 3:30-31

The context of John's statement, however, was not about natural phenomenom, but about mission and purpose as shown in verse 31.

For the church originally, not much thought was given to the observance of birth days. Origen believed only pagans observed birthdays.

Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts; Origen, glancing perhaps at the discreditable imperial Natalitia, asserts (in Lev. Hom. viii in Migne, P.G., XII, 495) that in the Scriptures sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthday; -NewAdvent-

Subsequently, the church recognized January 6th as the day of birth. Their thinking was based on Adam's creation on day 6. They thought their 1/1 aligned to God's timetable of creation.

In Cyprus, at the end of the fourth century, Epiphanius asserts against the Alogi (Hær., li, 16, 24 in P.G., XLI, 919, 931) that Christ was born on 6 January and baptized on 8 November. Ephraem Syrus (whose hymns belong to Epiphany, not to Christmas) proves that Mesopotamia still put the birth feast thirteen days after the winter solstice; i.e. 6 January; -ibid-

At Rome the cult of the sun was far too important to consider a date some 13 days too late.

At Rome the earliest evidence is in the Philocalian Calendar (P.L., XIII, 675; it can be seen as a whole in J. Strzygowski, Kalenderbilder des Chron. von Jahre 354, Berlin, 1888), compiled in 354, which contains three important entries. In the civil calendar 25 December is marked "Natalis Invicti". -ibid-

Natalis Invicti is another name for Sol Invictus or the unconquered sun). This of course refers to the sun "dying" as the days shorten until the winter solstice on 12/25 and then "reviving" as the days lengthen again. This was part of Roman culture.

Sol Invictus ("Unconquered Sun") was the official sun god of the later Roman Empire and a patron of soldiers. On 25 December AD 274, the Roman emperor Aurelian made it an official cult alongside the traditional Roman cults. -source-

Indeed the Catholic Encyclopedia will agree with this association.

The well-known solar feast, however, of Natalis Invicti, celebrated on 25 December, has a strong claim on the responsibility for our December date. -source-

Chrysostom will address this link and try to Christianize it.

"But Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December . . . the eight before the calends of January [25 December] . . ., But they call it the 'Birthday of the Unconquered'. Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord . . .? Or, if they say that it is the birthday of the Sun, He is the Sun of Justice." -ibid-

So, to answer the OP, yes the choice of 12/25 as the birthday of the Son would be very likely associated with the so-called birth of the sun in pagan religions.

PS I would agree that Christ was most likely born at Tabernacles in the Fall and circumcised on the 8th day of that feast.

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