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For the first 3 centuries of Christianity’s existence, Jesus Christ’s birth wasn’t celebrated. When church officials settled on December 25 at the end of the third century, they likely wanted the date to coincide with existing pagan festivals honoring Saturn (the Roman god of agriculture) and Mithra (the Persian god of light). That way, it became easier to convince Rome’s pagan subjects to accept Christianity as the empire’s official religion.

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Most Christians today probably can’t imagine Christmas on any other day than December 25, but it wasn’t always that way. In fact, for ...