giving of the Spirit. Pentecost was fifty days after Easter and brought the Easter season to an end. Originally Pentecost commemorated both the ascension and the giving of the Spirit, but in the fourth century Ascension became a separate feast in its own right.

Christmas and Epiphany The earliest mention of Christmas, 25 December, is at Rome by the Chronographer of354, itselfbased on a calendar goingbackto 336. It combines Christian and Roman civil days of note. That day is recorded as both the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, and also a Roman civil holiday as 'N(atalis) Invicti'. This relatively late attestation has suggested to some that Christmas was a post-Nicene festival, instituted in opposition and reaction to the emperor Aurelian's dies natalis solis invicti, the birthday of the invincible sun, established in 274. The winter solstice in the East was observed on 6 January, which was the counterpart. Others have argued that the Donatists were already celebrating Christmas, that is, it pre-dates the fourth century (perhaps being observed as early as 243), and that it was computed.17 The annunciation was established on 25 March, in the East 6 April. Nine months forward gave 25 December and 6 January in West and East. Thus these dates may pre-date 274, and were not necessarily a counterpart to a pagan feast. However, in the fourth century East and West adopted each other's days, though with some changes. In the West, 25 December seemingly was a unitive feast - simply the nativity. In a Christmas sermon c. 386-8, St John Chrysostom observed that the feast was popular, and had spread because it was regarded as appropriate.18

In the East, 6 January apparently commemorated the nativity, the baptism of Jesus, and the miracle of water into wine, with an emphasis on the baptism. It appears that 25 December was adopted in Constantinople c. 380, and in Antioch by 386, but not at Jerusalem (where it was the feast of David and James) until the sixth century. The Armenian church never embraced 25 December. In Rome and Gaul, 6 January became popular only in the fourth century, but as a commemoration of the visit of the magi.


The precise origins of Advent are shrouded in mystery. The Council of Saragossa (380) prescribed that the faithful be zealous in attending church from 17 December until Epiphany, but there is no hint of treating this as a fast. Filastrius of Brescia (c. 385) speaks of a fast before Christmas, but as one of four

17 Ibid.

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