How Christmas Came on December 25th
The story really begins when Julius Caesar was ordered by the Roman Republic's Senate to surrender command of his troops. He had won a number of big conquests in England and Northern Germany as well as stabilized North Africa with the exception of Egypt. Faced with the fact that he would be crushed by his rival, Pompey, if he gave up his military command, he ignored the Senate's wishes and famously crossed the Rubicon River into Italy in 49 BCE. He proceeded to establish the Roman Empire with himself at its head.
Caesar then pursued Pompey into Spain and Pompey fled by ship to the Eastern Mediterranean, ending up in Egypt. So Caesar went to Egypt in 48 BCE. But the young King Ptolemy XIII who ruled there had already arranged for Pompey to be murdered.
The Pharaoh was the last male in the line of Ptolemys that had ruled Egypt since 323 BCE beginning with Ptolemy I. Ptolemy I had been a general of Alexander the Great who (you may remember suffered from epilepsy and) died in the field at the approximate age of 32. The 3 generals split up the spoils and Ptolemy I got Egypt. Ptolemy was originally from Macedonia before being recruited by Alexander the Great, who was then at the ripe old age of 24 approx. When Ptolemy XII died he left two children, Ptolemy XIII and Cleopatra VII who is known, simply, as "Cleopatra." But the son exiled his sister to Greece. You should also remember that in that culture it was not unusual for one sibling to either marry the other sibling to reduce strife or have them killed. In the world of rulers, there is little or no middle ground.
So in 48 BCE when Caesar arrived in Egypt he was upset to find that Pompey had already been dispatched. But Cleopatra had heard of what was going on and she bribed a carpet maker in Greece to roll her up in a very nice plush carpet and then deliver this very special hand-made carpet as a personal gift to the feet of Julius Caesar as soon as he arrived in Alexandria. By this time she had grown up and was just 21 years old, while Julius Caesar was 42 or 43 as best that can be determined.
Cleopatra was considered to be very pretty by most of what is written so it didn't take Julius Caesar too long to determine that he wanted this young sex machine as Queen of Egypt rather then her brother, for whom he no love at all. Caesar's forces battled those of Ptolemy XIII and the latter was killed crossing the Nile in early 47 BCE, possibly at Caesar's orders.
Julius Caesar then stayed in Egypt for 3 years during which time Cleopatra presented him with a lovely baby boy named Julius II. Caesar could not marry her because he already had a wife in Rome. Importantly, during his stay in Egypt, Caesar noticed that their calendar was a great deal more accurate than the one used by the Romans. This was largely due to the Egyptians using the flooding of the Nile River as the beginning of the year. This happened within a week or so of the same time every year. Over the period of 3500 years the Egyptians determined the year to be 365 days long with a correction every 4 or 5 years of an added day. Julius Caesar did finally go back to Rome in the mid year of 45 BCE but he had decided that his station in life would allow him to correct the poor calendar in use in the Roman world.
Caesar consulted with the learned men of his day and determined that the year of 44 BCE would have 454 days. He called it the Year of Correction. The Roman people declared it the Year of Confusion. His problem was the change that was adopted had a correction day every 3 years. However, because of the calendar problem and the fact that Julius Caesar wanted to import Cleopatra and Julius II to be his family and have Julius II to be heir to his throne, he did not live beyond the 15th of March the following year.
Needless to say Cleopatra and Julius II were deported to Egypt and as you may remember she subsequently gave 3 children to Mark Anthony. She met her demise in the year 30 BCE. Julius II was killed the day after her death.
The calendar had built-in problems and was quickly out of synch. Subsequently the calendar had to be corrected by Claudius Caesar, in the first century, by Pope Gregory in the 3rd century and finally by Constantine Caesar when he was appointed in 313CE.
Constantine quickly recognized that the Christians seem to have very positive control over their followers and they were a pain in the butt to him as Emperor. In 315 he converted to Roman Catholicism. Then in 325 CE he called an Ecumenical Council of the Holy Roman Church. This little meeting lasted 3 years. During the sessions the bishops came up with the Lords Prayer, The Apostles Creed almost as it is known today, and prayers for the "mass." Out of over 119 books they thought were important to them, they accepted the four gospels by Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. Finally they had to make a church calendar of events.
Inasmuch as the pagans had their Winter Solstice celebration the first week in January, the Christians needed some date to precede that date. They also knew that from all accounts, if Christ was ever born he had by to be born at the time of the first census, which was declared by Augustus Caesar, about mid 5 BCE to mid 4 BCE. With this in mind, the Bishops decided to put Christ's birth date 10 days before the new year pagan celebration. Some also had the idea that Jesus Christ must have been conceived on the same date that he was later crucified, which, of course, was about the autumnal equinox. And nine months after that would have been the winter solstice.
It would help to remember there were no clocks or accurate time pieces in those days. In fact the sundial was the most used instrument and it only worked on sunny days. At night, time stopped and it was bad luck to even think of counting time, or even go outside. The average person was full of superstitions, put there by religious practitioners to control the masses.
Because of a lack of scientific data and observations, very few people if any, knew when the actual Solstice occurred. The priests controlling the religious calendar called the Solstice when they could satisfy themselves that the days were getting longer and the sun was going to make another cycle. It was a big celebration to know that the sun was not going away for good. And they had no reason to believe that it might not go away for good!
The New Year was usually celebrated by the pagans (meaning natural), sometime around two weeks after the actual Solstice when they were sure the sun was coming back.