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Why was December 25th chosen as the day to celebrate Jesus' birth?

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I have edited the question to remove the part that was a duplicate of the second question Peter linked to above. –  Flimzy Dec 30 '11 at 18:39
    
Thanks Flimzy, but I think the questions where distinct. –  user1054 Dec 30 '11 at 21:31
    
Because it was just a feast day originally, it was later modified to be a celebration of his birth which we now consider his birthday. –  user1054 Dec 30 '11 at 21:36
    
This is my old question. Nice to see it revived –  The Freemason Dec 19 '13 at 2:16

6 Answers 6

up vote 16 down vote accepted

This is a good recent blog post covering Pope Benedict's thoughts on the matter.

The key is the date set for the annunciation (March 25th):

  1. Traditionally held to be the first day of creation
  2. Traditionally held to be the date when Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac after a 3 day journey to Mount Moriah
  3. Extrapolated to be the date of Jesus' annunciation (when the Angel Gabriel came to Mary)
  4. Futher extrapolated to be the date of Jesus' crucifixion (on the Lunar calendar at least) to parallel Abraham's attempted sacrifice and align with the passover.

Therefore, as vsz says wikipedia says, but should say louder, add 9 months, et voila you've got December 25th.

As for the age of the feast as celebrated by Christ's Church, said blog post also notes St. Pope Leo the Great mentioning the feast of the Nativity of Jesus in the 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)


I'm not going to say that only stupid people think that Christmas is an attempt to quash pagan solstice shenanigans, but I will say that people ought to think long and hard before believing the Discovery channel over thousands of years of tradition.

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Thank you for the edit. Additionally, though, the question is not "are there thousands of years of tradition" - but rather, what are the origins of the tradition. The fact that it is old is neither in doubt, nor relevant to the question. –  Marc Gravell Dec 30 '11 at 17:08
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That (and the other 2 linked to it) was a fascinating blog post, thanks. It is slightly dampened by the fact that this view is far from universal within Christianty - but well worth a read, cheers. –  Marc Gravell Dec 30 '11 at 17:29
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I'm no expert on the Jewish calendar, but isn't March 25 just a little bit too early to be holding Passover, and thus to be the time of the Crucifixion? –  Mason Wheeler Dec 31 '11 at 13:24
    
@Mason, if Catholics determined when Passover was it wouldn't be. I'm not sure it's possible to conflate the two systems, Passover happens on the same day of the Jewish calendar every year, Easter starts on a different day of the Liturgical calendar every year. –  Peter Turner Jan 3 '12 at 14:49

The exact day for the birth of Jesus is not known. You can find a lot of info on Wikipedia, with references. The most interesting for this question might be:

The precise day of Jesus' birth, which some historians place between 7 and 2 BC, is unknown. In the early-to-mid 4th century, Western Christianity first placed Christmas on December 25, a date later adopted also in the East. Theories advanced to explain that choice include that it falls exactly nine months after the Christian celebration of the Annunciation, or that it was selected to coincide with either the date of the Roman winter solstice or of an ancient pagan winter festival in order to stamp out these celebrations and replace them with a Christian one. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas)

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welcome to Christianity.SE! If you are going to do a copy/paste from another source, please be sure to provide all references from that source - as it is, this answer needs a LOT of cleanup before it can be accepted –  warren Dec 30 '11 at 14:34
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@warren: You are right. I edited it to contain a link to the article itself, where all the references can be found. I assume this is more convenient to the QA, and might point him to be able to search more effectively for such common questions himself. –  vsz Dec 30 '11 at 14:39

"Chronograph" 1a document dating to 354 AD 2 in Rome: This was a list of martyrs and their birth dates, and a list of bishops of Rome and their birth dates. The Chronograph lists these dates (birth dates) in calendar order. The first date listed is the "8th of Kalens of January" ("Kalens" is used to refer to the first of a month – putting a number in front of it counts backward.) This translates to our December 25th. The notation in the Chronograph is that this is the birth of Christ in Bethlehem.

On the list, the last two bishops were added on apparently after the list was otherwise complete (dates out of order). The first bishop had died in 336 AD. Thus, it is probable that this list dates to 336 AD.

In 303 AD, under Diocletian, was the "last" persecution of the church. After this time of persecution, lapsed Christians-those who had recanted under persecution, were allowed back into the church (upon profession). There was a group called the Donatists that disagreed with this practice – they felt that the lapsed Christians should not be allowed to rejoin the church. The Donatists broke away from the church.

Augustine opposed the Donatists. He noted 3 that "the Donatists do not celebrate Epiphany", which was started as a celebration of the baptism of Jesus. Apparently, the Donatists celebrated Christmas – Augustine doesn’t say that they didn’t. This would push the celebration of Christmas back to before 311 – the time of the Donatist split.

A document called "De Pascha Computus" – calculating the date of Passover. The document also lays out a scheme to calculate the birth of Jesus. The calculation fell on March 28 of our calendar.

There were several assumptions made in calculating this date – assumptions from Jewish tradition. Jewish tradition held that the time of the Passover celebration was also the time of the beginning of creation. The sun, moon, and stars were created on the 4th day of creation. Malachi 4:2 refers to the "Sun of Righteousness" (referring to Christ). The reasoning is that it was symbolically fitting for March 28th to be the birth of the light of the world.

Though use of December 25th is not supported, yet the plan of celebrating birthday of Jesus was prevailing around 243 AD.

Note that even as early as the 12th century, it was thought that December 25th was co-opted from the pagans. EVEN IF it was co-opted, it was infused with new meaning by the best theologians of the time. But there is good evidence that a date of December 25th is true – it just happened to fall on the winter solstice. Early Christians believed that December 25 was the true day. It is likely that the early Christians would try to identify the birth day of their Saviour.

"De Solstitiis" – a North African document from the 300’s attempts to determine the date of Christ’s birth entirely from the evidence given in Scripture. It assumes a date of March 25th for Christ’s death (Passover).

The reasoning begins from the conception of John the Baptist. The angel made the announcement to Zechariah. Zechariah completes his "time of service" and returns home. (Luke 1:23-24) The time of service is complete in the fall of the year (when the Jewish year changes). When Zechariah returns home, Elizabeth conceives John. This is around the time of the Fall Equinox.

The announcement to Mary comes in Elizabeth’s six month – this would be about the Spring Equinox. This also happens to be Passover – the date of the death of Christ – March 25th (by the Julian calendar).

Birth of John – 9 months after Fall – Summer solstice.
Birth of Jesus – 9 months after Spring Equinox – puts it at the Winter Solstice – on (or about) December 25th (Julian calendar).

This reasoning is based on the presumption of the conception of John the Baptist.

This line of reasoning is adopted by Augustine – he notes that the conception and crucifixion occurred on the same day. Also accepted by John Chrysostum – in the 380’s, he reproduces this reasoning in the east – using the common eastern calendar – winds up 2 weeks off – January 6 for the birth of Jesus and April 6 for the death of Jesus. Augustine and Chrysostum promoted the celebration of December 25 because it is believed to be the actual date.

Since Clement of Alexandria was in the "east," we can assume that he used the eastern, or Egyptian, calendar in his calculations. He arrived at a date of January 6th (according to our calendar). This is the reason for the eastern church using Jan 6 and resisting December 25.

Also, Epiphanius (died 403 AD) in Palestine does the same calculation as in De Solstitiis, using the eastern calendar for dates, and also winds up two weeks later than December 25.

All these calculations have nothing to do with pagan festivals or equinoxes and solstices. (Jan 6th is two weeks after the winter solstice.)

Let me add here: We do not find any historical date in Bible, may be for obvious reason since the bottom line in Bible was to deliver a message of Salvation and not a historical record of events that took place. Notwithstanding this, there is always an urge in humans to remember and celebrate those events, which influenced their destiny. That urge gradually led the early Christian to commemorate all those sacred events that took place in life of our Lord as remembrance and veneration of our Lord. Savior and Emmanuel (God with us) spent His life as one of us and like us among us the earthly creatures. His birth, death and whatever mighty deeds He carried out are by no means any ordinary events.

Suppose we were those unfortunate who never knew the birth date of one of our parents, we would somehow try to decipher the probable date from whatever source. As such not knowing the date would not stop us from celebrating this event. In similar scenario, we were unfortunate not to know the exact date of our Lord's birth and in absence of any exact dates in Bible, it is not at all a SIN to fix appropriate day for this event in a year to give us opportunity to commemorate them in honour of our Lord. If one ponders it in an unbiased mind, it is not an issue at all whether Christian celebrate the Christmas on 25 December or 6 th of January as some do. What is important is we need one day to celebrate the day of birth of our Savior. Whether it is the date which coincides with the birth day of some pagan god or with birth of any other founder of any other present day religion is immaterial for any true and broad minded Christian. Celebrating a birthday by no means can be considered as Pagan.

Because paganism was prevailing during the early years of Christianity, just by relating any event in Christian practice to a pagan practice is easiest way to create doubt in minds of believers by saying that it relates to pagan practice.


1 The Chronography of 354. Introduction to the online edition

2 The Manuscripts of the "Chronography/Calendar of 354 A.D."

3 Augustine on Baptism Against the Donatists, Book 6

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This is good, but please add more sources for your claims (and preferably not Wikipedia, although this is fine for general claims that are not in dispute). For instance, you wrote, "in 274 AD, Aurelius established December 25th (the winter solstice) as the Birth of the Sun Unconquered (Natales Soli Invicti)." Yet there is no source for this information. For an example of how I answer, which gives an example of using sources (formatting not important, just the idea of using sources for claims), see this answer I wrote. –  Dan Dec 23 '13 at 19:02
    
This is very good, though. I just want to be able to verify your claims for myself. Thanks +1 –  Dan Dec 23 '13 at 19:05
    
Did some changes but the answer which you referred is really a strenuous work. –  Seek forgiveness Dec 24 '13 at 8:30
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yes it is strenuous work, but that is what would make this answer better than the others on the Internet. –  Dan Dec 24 '13 at 15:35
    
Thank you, though, for what you have done. I have upvoted this. –  Dan Dec 24 '13 at 16:45

The answer to this question is simple. It is: Mystery, Bablyon the Great.

The Babylonian mystery religion is the source of all paganism on earth. At the time of the holiday that some call easter, the sun god osiris supposedly impregnates the moon goddess, isis. 9 months later, the sun god reborn hatches. Some call him mithra. He has a variety of names, depending on the country and culture.

Why easter time and why December 25th? Because of the winter solstice, etc. Because the sun decreases (dies), around that time and starts to be reborn.

Why is it in Christianity? The same reason that the obelisk (which represents the phallus of osiris) is in the middle of "St. Peter's Basilica" in Rome. And because the early "official" Roman church cared more about politics than God. The public likes entertainment and paganism is rife with it. It likes outward show and pomp, and paganism is rife with that as well.

Instead of stealing their "fun" and paganism, that church just changed the names and stuff around and gave the people what they wanted.

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This answer would be a lot better if you could add references showing that this is a common understanding, and who teaches/believes it. On this site, we're not looking for personal interpretation, but rather focusing on what various Christian groups teach. See How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? –  David Stratton Mar 14 at 1:55

I've found a very nice and detailed article discussing the relation between the Roman calendar and the date of Christmas. It is well worth to read in full, but the passage most relevant to this question is the following:

In seeking to determine the date of Christmas, critics have tended to discuss the matter in one of two ways. Adherents of "Calculation Theory" seek to demonstrate that the Nativity of Jesus can be determined independently by the chronology of the liturgical calendar. Proponents of the "History of Religions," on the other hand, tend to interpret Christmas as a substitution for the annual birth of Sol Invictus on December 25. In fact, these two approaches should not be juxtaposed and need not be mutually exclusive alternatives.

In the Julian reform of the Roman calendar, December 25, the eighth day after the Kalends of January (VIII Kal. Jan.), was recognized as the winter solstice. Nine months earlier, March 25 was the vernal equinox, the eighth day before the Kalends of April (VIII Kal. Apr.), which marked the beginning of spring. This tradition of assigning the equinoxes and solstices to the eighth day before the Kalends (the first day of the month) later was embraced by the church in its calculation of the birth date of Jesus.

Because Jesus was deemed to be perfect, his life was thought to be complete as well and to comprise a whole number of years. March 25 (the eighth Kalends of April) was believed to be the date of his conception (Annunciation) and, exactly nine months later, December 25 (the eighth Kalends of January) his Nativity. The date of Jesus' conception and crucifixion, therefore, were thought to have occurred on the same day of the year, March 25 (the eighth Kalends of April) (Tertullian, Adversus Judaeos, VIII.17; Hippolytus, Commentary on Daniel 4:23; Augustine, On the Trinity, IV.5; Dionysius Exiguus, Argumenta Paschalia, XV). Fittingly, this also was the day on which the world itself was believed to have been created.

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Who says that nobody knows the date of Jesus' birth? The Messianic Jews have been celebrating the Birth of the Messiah (the Blessed Incarnation – not Christ-Mass), as fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles, for 2000 years. Jesus said that He came to fulfill the scriptures, of which the Levitical Feasts are a major part, to the last jot and tittle.

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. [Matthew 5:17, 18]

And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, [Luke 24:44-45]

The Bible has many prophesies of the Messiah coming down as the rain; the first day of the feast of Tabernacles is the start of the rainy season in Israel:

Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.[Hosea 6:3 KJV]

Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till HE come and rain righteousness upon you. [Hosea 10:12]

Read the entire Psalm 72; you will be blessed!

God (through Moses) also made this great unconditional promise to Heaven and Earth (and to us):

Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. My (God’s) doctrine (Word)# shall drop as the rain, My speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass: [Deuteronomy 32:1,2]

#[The Word of God shall drop as the rain]

The “Word of God” will drop down from Heaven, like the rain. And I believe, as do the Messianic Jews, that it was at the Feast of Tabernacles:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God... And the Word was made flesh, and tabernacled among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth. [John 1:1,2,14]

The Word of God dropped down from Heaven, like the rain, and tabernacled among us. Jesus birth was the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth), also known as the Feast of Ingathering, on the 15th day of the 7th month (Tishri on the Jewish calendar – on our Julian calendar it is late September/early October. This year it was October 9, 2014 – next year it will be on September 27, 2015). This important Feast is the only time that God commanded the Israelites to rejoice for seven days straight.

Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the LORD seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath. And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days. [Leviticus 23:39-40 KJV]

So, the day that Jesus was born (the first Sabbath of Succoth), all the Jews were rejoicing for a whole week, (even though they didn’t really know why). On the eighth day, (also a Sabbath) they celebrate what’s called Simchath Torah, that’s the rejoicing over the Law. And you know what occurred eight days after Jesus’ birth? The sign that declared obedience to the Law: His Circumcision.

Read Luke chapter 2 very carefully, it does not say anything about a stable or a cave, like you usually see in famous paintings. A stable is assumed because of the reference to the manger, but many mangers were in open fields. Many ancient, stone mangers are still in use around the town of Bethlehem. Who knows; one of these could be the actual manger that Jesus was placed in at His birth. A little straw, some swaddling cloths; they could make pretty cozy little cribs.

But Joseph would not have to find a pre-built structure to spend the night; he would have had plenty of practice building tabernacles (booths), having built one every year for the Feast of Tabernacles, and, he was a carpenter, remember?

God promised that His Word (whom is God; Messiah Jesus – Yehu’shua HaMashiach to the Messianic Jews) would drop down from Heaven like the rain. The early rains begin during the Feast of Tabernacles, after the 6 month dry season. The Apostle John wrote “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” Joseph built a tabernacle in Bethlehem for his family, in which Jesus was born. Jesus “tabernacled among us” from the day of His birth on the 15th day of the seventh month. And a dark, dry world, thirsty for God, had its thirst quenched; and its darkness turned to light, and in Him all the nations of the Earth have been blessed! Amen!

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So, "Messianic Judaism" has existed for 2000 years? Can you name some writings produced by them before the 19th century? –  H3br3wHamm3r81 5 hours ago
    
Under the site guidelines, your answer is actually off-topic here as it is actually an answer to an entirely different question. Rather than lose such interesting content to the site, could you please cut and paste it (with appropriate contextual editing) as an answer to this question: Why do (at least some) Messianic Jews celebrate the birth of Jesus on the 15th of Tishri? –  bruised reed 4 hours ago

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