Most Christians celebrate the birth of Christ (Christmas) on December 25. But was this really the day of Christ's birth? What was the actual date of Christ's birth?
As far as I know there is no proof of any certain date of Christ's birth. And it is only by tradition that we accept it as the 25th of December. Now I'm not one for following tradition for traditions sake, but according to this site a lot of the evidence that people provide to rule out December as Christ's birthday is not rooted in fact. I don't think the exact day is important to salvation myself, but the fact that He was born. According to the author of that site the movement to suggest he couldn't have been born in december was started by the Jehovah's Witnesses, I don't know if that's true but that's what he claims.
The author dosen't claim that Jesus definitely was born on Dec. 25th. But claims that we just can't rule that out. Here are a couple of his points:
- Those against the December date claim that it was too cold for shepherds to be out in the field in winter; However it didn't seem to actually get that cold in Bethlehem in December, and even if it did shepherds would in fact stay out in the fields even in colder weather.
- Claims are made that tradition puts it in December beacause of the pegan winter solstice, the problem with that argument is that the winter solstice is on the 21st to the 22nd, not the 25th, and there are thousands of pegan holidays so ANY day is some pegan celebration in some part of the world.
So can it be proved that it was the 25th of December? No. Can it be disproved? Probably not.
Does it matter more that it happened on a certain day or just the fact that it happened?
Jonathan Cahn a Messianic Jewish Rabbi and pastor has a very interesting and intriguing take on this.
His detective work, drawing from Scripture and Jewish Laws, Traditions, and on Hebrew Holy Days, leads him to propose Nisan 1, 3756 i.e. March 20, 6 BC.
1st Clue: Shepherds at Night
- According to the Rabbis in the Talmud, shepherds kept watch by night from around March to the next rainy season [in Autumn].
- Birth at night in Autumn is eliminated because of the feast of Tabernacles during that season and all males had to be in Jerusalem.
- The shepherds at night also watch out for new lambs because of the lambing season being in spring: Mar/Apr [Nisan].
- Who better to greet the arrival of the Lamb of God than shepherds?
- Bethlehem was from whence the lambs for the Temple sacarfice came.
2nd Clue: Hebrew Holy Days
Central events of the Messiah and his time on earth happen on Hebrew Holy Days, therefore his birth must have been on a Hebrew Holy Day, and therefore the birth points to Nissan 1, beginning of the Hebrew Year.
3rd Clue: Moon Mystery
Jesus died on passover 14/15 Nissan on full moon, therefore he must have been born on new moon 1st Nissan.
4th Clue: Stars
The Magi's visit, the Massacre of the Infants, and knowng from History when Herod died (4 BC) points to the year of birth being around 6 BC.
5th Clue: Circumstances surrounding John the Baptist's conception
From the priestly calendar using the Talmud and Dead Sea Scrolls, the date of the duty of the division of Abi′jah to which priest Zechari′ah, John's Father belonged, can be determined.
Final Clue: The OT Tabernacle
The date on which the OT Tabernacle was to be raised was Nisan 1. (The Word was made flesh and dwelt [pitched his tent] among us.)
See more here: Jonathan Cahn - When was Messiah Jesus born?, Connie Oelbaum | YouTube.
How does this compare to Catholic Tradition?
From this article by Dr Taylor Marshall, the Church reasoning is that Christ was conceived on March 25, a date that has cosmic significance - e.g. March 25 was thought to be the first day of creation - and therefore born 9 months later on December 25. The Rabbi has him born, NOT conceived, in spring. Pretty fascinating stuff.
We Armenians do informally celebrate the birthday of Christ on December 25th, but to celebrate his birth on the 6th of January is religiously accurate.
The historical reasoning behind this is that until the fourth century, Christ's birth was celebrated on January 6th across all Christian faiths, but for most was moved to December 25th in order to cleanse Christianity of all pagan traces (leftover from former pagan practices). Armenia was not included because as a nation it didn't adopt the pagan practice to begin with (and Armenia was the first to accept Christianity as a nation).
Most Christian faiths now recognize December 25th as Christ's birthday and January 6th as the Feast of Epiphany. However, both used to be celebrated—and currently are, by most Armenian religions—on January 6th.
This is a question which has plagued me for many decades. I am truly shocked that a similar question received such little response during this season.
In other discussions here, we all can agree that no one can answer the question directly. No one knows the actual date of Christ's birth.
To know what one does not know is a sign of scholarship. Sometimes, the wisest answer to a question is "I don't know." To continue rambling in the answer is to address issues not identified in the question. (As the previous sentence just demonstrated.)
end of answer
The January 6 date used in the Armenian calendar is simply based on the greek calendar which placed nisan 14 on the greek month of Artemisios 14th (April 6). The west placed 'Good Friday/Nisan 14" on March 25th. (an ancient belief that an influential person dies on the day he is conceived). Thus nine months after the feast day of the Anunciation on the liturgical calendar, will be placed Christmas.
As the liturgical calendar evolved in the Eastern half of the Roman empire, the roman/byzantine east split the dual feasts of the Nativity and Baptism of the Lord. Adopting the roman/western date Dec 25 for the nativity according to the flesh, and retaining Jan 6 as the Theophany of Christ in the Jordan. Armenians who tended to be outside the empire retained the original eastern 4th century feastday. It is the 12 days between Dec 25 and Jan 6 where we get the concept of the "12 days of Christmas".
The January 7th date for Christmas used by Eastern Orthodox christians and by the Coptic church is simply based on the julian calendar. January 7 on our business/ gregorian calendar is december 25th on the julian calendar. In a few more decades January 8 Gregorian reckoning will become the day that Orthodox christians (on the julian calendar) will celebrate Christmas- yet it will still be Dec 25th on that calendar.
Gregory Nazianzen bishop of Constantinople gave a series of homilies (orations 38-40) for these feast days which was one of the transition years where the celebration of Theophany/Christmas was split into two (there is some controversy on which day; dec 25 or jan 6 they were delivered on). Regardless they are treated by Gregory as a single feast day. They were given in 380/381AD right about the time of the adoption of Dec 25 for Christmas in Constantinople: Oration 38 (chapter 3) and orations 39-40 make clear this was still viewed as a single feast:
There is also a very interesting article published years ago in Biblical Archeology Review about this;