Why is Christmas Day on the 25th December?

Why is Christmas Day on the 25th December?

  • No one knows the true birthday of Jesus! There is no date given in the Bible, so why do we celebrate it on December 25? The early Christians certainly had many arguments about when it should be celebrated! In addition, the birth of Jesus probably did not occur in year 1, but a little earlier, somewhere between 2 a. C. / BC and 7 a. C. / BC, possibly in the 4th a. BC / ECB at 1!).

  • Calendar showing December 25
  • The first recorded Christmas date that was celebrated on December 25 was in 336, during the time of the Roman emperor Constantine (he was the first Christian Roman emperor). But it was not an official festival of the Roman state at this time.

  • However, there are many different traditions and theories about why Christmas is celebrated on December 25.

  • A very early Christian tradition said that the day Mary was told that she would have a very special baby, Jesus (called the Annunciation) was March 25 and is still celebrated today on March 25. Nine months after March 25 is December 25! March 25 was also the day that some early Christians thought the world had been created, and also the day Jesus died as an adult. The date of March 25 was chosen because people had calculated that this was the day Jesus died as an adult (Nisan 14 in the Jewish calendar) and they thought that Jesus was conceived and died the same day of the year.

  • The winter solstice is the day when there is less time between sunrise and sunset. It happens on December 21 or 22. For the pagans, this meant that winter was over and spring was coming and they had a festival to celebrate it and worshiped the sun to overcome the darkness of winter. In Scandinavia, and some other parts of northern Europe, the winter solstice is known as Yule. In Eastern Europe, the mid-winter festival is called Koleda.

  • The Roman Festival of Saturnalia took place between December 17 and 23 and honored the Roman god Saturn. The Romans also thought that the solstice took place on December 25. It is also believed that in 274 the Roman emperor Aurelian created ‘Dies Natalis Solis Invicti’ (which means ‘birthday of the unconquered sun’) also called ‘Sun Invictus’ and took place on December 25.

  • Because of the dates, some people say that Christians ‘took’ on December 25 of these Roman festivals. However, there are records that date back to about 200 of the first Christians connecting Nisan 14 to March 25, so December 25 was a ‘Christian’ festival date many years before the ‘Sun Invictus ‘. (More recent studies have also found that the ‘Sol Invictus’ connection did not appear until the twelfth century and is from a scrawled note on the margins of a manuscript. There is also evidence that ‘Sol Invictus’ could also have happened in October and not December anyway!)

  • Christmas had also been celebrated by the early Church on January 6, when they also celebrated the Epiphany (which means the revelation that Jesus was the son of God) and the Baptism of Jesus. (Like the previous date of December 25, this was based on a calculation of the death / conception of Jesus, but from April 6 not until March 25). Now the Epiphany mainly celebrates the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus, but at that time he celebrated both! Jesus’ baptism was originally seen as more important than his birth, since this was when he began his ministry.

  • The Jewish holiday of lights, Hanukkah, begins on the eve of Kislev 25 (the month in the Jewish calendar that occurs at approximately the same time as December). Hanukkah celebrates when the Jewish people were able to devote themselves and worship again in their Temple, in Jerusalem, again after many years of not being able to practice their religion.

  • Jesus was a Jew, so this could be another reason that helped the early Church choose December 25 for the Christmas date!

  • Most of the world uses the ‘Gregorian Calendar’ implemented by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. Before that, the ‘Roman’ or Julian Calendar was used (named after Julius Caesar). The Gregorian calendar is more accurate than the Roman calendar that had too many days in a year! When the change was made, 10 days were lost, so the day that followed October 4, 1582 was October 15, 1582. In the United Kingdom, the calendar change was made in 1752. The day after September 2, 1752 was on September 14, 1752.

  • Many Orthodox and Coptic churches still use the Julian calendar and celebrate Christmas on January 7 (which is when December 25 would have been on the Julian calendar). And the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates it on January 6! Somewhere in the United Kingdom, on January 6 it is still called ‘Old Christmas’, as this would have been the day Christmas would have been celebrated, if the calendar had not changed. Some people did not want to use the new calendar as they thought they were ‘cheated’ in 11 days!

  • Christians believe that Jesus is the light of the world, so the early Christians thought that this was the right time to celebrate the birth of Jesus. They also took care of some of the customs of the winter solstice and gave them Christian meanings, such as Holly, Mistletoe and even Christmas carols!

  • St. Augustine of Canterbury was the person who probably initiated the widespread celebration of Christmas in much of England by introducing Christianity in the regions led by the Anglo-Saxons in the 6th century (other Celtic parts of Britain were already Christian, but there is no many documents on whether they celebrated the birth of Jesus or how they did it). St. Augustine of Canterbury was sent by Pope Gregory the Great to Rome and that church used the Roman calendar, so Western countries celebrate Christmas on December 25. Then people from Britain and Western Europe took Christmas on December 25 around the world!

  • If you want to know more about the story behind the Christmas dates, read this very good article in Bible History Daily (go somewhere else).

  • So when was Jesus born?
  • There is a strong reason

  • Many people who have studied the Bible think that Sukkot would be a probable time for the birth of Jesus, as it could match the description that there is no “place in the inn.” It would also have been a good time to do the Roman census since many Jews went to Jerusalem for the festival and would have brought their own shops / shelters with them! (It would not have been practical for Joseph and Mary to take their own shelter since Mary was pregnant.)

  • The possibilities for the Star of Bethlehem seem to point to either spring or autumn.

  • The possible dating of the birth of Jesus can also be taken from when Zacharias (who was married to the cousin of Mary, Elizabeth) was on duty in the Jewish Temple as a Priest and had an incredible experience. There is an excellent article on Christmas quotes based on the dates of Zacharias’ experience, in the theologian’s blog, Ian Paul. With those dates, you get Jesus born in September, which also fits Sukkot!

  • The year Jesus was born is not known. The calendar system we have now was created in the 6th century by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus. Actually, I was trying to create a better system to exercise when Easter was celebrated, based on a new calendar with the birth of Jesus in year 1. However, he made a mistake in his math and got the possible year of! The birth of Jesus was wrong!

  • Most scholars now think that Jesus was born between 2 a. C. / a. C. and 7 a. C. / a. C., possibly in 4 a. C. / a. C. Before the new calendars of Dionysus, the years usually dated to the reigns of Roman emperors. The new calendar became more used from the 8th century when the ‘Venerable Bede of Northumbria’ used it in his ‘new’ history book! There is no year ‘0’. Bede began dating things before year 1 and used 1 BCE / BC as the first year before 1. At that time in Europe, the number 0 did not exist in mathematics: he only arrived in Europe in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries!

  • Then, every time you celebrate Christmas, remember that you are celebrating a real event that happened about 2000 years ago, that God sent his Son into the world as a Christmas gift for everyone!

In addition to Christmas and the solstice, there are other festivals held at the end of December. Hanukkah is celebrated by the Jews; and the Kwanzaa festival is celebrated by some Africans and African Americans from December 26 to January 1.

                                                                          THANK YOU

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