- Hope on Union
“Was Jesus Born on December 25?”
Christmas is the biggest celebration of the modern Christian Church, but the early church had a strong opposition to recognizing the birthday of Jesus. They opposed celebrating the birthdays of martyrs because it was the tradition of their pagan neighbors.
Hippolytus of Rome, in 211 AD, first wrote about some believers celebrating the birth of Jesus. The Chronograph of 354 AD contained the earliest documented evidence of the celebration on December 25 as a liturgical feast of the Christian church.
The commonly accepted explanation of the establishment of December 25 as the actual day of the birth of Jesus is when Constantine declared the new Judean cult as the official religion of his empire and proclaimed Christmas as a festival. Additionally, the Indo-European deity Mithra, a god of light and loyalty, was cult was at the time growing popularity among Roman soldiers, which worried Constantine, and they celebrated on December 25. His motive was not faith, but it was a political move to weaken the power of the existing religious leaders by instituting new religious leaders who were beholden to him.
Another explanation of Christmas is based on nature. The solstices and equinoxes played a major role in most cultures, and many developed as religious celebrations. The Roman Empire celebrated the rebirth of the Unconquered Sun (Sol Invictus) on December 25; this followed the popular Roman festival called the Saturnalia (the celebration of Saturn), during which the people feasted and exchanged gifts. Most reject this because the winter solstice is on December 22.
The first date of the birth of Jesus on December 25 was by Jewish historian Sextus Julius Africanus who claimed that the world was created on March 25 and naturally dated Jesus’ conception to the same date, and nine months is December 25. No one believed his calculations of the date of creation.
There are some who defend December 25 as the birthday of Jesus by reinterpreting Luke 1:8. By interpreting the day Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, enters the sanctuary as the day of atonement, the claim is made that John the Baptist was conceived in September, which then six months later, March 25 would be the Immaculate Conception of Mary, resulting birth on December 25. However, this is not a good scholarship and is thus rejected by serious students of scriptures.
The Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas on January 7 because their holy days are based on the Julian calendar. When the world changed to the Gregorian calendar, the Orthodox church did not change the dates.
Christmas did not become an official festival of the Christian Church until the Council of Tours of 567 ordered monks to fast every day in the month of December until Christmas.
No serious believer attempts to defend the idea that Jesus was born on December 25 on our modern calendar but recognizes it is a date set aside for celebrative purposes. We are to gather and recognize that God is never far from us and God’s love is present among us in each other.