Although we continue to celebrate December 25th as the birthday of Jesus it is unlikely to be the actual date. Most serious Bible students now consider that it was more likely to have been in the springtime rather than mid-winter.
Why Choose December 25th As Christmas Day?
The Bible itself does not state any particular date. Indeed the early church did have some disagreements over the actual date. However, the first record of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was not until 336 AD. (Okay, I know that should now be called CE or Common Era.) Emperor Constantine made this ruling to end arguments and unite his empire. Pope Julius 1 later confirmed that December 25th would be recognised as the official date of the birth of Jesus.
However, it is very unlikely that shepherds would have been outside tending their flocks in late December. The hills, at that time of the year, would have been covered in snow. So the flocks would have kept indoors at night throughout the winter. Especially when the most common type of sheep kept in the region would have been fat-tailed sheep. These sheep normally give birth in the autumn or early winter period rather than the spring. Another strong reason for them not being kept outdoors at night.
Existing Roman And Pagan Festivals
The Emporer may have chosen December 25th to quell a potential riot situation.
The Roman Festival of Saturnalia took place between December 17th and 23rd to honour the Roman god Saturn.
The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year happening around December 21 and December 22nd each year. This is when Pagans had a festival to worship the sun. It had managed to win over the darkness of winter. Which meant longer days were returning. In contrast, the Romans believed Romans thought the Winter Solstice took place on December 25th. “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti” means ‘birthday of the unconquered sun’. It was also was the ‘birthday’ of the Pagan Sun god Mithra.
The Emperor was able to allow his people to secretly practice their existing religious practices. Even if they were under the pretence of a Christian festival. No riots no rebellions. As nobody lost out!
Does it really matter what date we choose to celebrate the Birthday of Jesus?
Not really! We have no way of knowing the exact date. The important thing is we are able to come together to celebrate his life amongst us.
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