Was Jesus born on December 25?
Posted on December 27th, 2010

Shripal Nishshanka Fernando

WasƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ JesusƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ born on Christmas day?ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ We celebrateƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Jesus‘ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ birthƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ on Christmas, but no one really knows what dayƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ JesusƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ was born, or even exactly what year. In 336 A.D., the Western Church, based in Rome, chose December 25 to celebrate as Christmas, meaning “Christ’s Mass.” The Eastern Church chose January 6. The day was named Epiphany, meaning “appearance.” Eventually the period from December 25 to January 6 became known as the Twelve Days of Christmas.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ There is no evidence to prove that Jesus was born on December 25th for this date. So then, who decided that Jesus’ birth would be celebrated on that date? The early Christian church did not celebrate Jesus’ birth. It wasn’t until A.D. 440 that the church officially proclaimed December 25 as the birth of Christ. This was not based on any religious evidence but on a pagan feast. Saturnalia was a tradition inherited by the Roman pagans from an earlier Babylonian priesthood. December 25 was used as a celebration of the birthday of the sun god. It was observed near the winter solstice.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

Over the centuries, the tale of Christmas twists and turns down many roads.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

The expression “Christmas” is a combination of Latin and Greek meaning “Christ’s Mass.” It became an Old English word in 1038. Scholarly research indicates that Dec. 25 is probably not the actual birthday of Jesus. It more likely comes from the date of the winter solstice on the ancient Roman calendar. This referred to the birthday of the “unconquered sun.” On that date, the sun was annually reborn by reversing its southward direction. Early Christian writers connected the rebirth of the sun to the birth of Jesus.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

The New Testament does not offer a date for Christ’s birth. Early Christians celebrated it on the Epiphany of Jan. 6. The biblical Matthew and Luke de-scribed the birth. Tradition also translates the events into history. Popular tradition says Joseph assisted Mary with the birth in a stable surrounded by shepherds and farm animals. It explains the shepherds were called to the scene by an angel. Tradition also reports that Jesus was born under the present Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The apostles in the Bible predicted that some Christians would adopt pagan beliefs to enable them to make their religion more palatable to the pagans around them. Therefore, some scholars think the church chose the date of this pagan celebration to interest them in Christianity. The pagans were already used to celebrating on this date.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

Dating December 25 as the birthday of Jesus, is known to have gained popularity only by the mid-fourth century in order that Christians could have an alternative to a popular pagan festival at this time of year. December 25 was theƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ winter solsticeƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ according to the old Julian calendar, and it was on that day that Mithraism, a chief rival to Christianity, celebrated the birth of the god, Mithra. It is unlikely that we shall ever know exactly when Jesus was born (scholars estimate sometime between 12 and 4 B.C.) or the real circumstances surrounding his nativity. We can, however, attempt to separate historical fact from literary fiction.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

The doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus, so central to the traditional Christmas story, was not part of the teaching of the first Christians, whom it should be remembered, also remained within the Jewish faith (Luke 24:52-53). The apostle Paul makes no reference to the virginal conception by the mother of Jesus when speaking of Jesus’ origins and divinity. His epistles were written during the 50’s A.D. and predate all of the four gospels. Although Paul never met Jesus (who died about 30 A.D.), he personally did know James, the brother of Jesus. Yet despite this eye-witness link to Jesus, Paul apparently knows nothing of the virgin birth, for he states only that Jesus was “born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4) and was “descended from David, according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3), thereby implying a normal birth.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

The Bible itself tells us that December 25 is an unlikely date for His birth. Palestine is very cold in December. It was much too cold to ask everyone to travel to the city of their fathers to register for taxes. Also the shepherds were in the fields (Luke 2:8-12). Shepherds were not in the fields in the winter time. They are in the fields early in March until early October. This would place Jesus’ birth in the spring or early fall. It is also known that Jesus lived for 33.5 years and died at the feast of the Passover, which is at Easter time. He must therefore have been born six months the other side of Easter – making the date around the September/October time frames.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

Other evidence that December 25 is the wrong date for the birth of Jesus comes from early writings. Iranaeus, born about a century after Jesus, notes that Jesus was born in the 41st year of the reign of Augustus. Since Augustus began his reign in the autumn of 43 B.C., this appears to substantiate the birth of Jesus as the autumn of 2 B.C. Eusebius (A.D. 264-340), the “Father of Church History,” ascribes it to the 42nd year of the reign of Augustus and the 28th from the subjection of Egypt on the death of Anthony and Cleopatra. The 42nd year of Augustus ran from the autumn of 2 B.C. to the autumn of 1 B.C. The subjugation of Egypt into the Roman Empire occurred in the autumn of 30 B.C. The 28th year extended from the autumn of 3 B.C. to the autumn of 2 B.C. The only date that would meet both of these constraints would be the autumn of 2 B.C.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

John the Baptist also helps us determine that December 25 is not the birth of Jesus. Elizabeth, John’s mother, was a cousin of Mary. John began his ministry in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar. The minimum age for the ministry was 30. As Augustus died on August 19, A.D. 14, that was the accession year for Tiberius. If John was born on April 19-20, 2 B.C., his 30th birthday would have been April 19-20, A.D. 29, or the 15th year of Tiberius. This seems to confirm the 2 B.C. date, and, since John was 5 months older, this also confirms an autumn birth date for Jesus.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

Another interesting fact comes from Elizabeth herself. She hid herself for 5 months and then the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary both Elizabeth’s condition and that Mary would also bear a son who would be called Jesus. Mary went “with haste” to visit Elizabeth, who was then in the first week of her 6th month, or the 4th week of Dec., 3 B.C. If Jesus was born 280 days later it would place his birth on Sept. 29, 2 B.C. Some scholars interpret the 6 months to be in line with the Hebrew calendar or the August-September time frame. Since Mary’s pregnancy commenced a little before the sixth month around July, Jesus would be born somewhere around March-June. But does it matter if Jesus was born on the spring, the fall, or on December 25? Does it matter, theologically, when Jesus was born? What do you think, does it matter what day we celebrate His birth?

The accusation that their shared birthday of December 25th proves that the figure of Jesus of Nazareth was lifted from these pagan worthies is a staple of atheist web-sites. The Protestant authors who originated the accusation did not, of course, claim that Jesus did not exist nor that He was copied from these deities. They sought rather to point out that the Bible does not provide His birth-date, nor did the church of the first few Christian centuries know much about it. They wondered, when did His birthday become December 25th? Was it at the same time and for the same reason as these pagan worthies, whose birthdays were also not originally celebrated on December 25th? Christmas, scorned by the Puritans, has become so popular that many who know nothing else about Jesus know that He was born on December 25th. But was He? For that matter, were Osiris and Dionysus?

4 Responses to “Was Jesus born on December 25?”

  1. Fran Diaz Says:

    Re-submission since first submission went into wrong space :

    Good analysis, Dilrook. Thank you.
    There is so much inaccuracy surrounding most religions. The pure Teachings of each of the Masters must emerge for wars & disharmony to stop. Though the Teachings may prove difficult to follow, we must at least try on a daily basis.

  2. Parinda Says:

    Wonderful article, timely submission when we are debating on another article. Thanks.

  3. De Costa Says:

    Something similar to article was published recently. As the content revealed something new to me, firstly I was very interested in it.
    Reading again I cannot see any wonder in it. Most people have no time to research and argue about the content but clearly there are many assumptions and speculations in the article itself. Pointing out these is beyond the scope of my comments and the authors should publish these on widely read forums to test the authenticity and truth.
    My questions are,
    Does it matter very much what was the birth day of Jeseus is ? Wouldn’t his Dhamma( and/or his message) more important than the birth of his body and the climate of Jerusalam ?
    Lucky that Wesak day is not fixed – which is more realistic thinking of 2600 years ago. Similarly Jesuse’s birth day could have been related to full moon or something. ( Previous article suggested Sun God’s birth day , which is not a bad idea).
    Venerable Achan Chah once asked a lady who was obsessed with abhidamma, “lady, why are you picking chicken waste rather than eggs ?”. To Achan , reflecting on four noble truth was much more sensible than analysing the psychology in abhidahmma.
    All traditions need a date to celebrate and a certain message to convey. During Christmas and during Hari Raya people practice a lot of “dana” element and bring happiness to a lot. At the same time both these religious dates bring hell and suffering to animals who get murdered , accoring to Buddhism.
    Going after western values and traditions relentlessly will not bring Sri Lankans prosperity. War is over sometime back thanks to a excellent gorup of leaders and thousands of poor sons and daughters who sacrifiesed their lives. With 100 over ministers in the cabinet we are already becoming a laughing stock unless quality or governance replaces the quantity.

  4. jimmy Says:

    Yes Jesus was born on Dec 25th Thank you
    There are so many problems and you are worrying about the date Jesus was born
    Come on Man what is the matter with you

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