Was Jesus Really Born on December 25?

Monday, December 16, 2013

There is a 1 in 365 chance that Jesus was born on December 25.

No one knows the day or even the season when Jesus was born. The Bible doesn’t tell us, and the clues are inconclusive.

What the Bible does tell us is this: Jesus came to earth as an infant, born of a virgin, to save us from our sins. These facts are important, and they are recorded. The exact day of this birth is not. Obviously, God didn’t think we needed to know it.

But that doesn’t stop us from wondering.

I used to think that Jesus must have been born in the spring because the shepherds were in the fields watching their sheep, and sources I read equated that to lambing time. But modern-day visitors to Bethlehem can see shepherds in the fields all year round.

So why do we celebrate on December 25? To draw Christians away from the competition. Not from stores and shopping, but from pagan celebrations.

The early Church was surrounded by a Roman culture that celebrated the winter solstice on December 25, followed closely by the Saturnalia festival. These pagan festivities must have attracted and created a stumbling block for early Christians, so the Church sought to replace them with a celebration of its own. They did it by choosing December 25 to remember Christ’s birth.

And they had a 1 in 365 chance of being right.

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The picture at the top of this post is titled “Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds” and was painted around 1639 by the Dutch artist Govert Flinck. The original painting is in the Louvre Museum’s collection.

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For more information on the historical circumstances surrounding Christ’s birth, see In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church, by Paul L. Maier.

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