WAS JESUS BORN ON THE 25TH OF DECEMBER? IF NOT, SHOULD CHRISTIANS STILL CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Some professing Christians believe that we should celebrate Christmas because it commemorates Jesus Christ’s birth. Other professing Christians believe that we should not celebrate Christmas because of its pagan (non-Christian) origins and elements. In this Bible study, we will evaluate Christmas from the historical and Biblical perspectives, to answer two crucial questions—(1) Was Jesus actually born on December 25th? (2) If He was not, then should we as Christians still celebrate December 25th as though it were a legitimate Christian holiday? We will let our readers come to their own conclusion as to what they should do about Christmas. To the Scriptures we go to search and see!
Like with Easter, some Bible-believing Christians struggle in themselves whether or not to observe Christmas. As with anything religious, especially concerning the Holy Bible, there is gross, gross, gross ignorance. It is such a tragic testimony, oh how sad it is, that the average Christian cannot adequately convey what he or she believes, let alone actually point to supporting Bible verses, if his or her life depended on it! “Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land…. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” (Hosea 4:1,6).
Dear friends, if we are to answer the Bible critics with clear, sound, thoughtful statements as God Himself would have us to reply to them, we must make informed decisions and then be ready to defend them. What we need to do is study the Bible and then believe what we read; if the Bible is silent about the topic, we need to study the topic using something other than the Bible, and then we should return to the Bible and compare to it what we have learned elsewhere. The Bible never uses the term “Christmas.” (Still, that does not mean that God’s Word is completely silent about this “feast of Christendom.”) Hence, before we can see what implicit references the Bible makes to this time of year and its associated activities, we should consider the history of Christmas and then compare that to the Holy Bible. We will do just that here.
ORIGIN OF CHRISTMAS
According to the “Christmas” article of The New Encyclopædia Britannica:
“Christmas, Christian festival celebrating the birth of Jesus. The English term Christmas (“mass on Christ’s day”) is of fairly recent origin. The earlier term Yule may have derived from the Germanic jōl or the Anglo-Saxon geōl, which referred to the feast of the winter solstice. The corresponding terms in other languages—Navidad in Spanish, Natale in Italian, Noël in French—all probably denote nativity. The German word Weihnachten denotes “hallowed night.”
“The precise origin of assigning December 25 as the birth date of Jesus is unclear. The New Testament provides no clues in this regard. December 25 was first identified as the date of Jesus’ birth by Sextus Julius Africanus in 221 and later became the universally accepted date. One widespread explanation of the origin of this date is that December 25 was the Christianizing of the dies solis invicti nati (“day of the birth of the unconquered sun”), a popular [pagan, non-Christian—S.B.] holiday in the Roman Empire that celebrated the winter solstice as a symbol of the resurgence of the sun, the casting away of winter and the heralding of the rebirth of spring and summer. Indeed, after December 25 had become widely accepted as the date of Jesus’ birth, Christian writers frequently made the connection between the rebirth of the sun and the birth of the Son. One of the difficulties with this view is that it suggests a nonchalant willingness on the part of the Christian [actually the Roman Catholic—S.B.] church to appropriate a pagan festival when the early church was so intent on distinguishing itself categorically from pagan beliefs and practices.” (Bold emphasis mine.)
“A second view suggests that December 25 became the date of Jesus’ birth by a priori reasoning that identified the spring equinox as the date of the creation of the world and the fourth day of creation, when the light was created, as the day of Jesus’ conception (i.e., March 25). December 25, nine months later, then became the date of Jesus’ birth. For a long time the celebration of Jesus’ birth was observed in conjunction with his baptism, celebrated January 6.”
The secular (non-Christian) New Encyclopædia Britannica is actually more informed about the Bible than most Christians. It clearly displays a fact that the Bible student already knows—the New Testament is completely silent about Jesus Christ being born on December 25th (this idea appeared in the third century A.D., some 150 years after New Testament times). As the Britannica indicates, Jesus’ birth being celebrated on December 25th has a widespread explanation: the Roman Catholic Church, to attract more members from paganism, cleaned up and adopted a non-Christian holiday, blending similarities wherever it could so as to minimize detection. In late December, at the winter solstice, the pagan Romans celebrated the time of the rebirth of the sun (beginning with the winter solstice, daylight hours began to slowly increase).
The History Channel’s website (www.history.com) has the following opening remarks about Christmas:
“A Christian holiday honoring the birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas evolved over two millennia into a worldwide religious and secular celebration, incorporating many pre-Christian, pagan [non-Christian!—S.B.] traditions into the festivities along the way. Today, Christmas is a time for family and friends to get together and exchange gifts. … It wasn’t until the 19th century that Americans began to embrace Christmas. Americans re-invented Christmas, and changed it from a raucous carnival holiday into a family-centered day of peace and nostalgia.” (Bold emphasis mine.)
These historians—who may not be Christians at all, and who thus would have no “Bible-believing-bias” agenda to advance—assure us that Christmas has “many pre-Christian, pagan traditions.” Not just a few, but many, non-Christian elements!
We continue reading from the History Channel’s website:
“In the Northern hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night of the year falls on December 21 or December 22 and is called the winter solstice. Many ancient people believed that the sun was a god and that winter came every year because the sun god had become sick and weak. They celebrated the solstice because it meant that at last the sun god would begin to get well. Evergreen boughs reminded them of all the green plants that would grow again when the sun god was strong and summer would return.” (Bold emphasis mine.)
It should be pointed out that these were not Bible-believing Jews or Bible-believing Christians; these were ignorant people in paganism. The Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) led no one to believe in such superstitious nonsense.
The History Channel’s website could not be clearer about why Christmas, a once-heathen holiday, now prevails in the Christian “church:”
“By holding Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders increased the chances that Christmas would be popularly embraced [COMPROMISE!—S.B.], but gave up the ability to dictate how it was celebrated. By the Middle Ages, Christianity had, for the most part, replaced pagan religion. On Christmas, believers attended church, then celebrated raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere similar to today’s Mardi Gras. Each year, a beggar or student would be crowned the “lord of misrule” and eager celebrants played the part of his subjects. The poor would go to the houses of the rich and demand their best food and drink. If owners failed to comply, their visitors would most likely terrorize them with mischief. Christmas became the time of year when the upper classes could repay their real or imagined “debt” to society by entertaining less fortunate citizens.” (Bold emphasis mine.)
We find elsewhere in the History Channel’s online article about Christmas’ origins:
“Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight.”
“In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21, the winter solstice, through January. In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs, which they would set on fire. The people would feast until the log burned out, which could take as many as 12 days. The Norse believed that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year.”
“In Germany, people honored the pagan god Oden during the mid-winter holiday….”
“In Rome, where winters were not as harsh as those in the far north, Saturnalia—a holiday in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture—was celebrated. Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a hedonistic [riotous, carousing] time, when food and drink were plentiful and the normal Roman social order was turned upside down. For a month, slaves would become masters. Peasants were in command of the city. Business and schools were closed so that everyone could join in the fun.”
“Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome. In addition, members of the upper classes often celebrated the birthday of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun, on December 25. It was believed that Mithra, an infant god, was born of a rock. [Notice how the Roman Church adopted the ancient Roman religious belief of a pagan god being born in December, and then “Christianized” it by applying the date to Jesus.] For some Romans, Mithra’s birthday was the most sacred day of the year.”
“In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Unfortunately, the Bible does not mention date for his birth (a fact Puritans later pointed out in order to deny the legitimacy of the celebration). Although some evidence suggests that his birth may have occurred in the spring (why would shepherds be herding in the middle of winter?), Pope Julius I chose December 25. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century. By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia. Today, in the Greek and Russian orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated 13 days after the 25th, which is also referred to as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. This is the day it is believed that the three wise men finally found Jesus in the manger.” (Bold emphasis mine.)
In his classic The Two Babylons (first printed in the mid-1800s), Alexander Hislop expanded on this idea:
“The festivals of Rome are innumerable; but five of the most important may be singled out for elucidation—viz., Christmas-day, Lady-day, Easter, the Nativity of St. John, and the Feast of the Assumption. Each and all of these can be proved to be Babylonian….
“Indeed, it is admitted by the most learned and candid writers of all parties * that the day of our Lord’s birth cannot be determined, ** and that within the Christian Church no such festival as Christmas was ever heard of till the third century, and that not till the fourth century was far advanced did it gain much observance….
“How, then, did the Romish Church fix on December the 25th as Christmas-day? Why, thus: Long before the fourth century, and long before the Christian era itself, a festival was celebrated among the heathen, at that precise time of the year, in honour of the birth of the son of the Babylonian queen of heaven; and it may fairly be presumed that, in order to conciliate the heathen, and to swell the number of the nominal adherents of Christianity, the same festival was adopted by the Roman Church, giving it only the name of Christ. This tendency on the part of Christians to meet Paganism half-way was very early developed; and we find Tertullian, even in his day, about the year 230, bitterly lamenting the inconsistency of the disciples of Christ in this respect, and contrasting it with the strict fidelity of the Pagans to their own superstition. “By us,” says he, “who are strangers to Sabbaths, and new moons, and festivals, once acceptable to God, the Saturnalia, the feasts of January, the Brumalia, and Matronalia, are now frequented; gifts are carried to and fro, new year’s day presents are made with din, and sports and banquets are celebrated with uproar; oh, how much more faithful are the heathen to their religion, who take special care to adopt no solemnity from the Christians.” Upright men strive to stem the tide, but in spite of all their efforts, the apostacy went on, till the Church, with the exception of a small remnant, was submerged under Pagan superstition. That Christmas was originally a Pagan festival, is beyond all doubt. The time of the year, and the ceremonies with which it is still celebrated, prove its origin. In Egypt, the son of Isis, the Egyptian title for the queen of heaven, was born at this very time, “about the time of the winter solstice.” The very name by which Christmas is popularly known among ourselves—Yule-day—proves at once its Pagan and Babylonian origin. “Yule” is the Chaldee name for an “infant” or “little child”; * and as the 25th of December was called by our Pagan Anglo-Saxon ancestors, “Yule-day,” or the “Child’s day,” and the night that preceded it, “Mother-night,” long before they came in contact with Christianity, that sufficiently proves its real character. Far and wide, in the realms of Paganism, was this birth-day observed. This festival has been commonly believed to have had only an astronomical character, referring simply to the completion of the sun’s yearly course, and the commencement of a new cycle….” (pages 91–94, Bold emphasis mine.)
While much more could be said regarding the above quotes, suffice it to say that Christmas practices certainly have roots in false religion, and much of what is called “Christmas worship” is nothing more than the carryover of superstitious practices that non-Christians followed centuries and millennia ago. These pagan practices have been given a godly appearance—they have been “Christianized”—but, once we expose their superficiality, they demonstrate themselves that they have no relation to the God of the Bible and no association with Jesus Christ.
It is becoming to close this section by quoting one brief statement from the History Channel’s website: “As Americans began to embrace Christmas as a perfect family holiday [in the 1800s], old customs were unearthed. People looked toward recent immigrants and Catholic and Episcopalian churches to see how the day should be celebrated. In the next 100 years, Americans built a Christmas tradition all their own that included pieces of many other customs, including decorating trees, sending holiday cards, and gift-giving.”
USING THE BIBLE TO ESTIMATE CHRIST’S BIRTH-MONTH
While it is commonly estimated that the Lord Jesus Christ was born between 7 and 4 B.C., we are more interested in this study to see if the Bible says anything about the time of year He was born. Some church fathers argued Christ’s birth was May 20, others argued January 6, and still others January 10. Rather than studying the traditions of men, we will simply be Bible-believers (before we become that, we must first be Bible-students!).
Luke 2:7-8 are helpful in determining the approximate time of Christ’s birth: “ And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.  And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:7-8).
As we stated earlier, religious tradition demands December 25th is Christ’s birthday. Was our Lord Jesus really born in wintertime? This passage replies with an emphatic NO. According to the Bible, on the night of Jesus’ birth, there were shepherds out in the fields watching their flock. Would shepherds be abiding outside on a cold winter’s (perhaps snowy) night? This is only one line of biblical evidence that Jesus was not born on Christmas. However, there is a biblical significance to late December.
John the Baptist’s father, Zacharias, was a priest, “of the course [order] of Abia [Abijah]” (Luke 1:5). Under King David, Israel’s priests were organized into 24 courses (1 Chronicles 24:7-19). A priest from each course served a week in the Temple ministration (and thus served one week twice a year). Israel’s calendar began with Abib/Nisan, equivalent to March 16-April 15 (Exodus 12:1,2; Exodus 13:4). Passover was observed on April 14, starting Israel’s religious calendar.
Passover week (The Feast of Unleavened Bread) lasted from April 15-21. The first course of priests served in the Temple around this time. Zacharias’ course, Abijah, was the eighth course after Passover (1 Chronicles 24:10), thus placing Zacharias’ service roughly eight weeks after Passover (or June 17-23). This was the time when the angel appeared to Zacharias to announce John’s conception (Luke 1:8-22). Once Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth leave the Temple and go home, Elisabeth conceives John (late June; Luke 1:23-25).
Six months after Elisabeth conceived John in late June (Luke 1:26), Mary conceived Jesus—in late December. Contrary to religious tradition, the birthday of Christ is not December 25. Late December is the time of Christ’s conception. The conception of Christ in Mary’s womb, not Mary’s conception in her mother’s womb, is the biblical immaculate conception: it was Christ’s conception, not Mary’s, that was sinless (Luke 1:35).
If a perfect human gestation lasts 280 days (9 months), late September/early October is the time of Christ’s birth. During this time of year, recall that God had Israel observing the Feast of Tabernacles, when Jews would dwell in “booths” (tents, tabernacles) for seven days (Leviticus 23:39-44). We will take some moments to look at this in more detail.
God had commanded Israel through Moses that Jews were to celebrate many feasts year-round. One of them was the Feast of Tabernacles, observed during late September/early October. Again, during this seven-day feast, Jews were to dwell in “booths” (tents, tabernacles) (Leviticus 23:39-44; Nehemiah 8:13-18).
The Bible likens our physical bodies to “tabernacles” for our souls and spirits (2 Corinthians 5:1-4; 2 Peter 1:13-15). Furthermore, Isaiah 40:22 says God “spreadeth [the heavens] out as a tent to dwell in:” God created the universe so He could dwell in it, specifically on a little planet… earth. When Jesus Christ was born, “the Word was made flesh [God became a man], and dwelt among us [He “tabernacled” in a human body]” (John 1:14). Jesus Christ came to tabernacle/abide with mankind on earth, to establish that earthly kingdom prophesied throughout the Old Testament!
To make the Word flesh (for Jesus Christ to be a man), God’s Holy Spirit conceived a physical body inside of the virgin Mary, a body in which Jesus’ Spirit could dwell (Matthew 1:18-20; Luke 1:35; Hebrews 10:5-9). Jesus was named “Immanuel,” or “God [dwelling] with us” (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). The Bible indicates that Jesus was conceived—not born—in late December. Again, Jesus Christ was actually born in late September/early October (coinciding with the Feast of Tabernacles).
So, to conclude this section, we remind you that, while Israel was observing Tabernacles in September/October, God was born as a man (Jesus Christ) of the virgin Mary, and dwelt (“tabernacled”) with them! Sadly, very few Jews paid any attention to Jesus, “Emmanuel,” “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14; cf. Matthew 1:23; Zechariah 8:23). The rest of Israel ignored “God dwelling among them” (John 1:14).
WHY ALL THE CONFUSION?
Why there is so much confusion about pagan practices and Christian practices is simple to explain. Satan is the master counterfeiter: from Genesis to Revelation, the Scriptures reveal how the devil schemes to “be like the most High” (Isaiah 14:14). Whatever God does, Satan defiles that work by introducing false doctrine, distracts mankind from God’s truth by mimicking His actions, discourages God’s people from His ministry by using incorrect thinking patterns, and so on. Why? Satan wants the worship that God alone deserves (Matthew 4:8-10; Luke 4:5-8).
Consider Eastertime. Centuries before Christ, Satan had pagans worshipping fertility deities and new life in early spring, near the date that Jesus Christ (God the Son) died for our sins and resurrected victoriously over sin, death, hell, and Satan to give us new life! Now, consider Christmastime. Centuries before Christ, Satan had pagans worshipping the birth of the sun god in early winter—near the date that Jesus Christ (God the Son) took upon human flesh in the virgin Mary’s womb! (To Satan’s delight, today’s average church member is not mindful of relevant sound Bible doctrine during Christmastime and Eastertime—the devil’s distractions have never lost their efficacy!)
We see this ignorance manifested in the “Christmas” article of The New Encyclopædia Britannica:
“Since the early 20th century, Christmas has also been a secular family holiday, observed by Christians and non-Christians alike, devoid of Christian elements, and marked by an increasingly elaborate exchange of gifts. In this secular Christmas celebration, a mythical figure named Santa Claus plays the pivotal role.” (Bold emphasis mine.)
If Santa plays the “pivotal role” at Christmastime, then Jesus Christ is pushed aside in favor of someone who does not exist! (Obviously, Satan can and does very easily dupe mankind.)
Let us now see what the Bible would have us to do.
WHAT IS THE CHRISTIAN TO DO?
Our purpose here has been to enlighten you about Christmas so that you can make an informed decision. It is certainly not our goal to “have dominion over your faith;” our desire is to be “helpers of your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24). We will not dictate to you what you can and cannot do regarding Christmas, but we do offer this study for your consideration. Our goal is to have your faith rest in an intelligent understanding of God’s Word, so that you may have joy and peace in believing God’s Word (Romans 15:13).
JEHOVAH, the God of the Bible, sent His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who once existed as a Spirit, into the womb a sinful daughter of Adam and Eve, Mary, that He become a man so that He could shed blood and pay for that sinful human race. Through Moses who recorded them in Leviticus chapter 23, God gave Israel seven feasts to observe throughout the year, every year. One of these feast-days, called the “Feast of Tabernacles,” pictured/previewed God dwelling in a human body, personally present forever, “tabernacling” (John 1:14) with the nation Israel in her Promised Land.
Backing up nine months from that time frame of late September / early October, we find late December. The Bible believer is not at all surprised to learn that, it is highly likely that God arranged a unique schedule—Jesus Christ’s physical body would be conceived in late December, (which is why the pagans through Satanic influence would counterfeit it), and to be physically delivered from that womb of Mary in early October (the very time that depicted God tabernacling with Israel in her kingdom on Earth!).
As with the case of Easter, Christmas has both good and bad elements: we do not have to avoid either holiday altogether. Yes, the pagans may have “hijacked” this time of year for the devil’s glory, but we can disregard their ignorance: late December seems to be a very important time in the Bible, but it is about Christ’s conception rather than His birth. We can still use this season to bring the God of the Bible glory by remembering that it was around this time of year that He became one of us, a lowly human (although sinless), that, through His birth He might die, and through His death we might die, and through His resurrection we might be born of God’s Spirit! Jesus Christ humbled Himself, He left glory behind, that we might rise from the slums of sin, that we might dwell with Him in glory forever. What a thought! Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day for our justification (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). We can trust Him alone and pass from eternal death to eternal life.
If we do choose to “celebrate” (for lack of a better word) Christmas, we should remember not to be get distracted by the trees, the Santa Clauses, reindeer, lights, denominational rites and rituals, and so on. Let us use this time of year—a time when people are most open to “spiritual things”—to share the wonderful news of the new life we have in Christ, and the new life that they can have in Jesus Christ, too, if they trust Him alone as their personal Saviour. This is the wonderful Gospel of the Grace of God, and it alone is the life-giving message that lost people need to hear—at Christmastime and every other time!
NOTE: My own research about Christmas yielded too much information to be reproduced in its entirety here. The reader is greatly encouraged to search the internet to learn more about Christmas’s very complex history, and not take this author’s word for anything.
You may also see http://www.history.com/topics/christmas and