Skip to comments.Why Dec. 25th? Church settled on ‘Christ’s birth day’ centuries later
Posted on 12/13/2006 9:55:02 AM PST by NYer
CLEVELAND, Ohio (CNS) The gospel accounts of the Nativity (Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2) do not say what day Jesus was born. There were attempts to calculate the day, but by the third century Christians realized this was impossible.
So they tried other ways to determine a date for Jesus' birth:
- Many people believed the world was re-created on the first day of spring (March 25 of the Julian calendar followed in ancient Rome). How appropriate, then, for the world's redeemer to become incarnate that day!
- Other scholars argued that Jesus became incarnate not at his birth but at his conception. If Jesus was conceived March 25, he would be born nine months later, Dec. 25.
This date didn't catch on immediately, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean region where people believed Jesus was born Jan. 6. But in the West Dec. 25 had much appeal. Why?
Many Romans venerated the sun, whose birthday was Dec. 25, or a virility god named Mithra with the same birthday. Also, the Romans observed a raucous celebration called Saturnalia Dec. 17-23. Thus, Dec. 25 offered a date with a good theological basis that also would counter several pagan holidays.
Although we don't know the final steps, in 336 the church at Rome officially observed the "birth day of Christ" Dec. 25. This tradition spread. But what about Jan. 6? The church decided to use that day for Jesus' manifestation to the whole world, symbolized by the Magi.
The Magi were three kings, Melchior, Caspar and Balthasar, right? Not really. Matthew's Gospel speaks only of Magi; it doesn't call them kings, or say they rode camels or give their names.
The early Christians looked to the Old Testament for prophecies relating to Jesus. One prophecy in Isaiah said that foreigners traveling on camels would bring gold and frankincense to the Messiah, while a psalm spoke of kings coming.
Naturally the Christians interpreted the Messiah as Jesus, and the only foreigners who brought him gifts were the Magi. So by the third century we find Christians speaking of the Magi as kings riding camels.
How many Magi were there?
A great Egyptian scholar, Origen, found a Genesis passage in which three pagans honored the Hebrew patriarch Isaac. Origen said the three symbolized the Magi, but didn't say why.
Names for the Magi do not appear until the sixth century; all are fictional. "Balthasar" may be a corruption of Belteshazzar, a Babylonian king in the Book of Daniel. "Melchior" may be a combination of two Hebrew words for "king" and "light." And "Caspar" may derive from the name of an Indian king converted by early Christians.
These names first appear in the West in a sixth-century mosaic in the church of St. Apollinaris Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy.
The date for Christmas may have been settled by the fourth century, but legends of the Magi grew throughout the Middle Ages.
Possible interest to your lists.
If Professor Larsen is correct, 12/25 is around the date the Magi visited the newborn Christ. The site is well researched and gives a good hypothesis as to the star. He also pinpoints the date of April 3, 33 A.D. for the crucifixion based on the sabbath correlating with Passover during Pilate's reign and there being a lunar eclipse on that date. It is very interesting stuff.
Many Romans venerated the sun, whose birthday was Dec. 25, or a virility god named Mithra with the same birthday. Also, the Romans observed a raucous celebration called Saturnalia Dec. 17-23. Thus, Dec. 25 offered a date with a good theological basis that also would counter several pagan holidays.I've heard that the date of Christmas was set in Saturnalia, because there was so much going on, the surreptitious Christian gatherings wouldn't be noticed.
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This seems to be att odds with other things I have read about why December 25 is the day designated as Christ's birthday by the Roman Catholic church. So which is the real reason?
Right, I though Constantine set the date because he associated Christ with the sun. Doesn't the story go he heard a voice say "By this sign you shall conquer," and the sun transformed into a cross? Anyway, I have a vague recollection of hearing that.
The "real" reason will probably never be known. It was decided by a bunch of guys who are now largely anonymous in history, who probably weren't in a position to have to explain themselves to anybody, in a closed room. Whatever logic they used stayed in that room and died with them, all we can do is speculate.
Well, isn't that interesting? Some bozo the other day on another thread was equally certain that the Crucifixion took place on March 25th AD 30. Wouldn't hear differently. My solution? Nobody knows, just pick a date.
My uneducated guess would be the Spring but the best guess would be when taxes were due that year. I believe that is why so many people were traveling or it could have been due to some other celebration that would explain why they were short of rooms at the inn.
I recently read (and verified) that April Fool's Day has no explicable origin, and that it is a likely candidate for the date of Christ's crucifixion. Seems to fit the timeline and the modus operandi of the enemy anyway...
I understand there's a way to determine the approximate time of Zechariah's service in the temple.
If that's true, then one can use Elizabeth's and Mary's pregnancies to determine the approx. time of year.
I don't know enough of priestly calendars of service to be able to decipher any dates.
Yes, it would appear that the ancient traditions of Dec. 25, 3 BC are correct. The heavens are telling the glory of God.
And it would appear that is death was April 3rd, 33 AD.
The wonder of His works displays the firmament.
Thanks for the link and information on the crucifixion.
You don't cite the other sources; hence it is not possible to compare authoriship. Since the information posted in this thread, dates back to the 4th century and was provided by a Catholic historian, it seems to promote a solid background.
As the writer notes:
There were attempts to calculate the day, but by the third century Christians realized this was impossible.
It's intriguing how, in contemporary society, we mark events by dates, whereas 2000 years ago, the emphasis was on "who" was Jesus Christ and not on "when" these events took place.
I couldn't agree more. It seems if a time and date can be put to something, that's the proof it actually happened.
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