Was Jesus Really Born on Dec 25?
Every year our extended family celebrates the birth of my niece, Jessica, on Christmas day. Why would we pick that day of all days? Certainly we could have picked a day that wasn’t so busy and significant in and of itself. We do so because she was actually born on December 25, so it actually makes a lot of sense.
So why do we celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25? Most people assume it is because that is when Christ was born. However, most people are quite unaware that Jesus was most likely NOT born on that day!
I have often told people that I do not really consider myself to be a “religious” person, which surprises them. I then go on to say that there’s a big difference between “religion” and “Christianity”. In short, religion is all about what people think about God; who He is and what He expects from us. Christianity, on the other hand, is solely focused on what "God thinks about God" and our relationship with Him. Religion is often caught up in traditions of men and not always concerned enough about that the Bible actually says. We are wise to always check everything against what God’s Word (the Bible) actually says, rather than just blindly accepting what someone else tells us or something that we have just “always believed”.
So was Jesus really born on December 25? What does the Bible say? It actually doesn’t tell us! While it is not impossible for it to have been this date, it is very unlikely. One of the reasons is that we learn from the Bible that the shepherds were “abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8) This would be very unlikely in wintertime. It would also have been very difficult for Mary to have made the 70 mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Many believe that Jesus was “conceived” around December 25, placing his birth in late September the following year. Some believe that he was born on September 29, which is the date of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles celebration.
So how did we end up with December 25? In short, the Catholic Church selected that date. There was an annual pagan festival on that date, celebrating the return of the sun. December 21 is the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year). Pagans saw the sun as the “giver of life” and December 25 was the first day after the 21 that the days were clearly getting longer (i.e. the daylight portion). Therefore, they had their pagan celebration on this day. The Catholic Church (which dominated the “Christian” world at that time) chose the 25th to commemorate the birth of Christ in an effort to overshadow the pagan association and practices.
So is this all part of some massive religious or satanic conspiracy? Some people actually think so. I am not of that persuasion. In short, the Bible does not tell us exactly when Jesus was born and if we wish to celebrate it each year, it helps to pick a date on which to do so. It certainly makes it easier to agree on a particular date and celebrate it universally. We would be well advised to heed the admonition of Colossians 2:16-17, which states, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival [i.e. a holiday or holy day] or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”
Here are a few other interesting traditional details regarding the birth of Christ that aren’t necessarily biblical:
- Mary riding on a donkey into Bethlehem. The Bible does not say this; it only mentions that she traveled with Joseph. Maybe on a donkey, maybe not. We don’t know.
- Mary giving birth the night she arrived. Again, the Bible does not state this. She may have been there for weeks before giving birth, which actually makes more sense.
- Jesus born in a stable. The Bible only states that Jesus was born in a manger, but says nothing about where this manger was. It does tell us there was no room in the inn, but doesn’t say where the manger was.
- Three Kings present at birth. This is one of the most common misconceptions regarding the nativity scene. The Bible does not speak of three kings or three of anyone. It simply mentions “magi” (wise men) which is a plural term in Greek, so it would have been at least two. It does mention that three gifts were given (Matthew 2:11). Also, they would not have been there at the birth, but much later, because Scripture refers to Jesus at this time as a “child” and not a “baby”. He could easily have been walking and talking, but probably under two years old, because we know that King Herod had issued a decree for all male children two and under to be put to death in order to subvert the perceived threat Jesus posed as the “newborn King” (Matthew 2:16).
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us!
Author: Jay Seegert (Co-Founder & Principal Lecturer, Creation Education Center)