There is considerable debate concerning the birth date of Jesus Christ. Many suspect he was born in April or May. Others suggest, and even celebrate, a January birth.
Traditionally, of course, we cling to the 25th of December.
The earliest recorded celebration of Christmas was in the year 86AD. It was about 40 years later before Christmas became a regular custom of the church, and even then it was only in some parts of the world.
Some people feel that celebrating Christmas at all is a prostitution of the event, citing both commercialism & possible pagan influence as reasons.
A Roman holiday, Saturnalia, was annually celebrated from December 17-24, a week long celebration to Saturn. This celebration marked the coming increase of daylight, and the diminishing of winter. It was the anticipation of Spring. The people exchanged gifts, closed down schools & government offices. All official functions virtually ceased. And there was an increase of partying.
With the excesses in gift giving and the antics at many parties during this season of the year, it is not difficult to sympathize with those who suggest that Christmas is no more than an attempt to “Christianize” a pagan holiday.
But, despite those non-Christians who rationalize that Christmas was just an attempt to copy & “Christen” Saturnalia; and the arguments of faithful Christians who want to determine a date more feasible to the world, I cannot bring myself to accept that, in fact, Jesus was not born on December 25. While I cannot be certain, I choose to accept the traditional date.
In the late 19th Century historian Alfred Edersheim wrote The Life & Times of Jesus the Messiah. It is sorta the standard for studying the life of Christ. In Appendix VII Edershim offers a very interesting hypothesis of why it is most likely that Jesus was born on December 25.
Let me summarize his reasoning:
We know that on August 5, AD70 the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman General Titus. At that time, Jewish history records, and Josephus confirms, a group of priests, the Jehoiarib, was serving at the Temple.
Some background: If you look back into OT history you will find that David divided the priesthood into 24 groupings – or 24 Courses – with each group serving for about two weeks at a time in the Temple. This particular group – Jehoiarib – was the first Course. And they were serving at the particular time the Temple was destroyed.
If you trace the service of the various Courses back through time, when you come to October a year before Christ was likely to have been born, you will find the Division of Abijah serving the first week of October.
Now, who do we know that would be serving in the Temple with the Division of Abijah?
Check out Luke 1.
We find that a certain godly priest named Zechariah, who had a wife named Elizabeth – but no children – served the Temple with the Course of Abijah.
While serving at that time the Lord visited Zechariah, declaring that he & his elderly, barren wife would have a child. Zechariah laughed at the very thought, and was struck speechless as a sign of the promise. I suspect you know the story: Elizabeth did conceive and gave birth to John the Baptist.
From Luke we also know that John the Baptist was six months older than his cousin Jesus.
Now, if you begin in early October, add nine months, then add six months to that, it brings us to mid to late December of the following year.
It is very possible Jesus was born December 25. So it is historically & biblically appropriate to celebrate Christmas on the traditional date
Just something to think about; an interesting historical note…
If you are interested, check out Edersheim: On the Date of the Nativity of Our Lord. It’s a short chapter.