Was Christ born on 25 December?

Dear BPCWAians, God willing, we will be able to celebrate Christmas at church this year on what is known as Christmas Day, on 25 December. Even today, there is often much discussion about why Christians should or should not celebrate Christmas. Many contend that Christ was not born on 25 December. How did 25 December come about and was Christ born on 25 December?  If He was not born then, should we still celebrate Christmas on 25 December?  

How did Christmas come to be celebrated on 25 December? The Bible does not mention any celebrations of Christ’s birth. Nor does there seem to have been a reference to celebrations of His birth amongst early Christian writers in the 2nd century. Here are some views on how the 25 December date came about in celebrating Christ’s Birth.  A common view is that Christians introduced Christmas in the late 2nd to the 3rd century to counter the pagan mid-winter festivals celebrated by the Romans and other European people around this time of the year.  Some attribute the 25 December celebration to a declaration by Constantine when he professedly converted to Christianity in AD 312. Others attribute it to Pope Julius, who made it official in AD 350. Yet another theory of the origin of 25 December is that it was derived from a calculation of Christ’s birth on their own basis that His conception and crucifixion was on the same day of the year.  

Can we tell from the Bible if Christ was born on 25 December? 1) Luke 2:8  And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. This verse, cited by many who do not believe that Christ was even born in the month of December, forms the main argument against a December birth. It is said that because of the cold and rainy winters in Israel in December, shepherds would not have their sheep out in the cold at night. On the flip side of the coin, several other authorities familiar with the Palestinian climate vouch for the fact that sheep have and do indeed graze out in the fields on December nights, where fields are lush from the rains and with night-time temperatures on either side of 10∞C. They also say that there is a reduction in rainfall for a few weeks in December and January, making it possible for shepherds and their sheep to be out in the fields at the end of December. So, this verse cannot be used to convincingly argue that shepherds and sheep would definitely not have been out in the pastures on a December night. 2) Another reason often cited against December is because of the Roman census which was commanded before Christ’s birth.  Luke 2:1-3 states, “(1) And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (2) (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) (3) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city”.  Some believe that it would have been very unlikely for the government to institute a census in such a cold season, as it would have made travelling difficult. 3) From biblical chronology, we know that Christ was miraculously conceived when Elisabeth was in the sixth month of her pregnancy. Luke 1:36 tells us, “And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren”.  John was conceived when his father, Zacharias, of the course of Abia, was executing the priest’s office (Luke 1:5,8).  Some sources say that this happened between June 13-19 that year. If this was accurate, then John would probably have been born at about the end of March, and Christ would have been born six months later at about the end of September.   However, other sources say that the course of Abia was between around 2-9 October. If this latter is correct, from calculations, Christ could still have been born at the end of December. 4) The last hint that we have as to when Christ was born is from the visit of the wise men, who saw “his star in the east, and are come to worship him” (Mt 2:2). In the 4th century, there seemed to have been a celebration of a Feast of the Epiphany on 6 January, commemorating the arrival of the wise men in Bethlehem.  On the other hand, from a documented astronomical viewpoint, if the star sighted by the wise men was the bright Constellation of Coma, it was supposed to have been directly over Bethlehem in Judea at the exact hour of midnight at the Spring Equinox, 22nd March, 4 BC.  In case you are ready to jump out from your seat and say “aha, Christ wasn’t born in December!”, think again. The wise men visited Christ not at His birth, when He was in a manger. Instead, the Bible tells us that “when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him” (Matt 2:11).  So, some time had lapsed between Christ’s birth to this visit of the wise men. From the above cases, it is impossible to conclude with absolute certainty whether or not Christ was born in December, and that we are not sure if 25 December was indeed “Christ’s birthday”. 

If Christ was not born on 25 December, should we still celebrate Christmas? The reason we celebrate is to commemorate and praise God for His infinite love in sending His only begotten Son into the world to be our Saviour.  This is not like the typical birthday celebrations that we have for one another, marking “another year older” and “having fun and celebration” and doing so on the exact date, or at least the month, of birth. As Christians, we celebrate Christmas to remember Christ’s incarnation for mankind’s redemption. As such, the precise date is not important. The fact that man’s Creator, the Almighty God, the Prince of Peace should humble Himself to come in the form of a creature – all for the glory of God and our gain and benefit. What infinite love and immeasurable compassion it is that He offers to us!  What a price it took to buy our salvation! How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation (Heb 2:3)? Why should we Christians keep silent of about and forget the birth of Christ the Saviour of mankind? Why is it wrong to set an occasion whereby we can recall and praise Him for an event that thousands of years before faithful men of old desired of and waited for – to see the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:26)? Let not our lips be silent, nor our praise feeble for this glorious Gift, the only Hope of all mankind!  

Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!

O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

Yours in our Lord’s service,