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If you have explored the Jewish roots of the Christian faith, you likely have questions about the origins of Christmas. Christmas celebrates the birth of our Savior. But is this date actually Jesus’ birthday? Understanding Christmas’ history helps you honor the Lord during this season.
Christmas’ History | Is December 25 Really Jesus’ Birthday?
In short, no. Here are a couple of thoughts on why…
- Most historians and biblical scholars agree that Jesus was not born on December 25.
There are a variety of reasons for this belief. One reason is because of this verse. “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.”—Luke 2:8. Shepherds were not known to be out in the cold month of December watching their flocks. Therefore, the biblical account indicates that Jesus’ birth was more likely around late summer to early fall when the shepherds were out in the fields.
- Another reason that points to December 25 not being the actual day of Jesus’ birth is that the Church did not officially label it as such until 440 AD.
Pagan nations were already celebrating on or around this date (honoring their sun god, Mithra). The Roman culture also celebrated two festivals associated with this date: Saturnalia and Sol Invictus. Saturnalia was in honor of the god of Saturn and was celebrated from December 17 to December 24. Sol Invictus honored the “Unconquered Sun,” which was associated with the winter solstice.
To ease the transition from paganism to Christianity, the Roman Church adapted these already-observed feasts to give them a more “Christian” focus. This made Christianity more palatable for the Roman culture to accept. Therefore, the Roman Church likely chose this date to make it easier for Gentiles to accept Christianity.
Christmas’ History | When Was Jesus Really Born?
The Bible does not specify an actual date when Jesus was born. Therefore, we can conclude that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (under the inspiration of Holy Spirit) did not explicitly state a date in their writing because they did not know, it was not important, or God wanted us to dig to discover the answer, growing closer to Him in the process.
However, we can look at what we do know.
- As mentioned, the shepherds were in their fields at the time of Jesus’ birth. Again, this information points to late summer to early fall, not December.
- There is evidence that Jesus’ birth could have been during Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. John 1:14 (TLV) says, “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” (emphasis added).
- Another theory as to why Jesus was born during Sukkot is based on the Hebrew word for stable, which is “sukkah.” The Feast of Tabernacles was observed by constructing a sukkah and meeting under it. And because Sukkot is in early fall, this points to the time the shepherds would have been in the fields.
Examine the Heart
Whatever conclusions you come to regarding Jesus’ birth and the history of Christmas, they should always lead you to examine your heart. In other words, the reasons for searching out the roots must be grounded in a desire to know the Lord better and to understand your identity in Him.
The reasons should not be tied to knowledge for knowledge’s sake, but rather for the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus.
- “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;”—Philippians 3:7-9
The first Believers warned against and predicted that there would be an adoption of human traditions and pagan rituals into the faith.
- “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.”—Colossians 2:8-10
The word “cheat” carries the connotation of robbing. The philosophies and traditions of men can quickly spread like wildfire in a dry land to our minds, wills, and emotions. They can rob us of the joy of our salvation and the freedom Jesus came to earth to give us. They can put us into bondage.
- “But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.”—Galatians 4:8-11
The Apostle Paul makes a point that when we are born-again, we “know God and are known by God.”
They key to honoring the Lord is to be in an intimate relationship with our King. Ask Him to examine your heart!
- “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”—Psalm 139:23-24
We do not need to turn to the traditions of man to be known by God. He notices you. He loves you, and He longs to tabernacle with you. He does not want you to go back to the bondage that He came to break you free of, no matter the season.
What Do We Make of Christmas’ History? Honoring the Lord
In summary, we must not focus on the details of Christmas’ history so much that we miss the important points from the Word of God—that the Savior’s birth…
- Gives us hope
- Points to the miracle-working power of God
- Was the start of a life that would set us free through His death
- Displays the Father’s love, in that He gave us His Son
So then, honor the Lord by…
- Praying and asking Holy Spirit to speak to your heart about how to celebrate the Savior’s birth during this season.
- Asking God to create margin in your life during this season so that you can focus on Him and spend time with your family.
- Spending time in the Word every day, declaring God’s promises over your life.
The Savior’s birth reminds us that we can celebrate truth and life, and that God’s amazing love is like a paintbrush. Stroke-by-stroke our lives are being painted in such a way that is ultimately for His glory so the world can see His love.
The greatest gift we can receive is this…
- “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”—John 3:16-17
And the best part is we don’t have to wait until Christmas to open it. He is ready to release it into our lives at any time. Open the greatest gift today.