Christmas is well known to recollect the birth of Jesus, who Christians believe is that the Son of God.
The name ‘Christmas’ comes from the word Mass of Christ (or Jesus). A Mass service (which is usually called Communion or Eucharist) is where Christians remember that Jesus died for us then came back to life. The ‘Christ-Mass’ service was the sole one that was allowed to require place after sunset (and before the sunrise subsequent day), so people had it at Midnight! So we get the name Christ-Mass, shortened to Christmas.
Christmas is now celebrated by people around the world, whether or not they are Christians or not. it is a time when family and friends close and remember the great things they need. People, and particularly children, also like Christmas as it is a time once you give and receive presents!
Why We Celebrate Christmas On 25th December
No one knows the important birthday of Jesus! No date is given within the Bible, so why can we celebrate it on the 25th of December? the first Christians certainly had many arguments on when it should be celebrated! Also, the birth of Jesus probably didn’t happen within the year 1 but slightly earlier, somewhere between 2 BCE/BC and seven BCE/BC, possibly in 4 BCE/BC (there isn’t a 0 – the years go from 1 BC/BCE to 1!).
Calendar showing 25th December
The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (he was the primary Christian Roman Emperor). But it had been not a politician Roman state festival at this point.
However, there are many alternative traditions and theories on why Christmas is widely known on December 25th.
A very early Christian tradition said that the day when Mary was told that she would have a really special baby, Jesus (called the Annunciation) was on March 25th – and it’s still celebrated today on the 25th March. Nine months after the 25th of March is that the 25th of December! March 25th was also the day some early Christians thought the planet had been made, and also the day that Jesus died on when he was an adult. The date of March 25th was chosen because people had calculated that was the day on which Jesus died as an adult (Nisan 14 within the Jewish calendar) and that they thought that Jesus was conceived and had died on an equivalent day of the year.
The solstice is that the day where there’s the shortest time between the sun rising and therefore the sun setting. It happens on December 21st or 22nd. To pagans, this meant that the winter was over and spring was coming and that they had a festival to celebrate it and worshipped the sun for winning over the darkness of winter. In Scandinavia and a few other parts of northern Europe, the solstice is understood as Yule. In Eastern Europe, the mid-winter festival is named Koleda.
The Roman Festival of Saturnalia happened between December 17th and 23rd and honored the Roman god Saturn. The Romans also thought that the Solstice happened on December 25th. it is also thought that in 274 the Roman Emperor Aurelian created ‘Dies Natalis Solis Invicti’ (meaning ‘birthday of the unconquered sun’) also called ‘Sol Invictus’ and it had been persisted December 25th.
Because of the dates, some people say that the Christians ‘took over’ December 25th from these Roman festivals. However, there are records going back to around 200 of early Christians connecting the Nisan 14 to the 25th March, then 25th December was a ‘Christian’ festival date a few years before ‘Sol Invictus’! (More recent studies have also found that the ‘Sol Invictus’ connection didn’t appear until the 12th century and it’s from one scribbled note within the margins of a manuscript. There’s also evidence that ‘Sol Invictus’ may additionally have happened in October and not December anyway!)
Christmas had also been celebrated by the first Church on January 6th, once they also celebrated the Epiphany (which means the revelation that Jesus was God’s son) and therefore the Baptism of Jesus. (Like the December 25th date above, this was supported a calculation of Jesus’s death/conception but from the 6th April, not the 25th March.) Now Epiphany mainly celebrates the visit of the Wise Men to the baby Jesus, but some time past it celebrated both things! Jesus’s Baptism was originally seen as more important than his birth, as this was when he started his ministry.
The Jewish festival of Lights, Hanukkah starts on the eve of the Kislev 25 (the month within the Jewish calendar that happens at about an equivalent time as December). Hanukkah celebrates when the Jewish people were ready to re-dedicate and worship in their Temple, in Jerusalem, again following a few years of not being allowed to practice their religion.
Jesus was a Jew, so this might be one more reason that helped the first Church choose December the 25th for the date of Christmas!
Most of the planet uses the ‘Gregorian Calendar’ implemented by Pope Gregory in 1582. Before that the ‘Roman’ or Julian calendar was used (named after Julius Caesar). The Gregorian calendar is more accurate than the Roman calendar which had too many days during a year! When the switch was made 10 days were lost, in order that the day that followed the 4th October 1582 was 15th October 1582. within the UK the change of calendars was made in 1752. The day after 2nd September 1752 was 14th September 1752.
Many Orthodox and Coptic Churches still use the Julian calendar then celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January (which is when December 25th would are on the Julian calendar). and therefore the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates it on the 6th of January! In some a part of the united kingdom, January 6th remains called ‘Old Christmas’ as this is able to are the day that Christmas would have celebrated on if the calendar hadn’t been changed. Some people didn’t want to use the new calendar as they thought it ‘cheated’ them out of 11 days!
Christians believe that Jesus is that the light of the planet, therefore the early Christians thought that this was the proper time to celebrate the birth of Jesus. They also took over a number of the customs from the solstice and gave them Christian meanings, like Holly, Mistletoe and even Christmas Carols!
St Augustine of Canterbury was the one that probably started the widespread celebration of Christmas in large parts of England by introducing Christianity to the regions travel by the Anglo-Saxons within the 6th century (other Celtic parts of England were already Christian but there aren’t many documents about if or how they celebrated the birth of Jesus). St Augustine of Canterbury was sent by Pope Gregory the good in Rome which church used the Roman calendar, so western countries celebrate Christmas on the 25th December. Then people from Britain and Western Europe took Christmas on the 25th December everywhere the world!
If you want to understand more about the history behind the dating of Christmas, then read this excellent article on Bible History Daily (goes to a different site).
When Did Jesus Born?
There’s a strong and practical reason why Jesus won’t are born within the winter but within the spring or the autumn! It can get very cold within the winter and it’s unlikely that the shepherds would keep sheep out on the hills (as those hills can get quite a lot of snow sometimes!).
During the spring (in March or April) there is a Jewish festival called ‘Passover’. This festival remembers when the Jews had escaped from slavery in Egypt about 1500 years before Jesus was born. many lambs would are needed during the Passover Festival, to be sacrificed within the Temple in Jerusalem. Jews from everywhere the Roman Empire traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, so it might are an honest time for the Romans to require a census. Mary and Joseph visited Bethlehem for the census (Bethlehem is about six miles from Jerusalem).
In the autumn (in September or October) there’s the Jewish festival of ‘Sukkot’ or ‘The Feast of Tabernacles’. it is the festival that’s mentioned the foremost times within the Bible! it’s when Jewish people remember that they trusted God for all that they had|they’d”>that they had after they had escaped from Egypt and spent 40 years within the desert. It also celebrates the top of the harvest. During the festival, Jews live outside in temporary shelters (the word ‘tabernacle’ comes from a Latin word sense ‘booth’ or ‘hut’).
Many people who have studied the Bible, think that Sukkot would be a possible time for the birth of Jesus because it might fit with the outline of there being ‘no room within the inn’. It also would are an honest time to require the Roman Census as many Jews visited Jerusalem for the festival and that they would have brought their own tents/shelters with them! (It wouldn’t are practical for Joseph and Mary to hold their own shelter as Mary was pregnant.)
The possibilities for the Star of Bethlehem seems to point either spring or autumn.
The possible dating of Jesus’s birth also can be taken from when Zechariah (who was married to Mary’s cousin Elizabeth) was on duty within the Jewish Temple as a Priest and had a tremendous experience. there’s a superb article on the dating of Christmas supported the dates of Zechariah’s experience, on the blog of a theologian, Ian Paul. With those dates, you get Jesus being born in September – which also fits with Sukkot!
The year that Jesus was born isn’t known. The calendar system we’ve now was created within the 6th Century by a monk called Dionysius Exiguus. He was actually trying to make a far better system for understanding when Easter should be celebrated, supported a replacement calendar with the birth of Jesus being within the year 1. However, he made an error in his maths then got the possible year of Jesus’s birth wrong!
Most scholars now think that Jesus was born between 2 BCE/BC and seven BCE/BC, possibly in 4 BCE/BC. Before Dionysius’s new calendars, years were normally dated from the reigns of Roman Emperors. The new calendar became more widely used from the 8th Century when the ‘Venerable Bede of Northumbria’ used it in his ‘new’ history book! there’s no year ‘0’. Bede started dating things before year 1 and used 1 BCE/BC because of the first year before 1. At that point in Europe, the amount 0 didn’t exist in maths – it only arrived in Europe within the 11th to 13th centuries!
So whenever you celebrate Christmas, remember that you’re celebrating a true event that happened about 2000 years ago, that God sent his Son into the planet as a Christmas present for everyone!
As well as Christmas and therefore the solstice, there are other festivals that are held in late December. Hanukkah is widely known by Jews, and therefore the festival of Kwanzaa is widely known by some Africans and African Americans take place from December 26th to January 1st.
So Celebrate your Christmas happy and peacefully, Merry Christmas to all.