Log on to your social media site of choice during the holiday season and you will notice a trend: a rather heated debate over the exact dating of Jesus’ birth. But isn’t that obvious?
You think to yourself as you break out your smart phone to google the Bible verse responsible for giving us the date December 25th… and find that there isn’t one. And not only is there not a Bible verse giving that date, there isn’t even a Bible verse giving us the time of year for the Nativity.
But what you do find is several celebrations aligning perfectly with December 25th, the Roman holidays of Sol Invictus, as well as Saturnalia. Holidays rife with sacrifices to sun gods and debauchery. You also notice that the Winter Solstice is celebrated by several historic groups. And they’re even worse as there are accounts of not just idolatry but also human sacrifice. And about all three of these celebrations you find memes and websites explaining that it is they to whom Christians have to thank for the origin of their Christmas festivities.
Turns out it was never about Jesus’ Birthday, but rather just Early Christians adopting pre-existing festivals into their calendar in order to make conversion easier for excitable pagans! Wow you think to yourself, perhaps your halls decking will not be as jolly as it once was. How sad. But at least now you know the truth…
Or do you?
If it’s on the internet, then it has to be true
Did you happen to notice that all of that material you just perused was also incidentally written by folks who have a bone to pick with Christianity? Perhaps the sarcastic memes are not telling the whole story? Maybe people aren’t actually trying to answer the question, “When was Jesus born,” but rather assuming that Jesus is not a real person. Perhaps you should talk to your friendly neighborhood apologist before you begin enlightening your family at Christmas dinner with your new-found historical wokeness?
Why the 25th?
So why do Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th?
Unlike the Easter celebration of Christ’s crucifixion and Resurrection, the celebration of Jesus’ birth has sparse evidence in Early Christianity. Not only do the Gospel writers not concern themselves with giving readers specific dates, but also extra-biblical evidence gives us a picture of viewing the celebration of birth anniversaries as a predominantly Roman practice; the implication of course being that up until that point, the celebration of a calendar date birthday was a foreign subject to the new Christian populations. In fact the Patristics do not mention the celebration aspect to Christmas at all.