Explaining Christmas Traditions: December 25th

People often ask if we know that Jesus was born on December 25. The short answer is that we don’t know, as no one recorded what day he was born and they didn’t have birth certificates back then. The stories of Christ’s birth in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke state that Jesus was born during the time of King Herod (Matthew 2:1; Luke 1:5), so we know that it was some time before 4 BC (as that is when Herod the Great died), but there have been different views about the time of the year. Some think that shepherds watching their sheep at night points against a December date, as it would be too cold to watch sheep in the winter (this might not be the case, though, as the climate of the area of Palestine is warmer than what we have in the Midwest), Others think that it would have been closer to October or in the Spring. The bottom line is that no one knows for sure, so why December 25 as the day to celebrate Jesus’s birth?

The Rise of December 25 as the Day to Remember Christ’s Birth

Christian churches started to have an annual service on December 25 to remember Jesus’s birth, and this was likely due to the fact that the Romans had a yearly celebration on December 25. This celebration occurred because it was around the time of the shortest day of the year in which there was the most darkness. People worshiped the sun so this was the time of the year in which the sun began to shine longer, defeating the darkness, if you will. As more Romans, including emperors, became Christians, they suggested that people celebrate the Son of God, the true light of the world, instead of the sun on December 25. In fact, Christmas seems to have first been celebrated on December 25 during the time of Constantine, and Pope Julius I is the ruler who then made December 25 the feast day for Christ’s birth.

A Picture of Transformation

People are sometimes bothered that December 25 was the date chosen to celebrate Christmas because it likely was  influenced by the religious customs practiced by people of other faiths. This doesn’t bother me, as it can remind us that all people have a natural tendency to worship things besides the one true God (this is called idolatry). Just as the idols replace God, we need to look to God to destroy the idols that fight for our hearts. Therefore, the celebration of Christmas at the time of what was once a non-Christian holiday reminds us that God is replacing our false beliefs and practices with what is true; our longings are fulfilled by the realities of God’s work in Jesus. It shows us that every heart is longing for hope in the darkness, with Jesus being the true hope of every heart and the desire of all nations and peoples. May we remember that truth as we celebrate on December 25.

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