Why is Christmas on December 25?

I understand that Jesus was probably born in the spring, most certainly not in December.

I also understand that the winter solstice has and had always been historically a time for a celebration of sorts. And that Christianity adopted the pagan “party time” winter solstice celebration as its own.

But the winter solstice occurs on the 21st of December. So why wasn’t that date chosen as the birthdate of Jesus?

Why were they off by 4 days?

Ancient pagans were more skeptical then we give them credit for :smiley: .

That is it say, the story I’ve heard is they observed the shortest day…then waited around a bit to confirm the sun was really coming back after all. Don’t want to jump to conclusions here.

Once they were sure, then they partied. At least that’s what I’ve heard.

Did the christians set christmas on the 25th to escape persecution?
Or did they set it up on the 25th to try to get the pagans on their side?

My reading has led me to understand that the priests held the holy days of the Church on or near pagan holy days to give the people something to do instead of the pagan rites.

As I understand it, December 25 is the first day when the daytime is perceptibly longer, after three months of progressively shortening daylight. That made it the appropriate day for Festa Solis Invicti. According to many, the Christmas celebration was a takeover of the pagan midwinter feast to subsume it into the new belief system. This, however, is only founded in the tendency of early Christians to syncretize the old into the new, and the coincidence of dates; AFAIK there’s no explicit proof that that’s what they did.

As to why the birth of Christ was assigned to that date, March 25 was the date of the Crucifixion according to somebody’s accepted calculation. It was believed, for reasons I don’t fully understand, that exactly 33 years elapsed between Jesus’s conception and His crucifixion. Therefore his actual date of birth, by those calculations, would be nine solar months later, or December 25.

To what extent the latter is actually true and to what extent it’s a bit of reverse explanation for the celebration, I’m not totally sure. But having encountered this explanation, I felt it only appropriate to report it as regards the answer here.

As to whether either of those explanations is on the mark, I’d say that the only fair verdict is a “Not Proven” to both.

This might help. Cecil speaks.

When in doubt follow the money


The one consistent about the nativity was that Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem for tax reasons.


Actually the Roman census (taken for purposes of taxation) is only mentioned in Luke. Matthew is the only other of the gospels which places Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, and Matthew doesn’t give any “reason” for Joseph and Mary being there; rather than explaining (as Luke does with the census story) why a family from Nazareth was in Bethlehem for the birth of their son, Matthew gives a reason for a family apparently from Bethlehem (where their son was born) being in Nazareth: Having fled Herod’s massacre of the male children in Bethlehem (not mentioned in Luke or indeed in any other source) they first went to Egypt; when they returned to Palestine, they settled in Nazareth rather than back in Bethlehem, as they feared that Bethlehem still being ruled by a member of Herod’s dynasty was too dangerous.

The other two gospels have very little to say about Jesus’ birth and childhood. Mark doesn’t mention Jesus being born in Bethlehem at all, and John actually implies that he wasn’t.

I recently heard that the whole “pagan festival” angle might be all wrong: that where the Christmas celebration occured, there’s little evidence of any kind of notable festivities at that time. In fact, It suggested that the pagan festival may have been started by Christmas, actually trying to lure people back by having their own festival at that time!

Not being a real scholar of Rme, I have no idea. I heard it on NPR two weeks ago.

Christmas is on the 24th.

Christmas Eve is the 24th.

I don’t see how that implies he wasn’t. It seems to show that people didn’t know he was born in Bethlehem.

It’s reasonable to assume most people didn’t know he was born in Bethlehem. If you asked Jesus where he grew up, he’d probably say, “Egypt.”

Well, Christmas wasn’t really celebrated much for centuries. At that point in time, several dudes decided to try and figure out the date. One of them calculated it as Dec 25th. There was debate, and the Church finally settled on that date. Note that the dude who calculated the date of Christ’s birth did not in any way shape or form pick that date because of the Solstice, Saturnalia or Sol Invictus. He really calculated that date, and his calculations can be followed (we know *now * they are likely wrong, but they were thought pretty solid way back then).

Now, I guess it is possible that the Church Elders- faced with a choice of couple of ‘calculated dates’- picked the one where there HAD BEEN a Holiday celebration near. But Dec 25th was NOT the Solstice, Saturnalia or Sol Invictus (that last being on the Solstice, of course, which has moved around a bit, but now in Dec 21st. Due to the Calendar being a bit off in those days, I think the Solstice was on the 23rd for a century or so, but I can’t say for sure). Note that the Roman calendar was so full of Holidays that any day would have been within a couple days of a Roman pagan holiday.

Note also that by the time Xmas was starting to be a “big deal” - the Pagan holidays had pretty much died off. Christmas wasn’t “competing” with anything- Christianity was the State religion by that time.

However, there is absolutely no records, dairies or anything which indicates that Christmas was selected on anything other than *what was thought to be * the correct 'calculated" date. The whole “Dec 25th was picked to compete with Pagan holidays” is either a educated guess or a UL. It is not backed by a single fact.

Then the answer to the OP is clear. According to Cecil, Christmas is celebrated on December 25 because December 25 **was ** the winter solstice in the Julian calendar.

No, Cecil doesn’t say that. He gives it as a Hypothesis only.

However, the Catholic Encyclopedia also gives that hypothesis credence:

Apparently Natalis Invicti (not Saturnalia) was on Dec 25th in those years (that pesky Julian Calendar again, which is why some Churches celebrate Xmas on Jan 8th!) when they were debating which date to assign it to.

Still, the date of Dec 25th was a date that at that point in time- was legit thought to be (one of several possible) the right date due to calculations. No one really knows why they picked Dec 25th out of several choices of calculated dates. The Natalis Invicti hypothesis is as good as any- but it still remains a hypothesis.

Google Mithraism.


Fascinating stuff, but do you have a more authoritative cite?

Well, Mithraism was a Mystery religion, thus it’s actual beliefs, sacraments and such were secret. Thereby, we don’t know too much. Virtually nothing was written down by it’s adherants. ROMAN Mitraism- which was 'as far we know" WAY different than Persian Mitraism- came after Christianity. Thus, it is just as possible that the parellisms between the two faiths were copied from Christianity, rather than the other way around. Although Matthew (whoever “Matthew” might have been) and the other writers might have well been influenced by Zorasterism (in fact, it is thought that Judaism had been), they certainly weren’t influenced by Roman Mitraism- since it came after they wrote.

Incidentally, be wary of sites that say that “Natalis Invicti was on Dec 25th”. I used the date of Dec 23 as the one scholarly book I have found- based upon digs and period writings- used that date. Of course, under the Julian calendar, the Solstice (really Dec 21st) moved about a day a century (something that I forgot to take into account in my first post here!) :smack: . Thus, during the heyday of Roman Mitraism, it was Dec 23rd- more or less. By the time the Christians picked a day for Xmas, the Solstice had moved to Dec 25th (or so, depending on what year), and by the time Pope Gregory reformed the calendar, it was around Jan 8th, which is why some Churches still use that day.

Nay nay, you’ve got the drift going in the wrong direction. The Julian year is too long, so the solstice drifts forward. It was about the 25th when Christ was born, then drifted forward to the 21st in the Fourth Century and to around the 11th at the time the Gregorian Calendar was established. The Gregorian conversion permanently moved the solstice back to around the 21st, as it had been at the time of the Council of Nicaea.