When is Christmas?

when is christmas

“When is Christmas?” is a question loaded with theories and conjectures. The Christian holiday has traditionally been a celebration centered around “Christmas Day” during the winter solstice, specifically December 25th.

It is a festive season full of Santa Clauses, gifts, feasts, music, church activities, and candlelight prayer services. Christmas is not just one day. It is a season to celebrate the birth of Jesus by sharing peace, love, and joy with all.

When Did Christmas Begin?

During the first two centuries after Jesus’ life and death, the births of saints and martyrs were not recognized because it was simply socially unacceptable to do so. Authorities felt the celebration of birthdays was pagan-based, and therefore it was not done. Instead, they observed the date of their deaths because that was the date when they entered Heaven.

Moving forward about 300 years, the celebration of baby Jesus’ birth began in the young Christian church community. It was the first time that a saint’s birth was noted as being as important as their death.

Then, in 336 A.D., Roman bishops wrote in their books, “December 25th, Christ born in Bethlehem, Judea.”

The History of Christmas

The reason Roman bishops determined in their writings that December 25th was the birth of Christ might have come about for several reasons:

  • Many other religions celebrated some type of holiday around the winter solstice, and Christianity may have needed their own cultural, festive season too.
  • December 25th may have been chosen as the date to celebrate the birth of Jesus to deflect from the pagan festivals worshipping the sun.
  • December 25th also countered the Roman festival of Saturnalia or Festival of the Unconquered Sun.
  • December 25th is nine months from March 25th, which marks the Immaculate Conception of Jesus, set by the Western Church and set in stone by Constantine.

While many in the Roman Empire were adamant about December 25th as Jesus’ birth, January 6th was the accepted birthdate for Him in the East. Eventually, the period between those two dates became known as the 12 Days of Christmas.

When reflecting on the history of Christmas and Christmas Day, it is good to note that the winter solstice was essential to numerous cultures for centuries. It was a time to celebrate the anticipation of springtime, warmth, and rebirth.

The end of December was also when most of Europe would harvest their animals to prevent them from starving or dying during the harsh winter months and provide meat for societies during the cold season. It was a perfect time to celebrate, feast, and increase public morale.

It was not until the 11th Century that the term “Christmas” came into being. From there, Christmas traditions continued to evolve.

  • In the 13th Century, Francis of Assisi added a nativity scene to the church festivities to encourage the common folks in a period of great hardships.
  • The Christmas tree first made its official appearance in Germany in the 17th Century.
  • Finally, in the 19th Century, the image of Santa Claus, fashioned after St. Nicholas, became a symbol of Christmas joy and goodwill towards all people, especially children.

The Origin of Christmas Eve

Christmas signifies “Christ” and “mass.” It was recognized as a period or season rather than just a day dedicated to remembering Christ specifically. The early Christian church needed this tradition.

As Christmas traditions evolved, they narrowed in on the eve of Christmas to begin the reverent observance of Jesus’ birth. This may have developed due to the Old Testament practice of performing mass from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. the following day.

The exact date the observance of Christmas Eve as a tradition began is unknown. However, it may go back as far as the 4th Century.

when is christmas

What Does the Bible Say About When Jesus Was Born?

The Bible alludes to when Jesus was born several times. In the following passages, the Bible speaks of time indicators, such as the following scripture where Caesar Augustus ordered everyone back to their hometowns to pay taxes. According to scripture, Joseph brought Mary to Bethlehem for this reason.

Luke 2:1-7

1And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Then, the Bible mentions Jesus being born “in the days of Herod, the king.” It was when “wise men” came from the East to see baby Jesus: the original Nativity scene.

Matthew 2:1-2

1Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

2saying, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.”

Evaluation of the scripture and historical data, such as the date of death of Herod the King in 4 B.C., points to the actual year of Jesus’ birth as 6 – 4 B.C. As Matthew notes, King Herod was ruling when baby Jesus was born, so his birth year would have to be before Herod died.

Although the Bible does not mention a specific date, month, or season of Jesus’ birth, it does speak of shepherds tending their flocks by night. That alone is not enough information to accurately note a time of year.

Many astronomers believe that Jesus was born in June because it is when the Christmas Star appeared over Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. However, the Bible does not provide any scriptural reference in accordance with this information.

“When is Christmas?”

Most often, a holiday can be pinpointed to a specific date, month, or year. Yet, Christmas Day, or the birth of Jesus, is a complex date to nail down. Over the centuries, numerous theories and investigations have attempted to do just that, and still, no one knows the date for sure.

Maybe Jesus’ birth is not about just one day, or two, or twelve. Perhaps it is about a whole season: a season of celebration, peace, and love.

For a Christian, maybe the question, “When is Christmas?” is answered most accurately by what love lives in our hearts and minds, and that should be all the time.

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