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The Actual Date of Christmas

Updated on July 12, 2011
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

I Hate to Burst Your Bubble

Christmas is close and with it comes many of the misconceptions and heated debates. One of which is almost always whether or not it is the day of Jesus’ birth. Let’s resolve that now. It is not the actual birthday of the Christian Savior.

Now, that a few people are getting geared up for debate! Let’s look at the history of “Christmas”.

Why This Date?

In the beginning of the Christian faith, there was no actual celebration of Jesus’ birth. Why? To many in the early church it was not the focal point of Christianity. The Resurrection, Easter, was the primary celebration in the church. That event is what made Christianity stand out and was the foundation of the creeds. But as the centuries began to go by, many began to ponder on the exact date of His birth and wanted to commemorate the event. The Apostles had all passed away and even from their writings, the concern of documenting the exact date was not important. In the Gospels it was written that the birth occurred during the census. This was a great clue for historians, but would never serve to give an exact day and date. Only a season could be pulled from this since it would be many months from the issue of a decree to the final tally.

Several theories were eventually proposed. Many were based on logical, scholarly deductions like the one mentioned above by using the census as a dating guide and other clues in the Scriptures. Others seemed to be a little more off the wall. In the end the general consensus at the time was that it was sometime in the spring. But since no exact date could be fixed, the recognition of His birth was usually held around January 6th which was the time acknowledged that the Magi appeared and honored the small King. On a timeline this was obvious not an accurate date and was not expected to me. It was just a date set aside for honoring the virgin birth.

At this point, I would like to point out that one of the early church fathers, Origen, believed that His birth should not be celebrated at all. There were only two birthdays mentioned in the Scriptures and they were both for pagan rulers. Origen felt that it was insulting to the Lord to have the same celebration as these other kings had. Others have argued that there is nothing wrong in celebrating the birth which was a miracle and was obviously celebrated by the angels, shepherds, and Magi. This debate continues today and can be a major issue within the church. But as we will see, maybe Origen had something to say after all.

The early church was getting concerned as many of its followers were beginning to partake of local pagan festivals and celebrations. The Roman Empire was large and encompassed a multitude of cultures and religions. In the beginning Christianity was not the primary religion though it had a large following and was influential in many areas. The revelry of these pagan festivals was leading many participants to sin and pulling them from the church. This greatly disturbed the religious leaders. What could they do? The debate of Jesus’ birth returned.

December 25th was a time of celebration in most cultures. It was the time of the winter solstice and also the celebration of the Iranian sun god. Many of those under the church participated in these events. Why not make this date the birthday celebration of the Christian God so that the people’s attention is redirected to the church instead of their own selfish desires? The people get to keep their holiday spirit but have it directed to the church instead.

This date became official after Constantine converted to Christianity and made it the religion of the Roman Empire. But only half of the Christian world went in that direction. The Western church under Rome accepted the December date. The Eastern church kept the January date as their celebration time. Throughout the world overall, December 25th is considered the official celebration birthday of the Christian Savior. It is on this date as well as Easter that churches will report their largest numbers. Those that do not even hold to the Christian faith will sometimes find themselves at a Christmas service just out of tradition and the spirit of the season.

The Debate Continues

Many have argued that the birth of Jesus should not be celebrated at this time, for several reasons. One, many view birthday celebrations inappropriate for a deity. Two, the actual date is incorrect. Three, the original celebration was pagan. Four, the traditions used today are not Christian based though they can take on Christian meanings. Five, it is too commercial. I think I could go on for a few thousand more reasons, but these are the main ones you will hear in debates.

In the end, celebrating Christmas on December 25th or even celebrating at all is a personal decision. It is a time in which many do use it to honor Jesus. To some in the early church a date had to be chosen and the correct one was nigh impossible to choose. Why not pick a date that everyone is happy with? But in reality most celebrating the event today do not claim to be Christians. The holiday spirit spreads into other cultures and religions with the gift giving, partying, and memory-making. It also coincides still today with many other cultural festivals. Because of that the most common expression during that time is not Merry Christmas but Happy Holidays so that all celebrations are included in one.

So, in the end the original debate is back! Should this be the date of honoring the birth? Should we even be celebrating it? I’ll let you decide.


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    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 6 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      How can you precisely state April 6th? If that were true, something would have been done to change it from Apollo's birthday, 25th, December.

      A statement like that needs proof, otherwise it sounds like pure arrogance.

      In the Eastern Churches, Ukrainian, Russian etc, Christmas is celebrated on 6th January

      Constantine made an overt statement that he was a Christian and this was read out at the Council of Nicea, although this may have been propaganda.

      I agree with the "what the heck" statement, as this means that Jesus Christ is revered; worshipped whatever, throughout the year, not on a particular (yet to be confirmed) date.

      The expression "Happy Holidays" by the way, is uniquely North American, and is not generally used throughout the rest of the English speaking world.

    • Judah's Daughter profile image

      Judah's Daughter 6 years ago from Roseville, CA

      Yes, I heard Jesus was born in September also, because of the census...nonetheless, December 25th is the birthdate of many pagan 'sons of gods', and for this reason, I would think it highly offensive to our Lord to choose this date to celebrate His birth. There are those who won't come to Christ because He's considered to be just another pagan mythological 'god-man' born on December 25th.

      Many have also diverted from calling the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord 'Easter', but now call it 'Resurrection Day', due to the pagan origins of 'Easter' (the goddess of fertility, etc.).

      Consider all the 'holy days' (i.e. holidays) celebrated throughout the year: 'Saint Valentine's', 'Saint Patrick's', 'All Saints Day', 'Saint Nicholas' ~ who is responsible for this? I think we can easily figure this out.

      And, the Christmas tree? Is it offensive to God? Jeremiah 10:2-4 (KJV) states, "Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people [are] vain: for [one] cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not."

      People tend to love tradition and both pagan and Christian alike celebrate these days. I'm finally 'seeing' more clearly after all these years. I would rather celebrate the Lord and His gospel of salvation all year 'round and not participate in these man-made 'holy days'.

      God bless you!!

    • profile image

      Nan 6 years ago

      Mary and Joseph went to pay their taxes, when was tax time? I believe it's around the month of September, near the Jewish holiday. I Wrote an article on the subject last year. The Christmas we celebrate is a pagan holiday. The christians celebrated the birth of Jesus underground, for fear of being punished!

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      Feline Prophet 8 years ago

      It's wonderful that people of all denominations are celebrating Christmas...that's how all festivals should be celebrated world over! :)

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 8 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      Very well written hub. Because of everything you mentioned, there were a few years of my life that I refused to celebrate Christmas. It's a hard thing to do considering all the pressure to celebrate it. Now that I have my own family, it's not something I go all out in celebrating - I think of it more as a nice time to get together with family and send out card to get everyone up to date. I think it's more important as a Christian, to celebrate Jesus everyday, not just two days a year.

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      poetlorraine 8 years ago

      i can't believe you say what the heck, and think that it does not matter, sorry i refer to dusanotes...... but that is only me, hub was great, but i thought the date was January.......

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 8 years ago from Chicago

      Sol Invictus (unconquered Sun) was the Roman Holiday celebrated on December 25th. I agree with dusanotes, the actual birthday of Jesus would be in April. This is an excellent Hub that I really enjoyed until and after you mentioned that old myth that Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire. That is so not true.

      Before Constantine, Christians were used for animal food in the Colosseum, tortured, crucified, their Bibles confiscated and burned; and their churches burned down. Since his mother was a Christian, Constantine stopped all that cold. He made ALL religions legal in the Roman Empire, including Paganism. This is hardly the same thing as making it the official religion of the Roman Empire. Christianity grew organically under tremendous persecution.

    • dusanotes profile image

      dusanotes 8 years ago from Windermere, FL

      Thanks for a fine Hub. Yes, Jesus Christ was born in April - to be exact, if you want to refer to a church with current prophets and apostles, it was April 6. Yes, the celebration of Christmas was pagan, but what the heck. We can still enjoy Christmas, even with those caveats. It IS commercialized, which destroys the meaning - but since that all takes place in December I guess "no harm, no foul." Keep pumping out the good Hubs. Don White

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 8 years ago from Upstate New York

      I knew that Constantine's conversion to Christianity and the switch from the pagan festival to Christmas was a political decision before I read this hub, but it helped to reconcile that information with a joyful celebration. Good hub.