A LOOK AT THE DATE AND MEANING OF CHRISTMAS - CHRISTMAS HISTORYIt is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.
May our celebration of Christ’s birth incorporate these essential elements: WORSHIP, GIVING, and PRAISE.
The date of Christ’s birth did not become an issue until sometimes in the fourth century. At that time the dispute centered primarily over two dates for Christ’s birth: December 25 promoted by the Church of Rome and January 6, known as the Epiphany, observed by the Eastern churches. “Both these days,” as Oscar Cullmann points out, “ were pagan festivals whose meaning provided a starting point for the specifically Christian conception of Christmas.”
Historians have indicated that the nativity feast began to be observed by Christians during the fourth century. Some Christians calculated it based on the death of Christ taking place on March 25. It was then speculated that He must have been born nine months before on December 25. Others placed the birth of Jesus on March 25.But the most common explanation is that Christmas is somehow connected with the Roman worship of the Invincible Sun (Latin, Sol Invictus), the rebirth of the sun, which was celebrated on December 25. This could explain the importance of lights during the celebration of the Nativity, although “light” is also associated with Christ in the Scriptures (e.g., Luke 1:78, 79). It is therefore common to hear it alleged that Christians adapted a pagan feast.
is a recognized fact that the
adoption of the date of December
25th by the Western Church to commemorate Christ’s
birth was influenced by the pagan celebration of the
return of the sun after the winter solstice. The date of December
25 is totally devoid of Biblical meaning and is
grossly inaccurate as far as the actual time of Christ’s
The Date of Christ’s Birth
If, as it is generally agreed, Christ’s ministry began when He was about thirty years of age (Luke 3:23) and lasted three and one-half years until His death at Passover (March/April), then by backtracking we arrive at the months of September/October, rather than to December 25. Indirect support for a September/October dating of Christ’s birth is provided also by the fact that from November to February shepherds did not watch their flocks at night in the fields. They brought them into a protective corral called a “sheepfold.” Hence, December 25 is a most unlikely to be the date for the birth of Christ.
It is a recognized fact that the adoption of the date of December 25th by the Western Church to commemorate Christ’s birth was influenced by the pagan celebration of the return of the sun after the winter solstice. The date of December 25 is totally devoid of Biblical meaning and is grossly inaccurate as far as the actual time of Christ’s birth.
The most likely date of Christ’s birth in the latter part of September or the beginning of October. This date corresponds to the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, known also as the Feast of Booths. This feast was the last and most important pilgrimage of the year for the Jews. The overcrowded conditions at the time of Christ’s birth (“there was no place for them in the inn” - Luke 2:7) could be related not only to the census taken by the Romans at that time, but also to the many pilgrims that overrun the area especially during the Feast of Tabernacles.
Christ’s Birth at the Time of the Feast of TabernaclesSupport for the belief that Christ was born at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, which occurs in late September or early October, is provided not only by chronological considerations of Christ’s life mentioned above, but also by Messianic themes of the Feast of Tabernacles. Being the Feast that celebrated in one sense God’s past tabernacling or dwelling among His people with the cloud by day and the flaming fire b y night, it served to foreshadow the day when the Son of God would become flesh and tabernacle among us (John 1:14).
It is vital to note that important events of the plan of salvation are consistently fulfilled on the Holy Days that prefigured them. Christ died on the Cross at the time when the Passover lamb was sacrificed (John 19:14). Christ arose at the time of the waving of the sheaf of barley as the first fruits of the coming harvest (1 Cor 15:23). The outpouring of the first fruits of God’s Holy Spirit took place “when the day of Passover was fully come” (Acts 2:1, KJV). By the same token, Christ could well have been born at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, since the feast typifies God’s First Coming to dwell among us through the incarnation of His Son and His Second Coming to dwell with His people (Rev 21:3) throughout eternity.
The Pagan Origin of Date of Christmas (December 25th)The adoption of the 25th of December for the celebration of Christmas is perhaps the most explicit example of Sun-worship’s influence on the Christian liturgical calendar. It is a known fact that the pagan feast of the dies natalis Solis Invicti - the birthday of the Invincible Sun, was held on that date (25th of December). Do Christian sources openly admit the borrowing of the date of such a pagan festivity? Generally not. To admit borrowing a pagan festival, even after due reinterpretation of its meaning, would be tantamount to an open betrayal of the faith. This the Fathers were anxious to avoid.
It is important to note that the Church of Rome (as in the case of Easter-Sunday so in the question of the celebration of Christmas) pioneered and promoted the adoption of the new date. In fact the first explicit indication that on the 25th of December Christians celebrated Christ’s birthday, is found in a Roman document known as Chronograph of 354 (a calendar attributed to Fuzious Dionysius Philocalus), where it says: “VIII Kal. Jan. natus Christus in Betleem Judaeae - On the eighth calends of January [i.e., December 25th] Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea.”
That the Church of Rome introduced and championed this new date, is accepted by most scholars. For instance, Mario Righetti, a renowned Catholic liturgist who is the author of a four volumes set on STORIA LITURGICA (A HISTORY OF LITURGY), writes: “After the peace the Church of Rome, to facilitate the acceptance of the faith by the pagan masses, found it convenient to institute the 25th of December as the feast of the temporal birth of Christ, to divert them from the pagan feast, celebrated on the same day in honor of the “Invincible Sun” Mithras, the conqueror of darkness.”
The birth of Jesus is of incomparable importance to the Christian faith. Without the birth of Christ there would be no baptism, death, resurrection, ascension, outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s intercession in the heavenly sanctuary, and Second Advent.
The date of Christ’s birth most likely coincided with the Feast of Tabernacles that falls late in September or early in October. Being the feast of thanksgiving for God’s willingness to protect His people with the tabernacle of His presence during the wilderness sojourning, it could serve fittingly to celebrate Christ’s willingness to become a human being and pitch His tent among us in order to become our Savior.
The time of the Feast of Tabernacles provides Christians today with a more accurate Biblical timing and typology for celebrating Christ’s birth, than the pagan dating of December 25th. The latter date not only is removed from the actual time of Christ’s birth, but is also derived from the pagan celebration of the birth of the Sun-god. Why celebrate Christ’s birth at the wrong time of the year because of a pagan tradition, when we can observe it at the right season on the basis of sound biblical reasons?
From a biblical perspective the birth of Jesus is connected with three major themes:(1) adoration and worship (Luke 2:8-12); (2) the giving of gifts to God (Matt 2:1-11); and proclamation of peace and goodwill (Luke 2:13-14). May our celebration of Christ’s birth, at any time of the year, incorporate these essential elements: worship, giving, and praise.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with selecting any particular time to meditate and reflect on the incarnation of our Savior. I would suggest that during Christmass we could spend time thinking about the mystery of the Incarnation. It is a mystery in that it testifies to the fact that the Son of God became “flesh” (John 1:14). The Creator became a creature in order to save us from the power of sin and death.
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