“THE exact date of Christ’s birth is not known,” says the Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. Still, millions of professed Christians around the globe celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25. This date, however, appears nowhere in the Bible. Was Jesus really born in December?
Although the Bible does not give a specific date for Jesus’ birth, it does provide evidence that he was not born in December. Also, from secular evidence we can learn why December 25 was adopted as the date for celebrating his birth.
Why Not a December Birth?
Jesus was born in the Judean city of Bethlehem. Luke’s Gospel reports: “There were also in that same country shepherds living out of doors and keeping watches in the night over their flocks.” (Luke 2:4-8) This was not unusual. “The flocks had to spend the greater part of the year in the open air,” says the book Daily Life in the Time of Jesus. But would the shepherds be outside with their flocks on a cold December night? The book says: “They passed the winter under cover; and from this alone it may be seen that the traditional date for Christmas, in the winter, is unlikely to be right, since the Gospel says that the shepherds were in the fields.”
This conclusion is corroborated by another detail in Luke’s Gospel account: “In those days a decree went forth from Caesar Augustus for all the inhabited earth to be registered; (this first registration took place when Quirinius was governor of Syria;) and all people went traveling to be registered, each one to his own city.”—Luke 2:1-3.
Augustus probably ordered this registration as a census in order to gather information for use in connection with taxation and military conscription. To comply with the order, Mary, despite being heavy with child, accompanied her husband, Joseph, on the journey of some 90 miles [150 km] from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Now think about it. Does it seem likely that Augustus—a ruler who rarely interfered with local government—would require a people who were already inclined to revolt to make such a long trip in winter?
Significantly, most historians and Bible scholars reject December 25 as Jesus’ date of birth. No doubt you will find such information in an encyclopedia to which you have access. Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Encyclopedia states: “There is general agreement that Jesus was not born on December 25.”
The Bible provides evidence that Jesus was not born in December
Why December 25 Was Chosen
Hundreds of years after Jesus’ death, December 25 was chosen as the date of his birth. Why? Numerous historians believe that the time of year that became the Christmas season was actually a period when pagan festivities were celebrated.
For instance, Encyclopædia Britannica states: “One widespread explanation of the origin of this date is that December 25 was the Christianizing of the dies solis invicti nati (‘day of the birth of the unconquered sun’), a popular holiday in the Roman Empire that celebrated the winter solstice as a symbol of the resurgence of the sun, the casting away of winter and the heralding of the rebirth of spring and summer.”
The Encyclopedia Americana informs us: “The reason for establishing December 25 as Christmas is somewhat obscure, but it is usually held that the day was chosen to correspond to pagan festivals that took place around the time of the winter solstice, when the days begin to lengthen, to celebrate the ‘rebirth of the sun.’ . . . The Roman Saturnalia (a festival dedicated to Saturn, the god of agriculture, and to the renewed power of the sun), also took place at this time.” Such festivals usually included licentious behavior by their participants, who engaged in unbridled and riotous merrymaking. Significantly, that behavior has been characteristic of many Christmas celebrations today.
How to Honor Christ
Some feel that regardless of what the actual date is, Christians should still commemorate Jesus’ birth. In their minds such a celebration, when observed in a dignified manner, is an appropriate way to honor Christ.
The birth of Jesus is indeed an important event in the Bible account. The Bible says that when Jesus was born, a multitude of angels appeared suddenly and erupted in joyful praise to God, saying: “Glory in the heights above to God, and upon earth peace among men of goodwill.” (Luke 2:13, 14) However, it is noteworthy that nowhere in the Bible is there even a suggestion that Jesus’ birthday should be celebrated. In contrast, there is a specific command to commemorate his death, which Jehovah’s Witnesses do once a year. (Luke 22:19) That is one way to honor Jesus.
On the last night of his human life, Jesus said: “You are my friends if you do what I am commanding you.” (John 15:14) He also said: “If you love me, you will observe my commandments.” (John 14:15) Clearly, there is no better way to honor Jesus Christ than to learn and follow his teachings.