Last week, Ibrahim, a friend of mine, asked me to show him the verse in the bible that says that Jesus was born on December 25. I first laughed at his question. Then I thought of giving him a serious answer. Since he was interested in what the bible says about it I gave him the only historical facts we can find. The bible says, “In the time of King Herod, Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea…” (Matthew 2:1). It was the time Judea (Israel today) was under Roman protectorate. The Romans were the colonizers but the Jews were allowed to have some sort of kings with limited powers. We also read that Jesus was born “In those days (when) a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” (Luke 2:1). Using those historical details and others like the time Jesus died we can know the time Jesus spent on this earth with more or less historical accuracy. For example we know with certitude that Pontius Pilate was the sixth Roman procurator of Judea in the years 26-36. We are left with a truth: Jesus really existed. He is not a mysterious guy coming from heaven. But the historical findings do not lead us to the date of his birth on December 25.
Beyond the religious and cultural contexts in which the feast of Christmas started there is a symbolic vision: it is the celebration of the rising of the true sun of history, the new light of the world. There are many complicated and controversial details that surround the formation of this feast. Let me spare you that headache! In brief, the ancient church fixed the date of the nativity of Jesus in connection with March 25. It was a custom to commemorate the death of Jesus on that date. March 25 was also considered in Jewish tradition as the first day of creation. In the story of creation the sun was created the 4th day, which means March 28. March 28 became then symbolically the day of the nativity of Jesus, the sun of the new creation. But progressively March 25 was linked with the apparition of the angel Gabriel to the young Jew, Mary. This is also considered as the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb. We believe that Jesus was born with bones and flesh like many of us. So he also spent 9 months in his mother’s womb. Simple calculation gives December 25 as his birthday.
The date of the feast of the nativity was definitely fixed at the end of the third century: December 25 in the western part of the world and January 6 in the East. The difference of dates is based essentially on the different calendars used. There were some theories about the choice of December 25. Some people held that the date was established in Rome in opposition to the myth of Mithra. Others said that it was a Christian answer to the imperial cult imposed in the third century by the roman emperors. These are old theories, we do not hold anymore.
The date of the nativity of Jesus was fixed on December 25 for historical and cosmic reasons. The cosmic element is the Sun. Christians interpreted that cosmic element as the announcement of Christ. Thus God becoming a human person gives a meaning to history. Jesus Christ gives to Christians the confidence that the adventure of creation will not end in absurdity and tragedy despite all the destructions provoked by human beings. The coming of the Son of God confirmed the words of God the seventh day of creation: “and God saw that it was very good!” Have a sunny feast! Let your joy shine everywhere! Now that you have seen the light, brighten the world you are living in. Let the earth be a haven of peace!