Why do Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25 through January 6?

The Bible does not provide a date for the birth of Jesus. It is necessary to look at the information that is in Scripture and at the response by early Christians, AD 300 or earlier.

Early churches connected the incarnation and the death of Christ.

The Scriptures do not provide an exact date for the birth of Christ. However, they do inform us that the incarnation of Christ began with the announcement to Mary of the conception of Christ (Luke 1:35).

Early Christians honored the themes of Jesus’ incarnation, atonement and resurrection when they celebrated the Passion of Christ on April 6 which is the solar equivalent of 14 Nisan.

38 Weeks

Christ’s death coincides with his conception. If you accept the date of April 6 for the conception and add 38 weeks for a typical human gestation period, then you will conclude with the plausibility of a birth date during the week of December 25. I am using our modern calendar for simplification.

40 Weeks

The twelve days of Christmas fall between December 25 and January 6. There would be 40 weeks between the annunciation (conception) and Epiphany (revealiing) on January 6. Epiphany is the celebration of the revelation of Jesus as God incarnate. The Armenian Church celebrates January 6 as Christmas Day. (Although, Gaghant Baba brings gifts to children on New Year’s eve.)

More ancient references

About A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria wrote that some theologians confused the phrase “ninth month” with the ninth month of their Egyptian calendar. Therefore, they mistakenly celebrated the birth of Jesus on 25 Pachon (20 May). Clement also writes that some Alexandrians placed Epiphany on 11 Tybi (January 6). In 418-427 A.D., the monk John Cassian writes that Egyptian monks still honored an ancient celebration on 6 January.

In A.D. 243, the date of December 25 was proposed for the celebration of the nativity in De pascha computus.[a]https://scaife-perseus-org.translate.goog/reader/urn:cts:latinLit:stoa0104p.stoa009.opp-lat1:1-5/?_x_tr_sl=la&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en-US

In A.D. 311, the Donatist schism occurred. One point of contention regarded the date of December 25 for the nativity. This disagreement about that date documents the fact that such a date was well accepted by A.D. 300.

In a document entitled the Chronograph of 354, December 25 is listed as “VIII kal. Ian. natus Christus in Betleem Iudee.”[b]https://www.tertullian.org/fathers/chronography_of_354_06_calendar.htm

What about the Solstice Invictus?

Early Christians were aware that the birth of Jesus occurred near the winter solstice, a day with the least minutes of daylight. They did not borrow the Solstice as the date, they accepted the tradition of the conception coinciding with the Passion week. The death of Jesus is what places the date of His birth, not the other way round.

Early Christians rejected pagan practices. Many were martyred for their rejection of paganism. The actual recorded history denies any spiritual connection to sun worship or other pagan worship activities. It wasn’t until later that anti-Christian criticism brought slanderous accusations that Christians merely adopted existing paganism.

In A.D. 274, the Roman emperor Aurelian established December 25 as the date for the Natalis solis invicti, the Roman festival of the winter solstice. He chose this specific date to advance his own religious agenda: merging the newly-revived cult of Sol into the Christian monotheistic faith that was spreading throughout his empire, threatening to eclipse the old Roman religions.

The Christian significance of December 25 pre-dates the cultish Solstice Invictus.

Aurelian missed the solstice by four days, intentionally attempting to over-write the Christian date with a pagan festival.  [c][based upon Thomas J. Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, Liturgical Press; 2nd edition|January 1986]

Christians circulated a rebuttal in the form of a tract titled De solstitia et aequinoctia conceptionis et nativitatis domini nostri iesu christi et iohannis baptistae[d]“On the solstice and equinox of the conception and birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ and John the Baptist”. The Christian premise refused to accept the Roman god Sol because Jesus was a true God, a greater God.

“Therefore, our Lord was conceived on the eighth of the kalends of April in the month of March, which is the day of the passion of the Lord and of his conception. For on the day that he was conceived on the same he suffered.

…but our Lord, too, is born in the month of December . . . the eighth before the calends of January [25 December] . . . But they also call it the “Birthday of the invincible one” (Invictus). But who then is as invincible as our lord who defeated the death he suffered?  Or if they say that this is the birthday of the sun, well He Himself is the Sun of Justice of whom the prophet Malachi said, “But for you who fear my name, the Sun of justice shall arise, and health is in his wings.”

What about the mention of the “sixth month” which places the conception in September?

Recently I visited the Church of the Annunciation. I asked my Israeli tour guide about the timeline that places Jesus’ birth in December. The tour guide objected to this timeline because of his knowledge of both the Christian Scriptures and the Hebrew calendar.

Luke 1:26,27 reads,

“Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.”

The sixth month of the Hebrew calendar is Elul, which places the annunciation in August and September. Nine months later would place the birth of Jesus in May and June.

However, my knowledgeable guide did not regard the context of “the sixth month”.

Luke 1:25,26 reads,

“Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, ‘Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.’ Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.”

The context does not indicate that the “sixth month” is a reference to the Hebrew calendar. It was the sixth of nine months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Six months had passed since Elizabeth’s miraculous conception.

Reading the entire Elizabeth and Mary passage confirms this pregnancy time sequence. Verse 36,

“Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren.”

Verses 56,57,

“And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house. Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son.”

What about the spring lambing season mentioned in Luke chapter 2:8?

And there were shepherds in the same region, living out of doors and keeping watch, guarding over their flock by night.

The Scripture does not tell us the quantity of wise men, nor does it tell us that Mary rode a donkey, nor does it directly mention an innkeeper. The angels did not “sing” to the shepherds. Jesus was not born in a “stable” in Bethlehem.

There is no “spring lambing season” recorded in Luke chapter two.

All these things have been added to the Christmas story when we re-tell it, maybe to make a children’s story more colorful for understanding.

Anyone who insists that it was spring lambing season does not do it on the basis of the text. The text merely says that the shepherds were out there but not what time of year. If it did, I would not have any basis for my minor controversy about December 25.

December in Bethlehem is normally somewhere around 50 degrees[e]F, so if necessary, well-prepared shepherds could plausibly be seated on the ground in December when the glory shone all around.

Notes[+]

Select Quotations While Reading John Lennox

“Even if they cannot be herded, cats in sufficient number can make a lot of noise and they cannot be ignored.” [Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p.27]

“Those considering atheism as a new doctrinal commitment, however, will not find plausible the alleviation of anxiety it is said to afford. If the great concern occasioned by atheism is God’s indignation, then given the very tentative way in which his inexistence has been affirmed, it might seem that atheists have drawn their worries prematurely to an end. Whatever its other benefits, atheism is not generally counted a position calculated to assuage the worst fears of mankind; and as the work of prominent atheists indicates, those who have stopped worrying have done so only because they have stopped thinking.” [David Berlinski, Fixed-Point Foundation, http://fixed-point.org]

“I have stepped into the public arena in order to add my voice to those who are convinced that the New Atheism is not the automatic default position for all thinking people who hold science in high regard. [p.15]

“I am not an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief is positively harmful.” [Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian]

“Religion poisons everything.” [Christopher Hitchens, God is not Great, p.13]

“I think religion should be treated with ridicule, hatred, and contempt, and I claim that right.” [Christopher Hitchens, A Bitter Rift Divides Atheists, 2001 NPR Broadcast,http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=113889251]

“The world needs to wake up from the long nightmare of religion… Anything we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done, and may in fact be our greatest contribution to civilization.” [Steven Weinberg, remarks at Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival, 2006, http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Steven_Weinberg]

“…the objective of the New Atheists is not simply to complete the process of secularization by banishing God from the universe; but it is to put something in place of God. And it is not simply that society should replace God with something else; it is that science should do so. Apparently no area of human thought or activity other than science is qualified to contribute anything useful. Science is king.” (p. 20)

“A fiction does not die, an illusion never passes away, a fairy tale does not refute itself… You cannot kill a breeze, a wind, a fragrance; you cannot kill a dream or an ambition. God, manufactured by mortals in their own quintessential image, exists only to make daily life bearable despite the path that every one of us treads toward extinction… We cannot assassinate or kill an illusion. In fact illusion is more likely to kill us – for God puts to death everything that stands up to him, beginning with reason, intelligence and the critical mind. All the rest follows in a chain reaction.” [Michel Onfray, In Defense of Atheism, pp. 12,13]

“…God is not to be regarded as an enemy of reason. After all, as Creator he is responsible for the very existence of the human mind; the biblical view is that human beings are the pinnacle of creation. They alone are created as rational beings in the image of God, capable of a relationship with God and given by him the capacity to understand the universe in which they live.

“Consistent with this, far from being anti-scientific, the Bible positively encourages science. It could be said that it gave science its initial mandate… According to Genesis, in the biological field it was God who initiated this process by telling humans to name the animals. Taxonomy thus got underway.” (p. 28)

“Again it was a theist, not an atheist, who had the idea that led to the current widely accepted Big Bang model of the origin of the universe. Georges Lemaitre (1894-1966), a Belgian priest and astronomer challenged the theory of an eternal universe that had held sway for centuries, and which even Einstein held at the time…” (p. 29)

“It is rather ironical that in the sixteenth century some people resisted advance in science because it seemed to threaten belief in God; whereas in the twentieth century scientific models of a beginning were resisted because they might increase the plausibility of belief in God.” (p. 30)

“In the majority of studies, religious involvement is correlated with well-being, happiness and life-satisfaction; hope and optimism; purpose and meaning in life; higher self-esteem; better adaptation to bereavement; greater social support and less loneliness; lower rates of depression and faster recovery from depression; lower rates of suicide and fewer positive attitudes toward suicide; less anxiety; less psychosis and fewer psychotic tendencies; lower rates of alcohol and drug use and abuse; less delinquency and criminal activity; greater marital stability and satisfaction… We concluded that for the vast majority of people the apparent benefits of devout religious belief and practice probably outweigh the risks” (p. 77) [Professor Andrew Sims citing the American Journal of Public Health‘s analysis of epidemiological studies on the psychological effects of religious belief. From Is Faith Delusion?: Why Religion is Good For Your Health, 2009]

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

This man made an enormous impact on modern culture through technology and innovation. Here are a few things he said.

Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me. My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.

I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance. It is so hard. You put so much of your life into this thing. There are such rough moments in time that I think most people give up. I don’t blame them. Its really tough and it consumes your life. If you’ve got a family and you’re in the early days of a company, I can’t imagine how one could do it. I’m sure its been done but its rough. Its pretty much an eighteen hour day job, seven days a week for awhile. Unless you have a lot of passion about this, you’re not going to survive. You’re going to give it up. So you’ve got to have an idea, or a problem or a wrong that you want to right that you’re passionate about otherwise you’re not going to have the perseverance to stick it through. I think that’s half the battle right there.

If I were running Apple, I would milk the Macintosh for all it’s worth — and get busy on the next great thing. The PC wars are over. Done. Microsoft won a long time ago.

“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people. That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

The system is that there is no system. That doesn’t mean we don’t have process. Apple is a very disciplined company, and we have great processes. But that’s not what it’s about. Process makes you more efficient.

Older people sit down and ask, ‘What is it?’ but the boy asks, ‘What can I do with it?’.

And it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.

It’s not a faith in technology. It’s faith in people.

My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.

Of all the inventions of humans, the computer is going to rank near or at the top as history unfolds and we look back. It is the most awesome tool that we have ever invented. I feel incredibly lucky to be at exactly the right place in Silicon Valley, at exactly the right time, historically, where this invention has taken form.

Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?

If you’re gonna make connections which are innovative… you have to not have the same bag of experiences as everyone else does.

But innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.

Sometimes I believe in God, sometimes I don’t. I think it’s 50-50 maybe. But ever since I’ve had cancer, I’ve been thinking about it more. And I find myself believing a bit more. I kind of – maybe it’s ’cause I want to believe in an afterlife. That when you die, it doesn’t just all disappear. The wisdom you’ve accumulated. Somehow it lives on, but sometimes I think it’s just like an on-off switch. Click and you’re gone. And that’s why I don’t like putting on-off switches on Apple devices.

How to Turn Treasure Into Trash

“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:26

“And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.” Genesis 25:31

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.” Hebrews 12:14-16

“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” Hebrews 11:24-26

“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God will repay each person according to what they have done.” Romans 2:4-6

“Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.” Matthew 6:19-21

Proverbs 3:13-18

“Happy is the man who finds wisdom,
And the man who gains understanding;
For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver,
And her gain than fine gold.
She is more precious than rubies,
And all the things you may desire cannot compare with her.
Length of days is in her right hand,
In her left hand riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
And all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her,
And happy are all who retain her.”

Haggai 1:5,6

“Consider your ways!
You have sown much, and bring in little;
You eat, but do not have enough;
You drink, but you are not filled with drink;
You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm;
And he who earns wages,
Earns wages to put into a bag with holes.”