According to popular tradition, Christmas is celebrated on 25th December to celebrate the birth of Jesus. However, no records exist in the Bible or elsewhere to suggest that Jesus was actually born on this date, which raises an important question: why is Christmas celebrated on 25 th December?
According to Catholic Encyclopaedia “there is no month in the year to which respectable authorities have not assigned Christ’s birth“.
However there are lot of reasons to suggest that Jesus was probably not born in December. Firstly, Luke, in his gospel wrote that on the night of Jesus’ birth “there were also in that same country shepherds living out of doors and keeping watches in the night over their flocks.”
Many scholars agree that this would have been unlikely in December, because shepherds would have been keeping their flock under cover during the cold winter months!
Furthermore, the Bible says that Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem to register in a Roman census: such censuses were not taken in winter, because temperatures often dropped below freezing and roads were in bad condition.
This date has its root in both Persian and pagan traditions.
Since it appears unlikely that Jesus was born on 25th December, the question of why Christmas is celebrated on this date is lawful.
The answer points back to the Romans’ pagan celebrations of the winter solstice.
Two celebrations in particular took place around December 25: the Saturnalia, and the birth of the Sun God, Mithra.
The Saturnalia festival began on 17th December and later expanded with festivities through to the 25 th December. It was expecially a tribute to Saturn, the agricultural God of Sowing and Husbandry, and he was associated with the renewal of light and the coming of the new year. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice in the Temple of Saturn, a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a happy atmosphere.
Instead the cult of Mithras became popular among the military in the Roman Empire from the 1st to 4th centuries AD, and are believed to have celebrated his birthday on 25th December, which was the most holy day of the year for many ancient Romans. The worship of the Sun God Mithra has its origin in Persia, from around the 6th century BC, and the most popular hypothesis is that Roman soldiers encountered this religion during their military excursions in Persia.
The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine, who was the first Christian Roman Emperor.
When Constantine converted to Christianity in the fourth century, he had quite a challenge ahead of him with regard to converting an empire full of pagans!
It was therefore decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus on a date that was already sacred according to pagan traditions. So as a compromise with pagan traditions and in an attempt to give to the pagan holidays Christian significance, it was simply decided that the birthday of the Sun God would also be the birthday of the Son of God.
The Catholic Encyclopaedia also quotes an early Christian with saying, “O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born…. Christ should be born“.