At first, Christians did not attach much importance to the chronology of Jesus' life. It was important to believe in his existence and in the words he preached. This is probably why the feasts related to the birth of the Messiah were not celebrated for a long time. On the other hand, the date of December 25 was predetermined and - interestingly - in the first centuries of Christianity it was not the only one functioning as a Christmas day.
About 200 C.E. one of the church fathers - Clement of Alexandria - wrote skeptically about those who would like to establish not only the year, but also the day of Jesus' birth. This did not prevent him from suggesting that the Savior was born on May 20, although he also allowed April 19 or 20 and November 17 in his arguments.
The first mention of December 25 as the day of Christmas is in the 204 AD Commentary on the Book of Daniel by another of the Church Fathers, Hippolytus of Rome. And although the date gained recognition in the second half of the 3rd century, modern research proved that the commentary mentioned ... April and the December deadline was added much later.
On the other hand, no doubt as to its authenticity, the note on the Savior's birth in December is contained in the Roman chronological treatise of 354. At the beginning of the list of martyrs it contains the information that “8. on the day before the calendars of January [December 25], Christ was born in Bethlehem in Judah. " While the entry is authentic, it does not explain where the idea for such a date came from.
Pregnancy or solstice?
There are many indications that this was the result of ... ordinary theological speculation. According to them, it was believed that Christ's conception took place on March 25, i.e. on the day of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary. And since the birth should take place 9 months after conception, the date of December 25 was obtained as a result of a simple mathematical operation.
According to one version, the date of December 25 was set, calculating the date of 9 months from the date of the Annunciation of the Lord.
There is also a common theory that the first Christians at the turn of the 3rd and 4th centuries deliberately chose December 25 because it was the winter solstice day in the Julian calendar used at the time (after the Gregorian reform, the winter solstice is on December 21 or 22). Then, with the birth of the Son of God compared to the sun, the light was to overcome the darkness.
All this confusion was supposed to be cleared up by Pope Julius I (337–352). When asked about the correct day of Christ's birth, he arbitrarily set it on December 25. In his decision he relied on the census allegedly preserved until his pontificate from the reign of Octavian Augustus.
However, these are only guesses and hypotheses. And yet it is enough to refer to the Bible and everything will become clear. But is it really?
The Bible will tell you the truth (?)
It might seem where, where, but in the Bible we should find the most clues about the birth of Christ. Meanwhile, the Gospels deal with this topic in a headache. Mateusz and Łukasz talk briefly about them. They do not even provide the yearly date - not to mention the daily one - which, based on historical research (the search for a compromise between the date of issuing the herodic order "slaughter of the innocents" and the date of the census, "when Quirinius was the governor of Syria" - or perhaps before this office, mysterious star flyby, etc.) was set to BC 8-5, with a strong focus on year 7.
Well, they don't even mention the time of the year. The descriptions of shepherds watching over their flocks add little to. After all, in Luke we read:"In the same region there were shepherds in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night" (Lk 2:8). And here it is doubtful whether they could actually do it in winter.
Like winter, it's cold
As emphasized by biblical scholars, in the period from November to March in Palestine there is a winter with intense rainfall and strong chills, and even frosts (especially at night). The shepherds probably could not stay in the field at that time, guarding their flocks, because the temperature was simply too low.
This fact seems to be also confirmed by the mention in the Talmud according to which in this area in March the cattle are driven to pastures and at the beginning of November they are again spent there. Thus, all the more so in December in Palestine the animals and the shepherds remained in the shelter. The Gospel narrative would therefore point to the birth of Christ before winter. Researchers propose a date ... October 7.
In turn, the evangelists Mark and John do not mention the birth of the Savior at all, starting their stories with the baptism of already adult Jesus. In general, all biblical authors focus on the death of the Son of God, which is considered the beginning of his true life - eternal life. There are also many suggestions, experts write, that Christianity in general referred to birthdays and their celebrations at least indifferently, and sometimes even suspiciously.
A birthday without a party
There is no mention of birthday celebrations in early Christian writers. What's more - some of them even mock the Roman celebrations of their birth anniversaries, emphasizing their paganism.
The early Christians considered the birthday celebration pagan
By the way, it should be noted that in the first centuries of our era the persecuted Christian minority was strongly distanced from Roman public religious practices, holidays, sacrifices and all games and amusements . This state seemed to prevail until the end of the brutal persecution of Christians initiated by the Roman emperor Diocletian in 303 CE.
It is therefore not surprising that although today Christmas is one of the most important holidays in the Christian calendar, it started to be celebrated quite late.
A holy day to celebrate
Along with the research on the date of birth, inquiries continue as to when did the celebration of Christmas start? According to some experts, the celebrations were a response to the fact that Emperor Aurelian (270–275) raised the day of "the birth of the invincible Sun", which was celebrated on December 25, to the rank of the most important public holiday. This would to some extent correlate with the aforementioned Christian choice for the birth of Jesus on the winter solstice.
Still others believe that the establishment of Christmas was a thanksgiving for the victory of Constantine the Great in the struggle for power in the empire . And recently, the thesis that the feast was born where Jesus himself was born - in Bethlehem is becoming more and more popular. It was supposed to have been celebrated since 328, that is, since the consecration of the Basilica of the Nativity.
After all, there are many indications that the celebration began some 300 years after Jesus' death. The evangelists were not particularly interested in birth, and in addition, there were several dating systems in antiquity. All this absolutely does not help in the research, at the same time making the painstakingly calculated date of the baby's birth seem uncertain and the date of day completely unlikely.
- Biblia Tysiąclecia Online, Poznań 2003, https://biblia.deon.pl/2010/rozdzial.php?id=75&werset=10#W10 [access:27.11.2020].
- Daniel-Rops H., Daily Life in Palestine in the Time of Christ , crowd. J. Lasocka, Warsaw 2001.
- Kasabuła T. ks., When Jesus Christ was born , https://opoka.org.pl/biblioteka/T/TB/arzenia_bn.html [access:4 December 2020].
- McGowan A., How december 25 became Christmas , https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/new-testament/how-december-25-became-christmas/#note03 [access:4.12.2020].
- Mrygoń J., Can we determine the date of birth and the day of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in the 21st century? , http://wojtek.pp.org.pl/pliki/notki/2018-12-24_ czas-nawodil-sie-w-betlejemie-judzkim-syn-boga-jezus-chrystus/Czy-znamy-date-nawodin-i -Meki-Jesus-Christ-cz.-1.pdf [access:4.12.2020].
- Naumowicz J. ks., The Birth of Christmas , Krakow 2016.
- Wolicki A., When was Christ really born , https://www.newsweek.pl/wiedza/historia/data-urodzin-jezusa-chrystusa-historia-bozego-nararzenia/9wvdy1h [access:4 December 2020].