Determining the date of Christmas

For many centuries, western Christians have celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25, while those of the Eastern Orthodox faiths have celebrated it a week later. How did experts determine the date? Andrew McGowan of Biblical Archaeology Review has some answers.

Scholars have long debated the actual date of Christ's birth, but most agree that it wouldn't have been December 25. Most also agree that the current date was chosen to parallel Pagan celebrations such as Saturnalia.

In the article, McGowan writes:

The earliest mention of December 25 as Jesus’ birthday comes from a mid-fourth-century Roman almanac that lists the death dates of various Christian bishops and martyrs. The first date listed, December 25, is marked: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae: “Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea.” In about 400 C.E., Augustine of Hippo mentions a local dissident Christian group, the Donatists, who apparently kept Christmas festivals on December 25, but refused to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6, regarding it as an innovation. Since the Donatist group only emerged during the persecution under Diocletian in 312 C.E. and then remained stubbornly attached to the practices of that moment in time, they seem to represent an older North African Christian tradition.

The real dates of the birth of Jesus the Messiah

The true birth date of the Messiah of Israel more commonly known as Jesus Christ is dificult to pinpoint precicely.  The reasons for this is because of the changes in calenders over the years and the use of the Jewish calendar in use at the time. 

It can be quickly determined that the date could not have been on or near December 25.  First it mentions Shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night.  To any one that is truly familiar with the Holy Land it would be immediately apparent that this would have been impossible this late into the cold season.  Shepherds did not take their flocks out by night in the cold.  They kept them in where it was warm.  Second those fields are on the sides of hills.  At night those areas become icy, and the sheep would be sliding down them, instead of eating grass, making the activity pointless.  The second thing that would have made it difficult to have been in this cold part of the year is the fact of the Census called by Cesar Agustus for taxing purposes.  It would have been at a time of year condusive to travel.  To many people would have died on the trip to their hometowns.  The government would have known not to have people move then, or they would be losing tax revenue.

There are many clues as to when it would have actually occured.  To pursue this we must go back to the conseption of John the Immerser.  His father Zacheriah was in the temple with his duties during the Passover.  This is the only time that he would have been there for as long as he was.  The duties of the Levites and Priests were broken down by groups.  Each group had a two week period during the year when they served in the Temple in Jerusalem.  There were several weeks that were not covered and this was during the period of Passover during that time all the Levites and Priests were on duty because that was the time of the yearly sacrifice when all of Israel brought in those sacrifices.  He was told by the angel that he was to have a son.  When he left the Temple at the end of his service he went home and a son was concieved.  This was just at the end of passover.  The Bible states that Elizabeth went into seclusion for 6 months.  At the end of that time just after Jesus was concieved, Mary went to Elizabeths house.  This would have put it around the time of Hannukah that Jesus had been concieved.  Hannukah falls sometime between when the United States celebrates Thanksgiving, and when Christmas is celebrated.  Because of the diffrence in the calendars it is diffrent every year.

This makes the Birth of Jesus occuring 9 months later which is durring the Sukkot, or the Feast of Booths.  Which happens usually early to mid September.  After the harvest and before the cold weather.  The "Stable" that Jesus was born in was not a stable at all.  The word that in English that translate as 'place to keep animals' is stable.  The word that was used in Greek which the New Testament was written in was translatable as either 'place to keep animals' or as 'shed'.  The Hebrew word for the shelter that the Innkeeper lent them was a Sukka.  This is a temporary booth that is only put up for the season of Sukkot.  It is thached with a very loose weave of leafy branches.  This was traditionally so that the Glory of God could shine in.  It was in fact so that the Glory of God could shine out.

So if you are in Israel, and some classically trained tour guide shows you a cave and tells you this is probably where Jesus was born, you can tell them diffrently.

One final parting thought, Christmas is a time to celebrate the Messiah of Israels birth.  Even though the timing is not right, it doesn't matter.  If you wanted to celebrate my birthday in February that would be fine(my birthday is in August) I would still show up.  I don't think that he cares that his birth is celebrated at a diffrent day, just as long as it is being celebrated as his birthday.

Also Worth a Read: From Touchstone Magazine

While Touchstone Magazine is a Christian magazine, some of its content can be scholarly in nature.  The following article, published in the December 2003 issue, is one of those works.  Titled "Calculating Christmas," by William J. Tighe.  I would not suggest the information in this article replace the above information, but add to it.  The URL is  I would note, too, that many of the Orthodox churches still use the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar, which converts as December 25 Julian - January 7 Gregorian.