This coming Tuesday we will be celebrating Christmas, the Incarnation, His coming in the flesh and anticipating His return at the end of time. We celebrate His birth on December 25, but why the 25th of December? Is it because Jesus was truly born on that day of the year?
From the very first years of Christianity there’s been disagreement as to when exactly our Lord was born. Historical documents and even Catholic tradition disagree with each other as well. I personally believe the Church chose this date and did so for a reason.
Many individuals, even certain groups of Christians accuse the Catholic Church of setting the date in celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25 to accommodate the pagans of the day. While its true that many festivals were being celebrated at, or near, Dec 25 doesn’t necessarily mean that the Church chose that date to counteract those pagan festivals or even worse to introduce pagan ideas into the Catholic religion. It does make one wonder, doesn’t it?
We know that December 25 already hosted two other related festivals: natalis invicti (the Roman “birth of the unconquered sun”), and the birthday of Mithras, the Iranian “Sun of Righteousness” whose worship was popular with Roman soldiers. The winter solstice, another celebration of the sun, fell just a few days earlier December 21.
Of the three possibilities, what influenced the Church in choosing December 25 in helping newly converted Christians to remain in the Catholic Church? In my opinion, I believe it would be all three festivals.
Isn’t Jesus Christ the utmost Ruler of the world surpassing the ‘unconquered sun’? He is indeed the unconquered Son. And the same applies to the “Sun of Righteousness”, isn’t Jesus the True Righteous One? We see definite parallels here and it would therefore make sense to set the celebration of our Lord and Righteous one on that same day.
Even more striking is when we look at the celebration of the winter solstice, which is the shortest day of the year. Pagans celebrated this day to commemorate the lengthening of the days identifying it as the beginning of a new year. What many haven’t noticed though is that the shortest day of the year is indeed on December 21 but the days don’t begin to lengthen for another 4 days. The start of the lengthening of days is what I believe is the most compelling reason in choosing December 25 as the day to celebrate the Incarnation because Jesus is indeed the light of the world (John 9:5). Therefore celebrating His birth on the day of the year when the daylight hours begin lengthening seems to be a perfect choice.Ultimately, we don’t know exactly what day of the year our Lord was born. And His Church doesn’t need to be historically accurate in choosing a date to celebrate His birth so long as we don’t forget what we are celebrating when that day of the year arrives.