By: Nick Swafford
We all know that Christmas is for celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, so it’s safe to assume December 25th is Jesus’ birthday, right?
Well, not necessarily. Jesus’ birthday isn’t even known, as there was no recording system of births back then. It is, however, speculated that he was born in the spring in year 1, but that’s not quite true. It’s more likely that he was born somewhere between 2 BC/BCE and 7 BC/BCE. So why do we celebrate it on the 25th of December? There are several theories on this, but let’s start with the facts. The first time Christmas was recorded as being celebrated on the 25th was in 336, about 300 years after Jesus’ birth.
The birthplace of western civilization, Ancient Rome, is where the tradition of celebrating Christmas on December 25th all started. Emperor Constantine, or otherwise known as Constantine the Great, was the ruler at the time, and it just so happened that before his death, he became the first Christian Roman emperor. This idea of Christianity within Rome spread during the remainder of Constantine’s rule and influenced Christian traditions. In late spring of the year 337, Constantine was finally overwhelmed by his illness and died, but not before declaring December 25th Jesus’ birthday. A few years after the Emperor’s death, Pope Julius I confirmed the date. From then on, December 25th was known as Jesus’ birthday.
The date for Christmas is also speculated to have been chosen to match Roman feasts, such as Saturnalia (the celebration of the Roman god Saturn, which is on the 17th), Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (the Roman celebration for “the birthday of the unconquered sun”, which is on the 25th), and the Winter Solstice. This could’ve been done to appeal to more Romans so that they would accept Christianity as their religion, but this theory doesn’t add up, as it’s not confirmed in any Christian or non-Christian writings. More likely, Christmas was already being celebrated but on January 6th, not December 25th. As Christian culture meshed with Roman culture, Dies Natalis Solis Incicti was made into the Christmas we have now because in the new religion, the “unconquered sun” became seen as Jesus Christ. Today, January 6th is now celebrated as the Feast of Epiphany.
Another ancient theory that might be the reason why we celebrate Christmas on the 25th is that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ occured on the 14th of Nisan in the Hebrew Calendar, March 25th in our modern calendar, so early Christians connected dots from Jesus’ crucifixion and his birth. What comes nine months after March 25th? You guessed it: December 25th. This thought process caught on, and with enough time, it was set in stone. As people now have a far better understanding of the world, you probably see this as ludacris. But people back then had maybe a tenth of the understanding we have now of the world, so it naturally seemed logical.
Whatever the cause of Christmas being celebrated on December of 25th, I’m happy the tradition has carried on so long. Without it, I doubt that anyone would be as jolly in the wintertime, and that would be a shame. And besides, the break surrounding it is a nice reprieve before finals. However, I do feel sorry for the suckers that only had one meager week of Christmas break—Oh wait. I’ve just been informed that I am, indeed, a sucker that only had one week of Christmas break. Thanks WCPSS.