So, Why On December 25th?

So, Why On December 25th?

by Leanne Lippincott-Wuerthele


As Christians, we recognize “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” when Christmas rolls around. Yet, how many of us actually know the history of the word, “Christmas,” and why we celebrate it on December 25?

Using various sources—and quoting the late radio broadcaster, Paul Harvey—“Here’s the rest of the story.”

Christmas is an annual holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus. It refers both to the day celebrating the birth, as well as to the season that day initiates. One source noted that Jesus’ baptism was originally seen as more important than his birth, because that was when he started his ministry. However, people soon wanted a separate day to celebrate his birth.

No one knows Jesus’ actual birth date, since no date is given in the Bible. Thus, the day most people celebrate as Jesus’ birthday—December 25—is solely “traditional” Many historians believe Jesus was born between 7 and 2 BC.

The Western Catholic Church didn’t randomly choose December 25 as Jesus’ birthday. One theory is that date was close to the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year with the longest night. After that, days began lengthening. That meant spring was on its way. During the Winter Solstice, European pagans worshipped the sun for winning over the darkness of winter.

Just like today, when many non-believers celebrate Christmas as a secular observance, the early Church recognized that people would continue to celebrate the solstice. By selecting December 25 as Jesus’ birth date, it gave them a completely different reason for the celebration. In today’s society, few people think of Christmas as a pagan feast day.

Another ancient festival occurring around December 25 was the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, translated as “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.” It celebrated the “birthday” of Mithra, the pagan sun god. Early Christians may have helped to give this festival new meaning by celebrating the birth of the Son of God as “the unconquered Son.” (Malachi 4:2 refers to Jesus as “the sun of righteousness.”)

One early Christian tradition holds that, on March 25, Mary received the news she would give birth to a special baby. Nine months later, on December 25, Jesus was born.

The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25 was in 336 AD, during the time of Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor. A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on December 25. The prominence of Christmas Day gradually increased after Charlemagne—a medieval emperor who ruled much of Western Europe—was crowned on Christmas Day in the year 800.

The word “Christmas” means “Christ’s Mass” and is from the Middle English word, “Christemasse.” That term was first used in Old English (“Christes moesse,” meaning the mass or festival of Christ) around 1038. Although many people think it’s sacrilegious to use the abbreviation Xmas, the “X” is actually the first letter [chi] of the Greek name for Christ.

A Lutheran pastor in Kentucky, Dr. Richard P. Bucher, pointed out that early Christians “considered the Mass (Lord’s Supper) to be the most important part of the celebration of Christ’s birth, hence it came to be called Christmas.”

Although many people celebrate Christmas Eve on December 24 and Christmas Day on December 25, those dates vary, depending on which calendar a country uses: the Gregorian, the Julian, or the revised Julian calendar.

So, in addition to December 25, some people also celebrate Christmas on January 6 or 7. Several countries where its residents celebrate Christmas in January are Ethiopia, Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Serbia, the Republic of Macedonia, and the Republic of Moldova.

Now, you know “the rest of the story.”

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