Was Jesus Really Born on December 25th?

Was Jesus Really Born on December 25th?

Surprisingly, early Christians did not record the date of the Lord's birth.

It seems that they were more concerned with preserving his words and deeds, rather than such biographical details. The custom of celebrating his birthday only developed in the fourth century, when Christians were finally allowed religious freedom in the Roman Empire. Since no one knew the exact day of his birth, a fitting day had to be chosen. 

December 25 was chosen by the Catholic Church for symbolic and cultural reasons.  Symbolically, it is the time of the winter solstice, when the winter darkness has reached its peak and the daylight finally begins to increase. This was seen as a fitting day to celebrate Jesus, the light of the world, entering among us to dispel the darkness of sin.  Also, this was already a common feast day for pagans to worship the Sun, so by celebrating the birth of Christ on this day, the Church hoped to help people stop worshipping the Sun god and instead to worship the Son of God.  As one bishop wrote in 320, "We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of him who made it." 

Christians would celebrate the Lord's birthday with a special Mass: Christ’s Mass; which in English has become shortened to “Christmas”. Gradually Christians began to come up with different ways to spiritually prepare for Christmas.  By the 9th century, the custom had developed to a four-week period of preparation called "Advent," which comes from the Latin word "coming." Ever since, the four weeks before Christmas have been a special time of prayer for Catholics, as the Church calls us to prepare not only for the celebration of Christ's first coming, but even more importantly, for his return at the end of time. 

And what about the tradition of the nativity scene?  It turns out that this is a fairly recent custom, started by St. Francis of Assisi back in 1223.  Francis wanted a way to make the story of the Lord's birth come alive for people, so one Christmas he set up a live scene with real people and animals, inviting everyone to come and look while he preached a special Christmas message.  The tradition was a hit, and soon it spread throughout the Christian world, sometimes viewed live and sometimes using figurines. 

The beliefs of our Catholic faith go all the way back to Christ himself and cannot change.  But these Christmas customs are good examples of how our religious practices and customs develop gradually over the years, as we seek the best ways to live out the unchanging truths of the faith. For more on Catholic beliefs or practices, give us a call or visit CatholicBridge.com.  And if you are Catholic and have been away for a while.  We would like to welcome you home. 



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