Worrying about the actual date of Christmas may miss the point of it.
For just a moment I’d like us to ignore the obvious – that it is the celebration of Christ’s birth, because if we were totally honest with ourselves, that isn’t what it means to the vast majority of people who celebrate it. I mean, look around us. This is a very festive looking room, but what don’t you see? I’d like to take a few moments to examine the history that surrounds some of the traditions of Christmas.
Many people realize the date of Christmas was originally used by pagans to celebrate the passing of the winter solstice. They knew that by this time in December that the shortest day and longest night had passed, and with that came the promise of longer days, shorter nights and eventually spring. The date of December 25th, as the celebration of Christ’s birth, however, was first seen in a Roman calendar dating from approximately 336 AD.
But it is very unlikely that Christ was born during the winter months. Why not? Good question. In Luke 2:8 we read: “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.” Now, the usual time for the sheep to be kept in the fields surrounding Bethlehem is after the last of the winter rains in April and before they start up again in November. So, if there were shepherds in the fields then the birth likely occurred between April and November.
But December wasn’t always the choice for celebrating Christ’s birthday. In the two hundred years after the death of Christ, Christians celebrated his birth on January 6, April 19, May 20 and several other dates. A few years ago a British physicist and astronomer, David Hughes, calculated that the date of Christ’s birth was September 17th, 7 BC.