Christmas Day falling on December 25 is a little more complicated than being a worldwide birthday party for Jesus.
We all know that most of what we do around Christmas – the carols, the presents, the deference to a jolly, bearded man – doesn’t have a lot to do with religion these days.
But at Christmas Mass, people still sing about the birth of Jesus Christ, and his teachings will be tied into a narrative about how we celebrate.
So how did we land on December 25?
If you go to the Bible and read the story of Jesus’ birth, you’ll find no reference to a date or even a season. For a long time this just wasn’t important. In fact, when Christianity was still young, the birth of Jesus wasn’t celebrated at all, celebrations instead being focused around his death and resurrection at Easter.
The only aspect of the Bible that’s been pointed to as proof the birth occurred in December, is that shepherds are tending their flocks at night when the angel tells them Jesus has been born. But, unsurprisingly, no one really knows exactly what time of year shepherds were out in force in ancient Israel.
Instead, it’s commonly said that as the Christian church grew, it was simply convenient to have a celebration that took place around the same time as the pre-existing festivals and that marked the winter solstice.
The Romans had Saturnalia, a holy celebration of feasts, gift-giving and seeing friends that took place every year from December 17-23.
Meanwhile, the pagans of northern Europe marked the winter solstice with a celebration of the sun that would now return after the darkest part of the year.
Beyond these peoples, the solstice has traditionally been marked by festivities in cultures from all around the world, often involving gift giving and forced family time.
But this theory isn’t too popular with some Christian scholars, who claim that Christmas first came to be celebrated in December at a time when Christianity was actually seeking to distance itself from other religions (200-300 AD).
Instead, they put forward the idea that December 25 is actually related to the date of Jesus’ conception and death. It’s believed that he was both born and died on March 25, which just so happens to be nine months prior to December 25 – the general time frame of a healthy pregnancy.
Obviously this isn’t the most exact science, as the length of a pregnancy isn’t commonly used as an accurate measure of time. But still, there’s enough evidence behind this interpretation to not completely dismiss it.
All this is to say that historians disagree over why exactly Christmas is on December 25.
But hey, it’s a Christmas! You get time off, presents and to spend time with your friends and family. And that’s reason enough to celebrate, whatever you believe.