Why Do We Celebrate Christmas on December 25?

Contributing Writer
Why Do We Celebrate Christmas on December 25?

As people around the world gather around a Christmas tree to celebrate a day unlike any other, many are unaware of why we recognize Christmas on the 25th of December. The original purpose of Christmas was to recognize the birth of Jesus. Many secular celebrations followed. Today we are going to look into why we celebrate Christmas on December 25th.

Who Chose the Date December 25 and Why?

As you probably have noticed, Christmas is a time of year where we experience a variety of traditions. Some of these stem from faith in Jesus and others do not. There is nothing wrong with participating in the secular fun as long as we are still keeping Jesus first and remembering that He is the reason why we have Christmas in the first place.

Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25th. They say that Jesus’ exact birthday is unknown, however, based on the Scriptures, some believed it to be in early spring. The Editors of Britannica share that the remembrance of Jesus’ birth began in the 2nd century.

There are three potential reasons why December 25th was selected.

  1. First, Sextus Julius Africanus was a Roman believer who believed that Jesus’ conception was March 25th and nine months later would be December 25th.
  2. The next is that in the 3rd century, Rome, a secular community, celebrated the winter solace on the 25th.
  3. The third is that the believers in Rome started recognizing Christmas on December 25th in 336 AD because of Constantine’s rule. Constantine supported the Christian faith in Rome and some thought it was a political move to lessen the pagan celebrations in the country. December 25th was not celebrated in the Eastern territory because January 6th was their preference. In the 9th century, they began to celebrate on December 25th as well.

I remember in science class when we would do experiments and I would always hate it when my results were inconclusive. We like answers, but sometimes in life there is mystery. Unfortunately, there is no exact answer to this question, but a few educated possibilities. What we do know and can stand on is that Jesus was born and we can honor His life, death, and resurrection for us.

Do We Know That Jesus Was Actually Born?

Yes, confidently, Jesus was born. On top of the fact that Jesus’ birth is confirmed by God Himself through the Bible, historically there are other documents that prove that Jesus walked this earth. We can be 100% confident that Jesus was born. For example, The History Channel, a secular group, recognizes that Jesus walked the earth.  They share, “Within a few decades of his lifetime, Jesus was mentioned by Jewish and Roman historians in passages that corroborate portions of the New Testament that describe the life and death of Jesus.” The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus from the first century mentions Jesus twice in his Jewish Antiquities about the Jewish people that he wrote in 93AD. The other is Cornelius Tacitus from the Roman Empire. He wrote Annals of Imperial Rome near 116 AD. In his account, he talks about the crucifixion of Christ by Pilate and the Christian movement when Nero persecuted them.

The Bible is also the most obvious place to go to read the account of Jesus’s birth. Luke 1:30-31 says, “But the angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.” Then, in Luke 2:6-7 Jesus is born. “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” Matthew 1-2, Isaiah 9:6-7, and Revelation 12 also tell of the birth of Jesus.

Do We Know When Jesus Was Actually Born?

There is no question as to if Jesus was on this earth, the question is just when he was born. Although it is not likely to be December 25th, we can still confidently celebrate and give praise to His gift of His life to us.

Good News at Beyond Today shares the facts that we do know. First, Shepherds were in their fields, so it must have been, this can indicate a late summer or early fall birthday. Second, Mary and Joseph had to register. The censuses were normally taken in warmer months for easier travel.

The scholars concluded based on events that took place that Jesus may have been born in late September because of the details given about Zacharias and Elizabeth’s conception and birth of John the Baptist. (Luke 1) Good News teaches that historical calculations show that the temple service for Zacharias was likely June 13-19. (The Companion Bible, 1974, Appendix 179, p. 200). They believe if Elizabeth conceived in the latter part of June then, John the Baptist who was due 6 months before Jesus, would have been born at the end of March and six months after late March is late September. 

What Has Celebrating Christmas Looked Like across History to Now?

Megan Finley from The Museum of Arts and Sciences tell us that Christmas has looked differently across the span of history.

3rd Century AD: Megan says that it began in the 3rd century when church officials decided on December 25th during another popular pagan holiday called Saturnalia. They would eat, give gifts, and decorate. At this time the secular holiday was separate from Christmas, then they merged into a lot of overlap in celebration styles.

Colonial Times: During this time period, some rejected Christmas like the Puritans. Some celebrated the 12 days of Christmas starting on the 25th. They would eat, hold special church services, visit loved ones, and host parties. The final day, January 6th would be the greatest day of celebration. The main focus was Jesus and spending time with others. Gifts were part of the time together, but not the main point. Only those of German descent had Christmas trees. People thought it was strange.

19th Century: This is the time period that propelled us into a lot of the traditions which we hold today. The majority of people began to celebrate. Christmas cards began in 1843. Now, instead of focusing on community parties, people began to focus more on the home and children. This was especially because the character Santa Claus was created in 1882 when Clement Clark Moore wrote, “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” better known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” The German Christmas trees became more widespread when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert made them popular.

20th Century: During this time, traditions continued on, however the stores began to market Christmas. Toy stores did really well this time of the year. Whether people were in times of peace, war, feast, or famine, they kept up holiday traditions. In 1924 the first Macy’s Day Parade was held to excite people about Christmas and shopping. In 1931, the famous Santa Claus holding and promoting Coca-cola was crafted. Many beloved Christmas movies and songs were created.

21st Century: Today, we live in the 21st century. Our Christmases carry a lot of the same traditions. Jeff Westover from My Merry Christmas shares that people have added or changed things in this latest century. Instead of sending Christmas cards, this technologically savvy generation texts Merry Christmas. Families track Santa Claus online. Ugly Christmas sweaters got started, plus Elf on the Shelf. Let’s not forget to mention online shopping.

What amazes me about seeing how Christmas was started and morphed over time is that the central theme and testimony of Jesus’ birth has not changed. He is the Unchanging One (Hebrews 13:8). Across cultures, in the hard and good times, over centuries, His name and His story are still being told and celebrated at Christmas each year. We have not added to it or taken away from it because it stands the wonderful story of Jesus coming into our imperfect world. He loved us so much to come to us. He is Emmanuel, God with us. Even though we should be honoring Jesus every day, December 25th is a very special day to reflect on Him. The secular traditions can be a blast, but may we never forget to take intentional time to remember and worship our Living King.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/ Siri Stafford

Emma DanzeyEmma Danzey’s mission in life stems from Ephesians 3:20-21, to embrace the extraordinary. One of her greatest joys is to journey with the Lord in His Scriptures. She is wife to Drew and mom to Graham. Emma serves alongside her husband in ministry, she focuses most of her time in the home, but loves to provide articles on the Bible, life questions, and Christian lifestyle. Her article on Interracial Marriage was the number 1 on Crosswalk in 2021. Most recently, Emma released Treasures for Tots, (Scripture memory songs) for young children. During her ministry career, Emma has released Wildflower: Blooming Through Singleness, two worship EP albums, founded and led Polished Conference Ministries, and ran the Refined Magazine. You can view her articles on her blog at emmadanzey.wordpress.com and check out her Instagram @Emmadanzey.