On what day was Jesus born? No one knows exactly. The Bible does not say. Most people who lived during the first century did not celebrate birthdays. The early Church Fathers were confronted with several dates for our Lord’s birth. For example, “Clement of Alexandria says that some place it on April 20, others on May 20.” It was not until the fourth century A.D. that the church was seriously divided over the matter. The Western Church in Rome celebrated December 25th, while the Eastern Church in Alexandria celebrated January 6th.
Christmas (from Old English Cristes maesse “Christ’s mass”). Observance commemorating the birth of Jesus. In the Western church, the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord was first celebrated on December 25 ca. A.D. 336, the date apparently chosen to counter the Roman feast Natalis Solis Invicti (“birth of the unconquered sun”), the birthday of Emperor Aurelius. In Alexandria and the Eastern churches the event was originally celebrated on January 6 in connection with the Feast of the Epiphany honoring Jesus’ baptism; some branches of the Eastern church still hold to this date.
We are not sure of the day, or even the year of Jesus’ birth. Scripture does mention historical events, people, and places associated with the birth of Jesus, and this helps narrow the time the Savior came into the world. The Gospel of Luke states, “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:1-2). Matthew, in his Gospel account, records the historical event concerning Herod’s effort to kill the baby Jesus. Herod died in 4 B.C., and since Jesus was less than two years of age when Herod ordered the killing of the infants (Matt. 2:16), then Jesus’ birth would fall sometime between 6 and 4 B.C. Though the matter of an exact year and day of Jesus’ birth is uncertain, the Bible plainly states that Jesus is a real historical Person who was born in time and space (read Matthew chapters 1-2 and Luke chapters 1-2). Concerning the season of His birth, Jesus could have been in the late winter, but that’s unlikely. It was probably spring or summer because the shepherds where in the field with their flocks (Luke 2:8). I know a lot of Christians who are very dogmatic about December 25th being the day Jesus was born, and there’s simply no biblical or historical evidence to make the case. What’s important is THAT He was born.
Biblically, Christians are not commanded to celebrate Christmas or any other holiday. This is unlike the Israelites in the OT who were required to keep the Passover (Lev. 23:5), Feast of Unleavened Bread (Lev. 23:6), Feast of First Fruits (Lev. 23:9-14), Feast of Weeks (Deut. 16:10), Feast of Trumpets (Num. 29:1), Feast of Booths (Lev. 23:34), and the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). The Jewish feasts were a part of the Mosaic Law, and since that law code is no longer in effect (Rom. 6:14; Heb. 8:13), the feasts are not obligatory for God’s people. For Christians, it’s really a matter of Christian liberty to celebrate Christmas or not. Personally, I do not celebrate Christmas, but that’s because I have no children. However, if I had children, I suspect I would do something for the kiddos. I would not lie and tell them about Santa Claus, or that it was the day Jesus was born, when in fact no one really knows.
There are two chapters of the Bible that mention Jesus’ birth, whereas thirty eight chapters mention His death. Both His birth and death are important, but the Scripture emphasizes the latter. Jesus was born into the world to be our substitute on the cross. John the Baptist called Him the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). And Jesus went willingly to the cross to die in our place. Jesus said “I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:15), and “no one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18). Jesus willingly died in our place, for our benefit (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:25; Heb. 7:27; 9:14), and through His death we have forgiveness of sins and the gifts of eternal life and righteousness (John 3:16; 10:27-28; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 1:7; 2:8-9; Philip. 3:9; 1 Pet. 3:18).
Steven R. Cook, D.Min.