In traditional Christian teachings it is often stated that Jesus Christ, the central figure of Christianity, was born on December 25. But is it true?
All signs point to “no.”
In the Bible neither Jesus’ birthday nor birth year are given. In fact, there are only clues as to when it might have occurred. In Luke 2:8, for example, the Bible references shepherds tending to their flocks at night when they hear about Jesus’ birth. It reads:
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
If shepherds are in the field, then it would suggest lambing season—which is in the spring. Otherwise in a cold month like December, sheep would have been corralled.
However, Jesus’ narrative is theological and not calendrical, so it’s best to exercise caution.
But if Jesus probably wasn’t born on December 25, why is Christmas celebrated then?
Before Christianity swept the Roman Empire, Romans celebrated a pagan, sun-worshiping holiday called “Saturnalia” that coincided with the winter solstice.
Saturnalia was a rowdy holiday that ran from December 17 to December 25. During this time Roman courts were closed and people couldn’t get in trouble for damaging property, hurting other people, or rape. Kinda sounds like The Purge, huh?
Even more like The Purge, Roman community leaders would pick one individual during Saturnalia as “an enemy of the Roman people” to represent the “Lord of Misrule.” This unfortunate individual, man or woman, would be forced to indulge in orgies of food and sex throughout the holiday week, then on December 25 would be brutally murdered by the authorities as a representation of vanquishing evil.
Christmas was really a spin-off of Saturnalia and other similar pagan holidays, and the date was chosen to help early pagans ease into the religious transition of monotheistic Christianity.