Every year as we get closer to Christmas, I find myself in conversations with people asking the question, “Is December 25th really Jesus’ birthday?” Many people will say no. If you watch the History Channel, you will hear that Christians adopted the date of December 25th as a way to bring pagan Romans to Christianity by incorporating the feast of Saturnalia. Saturnalia was a feast which honored and celebrated the Roman god of agriculture, Saturn, during the Winter Solstice. While it is true that the early Church would often Christianize pagan holidays and celebrations, that is not the case when it comes to Christmas.
When talking to Protestants, most will make the argument that the Bible is silent on the date of Christmas because it does not explicitly state that Jesus was born on December 25th. But is the Bible silent on the date of Christmas? Actually, the Bible tells us EXACTLY when Jesus was born, you just have to know where and how to look. For our separated Protestant brethren who have been taught to read the Bible literally, they fail to look at the historical clues embedded in both the Old and New Testament. As John Henry Cardinal Newman said in Development of Christian Doctrine, “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” So, let’s look at those historical clues.
To figure out the Biblical date of Christmas, let us first look at Gabriel’s announcement to Zechariah that Elizabeth would conceive John the Baptist. When the angel appears to Zechariah, he is serving in the temple. In Luke 1:5, we read, “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth” (RSVCE). Further, in Luke 1:8-9 we read, “Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.” This is important because knowing what division Zechariah belonged to, we can determine when he was serving in the temple.
In order to determine when Zechariah served in the temple, we need to go to the Old Testament and look at 1 Chronicles 24:10, and we see that the division of Abijah was responsible for serving during the eighth rotation. Looking at the historical record, at that time, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) occurred during the eighth rotation. Yom Kippur generally falls between September 15th - October 15th in the Gregorian calendar. This places John the Baptist’s conception near September 25th.
Going back to the New Testament, we now come to the Annunciation. In Luke 1:26-27, we read, “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.” This passage follows immediately after Elizabeth’s conception of John the Baptist, and in Luke 1:36, we see again that Elizabeth is in the sixth month of pregnancy. Doing the math, using the Gregorian calendar, this would place the Annunciation around March 25th, the date in which we celebrate this feast in the Church today.
All one needs to do at this point is add nine months from March 25th, and the Biblical date of Christmas is indeed December 25th. The Bible gives us all the clues we need to determine the real date of Christmas. The next time someone asks if December 25th is really Jesus’ birthday, you can point to these passages in the Bible and confidently answer, YES.