History shows that December 25 was popularized as the date for Christmas, not because Christ was born on that day, but because it was already popular in pagan religious celebrations as the sun’s birthday. But could December 25 be the date of Christ’s birth?
Early Christian teachers suggested dates all over the calendar. Clemen picked November 18. Hippolytus figured Christ must have been born on a Wednesday. An anonymous document believed to have been written in North Africa around A.D. 243 placed Jesus’s birth on March 28″ (Joseph L. Sheler, U.S. News & World Report, “In Search of Christmas,” December 23, 1996, p. 58).
However, a careful analysis of Scripture indicates that December 25 couldn’t be the date for Christ’s birth. Here are two primary reasons:
First, we know that shepherds were in the fields watching their flocks at the time of Jesus’ birth (Luke:2:7-8). Shepherds were not in the fields during December. According to The Complete Book of American Holidays, Luke’s account suggests that Jesus may have been born in summer or early fall. Since December is cold and rainy in Judea, shepherds would likely have sought shelter for their flocks at night” (p. 309).
Similarly, The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary says this passage argues “against the birth [of Christ] occurring on December 25 since the weather would not have permitted” shepherds watching over their flocks in the fields at night. Second, Jesus’ parents came to Bethlehem to register in a Roman census (Luke:2:1-4). Such censuses are not taken in winter, when temperatures often dropped below freezing and roads were poor. Taking a census under such conditions would have been self-defeating.
If Jesus Christ wasn’t born on December 25, does the Bible indicate when He was born? The biblical accounts point to the fall of the year as the most likely time of Jesus’ birth, based on John the Baptist’s conception and birth.
Since Elizabeth (John’s mother) was in her sixth month of pregnancy when Jesus was conceived (Luke:1:24-36), we can determine the approximate time of year Jesus was born if we know when John was born. John’s father, Zacharias, was a priest serving in the Jerusalem temple during Abijah’s course (Luke:1:5). Historical calculations indicate this service course corresponded to June 13-19 in that year ( The Companion Bible, 1974, Appendix 179, p. 200).
During this time of temple service, Zacharias learned that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a child (Luke:1:8-13). After he completed his service and traveled home, Elizabeth conceived (Luke:1:23-24). Assuming John’s conception took place near the end of June, adding nine months brings us to the end of March as the most likely time for John’s birth. Adding another six months (the difference in ages between John and Jesus (Luke:1:35-36)) brings us to the end of September as the likely time of Jesus’ birth.
Although it is difficult to determine the first time anyone celebrated December 25 as Christmas Day. Historians agree that it was sometime during the fourth century. Christmas was not celebrated in Rome, the Roman Empire’s capital, until about 300 years after Christ’s death. Its origins cannot be traced back to either the teachings or practices of the earliest Christians.