1. On what day was Jesus born?
The simplest answer is we do not know. There is no evidence that Jesus was or was not born on Dec. 25. There are several possibilities for why Dec. 25 became the celebrated day of Jesus’ birth. Some Christians celebrate Jesus’ conception, the Annunciation, on March 25, and nine months later is Dec. 25.
Many cultures celebrated the winter solstice of Dec. 21-22. As part of their Saturnalia festivities from Dec. 17-23, the Romans also celebrated “the birthday of the unconquered sun” on Dec. 25. The birth of the pagan sun god Mithra was also celebrated on Dec. 25. For all these reasons Christians chose that day, because it was already being celebrated as an important day among cultures in the Roman world. In the fourth century, Christmas Day as we know it became official, preempting the pagan holidays.
Many scholars have tried to find the exact date of Jesus’ birth, but as the Bible does not specifically say, it is impossible. Scholars are forced to use what context clues do exist. First, the presence of “shepherds keeping watch over their fields by night” points to spring or autumn. It is unlikely, though not impossible, that shepherds would be out in the fields in the winter.
That they were in Bethlehem points to the fact that they may have been raising sheep to be slaughtered in Jewish ceremonies, and Passover in the spring and the Festival of Tabernacles in the autumn would be times of large sacrifices and have significance for the birth of the Messiah. Astronomers attempt to connect the Star of Bethlehem followed by the Magi to a specific stellar event that would have significance to star gazers looking for the King of the Jews.
That Jesus was born is important, not the exact date.
Editors Note: Travis Childs is a history instructor at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. He is a graduate of Midway High School and lives in Bluegrove. He is currently president of the Clay County Historical Society.