Was Jesus born on December 25th?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: (from Kenya) I want to understand more about Christmas. Is it biblical that on 25th December Christ was born? please let me know.

Answer: Christmas is a huge cultural event in America (arguably, it is our most important holiday)… but there is very little biblical about it. Sure, the secular world sort of acknowledges that Jesus was born… and it’s a good time to remember him because we have been doing this for centuries… but Jesus was not born on December 25.

That being said, nobody knows when Jesus was born… and nobody is sure why it was established on December 25. One common theory is that the early church (who also did not know Jesus' birth date) placed it on the pagan holiday called Saturnalia to help pull the pagans into the fold. The problem with that theory is that we can place the December 25 decision the well before the Saturnalia. Just beware of “popular” scholarship. There are a lot of theories that sound good on the surface but which do not pass scholastic rigor. Besides, it would be good to know… but it’s not critical. It’s more important to know about Jesus' death — that that was on the Passover!

We do have some nice narratives that tell about Jesus’ birth and his early life, though. We know that he was born in Bethlehem, which fulfilled the prophecy this of his birth… but that Joseph and Mary traveled down from Galilee, which was where they lived during this census. We know that there were profits at the temple to confirm Jesus’ role as Messiah, and we know that Magi came from East is a testimony that this was not just a local event. But here is one point with the Bible parts from popular culture.

Popular culture puts the Magi with the infant Jesus, the shepherds and the Angels as if everybody showed up for Christmas Eve. The Magi came over a year later. This is why Herod gave the command to kill the babies that were two years old and younger. Joseph and his family fled to Egypt under the protection of the Lord, and after Herod died they returned to Israel but bypass Bethlehem… and went back to live in Galilee — in Nazareth. This is why, although Jesus was born in Bethlehem to fulfill the prophecy, he was also known as a Nazarene. Both are true. He was not born in Nazareth, but he was from Nazareth.

One of the shames of Western culture is that we bury the true history and the meaning of Jesus' birth in a sea of nominal Christianity and money. I am always sadder because of the season than happy — except that I get to enjoy my family and our social activities. So what I do is keep Jesus’ birth and his death in my heart… and I have my own little true Christmas.

Some hard-core Christians avoid the holiday altogether because it is irredeemably intertwined with the worldly culture at — even pagan symbols! Yet some others embrace it — even knowing that it is problematic — but still taking the opportunity to declare Christ to the world. There is no “right” way to celebrate Christmas… and there is no “right” date to do it. So, I am not sure what is normal in Kenya at Christmas, but do not copy America’s bad habits.

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