Knowing the reason to celebrate Christmas is like, It’s the kind of question kids love to ask, like, “Say, Daddy, why is the sky blue?” Or, “Say, mom, why is the Earth round?”. For most adults, Christian or not, the fact that Christmas falls on December 25 is irrelevant. No more than the gifts, feasts and all the festivities that go with it: this day is the day of the birth of Jesus. But children themselves have the advantage of asking the angry question.
The Bible is of no help in this matter: the Gospels, which tell the story and the life of Jesus, do not give any precise date. There is not the slightest reference in the sacred texts to the season in which this birth took place. Some readers believe there is a clue in the Gospel according to Saint Luke, which mentions the fact that shepherds spend the night in their fields to watch their flocks when they learn of the birth of Jesus. Which, according to them, would allow the Nativity to be located in September. In any case, not the middle of winter December, when, in our latitudes, the herds do not spend the night outside grazing.
The winter solstice and the rebirth of the sun
So why on December 25? This date falls just a few days from the longest night of the year and, therefore, the shortest day: December 21. This winter solstice day is the day that marks the time of the year from which the days begin to lengthen again.
It is the event that marks the rebirth of the cycle of nature. Its importance for the survival of humanity has led many civilizations around the world to celebrate it, in different forms, since the earliest times. For the Celts, the Persians or even the Vikings, it was also a major festival. Even today among the Chinese, the “extreme winter” day is when the forces of yin and yang harmonize and where families come together. As for the Hindus, it is for them the beginning of the celebrations of “Pancha Ganapati”, dedicated to the elephant god Ganesh.
A symbolic day
What better date to symbolically celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ, who came to Earth, according to believers, to save men and give them the possibility of knowing eternal life through his resurrection, than that which corresponds to the rebirth of sun and nature? It is criterion that the date of December 25, which compared to the pagan Roman feast of the revival of the sun,
would have been fixed in the 4th century, in the year 354, by Pope Liberus, to celebrate the Nativity. Presumably for the creative purpose of competing with the pagan festivals that took place this time of year.
In 425, the Eastern Emperor Theodosius II officially codified the ceremonies of the Christmas feast. In 506, the Council of Agde will make it a dinner of obligation, and in 529, the Emperor Justinian will declare it a non-working day.
… Or the fruit of a smart calculation?
But the explanation according to the cycle of the sun would be at the origin of the choice of date does not make law. According to other researchers, Christmas was set on this date, not because of its proximity to pagan traditions and yesterday’s solstice, but as a result of a series of complex calendar calculations, according to an ancient Judaic tradition which wanted the great prophets to die on the same date as their birthdays or their conception.
Indeed, for more than 2,000 years, the question of the exact date of Jesus’ birth has raised countless religious controversies. Because of the existence of Jesus is practically no doubt, historians are 99.9% sure, as in the place, Bethlehem in Galilee, the uncertainty about his date of birth is such that some Christians have chosen not to celebrate it.