Why is Christmas in the winter? Not the reason you thought, says New Testament scholar

Since many Christians will be celebrating Christmas or the Feast of the Epiphany this Monday, on January 6, I figure it’s not too late to post about this.  I think it’s good for us freethinkers to have an idea of why Christmas is celebrated when it is, and this article suggests a reason you may not have heard.

In this interesting article (here) in Biblical Archaeology Review, New Testament scholar Andrew McGowan goes through the sources and explores how December 25 or January 6 came to be celebrated as Jesus’ birthday.

I recommend reading the full article, but if you really want a short spoiler, keep reading.  My short summary is:

  • The first mention we have of Jesus’ birth occurring on December 25 is from some 300 years after the time of Jesus.
  • The earliest source we have on Jesus’ birth says it occurred on May 20.
  • Some of the rituals associated with Christmas, such as the Christmas tree, are probably borrowed from pagan religions (religions where people worshipped more than one god).
  • No one knows for sure why Christmas is on December 25, but
    1. One possibility, which Professor McGowan does not advocate, is that Christmas was established on December 25 either to coincide with pagan holidays celebrated at that time in order to spread Christianity among the pagans, or to connect the birth of the Messiah to the winter solstice, when the sun is “reborn” (i.e. when the days start getting longer).
    2. Another possibility, which Professor McGowan thinks is more plausible, is that if Jesus died on the Eve of Passover, his death would have occurred on March 25, and early Christians believed he was crucified on the same day he was conceived.  If he was conceived on March 25, add nine months and you get Baby Jesus on December 25.

What do you think?  My Jewish education taught me a boatload about Judaism and zip about Christianity.  So if you have anything to add, please do so.

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4 thoughts on “Why is Christmas in the winter? Not the reason you thought, says New Testament scholar

  1. Shoshana

    The 2nd option is actually really stupid. 9 months is actually a very poorly chosen time period for pregnancy. Gestation is 40 weeks (well, it’s actually 38 weeks because the 40 weeks starts with last menstruation, which is usually approximately 2 weeks before conception). Go to any due date calculator, and put in conception date of March 25 and you’ll get December 16 for the due date.

    Reply
    1. Freethinking Jew Post author

      Hey Shoshana! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I don’t think the MEN who decided the date for Christmas were that precise. 🙂 They probably just figured Baby Jesus would have been born about 9 months after conception.

      Reply

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