LCI Learning

Share on Facebook

Share on Twitter

Share on LinkedIn

Share on Email

Share More


Why is Christmas Day on the 25th December?

Why is Christmas Day on the 25th December?


The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336AD in the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (he was the first Christian Roman Emperor). A few years later Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December. This date was probably chosen because the Winter Solstice and the ancient pagan Roman midwinter festivals called 'Saturnalia' and 'Dies Natalis Solis Invicti' took place in December. The Winter Solstice is the day where there is the shortest time between the sun rising and the sun setting. It happens on December 21st or 22nd. To pagans this meant that the winter was over and spring was coming and they had a festival to celebrate it and worshipped the sun for winning over the darkness of winter. (The Winter Solstice in Scandinavia and some other parts of northern Europe is called Yule and is where we get Yule Logs from.) The Roman Festival of Saturnalia took place between December 17th and 23rd and honoured the Roman god Saturn. Dies Natalis Solis Invicti means 'birthday of the unconquered sun' and was held on December 25th (when the Romans thought the Winter Solstice took place) and was the 'birthday' of the Pagan Sun god Mithra. In the pagan religion of Mithraism, the holy day was Sunday and is where get that word from! The early Christians gave the festival a new meaning - to celebrate the birth of the Son of God 'the unconquered Son'! Christmas had also been celebrated by the early Church on January 6th, when they also celebrated the Epiphany (which means the revelation that Jesus was God's son) and the Baptism of Jesus. Now the Epiphany mainly celebrates the visit of the Wise Men to the baby Jesus, but back then it celebrated everything! Jesus's Baptism was originally seen as more important than his birth, as this was when he started his ministry. But soon people wanted a separate day to celebrate his birth. There is another good reason why the 25th may have been chosen. The 25th March was also a sacred day to the pagans, when they celebrated the coming of spring and new life. Early Christian traditional also said that this was the day when Mary was told that she would have a very special baby, Jesus. This is called the Annunciation and is still celebrated by Christians on the 25th March. Nine months after the 25th March is the 25th December! But that's not the only day that Christmas is celebrated around the world. Most of the world uses the 'Gregorian Calendar' implemented by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. Before that the 'Roman' or Julian Calendar was used (named after Julius Caesar). The Gregorian calendar is more accurate that the Roman calendar which had too many days in a year! When the switch was made 10 days were lost, so that the day that followed the 4th October 1582 was 15th October 1582! Many Orthodox and Coptic Churches still use the Julian Calendar and so celebrate Christmas on the 7th January. And the Armenian Church celebrates it on the 6th January! In some part of the UK, January 6th is still called 'Old Christmas' as this would have been the days that Christmas would have celebrated on, if the calendar hadn't been changed. Some people didn't want to use the new calendar as they thought it 'cheated' them out of 10 days! Christians believe that Jesus is the light of the world, so the early Christians thought that this was the right time to celebrate the birth of Jesus. They also took over lots of other things from the Winter Solstice and gave them Christian meanings, like Holly, Mistletoe and even Christmas Carols! St Augustine was the person who really started Christmas in the U.K. by introducing Christianity in the 6th century. He came from countries that used the Roman Calendar, so western countries celebrate Christmas on the 25th December. Then people from Britain and Western Europe took Christmas on the 25th December all over the world! The name 'Christmas' comes from the Mass of Christ (or Jesus). A Mass service (which is sometimes called Communion or Eucharist) is where Christians remember that Jesus died for us and then came back to life. The 'Christ-Mass' service was the only one that was allowed to take place after sunset (and before sunrise the next day), so people had it at Midnight! So we get the name Christ-Mass, shortened to Christmas.


Xmas vs Christmas


Christmas is also sometimes called Xmas. Some people don't think it's correct to call Christmas 'Xmas' as that takes the 'Christ' (Jesus) out of Christmas. But that is not quite right! In the Greek language and alphabet, the letter that looks like an X is the Greek letter chi / Χ (pronounced 'kye' - it rhymes with 'eye') which is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ, Christos. The early church used the first two letters of Christos in the Greek alphabet 'chi' and 'rho' to create a monogram (symbol) to represent the name of Jesus. This looks like an X with a small p on the top: ☧ The symbol of a fish is sometimes used by Christians (you might see a fish sticker on a car or someone wearing a little fish badge). This comes from the time when the first Christians had to meet in secret, as the Romans wanted to kill them (before Emperor Constantine became a Christian). Jesus had said that he wanted to make his followers 'Fishers of Men', so people started to use that symbol. When two Christians met, one person drew half a basic fish shape (often using their foot in the dust on the ground) and the other person drew the other half of the fish. The Greek word for fish is 'Ikthus' or 'Ichthys'. There are five Greek letters in the word. It can also make up a sentence of Christian beliefs 'Ie-sous Christos Theou Huios So-te-r' which in English means "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour". The second letter of these five letter is X or Christos! So Xmas can also mean Christmas; but it should also be pronouced 'Christmas' rather than 'exmas'!



So when was Jesus Born?


It's quite likely that Jesus wasn't born in the winter but in the spring or the autumn! It can get very cold in the winter and it's unlikely that the shepherds would have been keeping sheep out on the hills (as those hills can get quite a lot of snow sometimes!). During the spring (in March or April) there's a Jewish festival called 'Passover'. This festival remembers when the Jews had escaped from slavery in Egypt about 1500 years before Jesus was born. Lots of lambs would have been needed during the Passover Festival, to be sacrificed in the Temple in Jerusalem. Jews from all over the Roman Empire travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, so it would have been a good time for the Romans to take a census. Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem for the census (Bethlehem is about six miles from Jerusalem). In the autumn (in September or October) there's the Jewish festival of 'Sukkot' or 'The Feast of Tabernacles'. It's the festival that's mentioned the most times in the Bible! It was when the Jewish people remember that they depended on God for all they had after they had escaped from Egypt and spent 40 years in the desert. It also celebrated the end of the harvest. During the festival people lived outside in temporary shelters (the word 'tabernacle' come from a latin word meaning 'booth' or 'hut'). Many people who have studied the Bible, think that Sukkot would be a likely time for the birth of Jesus as it might fit with the descripttion of there being 'no room in the inn'. It also would have been a good time to take the Roman Census as many Jews went to Jerusalem for the festival and they would have brought their own tents/shelters with them! The possibilities for the Star of Bethlehem seems to point either spring or autumn. So whenever you celebrate Christmas, remember that you're celebrating a real event that happened about 2000 years ago, that God sent his Son into the world as a Christmas present for everyone! As well as Christmas and the solstice, there are some other festivals that are held in late December. The Jewish festival of Lights, Hanukkah starts on the 25th of Kislev (the month in the Jewish calendar that occurs at about the same time as December) and the festival of Kwanzaa, celebrated by some Africans and African Americans takes place from December 26th to January 1st.


 9 Replies

DR.SANAT KUMAR DASH (Eye Specialist)     25 December 2009


joyce (advocate)     25 December 2009

Good message from you Shatya Prakash sir. My proud appriciation to u.

Bhartiya No. 1 (Nationalist)     25 December 2009

Thank you Mr. Shatya Prakash sir. for such a elaborate descripttion

Suchitra. S (Advocate)     25 December 2009

Thanks for the information.

N.K.Assumi (Advocate)     25 December 2009

Thank you Prakash, for the informations.Merry Christmas.

DR.SANAT KUMAR DASH (Eye Specialist)     25 December 2009

 Sathya Prakash ji,  Many 2 Thanks 4 de very good information.

Anil Agrawal (Retired)     25 December 2009

 Can I add?

In A.D. 336, paganism was rampant; Emperor Constantine wanted to change that so he declared Christianity the Roman Empire’s favored religion. In A.D 354, Bishop Liberia of Rome ordered people to celebrate his birth on December 25. This date was probably chosen because the people of Rome already observed this date as the Feast of Saturn, celebrating the pagan holiday “the birthday of the sun.” The winter solstice, another pagan holdover was celebrated a few days earlier than the 25th of December -- it actually is the 21st of December, the longest night of the year. So that evening and the next day is celebrated as the birth of the Sun King who returned the light and brought about the end of the cold and darkness. This date made sense to the Roman emperor who wanted to make Christianity the favored religion and to get people to celebrate Christ’s birth; what better way to do it than take over the pagan holiday on that date? 

O. Haridasan (Service)     25 December 2009

 Thanks Sathya Prakashji for the elaborate and informative article. It was a learning exercise. Thanks again.

Anirudh Agarwal (CA Final & CS executive)     25 December 2009

thnx satya prakash sir, it is very informative!!

Leave a reply

Your are not logged in . Please login to post replies

Click here to Login / Register