Why do we blend christ with the celebration of Christmas, when nowhere in the bible does it say Jesus was born December 25th. Nor do we ever see Jesus celebrating his own birth date.
Good question, @rockyrich17! There is a lot in our celebration of Christmas that doesn’t “compute” with the birth of Jesus. We’re pretty sure that it didn’t actually occur on 25th December, and even if there are attempts to suggest more likely times of year, there probably can be no definitive date for his birth. None of the trappings of Christmas - Santa Claus, Christmas trees and tinsel, Christmas stockings, etc. - have any basis in the Biblical story. People, like Kenneth Bailey (Jesus through middle eastern eyes) also make a point that the way our churches describe the birth are almost certainly wrong (Bailey spent most of his life, from childhood on in the Middle East):
- If Mary and Joseph were from Bethlehem, then they would almost certainly not be strangers, and would have relatives living there - Middle Eastern cultures (now and in old times) had tight family ties. They wouldn’t have travelled to Bethlehem for the tax registration if they didn’t have family living there. Remember also that a lot of people travelled extensively in this part of the world. Mary, Joseph and Jesus went every year to Jerusalem. Before Jesus’ birth she visited her ‘cousin’ Elisabeth far from Galilee. So it is quite likely that they also travelled to Bethlehem on a regular basis.
- this being so, there is very little likelihood that they would be required to stay in a local “motel” or “inn” as described in our Christmas plays etc. Caesar’s order did not come suddenly so there would have been time for the couple to arrange for accommodation with family ahead of time. Even if this was not so, family would not turn away family if they arrived unannounced.
- even without relatives in a village, no woman on the point of giving birth would be turned away from help by the average middle eastern family in a small community in this part of the world.
- Bailey maintains that the “inn” is a mistranslation of the original. Most families with livestock would have a home consisting of a larger room, where at one end there would be a lower platform area where some of their animals were kept, separate from the family area; if the family could afford it there would also be a separate guest room, where visitors would be housed. He believes that the word translated “inn” is actually this guest room. When Joseph and Mary came to the home they expected to stay, the guest room was already occupied (maybe someone else had already arrived announced) - so they were brought into the bigger family area, and found a space close to the animals. There would be no beds. But there would be straw/hay for the animals and a manger. Rather than put the new born baby on the floor, sharing a mat with his mother, he was wrapped in cloth and placed on a bed of straw in the manger. (More broadly speaking, poorer people around the world, tend to be relatively more generous and hospitable than people who are better off - even to strangers. This is certainly my own experience. So Bailey’s description definitely fits with my experience.)
- Other things that don’t fit, even within the biblical story, include our depiction of the coming of three “wise men” (Maji - or astrologers) from the east. The Bible doesn’t say there were three - tradition does. But the Bible story specifically says they came to the house where Jesus was staying (Matt. 2:11). The wise men told King Herod that they first saw the star about 2 years previously, hence Herod’s slaughter of all boys under the age of 2. So even if the star didn’t first start shining on the night of his birth, they almost certainly didn’t arrive there at the house the same time as the shepherds arrived at the “stable” There was no mingling of shepherds with wise men, as we often hear or see in our depictions of that night.
The story we use to describe Mary and Joseph being turned away from the local motel, but being given room in the barn doesn’t fit with social norms in old middle eastern cultures, and in fact amounts to an insult to the community.
So why do we celebrate Christmas the way we do? Part of the answer is probably something akin to “accommodation” - a term that describes how God worked and works with people at the level they are on, and within their social and cultural settings. It seems (to me at least) that the church applied this same principle when evangelising cultures that had particular seasonal festivals. In north European cultures there were festivals that celebrated the turning of the sun at the mid-winter solstice - the long dark nights will now be shorter and the days be longer and brighter. Rather than try to eliminate a celebration that was deeply rooted socially and culturally, the church would try to change its character and use it as an opportunity to celebrate something related to the “Christian calendar” - what better thing to celebrate than the birth of Jesus, linking it to the celebration of the coming of light back to the world, a time of giving to one another, as God gave the world His Son … and so on. So we get the “Jul log,” the “Christmas tree” - and other things added through time because of commercial interests. There are in fact quite a few variations to the celebrations among different northern European cultures - not all of them have come to North America with the same degree of adoption.
This same idea comes into play in the blending of other originally heathen celebrations with christianity - most notably Easter (easter bunnies, eggs, etc. which have no relation whatsoever with the actual events of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah).
As you say, we do not read of Jesus celebrating his birthday. Some communities even today refuse to celebrate Christmas or any other birthday. They point to the fact that in the Bible only two birthday celebrations are described - Pharaoh’s (at the time of Joseph) and Herod’s (in the time of Jesus). On both occasion a person was killed - Pharaoh’s personal baker, and John the Baptist. (Where I currently live, the tradition was in fact, to celebrate one’s “name day” rather than one’s birthday.)
Is there any value in celebrating the birth of the Lord Jesus? Almost certainly, if we do it without all the distractions that take our minds and hearts away from him, and especially to ourselves, including all the things that may simply demonstrate our addiction to material things, keeping up with the Joneses, out-doing one another in our superficial and/or self-righteous generosity. It’s up to each of us, individually and in our families, if we are going to simply “celebrate” and have fun, or actually focus on God’s wonderful gift of His Son with all the joy that entails (There’s more in the Gospels about Jesus enjoying hospitality and parties than there is against if!). Indeed there is no reason not to celebrate the Lord’s incarnation every day! After all He brought life and light and hope and salvation to us! At the same time we must be careful not to let Christmas be an occasion to self-righteously condemn others for their way of celebrating - this can be equally damaging to our own spiritual development.
@rockyrich17 I am keeping my answer as brief as possible but I hope it will be helpful. First, we do not know the exact date of the birth of Christ. Second, Christmas is not a literal birthday. It is a day for religious service in commemoration of the incarnation of Christ.
The Bible account mentions the shepherds watching over their flocks in the field by night. So it is unlikely that Jesus was born in December since sheep are not kept out-door during such cold season.
Some groups disapprove of the festival because it coincides with Saturnalia, a pagan festival. But despite of the oppositions, there is nothing evil or sinful in setting aside a special day to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Redeemer.
Romans 14:5-8 explains that the observance of a special day and eating meat are not imperative in our spiritual life. They neither enhance nor minimize our standing before God. What counts is the motivation and the desire to honor the Lord in what we do. Further, God’s approval matters more than the approval or disapproval of man.
Some people link Christmas and New Year to pagan religions. This, I consider as victory of Christ over pagan religions.
Romans 14:5-8 explains that the observance of a special days and eating meat has no real importance in our spiritual life. They neither enhance nor minimize our standing before God. What God wants from us is worship in truth and spirit. As long as our celebrations are centered on Christ they will honor God and will be a blessing to us.
If we are so concerned with mythological pagan gods and goddesses, we might hesitate going to Church on Sunday because the days of the week were named after the planets of Hellenistic astrology-- Sun, Moon, Mars (Ares), Mercury (Hermes), Jupiter (Zeus), Venus (Aphrodite) and Saturn (Cronos). The same thing is applicable to all the months in a year and the planets of our Solar System. They are all named after mythological gods and goddesses.
Colossians 2:16-17 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
Celebration of special days and jubilees are pointless if God is left out of the picture. Christmas must be Christ-centred. Sadly Christmas has been corrupted by commercialization and we need to redeem the true spirit of Christmas. Christmas must not be celebrated as a traditional or cultural festival. Do not leave out Christ from Christmas.
That’s an interesting question. @rockyrich17. I have always just taken the story as told and have never given it much thought. Thanks for asking. Get me to do some thinking. It’s so wonderful that @Mohembo and @SelieVisa have already spoken here. It would be an opportunity for me to also ask for their opinions.
I have always believed in Luke the doctor as a good historian writer. So, I certainly hope that he had done some research before he wrote down the story. I am sure with the time lapse some of the minor details may be confused, but I trust in Luke to provide a good account of the story. Hey, that will be for my own sake too. After all, I have been telling the kids those stories for years and love the traditions that come with it.
Actually, although in Luke 2: 4, it says that Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem to register for the census because he belonged to the line of David, it could be possible that Joseph might have moved away for years and lived in the town of Nazareth in Galilee. In Luke 1:26, it said that God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth to speak to Mary. So, there is the possibility that Joseph and Mary in fact grew up in Nazareth, Jesus was also known to have grown up in Nazareth. It is likely the home base is really in Nazareth, and Bethlehem was just a genealogical connection. That would explain why they could not find a place to stay at the night Jesus was born.
I agree though with that kind of condition, they would not be staying at Bethlehem long, probably just got registered and left as soon as possible. Therefore, it is very likely when Magi came, they would have already been back to Nazareth whether it’s months or years later. In fact, the palace of Herod should be not far from Jerusalem, and I look up the map, it says it would be just 5 kilometers from Bethlehem. It would be hard for the magi to leave and return to their country by another route without being noticed by someone and report to King Herod.
I also agree with both Selie and Tim that the date is likely not accurate. In fact, there is the suggestion that Jesus was actually born 6 to 4 BC, so that’s quite a few years of difference. The reason for that was because King Herod actually died at 4 BC.
You are totally right that the Bible never mentioned an exact date probably because at the time the birthday of a peasant is not considered a big deal. Joseph was a carpenter, not likely to be rich. Unlike the custom in today’s North America, I grew up not remembering or even knew what exactly was my birthday until I left home and entered university. As a child, I always had to bring any school form home for my dad to fill out my birthday because it simply wasn’t an important day.
As Christmas will be upon us soon. Of course it should not be the only day, but it will be a good time for the world to remember Jesus, His salvation and the hope that He brought us. I am sure the Lord would not care which day we pick to celebrate, He is after all the Alpha and Omega, our everlasting Father.
An amazing fact about Christmas
700 years before Jesus was born, God inspired the prophet Micah to name the very place where Jesus would be born… in Bethlehem. But both Mary and Joseph lived in Galilee in the village of Nazareth. So how could the prophecy that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem be fulfilled?
Augustus Caesar passed a decree and there was to be a census. The census would help the Romans to collect taxes more accurately. In most provinces under the Roman Empire the people registered in the city where they lived. But the tribal descent was so esteemed by the Jews that the Romans made a concession and ordered them to go to the place of their birth to register. Both Mary and Joseph were of the royal family of David. As Bethlehem was the city of David, it was there that they had to go.
Augustus Caesar passed the royal diktat three years ago before the birth of Christ. But Herod the Great did not carry out the order immediately for fear of displeasing the Jews. Unknown to him, unknown to anyone, he carried out the imperial decree only when it was time for Mary to gave birth to the Messiah conceived through the Holy Spirit.
Just a note on “writing history.” It is best not to project back to biblical authors our current approach to recording history. Today the emphasis is primarily recording “what actually happened” and doing it so with as much chronological accuracy as possible. This approach to “history” is not much more than a couple of 100 years old. The biblical authors were more concerned with the meanings and lessons of historical events. (Hence for example, none of the synoptic gospel writers record the season of the year, let alone the date, of Jesus’ birth.) This isn’t to say that they did not care about what happened, they certainly did but chronology and all the concomitant details are not provided - only what is needed to get across a relevant message to their prime audience.
The OT books of Kings and Chronicles are interesting in this respect. For many many of the Kings of Israel and of Judah, very little is said about their reigns except phrases like “He did what was evil in the sight of God” or “He did was was right in the sight of God.” And maybe a reference to “and aren’t the rest of the facts about his reign written in…” A few of them were treated in more detail (e.g. Ahab) but even here most of what we read about his reign is what Elijah and Jezebel did - not so much about Ahab’s own “accomplishments.”
This is really interesting @SelieVisa! I’m curious to know if you have any historical sources for these various details.