Dean Franck is a first year student in the Master's of Divinity Program at Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts. He is also a participant of our Digital Disciples Program.
It is said that the date December 25th was of significance even for the Roman Christians of the third century, and it very well could have been the date of Christmas back then. It is very interesting to know that December 25th resulted from the early Christian attempts to calculate the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations.
One common misconception regarding December 25th is that this date was a pagan holiday that was adopted by the Christians. There have been many attempts to prove this but nothing really “calculates” to support this stance. The results once again came back evident that the main reasons for this date were its relationship to Christ’s actual birth.
The first evidence of December 25th being celebrated as Christmas, according to an article in Touchstone titled The Story Behind December 25 by William J. Tighe, comes from Rome some years after Aurelian in 336. There is evidence in both the Greek and Latin churches that Christians attempted to figure out the date of Christ’s birth long before they celebrated it liturgically, again even in the second and third centuries. One key factor in the attempt to determine Christ’s birth is the “integral age.” In the time of Christ, Judaism had a widespread belief that prophets of Israel were said to die on the same date they were born.
“This notion is a key factor in understanding how some early Christians came to believe that December 25th is the date of Christ’s birth. The early Christians applied this idea to Jesus, so that March 25th and April 6th were not only the supposed dates of Christ’s death, but of his conception or birth as well. There is some fleeting evidence that at least some first- and second-century Christians thought of March 25th or April 6th as the date of Christ’s birth, but rather quickly the assignment of March 25th as the date of Christ’s conception prevailed. It is to this day, commemorated almost universally among Christians as the Feast of the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel brought the good tidings of a savior to the Virgin Mary, upon whose acquiescence the Eternal Word of God (“Light of Light, True God of True God, begotten of the Father before all ages”) forthwith became incarnate in her womb. What is the length of pregnancy? Nine months. Add nine months to March 25th and you get December 25th; add it to April 6th and you get January 6th. December 25th is Christmas, and January 6th is Epiphany (Touchstone).”
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