Three days till Christmas. Now, was Jesus actually born on December 25? Is Christmas His real birthday? [Spanish]
The Israelites did not use the Roman calendar that we use. And the gospels don’t give a birth date anyway, using either the Roman or the Jewish calendar—or the Chinese calendar, for that matter.
But the Scriptures do, in fact, offer us a great deal of pertinent information. We read at Sunday Mass: Mary set out in haste for the hill country of Judah. Right before that—right before Mary set out in haste–an angel had visited her. Which angel? Archangel… Gabriel! What did the angel say to Mary? You will have a son.
In other words, Lord Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary right before she went to visit her cousin. Mary set out in haste. Why? Because the angel also told her something else. Gabriel told Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was pregnant. In fact, he was more precise. He said, ‘Your cousin Elizabeth is now in her… sixth month!”
Upon Mary’s arrival, the infant in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy. Which infant is that, that leaped for joy in the womb? Yes, St. John the Baptist, son of Elizabeth and… Zechariah.
So far, it’s all here in black and white. Baby Jesus was conceived when Elizabeth was six months pregnant with St. John the Baptist. Question is: Was that approximately March 25? Did the Annunciation–when Mary became pregnant with Jesus–occur on March 25? That’s the day when The Incarnation—God becoming man–occurred, in Mary’s womb. Was it March 25?
Here’s where ancient traditions start to corroborate the idea that we have the correct date for Christmas. For many centuries, people observed March 25th as New Year’s Day. The first Mass said by an English-speaking priest in what is now the United States: March 25, 1634–New Year’s Day. (January 1 did not become New Year’s Day in the English Colonies until 1751). By the way: Who said that Mass? That is correct: Fr. White. (Fr. Andrew White.)
Anyway, in ancient times, people believed that the world was created on March 25, that the Israelites marched out of slavery on March 25, and that Jesus was crucified on March 25.
Be all that as it may, though, it doesn’t prove anything. We need to try and figure out, if we can, when Elizabeth became pregnant.
Anyone remember what happened? The archangel Gabriel had visited someone else, besides Mary… Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband! The angel visited Zechariah at home, while he was sitting and watching t.v., correct? No, the angel came to Zechariah in the Temple, while Zechariah was performing his duty as a member of one of the priestly clans.
Elizabeth became pregnant with John the Baptist right after Zechariah saw the angel in the Temple. Therefore, if we could figure out when it was that Zechariah ministered in the temple in the preceding year, we could add six months, and we would know more or less when the Annunciation took place. Then we add nine months, and we know the real date of or the original Christmas.
Do the Scriptures provide an answer? Yes. In the Old Covenant, the priests ministered in the Temple in Jerusalem according to a yearly cycle, depending on your priestly division. They didn’t use sign-up sheets for Eucharistic Ministers, like we do now. They followed a cycle established by King David, as we read in I Chronicles.
Zechariah belonged to the priestly division of… Anyone? Abijah. The clan of Abijah came eighth in the annual cycle.
Now, yes: By Zechariah’s time, a thousand years had passed since King David established the cycle. The Temple had been destroyed twice. So the routine certainly had broken down, somewhere along the line. But a Jewish writer from the time of Christ documented some facts about the cycle of priestly service, and it turns out: King David’s routine still operated, as he had instituted it a thousand years before. When they rebuilt the Temple, they restored the original yearly cycle of priestly service.
So, the next question: Was Jerusalem crowded when the angel visited Zechariah in the Temple? St. Luke reports that the “whole multitude” of Israel awaited him out in the Temple courtyard. So: When would the priestly clan of Abijah have served during a large festival? On the Day of Atonement, in mid-September, or during the Feast of Tabernacles, which followed two weeks later.
We could do all the math. But we don’t have to. If St. John the Baptist was conceived near the end of September or the beginning of October, then Lord Jesus was conceived in late March or early April of the following year, and born in late December, or early January. And, as we note this, let’s not forget: in Church, the feast of Christmas extends twelve nights, until January 6.
All very exciting, but let’s pause. We really cannot say for sure when Zechariah served in the Temple during the year before St. John was born. An honest historian would say: We do not know Jesus’ exact date of birth just from deductions and inductions from the Scriptures.
But the same honest historian would acknowledge: We have an ancient tradition identifying a particular date. Christians have been celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25 since long before the Romans established a winter holiday around the same time of year. And the information we have in the Scriptures not only does not contradict that traditional date, it confirms it.
December 25. Jesus’ birthday. The date is solid. Merry Christmas.