The 25th of December: There aren’t many among us who don’t look forward to the one day a year when you can open presents on someone else’s birthday, put on a film and shut out everyday responsibilities as you let the Queen’s dulcet tones wash over you and slip into a food coma.
Religious or not, you can’t help but doff the cap to the Virgin Mary for giving birth to the Christian Saviour and Son of God, and bestowing upon us a joyfully relaxed day of family mirth.
But we may have been sold a lie; contrary to popular belief, there are some who posit Jesus wasn’t actually born on Christmas Day… Or rather we’ve all been celebrating his birth on the wrong day, every single year.
There’s nothing in the Bible about the date of Jesus’ birth, but the earliest calculation, made in the second century, reckoned it was in March. So we’re nine months late, by those standards.
This corroborates inferences made from the Gospel of Luke, which, as the popular nativity story goes, states shepherds were watching their flocks at night at the time Jesus was born.
This detail – the only clue in the Gospels about the timing of the birth – suggests that Jesus’ birthday was not in the winter, as shepherds would have been watching their flocks only during the lambing season in the spring.
The earliest discussion of Jesus’ birthday is found in the 3rd-century writings of Clement of Alexandria, who raises seven potential dates – none of which correspond to December 25.
It was over one hundreds years later the first record of a celebration of the birth of Jesus on December 25 comes, in a 4th-century edition of a Roman almanac known as the Philokalia, documented alongside the deaths of martyrs.
Initially dubbed the Festival of the Nativity, it was Pope Julius I who set the date of Christmas – for Western Christians at least – in the 4th century.
While some think Christmas originated from the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, in actual fact, Christians did not deliberately adapt pagan rituals until the 7th century, when Pope Gregory the Great instructed bishops to celebrate saints’ feast days on the days of pagan festivals.
So, why December 25?
Scholars suggest our traditionally celebrated Christmas Day was chosen, occurring exactly nine months after March 25, the widely held date of Jesus’ crucifixion, as inferred from other dates given in the New Testament.
As Christians developed the theological idea that Jesus was conceived and crucified on the same date, they set the date of his birth nine months later.
Furthermore, we’ve been celebrating Advent on the incorrect date too, and no one knows what is real anymore.
Advent actually begins on the nearest Sunday to St Andrew’s Day on the 30 November. So, this year, Advent began on 26 November.
The idea that it starts on the same day every year was put about by the manufacturers of Advent calendars.
So, enjoy your Christmas – religious or not – in the knowledge that we’re all being told porkies by the Church and big business.
Merry Christmas, everyone!