Have you ever wondered Christians celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ on December 25?
A common answer is that Emperor Constantine decided to celebrate Christmas on December 25 in order to consolidate his power with pagans who were accustomed to celebrating a winter pagan festival on that date. Thus he “Christianized” the pagan holiday.
There are two problems with this theory: first, there is little evidence to support the assertion that there was a pagan festival on this date in the time of Constantine.
Second, the actual reason Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25 has more to do with Christ’s death than it has to do with anything pagan. Allow me to explain.
Today is Good Friday, the day on which Christians celebrate the death of Jesus Christ. March 25 also happens to be the traditional day of observing the Annunciation, the day on which Gabriel announced to Mary her conception of the Son of God. These two days rarely line up; in fact, they won’t align again until 2157.
However, there is a reason the Annunciation is celebrated on March 25, and it has to do with the fact that Jesus died on March 25 (by our current western calendar reckoning).
Early Christians had a fairly good idea of the exact date of Christ’s death because they knew that his death fell on Passover that year. Passover, of course, is a movable Feast; it corresponds to the vernal equinox. The year of Christ’s death, Passover fell on March 25 (again, by our modern reckoning).
However, Christians wanted to continue to remember Christ’s death on a Friday since Sunday, the day of Christ’s resurrection, became of special significance to them. So, Good Friday from that point forward did not always fall on Passover (since Passover isn’t always on Friday). Easter is always celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox, and Good Friday is the Friday before that.
Later, when Christians were deciding when to celebrate Christ’s incarnation, they didn’t know for sure what date he was born. However, in that time there was a common belief that individuals of great importance died on the same date as they were conceived. Strange superstition, isn’t it?
But with this odd belief, it was fairly simple, then, to settle on a date for the birth of Christ. Since they knew he was conceived by the Holy Spirit on March 25 (celebrated by the Annunciation), all they had to do was go forward 9 months, and December 25 became the date to celebrate Christ’s Incarnation.
So today, a March 25 on which both Good Friday and Annunciation fall, is a very rare day that explains why we celebrate Christmas on December 25. It is perhaps an odd reason, but far less sinister than the common belief that Constantine was simply attempting to “Christianize” a pagan festival.