The method pursued by the opponents of the established date of Christmas – in their desire to disprove that the 25th of December was the date on which Christ was born – is an indirect one. In view of the fact that there is no specific data on this event, they rely upon the birth date of John the Baptist, whom the Holy Bible tells us was born 6 months before the Lord Jesus.
(Luke 1: 24 -26).
(24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25 “Thus has the Lord dealt with me, in the days when He looked upon me, to remove my disgrace among people.” 26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth….)
In these Gospel passages, we see that the Holy Mother conceived Jesus 6 months after John was conceived by his mother Elizabeth, therefore that must surely indicate the difference in their ages.
To estimate the date of John’s birth, they resort to the following passage :
(Luke 1: 23, 24)
23 So it was, as soon as the days of his officiating were completed, that he departed to his own house. 24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying….”
It says here that Elizabeth conceived immediately “after the days of officiating” of Zechariah –John’s father– in the Temple. If we therefore locate on which days Zechariah had officiated in the Temple, we can locate John’s day of birth from there, and thereafter, the Birth of Jesus Christ.
From (Luke 1: 5)
5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah…
we find mention of the “division of Abijah”. This was one of the 24 “divisions” that the Israelites had in their priesthood. The names and the order of these 24 divisions can be found in :
(1 Chronicles 24: 7-18)
7 Now the first lot fell to Jehoiarib, the second to Jedaiah, 8 the third to Harim, the fourth to Seorim, 9 the fifth to Malchijah, the sixth to Mijamin, 10 the seventh to Hakkoz, the eighth to Abijah, 11 the ninth to Jeshua, the tenth to Shecaniah, 12 the eleventh to Eliashib, the twelfth to Jakim, 13 the thirteenth to Huppah, the fourteenth to Jeshebeab, 14 the fifteenth to Bilgah, the sixteenth to Immer, 15 the seventeenth to Hezir, the eighteenth to Happizzez, 16 the nineteenth to Pethahiah, the twentieth to Jehezekel, 17 the twenty-first to Jachin, the twenty-second to Gamul, 18 the twenty-third to Delaiah, the twenty-fourth to Maaziah.
There, in verse 10, we can see that the division of Abijah was the eighth. Thus, by dividing the 12 months of the year by 24, we have 15 days to each division. Zechariah’s division, therefore, was the 8th fortnight of every year.
But here, another question arises: Where do we start counting from? The Jewish year did not start in January; this can be seen, in :
(Exodus 12: 1,2)
1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, 2 “This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.
Thus, in order to locate the time of the year of the division of Abijah, the Protestant procedure is to calculate 8 fortnights, commencing from the middle of March, which corresponds to the Jewish month of Nisan or Av.
So, according to these calculations, 15th March + 8 fortnights = 15th July = the end of the “division of Abijah” and the commencement of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.
Thereafter, 15th July + 6 months = 15th January = Immaculate Conception of the Holy Mother
and 15th January + 9 months = 15th October = the approximate date of Jesus’ Birth.
The errors in the above calculation
For all those who do not know better, the above calculation seems correct and logical. But, if one observes more closely, the errors in calculation are revealed:
1st error: This calculation is based on the sequence of “divisions” as they had originally been ordained. But, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 b.C., these divisions were rescinded, and the priests scattered
When they finally returned – after their exile in Babylonian captivity – and recommenced their officiating in the Temple, the new order was entirely different! We can read about this in the Holy Bible, in :
(Nehemiah 12: 1-7)
1 Now these are the priests and the Levites who came up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, 2 Amariah, Malluch, Hattush, 3 Shechaniah, Rehum, Meremoth, 4 Iddo, Ginnethoi, Abijah, 5 Mijamin, Maadiah, Bilgah, 6 Shemaiah, Joiarib, Jedaiah, 7 Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah, and Jedaiah. These were the heads of the priests and their brethren in the days of Jeshua.
Only 4 of the 24 divisions returned. And we see now, that the division of Abijah is no longer the 8th, but the 12th!
Now, if we add to the preceding calculation another 4 fortnights, we see that the Birth of Jesus Christ becomes:
15th October + 60 days (4 fortnights) = 15th December = the approximate date of Christ’s Birth!
It is not difficult to see just how close this date is to the 25th of December; and furthermore, the 10 days’ variance can be easily explained, thus proving that the Lord Jesus Christ was indeed born on the 25th of December.
However, because we prefer to remain consistent and serious when it comes to our beliefs, we will not indulge in this detail, although we are tempted to disprove even this (smaller) Protestant miscalculation.
In fact, there are several other errors in their calculations.
2nd error: In reality, there are no bona fide studies on the matter; nowhere is it written that each “division” officiated for exactly one fortnight (fifteen days). Each “division” was only one week long – from Saturday to Saturday – and this is the reason it only took place twice a year. (Flavius Josephus“Antiquities”, book 7, 14:7)
3rd error: Even though the “divisions” went by the year, the Israelites added one intermittent month, every 3 years. Given, therefore, that there must have been “divisions” officiating during that extra month, the ensuing new year would have started at a date other than that of the preceding year.
With the above, we mean to show – at least for the time being – that it is not possible to pinpoint the date of the Lord’s Birth, and that consequently, the “evidence” based on the division of Abijah is unfounded.
Another argument opposing the date of Christmas is the one based on the matter of the census, which made Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem.
This argument asserts that it was not possible for the census to have taken place in December, on account of the bad weather, which would have impeded the people’s ability to travel. But here, the exact opposite is the case.
The season decided for a census had to be Winter, in order to avoid causing problems to the farmers and the stock-breeders, who normally work intensely during the other seasons, and who would have otherwise suffered serious financial losses.
Another assertion is that it could not have been December, because –according to the narration- there were shepherds keeping watch while grazing their sheep outdoors.
First of all, shepherds always kept watch during the night, and furthermore, the text does not explicitly mention that they were outdoors. Judging by the climate of that region, we know that Winter there is quite mild, and also, the shepherds could very well have alternately kept watch, in shifts of small duration, throughout the night, without suffering from chills.
A certain piece of ancient information from Josephus tells us that the census at the time of Christ’s Birth took place on the 9th of the month of Shevat (This manuscript was taken by Tito, and is guarded in a museum of Rome). The 9th of the month Shevat coincides approximately with the 25th of December.
However, we do not propose to delve on this issue as one of huge significance, because dates are not of importance. In the Orthodox Church, we do not celebrate dates. In the Church, we preach the Gospel. Thus, on the one day, we highlight the Birth of Christ; on another day, the event of His Baptism; on another day, that He was crucified for us, or, that He ascended into heaven… All these events could quite easily have taken place, on any other given days of the year!
That is why, on “one” day we commemorate the Birth of Christ, on “another” day we commemorate His Baptism, and on “another” day, we remind ourselves that He was crucified….
The disclaimers of Christmas usually accuse Christians of indulging in intemperance and merrymaking during that time of year; activities that gratify only the flesh and have nothing whatsoever to do with the event of Christ’s Birth.
Naturally, such activities do not belong to Christian customs! Nor does the Church condone them, given that, the morning after such late-night shindigs, how would it be possible for one to wake up in the morning and think about going to Church? Would they be in a position to welcome our Lord –the very Sun of Justice- the next morning, and to receive Holy Communion?
This kind of festivity is obviously a habit that is entirely unrelated to the Church, and it is at least inconsistent, to accuse the Church of such phenomena.
In fact, it is interesting to note that during that period, quite a large number of the more “fervent” Protestants (who otherwise condemn such “festivities”) also apply themselves to similar parties, together with many other negligent “Christians”….
Proper Christians only rejoice over the joyous event of the Incarnation and exchange gifts with each other, according to the words of the Holy Bible, in :
(Nehemiah 8: 9,10)
9 (…) This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep. (…) Go forth, eat the fat, drink the sweet drink, and send portions to those for who have nothing; for this day is holy to our Lord…..
The adoption of the date for Christmas
It is a fact that the celebration of Christmas on the 25th of December commenced around 335 A.D., in the Church of Rome, and was later adopted by the other Churches, as we can see from other writings of the 2nd century A.D.
It must however be stressed that this was merely the year that the date of celebration (of Christmas) was inaugurated as a “separate” occasion, because the fact is, that since the beginning of the Christian Church, Christ’s Birth was always celebrated together with the feast of the Epiphany, the Epiphany of the Lord, on the 6th of January.
Until that time, Christ’s Birth was celebrated together with His Baptism: both these events being landmarks that the Lord came, and was incarnated for our salvation. These two events were later separated, and given two individual dates.
This can be seen in an Epistle by the Bishop of Nicea, John, to Zacharias the Catholic of Armenia Major, where we learn that Pope Julius I of Rome replied to the Bishop of Jerusalem, who had in turn written to him: “How can I participate simultaneously in the celebration of the Birth in Bethlehem, and the celebration of the Baptism in the Jordan River?” To which the Pope of Rome then replied that there is a document by Josephus that is kept in the archives of Rome, which says that the Birth of Christ took place on the 9th of the month Shevat (=25 December).
Finally, to those who assert that Christians adopted an idolatrous feast-day –which was customarily celebrated by idolaters on the 25th of December (the birth of the god Sun)- we would like to stress that the complete opposite occurred!
The fact is, that the Church sanctified that desecrated date, by substituting an idolatrous festival with the celebration of the Sun of Justice, Jesus Christ, for the salvation of the idolaters!
Translation by A. N.