Every year on December 25th, millions of Americans celebrate the holiday of Christmas. It is the day we use to commemorate the birth of Christ. The fact that we honor the nativity of Jesus on that particular date is of interest because chances are Christ was not born on the 25th of December or any time near it. Not only has there been much debate over what time of the year Christ was born, there is an equal amount of controversy over the exact year of His birth.
A major problem in trying to pinpoint an exact month and year is the loose manner in which the ancients kept track of important events. At that time in history, there was no real universal method of chronicling important dates. Events were listed in the reign of “King So-and-So”. This makes it extremely hard to mark the true date that Christ was born. There are a variety of opinions among scholars as to what time of the year Christ was born. Some believe that He was born during the springtime, while others contend that the event occurred during the summer months. Very few believe that Christ was born during the month of December. If such is the case, why do we celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th? At the time when Christ was born, the Romans celebrated the festival of Saturnalia. This marked the end of the harvest season and was a time of great rejoicing. Saturnalia always took the end of December. Along with this, the Romans did believe that December 25th signaled the Winter Solstice, when they observed the pagan holiday of Sol Invictus, the Unconquerable Sun. When Christianity began to take hold, the early Christians sought to replace these pagan festivals with a holiday that glorified their religion. What a better way than to celebrate the birth of Christ? It is very interesting, and ironic, to note that many of our Christmas traditions, including holly, mistletoe, evergreens and the exchanging of gifts, are taken directly from the pagan feast of Saturnalia.
If December 25th was chosen to help denounce the pagan holidays, then at what time of the year did the nativity really take place? One of the significant factors that comes into consideration is the influence of the star of Bethlehem. Many historians believe that the star was an astronomical phenomenon that occurs every 805 years. This event is the conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn. Since this was first discovered in the 17th century by Johannes Kepler, astronomers have computed that for 10 months in 7 B.C., Jupiter and Saturn were traveling in a close configuration and were in exact conjunction during the months of May, September and December. Mars joined the two great planets during February and March of 6 B.C. The union of these three heavenly lights must have been quite spectacular indeed. But what is more significant is the astrological ramifications of this configuration. In ancient astrology, Jupiter was the “Kings Planet” for it symbolized the highest of all rulers, while Saturn was referred to as the “Shield of Palestine”. What better planets to represent the birth of the “King of Kings”? Another interesting point is that this particular conjunction occurred in the sign of Pisces. This sign was the ancient ruler of Syria and Palestine. Having Jupiter combined with Saturn in Pisces is very symbolic of a religious leader being sent to play the role of Savior. This clustering of these planets is also very representative of the sacrificial act of God the Father giving his only begotten Son to the world. The only major flaw is this theory is the fact that even though there was a grouping of these particular planets, they would not appear close enough together in the sky as to appear as one large superstar. They would all be separated from each other by at least one or two moon diameters. Also during the months of spring this configuration would appear so low in the sky that it may not be visible during the majority of the night. Many of those who contend that Christ was born during the spring use the shepherds, who were “keeping watch over their flock by night” (LK 2:8) as their definite proof. Only at this time of the year would the shepherds have to guard their flocks because during the fall and winter the sheep would have been corralled. This also suggests lambing time, which usually occurs in the spring. The problem with this line of thought is the fact that in some areas of Palestine the shepherds travel with their sheep when they had to forage for food during the cold winter months.
It’s funny to see how much real controversy does surround a particular birthdate that is of little importance in the greater scheme of things. What is important is the fact that we have chosen a day that is symbolic of the true Christian spirit of giving of oneself for the betterment of all. What matters is that for one day out of the year we celebrate and acknowledge the true Christ that lives deep within us all.