Faith & Life

Christmas day

September 23, 2021

Corrado Gnerre

Coming back from school, my son, who is in elementary school, told me: “Dad, today the teacher told us that Jesus was not born on December 25th. That the cold and frost that the Child suffered is all an invention, because the first Christians who celebrated Christmas, took it from an ancient pagan festival …” I have not been able to answer this question. Indeed, this news has shaken me too. Can you tell me something about it?

Dear …, the question of Jesus’ date of birth is obviously relative. Nothing would change if Jesus were born in summer, autumn or spring rather than winter. But it is also true that even from the small things you can understand the fidelity to the facts and to what extent what is even said orally is worthy of credibility.

What you say is true. The popular opinion states that Christmas placed on December 25 would be nothing more than the “Christianization” of an ancient pagan festival to celebrate the beginning of the extension of sunlight. Christ is the “light that has come into the world”, hence the passage that would have been made: from the Sun to Christ.

The thesis has its own logic, but, dear …, it is a thesis that has been denied by recent discoveries which instead show that Jesus was really born on December 25th, not a day more, not a day less.

Let’s see what was discovered.

Among the documents found in Qumran there is one called the Book of Jubilees. It indicates the dates on which the priestly classes of Israel officiated at the Temple of Jerusalem, cyclically from Saturday to Saturday and always at the same period of the year. Well, the document reports that the class of Abia, a class to which the priest Zecharia, father of John the Baptist belonged, had to officiate in the week between September 23 and 30. Now, as the Gospel of Luke tells us, Zecharia learned from the Angel that she, his wife, had conceived just when he was officiating at the temple, so it was that same week. It was the same Angel who told the Virgin Mary that Elizabeth was already in her “sixth month”. So if, dear …, we count six months from the end of September, we arrive at the end of March, which means that the Annunciation took place at the end of March. Nine months from the end of March … and we arrive at the end of December. Jesus was born in late December. It may not have been December 25, but that’s around that time.

However, there remains one fact with which an objection could be made: the Gospel tells that Jesus was born at night and some angels met the shepherds who were guarding the flocks in the open countryside. Bethlehem is on a high altitude and is cold during the winter. It is difficult to be outdoors during that season.

But, dear …, there is an answer to this objection. The Jews distinguished three types of flocks. The type of white wool sheep, the type of sheep of partly white and partly black wool and the type of black wool sheep. The white wool sheep were considered pure and, after grazing, they could return to inhabited centers; partly white and partly black wool sheep, considered semi-impure, could only enter inhabited centers in the evening; sheep instead of black wool, considered completely impure, could never enter inhabited centers, not even at night and not even in winter. And that’s why, despite the cold season, the angels encountered shepherds who were out in the open at night. But there is still another detail that attests the veracity of what we are saying. The Gospel text says that the shepherds worked shifts, therefore, if they took shifts, it means that the climate was cold and you couldn’t stay outdoors for a whole night.

So, dear …, I repeat: the date of Christ’s birth is not in itself important; but this news makes us understand how Christianity from the given details is configured as a fact and not as a myth.

(From La buona battaglia. Apologetica cattolica in domande e risposte, 2019©Chorabooks. Translated by Aurelio Porfiri. Used with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved)