Why Do We Celebrate Christmas on December 25?
By Larry Plachno
Non-Christians frequently bring up the question of why Christmas is celebrated on December 25. It is a known fact that Jesus Christ was probably born in the summer and they suggest that Christians took advantage of existing harvest festivals, the date of the winter solstice, or the date honoring the sun god of the ancients. However, there is strong evidence that the day the “star” stood still over Bethlehem and the visit of the Magi with their gifts took place on December 25. Hence, there is ample justification for the celebration of Christmas and the exchange of gifts on December 25. If you give me a few minutes of your time I will try to provide the background on all of this and give you some interesting history as well as information on stars.
Today, when we talk about stars most people think about movie stars or rock stars. It was not always this way. When Christ was born people spent more time looking at the stars in the heavens. There was less pollution in the cities to block the view and the people did not have television, newspapers and cell phones to divert their interest. In those days prior to air conditioning it was not uncommon for people to sleep on their rooftops to get some fresh air and fall asleep watching the stars. Hence, it is not unexpected that stars are mentioned so prominently in the Bible.
Early work on tracking the movement of the stars was done by Tycho Brahe, a Danish astronomer, who is memorialized by having a crater on the moon named after him. His successor was Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), a German who became the Imperial Mathematician and Astronomer in Prague. By the early 1600s he had developed the laws of Planetary Motion that we still use today. Kepler did try to recreate the sky at the time of the birth of Christ but was not successful. One reason was he was looking at the wrong dates due to mistaken ideas on the dates for the birth of Christ and the death of King Herod. A second reason was that figuring out the mathematics of planetary motion had to be done manually at that time and was very time consuming.
It was Dionysius Exiguus (470-544), a monk from the area we now call Romania and Bulgaria, who had originally developed the method of numbering years that we still use today. He is remembered for doing substantial translations from Greek to Latin and he also wrote on elementary mathematics. In those days, there was not a calendar in every kitchen and numbering years was very informal. Some countries based years on dynasties or when a leader came to power. The only serious system used by some scholars was called AUC or Ab Urbe Condita (from the founding of the city), based on the founding year of Rome. But, since the Roman civilization was in decline while Christianity was on the rise, Dionysius Exiguus figured out how to start dating years with the birth of Christ. He was not that far off.
A second problem was dating the death of King Herod who plays a part in the story surrounding the birth of Christ. There was an error in transcription and an argument over an eclipse that marked his death as earlier than others believed.
The problem with doing the math on planetary movement was simplified when computers were invented. Today, you can go on the internet and purchase a program called “Starry Night” that will show you what the sky looks like from different locations on the earth at different times. And, yes, you can recreate the appearance of the sky at the time of the birth or death of Christ.
What the Magi Saw
What we today call the Star of Bethlehem was Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. In those days the planets were called “wandering stars.” In September of 3 BC at the time of the Jewish New Year, the Magi would have seen Jupiter rise in the eastern sky above Babylon and then come in close conjunction with the star Regulus, named after the root where we get the word “regal.” The Roman name for this star was Rex, meaning “king” while the Babylonian name was Sharu, which also means “king.“
Jupiter moved past Regulus but then a strange thing happened. The planets move around the sun in different tracks like lanes on an expressway. Since the Earth moves faster than Jupiter, on occasion Jupiter appears to fall back like passing a car on the expressway. This is called retrograde motion.
After moving past Regulus, Jupiter went into retrograde and went back to Regulus and made a circle around Regulus like crowning a king. Then, after this second pass, Jupiter again went into retrograde and made a third pass above the star of kings.
Equally interesting is that this activity took place with the constellation of Leo the Lion in the background. Since the Jewish tribe of Judah is known as a Lion in the scripture (Genesis Chapter 49), the Magi could make the connection with the promised King of the Jews in scripture.
There is more. The next constellation rising in the east is Virgo, the Virgin. As Jupiter and Regulus were meeting, Virgo rose clothed in the sun with a new moon at her feet. This is reflected in the 12th chapter of St. John’s Revelation in the New Testament where he talked about a woman clothed with the sun and with the moon under her feet. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Many think that this marked the incarnation of Jesus Christ when the Archangel Gabriel appeared before the Virgin Mary. This would have happened in September of 3 B.C. and got the attention of the Magi.
The Birth of Jesus Christ
Nine months later, in June of 2 BC, the attention of the Magi was guaranteed when Jupiter moved into conjunction with Venus, the mother planet. These two combined into what was probably the brightest star the Magi had ever seen. Many feel that this marked the actual birth of Jesus Christ. It was also presumably the event that prompted the Magi to decide to follow Jupiter west to Judea and seek the newborn king of the Jews.
Yes, I know, you are unhappy because I mentioned that the Christ child may have been born in June. Actually, the Bible confirms this by saying that the shepherds were in the fields with their flocks, a situation more likely in the warmer summer months. I might also mention that if you go to Bethlehem and ask to see the birthplace of Jesus Christ, they will take you to a cave and not a stable. While there may or may not have been room in the inn for Mary and Joseph, the cave offered much more privacy for a mother about to give birth.
Unfortunately, we have no knowledge of the route or schedule of the Magi. Tradition holds that they were riding on camels but travel would have been slow. There were no modern roads although there were trails used for travel and trade. Based on what we now know, the Magi reached Jerusalem in late December of 2 BC and met with King Herod. Herod conferred with his staff and sent the Magi to Bethlehem. He asked them to report back to him with the location of this new king.
Jupiter would have been ahead of them in the sky as the Magi went south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Then, on December 25 of 2 BC, Jupiter went into retrograde motion again and “stopped” over Bethlehem indicating the birthplace of Jesus. Hence, the first Christmas and gift giving took place on December 25.
By that time the child Jesus was already a few months old. The story, as we know from the Bible, is that the Magi were warned and went back by a different route to avoid Herod. Joseph took Mary and baby Jesus to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod who ordered the massacre of baby boys in Bethlehem.
Crucifixion and the Heavens
I feel obligated to continue this story of the heavens to give you the full impact. Finding the date on which Christ was crucified is not difficult. We know that his suffering and death took place on a Friday that happened to be the preparation day for the forthcoming Passover Festival. Since Passover starts at twilight on the 14th day of the Jewish lunar month of Nisan, it is a simple matter to find the year when Nisan 14 happened to fall on a Friday when Christ would have been 30 to 35 years old. The obvious day is April 3 of 33 AD.
While Christ was on the cross, there were earthquakes, the curtain of the temple was torn apart top to bottom, and the sky was darkened. But there also were signs in the heavens. The second chapter of Acts has Peter quoting the prophet Joel saying that the moon will be turned to blood.
For those who may not know, a “blood moon” specifically makes reference to a lunar eclipse. When our moon is in eclipse it is in the shadow of the earth and hence receives no sunlight directly. What light reaches the moon at this time is refracted through the earth’s atmosphere and hence turns red.
A lunar eclipse with a “blood moon” was visible in Jerusalem on April 3, 33 AD. When the moon rose, it was already in eclipse and red. This means that the eclipse started before moonrise. In fact, according to the calculations, at 3 p.m. when Jesus was breathing his last on the cross, the moon was going to blood. Perhaps to complete this series of coincidences in the heavens, when the full moon came up red in color it returned to the foot of the Virgin in the sky. I am sure that there were a lot of frightened people in Jerusalem that night.
Coincidences and Questions
If you do not want to take the time to purchase and use the star software, there is a DVD titled “The Star of Bethlehem” available that explains all of this in an entertaining and moving way. You can purchase it for less than $10 from www.bethlehemstar.net or from other places including Amazon. Rick Larson did a marvelous job of putting all this information together to share with your family or friends prior to Christmas. You can even buy a package of multiple copies to use as gifts.
If you are interested in learning more about these interesting happenings in the heavens but do want not to spend any money, you can surf over to You Tube and watch this same video for free at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGUlWa2r-bk
For your convenience I embedded the Bethlehem Star video below.
All of these movements of the planets and stars are regular and do not change. None of these movements of the planets, stars, constellations or moon were unusual or a miracle. They all moved just as they always do. Then, how did all of this happen at these specific times?
There are two options. One is to agree that this was a series of numerous coincidences way beyond any belief. The second option is to accept the fact that the universe was intelligently created by someone we call God who knew way in advance the exact times of the incarnation, birth and death on the cross of Jesus Christ and then set the planets and stars in motion accordingly. Think about it as Christmas approaches.
Larry Plachno is a successful businessman, publisher, author, and composer of an incalculable number of articles relating to family, life issues and associated problems and solutions. This barely scratches the surface of what Larry really is. His love of God, family and country is inspiring.
For years now Larry has shared his writings with us here at the ProLifeCorner and we are truly humbled by his generosity.
Larry is also an ardent blogger and is a prolific writer. You can follow his work at: www.unselfish.org