When I was in Catholic school as a child, I had trouble with the story of the Birth of Jesus. First off, how do you have baby animals in winter unless the farmer really screwed up his breeding times? That was a BIG question to a 7 year old who had a great aunt and uncle who owned a farm and knew when animal babies were supposed to be born.
So, me, being me even at that tender age, asked Sister Mary Celestine why there were so many baby animals around the manger when Jesus was born when baby animals were only born in the spring. You can imagine the response.
Sister Mary Celestine told me God had arranged it so Jesus wouldn’t be the only baby and that I should read the Nativity Story again since I obviously failed to understand it. Evidently, the look on my face must have communicated how insane I thought that was because she called my mother and told her I was a disruption in class and needed to study my Bible and go to church more often or there would be “consequences”.
Thank God my mother was more of a realist and told Sister Celestine that I was allowed to have my opinion and to ask any question I wanted if it helped me learn. (There were a few other things said but we don’t need to go into that here) Mom was the president of the PTU and could get away with stuff like that.
My life did NOT get easier after that.
This was one of the reasons I studied religions in college. I wanted to know WHY. History had already taught me that certain “pagan” holidays had been co-opted by the early Christians and turned into Christian holidays. And I still wanted to know WHY……..and HOW.
The HOW was pretty simple. Just like missionaries convert people, so did the early believers back then. Early church fathers figured that it would be easier to have a Christian holiday fall on a day that was already being celebrated by most people….even if it was a pagan holiday of some sort. December 25th was the Roman celebration of the sun god and Saturnalia. And, centuries before that, the Babylonians celebrated Yule Day and the birth of the baby sun on December 25th. (Yule meaning child in ancient Babylonian.)
The Catholic encyclopedia cites December 25th finally being made official as the day of Christ’s birth in the 5th century A.D.. Historical fact.
Here’s a bit of trivia for you to get riled up about. In 46 B.C. the Julian calendar was adopted. This changed the dates for certain things, such as Winter Solstice. Then, the shortest day of the year was December 24th……NOT December 21st as it is now. This made December 25th the first day that sunlight began to increase and, for the people of the time, it made it the Birthday of the Sun or the Sol Invictus or Invincible Sun. Historical fact.
In 1582 the calendar changed again. Pope Gregory designed what we call the Gregorian calendar (which we still use today after the Catholic Church altered it slightly…..again) to correct the “defects” in the Julian calendar.
Even with all of this moving of the calendar, the Church kept December 25th, the pagan sun god holiday Sol Invictus/Saturnalia, as the birthday of Christ.
After all this history, from a dozen or more sources, I believe there was a man called Jesus who preached peace and love to the people he encountered. I believe his teachings stirred up trouble for him which led to his execution. I believe that an entire, major religion was founded on his words. But I have trouble believing that he was born in Winter.
As children we learn that Jesus was born in a stable and placed in a manger and had baby animals watching over him and the Magi and others gathered around to pay homage to him. But there is absolutely nothing in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John to say WHEN He was born. So no one knows exactly WHEN Jesus was born. No one except God.
Most biblical scholars are in agreement when they say that there is no definitive proof as to when Jesus was born. They debate when he was born, if he was real and a multitude of other things. Until there is definitive proof, all of this will be endlessly debated by lay people and biblical scholars alike. For now, December 25th works pretty well for most people.
It takes faith.
Happy New Year everyone.