Biblical dating guide
But how had they settled on the dates December 25 and January 6?
The period between became the holiday season later known as the 12 days of Christmas.On December 25, Christians around the world will gather to celebrate Jesus’ birth.Joyful carols, special liturgies, brightly wrapped gifts, festive foods—these all characterize the feast today, at least in the northern hemisphere. How did December 25 come to be associated with Jesus’ birthday?Each of the Four Gospels provides detailed information about the time of Jesus’ death.According to John, Jesus is crucified just as the Passover lambs are being sacrificed.Further, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi [April 20 or 21].” Clearly there was great uncertainty, but also a considerable amount of interest, in dating Jesus’ birth in the late second century.
By the fourth century, however, we find references to two dates that were widely recognized—and now also celebrated—as Jesus’ birthday: December 25 in the western Roman Empire and January 6 in the East (especially in Egypt and Asia Minor).
Clement writes: “There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the 28th year of Augustus, and in the 25th day of [the Egyptian month] Pachon [May 20 in our calendar] …
And treating of His Passion, with very great accuracy, some say that it took place in the 16th year of Tiberius, on the 25th of Phamenoth [March 21]; and others on the 25th of Pharmuthi [April 21] and others say that on the 19th of Pharmuthi [April 15] the Savior suffered.
Its observance could even be implied in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 5:7–8: “Our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.
Therefore let us celebrate the festival…”); it was certainly a distinctively Christian feast by the mid-second century C. But over time, Jesus’ origins would become of increasing concern.
Yet most scholars would urge caution about extracting such a precise but incidental detail from a narrative whose focus is theological rather than calendrical. As far as we can tell, Christmas was not celebrated at all at this point.