Ever wonder why we celebrate December 25th as the day of Jesus’ birth? Andrew McGowan, in an article in Biblical Archeology, ties it to March 25th, the day some early Christian sources say Jesus was conceived and crucified. The theory contradicts a popular theory that says December 25th is a Christian attempt to replace a pagan festival honoring the Unconquerable Sun.
“ There is another way to account for the origins of Christmas on December 25: Strange as it may seem, the key to dating Jesus’ birth may lie in the dating of Jesus’ death at Passover. This view was first suggested to the modern world by French scholar Louis Duchesne in the early 20th century and fully developed by American Thomas Talley in more recent years. But they were certainly not the first to note a connection between the traditional date of Jesus’ death and his birth.
“Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus died was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar. March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception. Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.”
Matthew’s gospel relates the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem by King Herod shortly after Jesus birth, reminding us of the fate that awaits this Child. Artists like the one who painted our picture above– which is honored by my community, the Passionists– also saw the connection. Mary was warned that a “sword” would pierce her heart.
The mysteries of Christ are joined together. We celebrate his birth, but we also keep in mind his death and resurrection– mysteries never far apart, in him and in us.