Why Christmas is Dec. 25

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germay -- Christmas is the traditional anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. Most Protestants and Roman Catholics observe this anniversary on December 25th. Eastern Orthodox and Armenian churches observe Christ's birth either on Dec. 25 or Jan. 6.

While the early Christians did meet regularly to commemorate the death, resurrection and promised return of Christ, neither the term "Christmas (a derivative of Christ and Mass) nor the early celebration of the his birth are recorded in the Bible. While most Christians don't attempt to be dogmatic about the precise date of Christ's birth, it is probable that diverse traditions in the early church regarding the precise time of Christ's conception led to differences of dating for Christmas observances in the east and the west. Clement of Alexandria, toward the close of the 2nd century, cites diverse views concerning the date. As early as 336 AD the observance of Christmas on Dec. 25 was already widespread among western churches.

During the period dating from the earliest general celebrations of Christmas, numerous customs have been introduced into the event. Originally, it appears that a special religious ceremony marked the occasion. Gradually, a number of practices of the nations into which Christianity came were assimilated and combined with religious ceremonies. This assimilation represented efforts by Christians to transform or absorb otherwise pagan practices. For example, the Feast of Saturnalia in early Rome was celebrated for seven days from Dec. 17 to 24, and was marked by a spirit of merriment, gift giving to children and other forms of entertainment. Gradually early Christians replaced the pagan feast with the celebration of Christmas, but some of the traditions were assimilated and remain today.

Some groups refrain from celebrating Christmas on the grounds that these pagan practices have destroyed the original significance of the occasion. They cite the use of Christmas trees and yule logs, among others, as examples of the paganization of Christmas. Yet, many Christians contend that such practices no longer bear pagan connotations, and believe that the observance of Christmas provides an opportunity to worship and to express their faith.

The Biblical emphasis on adoration and worship comes from Luke 2: 8-12; the giving of gifts to God from Matthew 2: 1-11, and expressions of peace and goodwill from Luke 2: 13, 14.