(This post was originally published back in March. Here it is again for the Christmas Season.)
Have you ever heard that the date for Christmas (December 25) was selected to coincide with a pagan holiday? Don’t believe it. The calculation is actually based on Scripture.
Every year on March 25, the Church celebrates the day when the Angel Gabriel announced the conception of the Christ to Mary. March 25 is exactly nine months prior to December 25. To see how the date for Christmas was calculated, first we need to go back to September 25, when the Angel Gabriel announced the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah. (Remember, during the Annunciation to Mary, Gabriel tells Mary that her cousin Elizabeth has also conceived, and Elizabeth is in her sixth month. See Luke 1:36. September 25 is six months prior to March 25.)
September 25 fell at the end of the Jewish season of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. (The date for the Day of Atonement falls on the tenth day of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. It varies from year to year, falling in September or October.) During the ten day period prior to the Day of Atonement, Jews amended their behavior, prayed, repented, and gave to charity, in order to seek forgiveness from God.
According to Luke 1:9, Zechariah was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary to burn incense. The Jewish priests could only enter the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement. (See Ex. 30:7-10.) Gabriel says to Zechariah, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John.” (Luke 1:13)
So, here is the timeline:
- September 25 – Gabriel announces the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah.
- March 25 (six months from September 25) – Gabriel announces the birth of Jesus to Mary.
- June 24 (nine months from September 25) – the Church celebrates the birth of John the Baptist.
- December 25 (nine months from March 25) – the Church celebrates the birth of Jesus.
There you have it, Gentle Reader.