The dates we celebrate Christmas and Easter

Is there a biblical basis for the dates we (as Catholics) celebrate Christmas and Easter or is it strictly Tradition?

Christmas was not celebrated in Apostolic times, so there is no Biblical basis for Dec. 25. In fact, the birth of Jesus probably did not happen then, because shepherds were pasturing their flocks by night, which they probably would not have done in mid-winter.

The date of Easter is based on the Jewish Passover. There are many factors which affect how this date can be calculated - phases of the moon, Julian vs. Gregorian calendars, etc. There are several possible methods to calculate the date of Easter, and this has been a point of contention historically between the Latin Church and various Eastern Churches.

The relationship between Easter and Passover is Biblical, but the method to calculate the date of Passover is not clearly established in Scripture in a way that is applicable to “modern” times (by which I mean Apostolic times onward).

Most modern theologians believe that God does not really care what date we celebrate Christian events on, so it really doesn’t matter. Nobody will stand before God on Judgement Day and be informed that he celebrated Easter a week too soon.

A previous Pope has said that he wanted a common date for Easter. If that were so, why did he not simply agree to the date of Easter celebrated by the Eastern Orthodox Church?

What makes you possibly think that Holy Mother Church would not know the date the Savior was born? What mother does not know when her son’s birthday is?

the birth of Jesus probably did not happen then

Are you kidding me? Imagine a mother saying, “my son was probably not born today”, on her son’s birthday. Does God not provide the information we need to be accurate? Would the Virgin Mary not come down from Heaven to inform us the actual date of birth for her Divine son? The Tradition of the Church is accurate. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be a tradition.

One of the reasons for celebrating Christmas on Dec 25 is what John the Baptist said.

He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30)

The Church put the Feast of the Nativity of Christ near the winter solstice because the days increase in length after and put the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist near the summer solstice because the length of days decrease after. The dates were a teaching tool for people who could not read the Scriptures.

Another reason is because of Hanukkah, the Jewish “Festival of Lights” where they celebrate the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple. Jesus is the new temple built without hands and so we celebrate the dedication of his Temple at the same time the Jews celebrated the dedication of the old Temple. Again, a teaching tool for Jewish converts to Christianity.


Well, the Eastern Church originally celebrated Jesus’ birth along with other events from His early life on January 6th before they adopted the December 25th date (which was originally a Roman custom). Even today, the Armenian Church still commemorates the Nativity on January 6th. (The Armenians are alone in this: most other churches now commemorate the Nativity on December 25th.) Before that, some 3rd century Egyptian Christians apparently thought Jesus was born on either April 20th-21st or May 20th (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 1.21). Others (for example St. Hippolytus), applying the Jewish rationale that holy men die on the same day they are born or conceived, think that Jesus was actually born in the 14th of Nisan (March/April), the same day He would have been crucified. A few Christians even questioned whether it was acceptable to celebrate birthdays at all because it was back then more of a ‘pagan’ thing.

I had just posted this a few minutes back in another thread, but it could also be of some relevance here:

I just learned that there are two feasts, which are are both from late 4th-5th century Jerusalem, which could count as the earliest Marian feasts: the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple and the Purification of Mary, aka the Hypapante (then February 14th - counting forty days from January 6th, which was then the standard Eastern date for the Nativity and other events in Jesus’ early life), and a commemoration of Our Lady in August 15th, the day we now celebrate the Assumption/Dormition.

The thing is, we don’t know what was commemorated on the August feast at that time other than it was something connected to Mary. Now some scholars think that the original commemoration was probably that of the Annunciation/Incarnation. In some Armenian lectionaries, there is a curious mention of the feast of the Holy Innocents falling on May 18th. **So, these people have a hunch: maybe there was originally a commemoration of Jesus’ birth in May, at least in Jerusalem - counting nine months from August 15th - that was later obscured by the January 6th and the December 25th feasts? In this scenario, you have a cycle observed by the Church in Jerusalem: Jesus’ conception in August, Jesus’ birth in May (coinciding with Pentecost), and Jesus’ death and resurrection on March/April (coinciding with Passover).

What’s interesting is that this would coincide with a scenario found in the 2nd-century BC Book of Jubilees**, where Isaac is said to have been born to Sarah on Pentecost (which was fixed by Jubilees on May 15th - exactly nine months after August 15th!) and was nearly sacrificed by Abraham around Passover. Jubilees was well known to early Christians, and Isaac is seen as a type of Christ, so who knows? As per this theory, maybe Jubilees exerted an influence in the Jerusalem liturgical year. Now we don’t know if this theory - of the August 15th feast originally being that of the Incarnation - is really correct, but it has something interesting going for it.

So if said theory is true, it would throw a wrench into the idea that the early Christians somehow had a fixed, consistent date for Jesus’ conception and birth from early on. AFAIK they only agreed on one thing: that Jesus’ resurrection be commemorated somewhere during the Passover/spring equinox season, and even then there’s the issue of whether you celebrate it on Nisan 14th (the actual date of the Passover) or on the Sunday following; and even if you agreed that it should be on Sunday, should you celebrate it on the Sunday after the Jews in your area observed their Passover, or calculate the date on your own without needing to pay attention to your local Jews?

here is a good article:

Johnny, You are under some misguided notion that the Church celebrates the Feast of the Nativity on Jesus’s actual day of birth, and that the Church makes such a claim. Neither is true.

The Church makes no claim that Dec 25 is Jesus’s actual birthday, and this feast was not on the liturgical calendar until the 4th century.

I don’t see where it answered the question as to why the Roman Catholic Church does not agree with the Eastern Orthodox date for Easter. After all, it has been the Roman Catholic Church that has been calling for a common date for Easter.

Regarding your point about Shepherds and mid-winter, check this out from a non Catholic website:

What About The Flocks Outside In Winter?

One objection to the date of December 25th is that the shepherds are tending their flocks by night when the announcement comes of the birth of Christ. It is argued that it would be too cold for them to have their flocks outside in the winter. Therefore it must have been some other time of year. However, this often-used argument does not hold much weight. There is evidence both ancient and modern that flocks stayed outside year round.

There Is Evidence That Flocks Were Outside All Year Round

There is a passage in the Jewish Mishnah [Shekalim 7:4] that stated that some sheep were kept outside of the fields of Bethlehem all year round. These sheep were to be used for sacrifice in the temple in Jerusalem. Therefore it is possible that the birth of Jesus could have come on any day of the year.

There Is Modern Evidence Of Flocks Outside In Winter

Shepherds in the Bethlehem area, to this very day, keep their flocks out at night during all times of the year. Anyone visiting Bethlehem around Christmas time can still see the sheep outside with the shepherds.

A little bit further to that, Jesus Christ is the Light of the World.

Also a little bit further to that, the 21st December is now the solstace. That is because the Calendar system at the time moved the solstace 1 day every 100 years. Which was later corrected by not making 100 years a leap year.

What mother does not recall her son’s first words, or his first steps? Or, when he was weaned? The Church knows nothing of these events, other than the fact that they (obviously) happened. Likewise, Jesus was (obviously) born, but we don’t know the date.

Fortunately, it doesn’t matter one bit.

For one we use different calendars. The Western Church (and most modern societies) now uses the so-called Gregorian Calendar, while the Eastern Churches still use the old Julian Calendar or some revision thereof. In the Julian Calendar, the tropical year is approximated as 365 1/4 days = 365.25 (specifically 365.242199) days. The thing about it is that it introduces an error of 1 day every 128 years. So every 128 years the tropical year shifts one day backwards with respect to the calendar. By 1582, this error had accumulated to 10 days, which threw the date of Easter (which should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox) out of whack. That’s why the Gregorian Calendar was invented.

At times I think the fact that we don’t know the dates is God’s way of saying that it’s not really important.

Hippolytus of Rome 170-240.

The first coming of our Lord, that in the flesh, in which he was born at Bethlehem, took place eight days before the calends of January, a Wednesday, in the forty-second year of the reign of Augustus, 5500 years from Adam

On what calendar? The Gregorian Calendar (which is used in the Western world) had not been developed. The Julian calendar (with a 360 day year) had scarcely been developed.

According to the Jewish Calendar 25th Chislev. It was transferred to the Julian calendar as 25th December.

(Sorry I did not think it relevant to the discussion but the Julian calendar was 365.25 days but it is important to mention this because of the rounding causing offset of days).


Just to give citations, this is from Hippolytus’ Commentary on the Prophet Daniel. The thing though is that while most manuscripts of Hippolytus say that it was “eighth day before the kalends of January” (= December 25th), there are two alternative readings: one simply does not specify the day, the other reads instead “on the fourth day before the … of April.” Some scholars thus suspect that the January reading was probably a later edit, when the December 25th date became more current.

The April reading would fit in with another thing that’s connected to Hippolytus. In 1551, a marble statue of a seated male figure was discovered in the cemetery of the Via Tiburtina in Rome (where Hippolytus was buried). On the sides of the seat was carved a table for the calculation of the date of Easter, and on the back the titles of works written by Hippolytus. It is now generally accepted that the statue was probably that of Hippolytus (or to be more precise, a statue recycled - the original figure seems to be that of a woman - to honor Hippolytus, perhaps during his lifetime.) Guess what? On the cycle of Easter dates, there is one item that stands out: “the fourth day before the Nones of April,” against which is the notation, “birth of Christ.”

The statue and the variant reading the Commentary on Daniel would thus have Hippolytus (or if the April reading on the Commentary is an interpolation as well, someone else who knew a tradition similar to that reflected on the Easter table on the statue) believe that Jesus was born on the fourth day, before the Nones of April (in this case, April 5th); in other words, Jesus is said to be born on a Wednesday, April 2nd (counting inclusively). The April 2nd date is given as one of the possible dates for Passover/Easter; it might show that Hippolytus or whoever wrote it had the idea of Jesus being born on the Passover (April 2nd) of 2 BC (Hippolytus did opine that Jesus was born on the 42nd year of Augustus’ reign, 5,502 years after Adam = 3/2 BC)

Incidentally, there’s also this anonymous work (attributed to St. Cyprian) from North Africa called De Pascha Computus which posited that the first day of creation coincided with the first day of spring (= March 25th), when day and night are of equal length, and that Jesus’ birthday fell four days later (= March 28th), on a Wednesday, the same day God created the sun. (Jesus = Sun of Righteousness, get it?)

This statue, to be exact.

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