Today is one of the greatest feasts in the year of the Church. Today Jesus’ birth, the Light of Christ, is made known to all the nations, not to just the few shepherds and village people near where Jesus was born. In many countries, the Feast of the Epiphany is more important than December 25. Many people exchange gifts on this day (as the magi brought gifts to Jesus). In fact, some Christian faiths celebrate January 6 as the actual birth of Jesus, not December 25.
As you may know, there are some theories as to the actual date of the birth of Jesus. Most theologians and biblical scholars believe that Jesus was actually born in the spring (March or April). In the hills around Bethlehem, the weather is too cold to have the sheep out and they would be corralled at night. Additionally, it is unlikely that the Emperor would have announced a census and made everyone travel to the native villages during the winter.
Many believe that the date of December 25 was chosen from an ancient pagan feast honoring Saturn or perhaps the Egyptian God of the sun, Ra (Re). The date of December 25 falls just after the winter solstice, when days start to get longer. Adopting the feast from a pagan celebration might have made Christmas more interesting to pagans, attracting some of them to Christianity.
There are some customs associated with Christmas that come from pagan tradition, for example the Christmas tree. Recently this theory is considered less likely. Beginning in the 4th century, according to tradition, there were two dates that Jesus birth was celebrated: December 25 in the west and January 6 in the east. Another theory says that Jesus crucifixion took place on March 25, which was near the Passover feast. That would mean that Jesus conception and death both took place on the same day. Other ideas look at the birth of John the Baptist, and when he was conceived, to determine the date of Jesus birth. In that case, it could be sometime in September.
As we know, the Bible is not an historical book; rather it tells us about the life and teaching of Jesus. It really makes no difference on which day Jesus was born, what is important is that He WAS born, lived and died for us. As we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, we should be proclaiming that birth to all, by our actions and our lives. As we pray in today’s responsorial psalm, “Lord, every nation on earth shall adore you”!