On December 25, Christians around the world will gather to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Joyful carols, special liturgies, brightly wrapped gifts, festive foods - most Christians today probably can’t imagine Christmas on any other day than December 25, but it wasn’t always that way.
December 25 is not the date mentioned in the Bible as the day of Jesus’s birth; the Bible is actually silent on the day or the time of year when Mary was said to have given birth to him in Bethlehem. Some biblical scholars note that passages mentioning sheep indicate Jesus may have been born in the spring, not in the winter.
The earliest Christians did not celebrate his birth. In AD 335, the Church in Rome officially began celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25. By that time, Emperor Constantine had made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire.
They likely wanted the date to coincide with existing pagan festivals honoring Saturn (the Roman god of agriculture) and Mithra (the Persian god of light). That way, it became easier to convince Rome’s pagan subjects to accept Christianity as the empire’s official religion. However, it wasn’t until the ninth century that Christmas became a major holiday.
In the early days of the United States, celebrating Christmas was considered a British custom and fell out of style following the American Revolution. It wasn’t until 1870 that Christmas became a federal holiday.