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The extrabiblical evidence from the first and second century is equally spare: There is no mention of birth celebrations in the writings of early Christian writers such as Irenaeus (c. Each of the Four Gospels provides detailed information about the time of Jesus’ death.

If you were to make a detailed comparison of the word-for-word agreements among these Gospels, an interesting pattern would emerge.

Read Andrew Mc Gowan’s article “How December 25 Became Christmas” as it originally appeared in Bible Review, December 2002.

Therefore let us celebrate the festival…”); it was certainly a distinctively Christian feast by the mid-second century C. But over time, Jesus’ origins would become of increasing concern.

E., when the apocryphal text known as the Epistle to the Apostles has Jesus instruct his disciples to “make commemoration of [his] death, that is, the Passover.”Jesus’ ministry, miracles, Passion and Resurrection were often of most interest to first- and early-second-century C. We can begin to see this shift already in the New Testament.

Joyful carols, special liturgies, brightly wrapped gifts, festive foods—these all characterize the feast today, at least in the northern hemisphere. How did December 25 come to be associated with Jesus’ birthday?

The Bible offers few clues: Celebrations of Jesus’ Nativity are not mentioned in the Gospels or Acts; the date is not given, not even the time of year.

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The article was first republished in Bible History Daily in December 2012.—Ed.

A blanket of snow covers the little town of Bethlehem, in Pieter Bruegel’s oil painting from 1566.

The biblical reference to shepherds tending their flocks at night when they hear the news of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:8) might suggest the spring lambing season; in the cold month of December, on the other hand, sheep might well have been corralled. 165–264) goes so far as to mock Roman celebrations of birth anniversaries, dismissing them as “pagan” practices—a strong indication that Jesus’ birth was not marked with similar festivities at that place and time.1 As far as we can tell, Christmas was not celebrated at all at this point.