There’s no record of Jesus or his parents making a big deal out of his birthday each year. There’s no record in the New Testament of setting aside his birthday as an important date on the calendar either. And for the first two centuries no one claimed to know the year or the date of his birth. It wasn’t important.
Interest in his birth picked up in the third century, but it wasn’t until nearly half way through the fourth century that interest in his birth had grown to the point that a Roman Pope fixed a day for it. It wasn’t a brilliant choice on his part, because it coincided with the Roman pagan holiday celebrating the birthday of the unconquered sun, but it stuck.
To support December 25th as the day of Jesus’ birth, the Roman church claimed Jesus was conceived on the spring equinox in late March so, based on that supposition, Jesus would be born nine months later on the winter solstice in late December. And right or not, that stuck too.
The festivities then chosen to celebrate Jesus’ birthday compared remarkably well with the rituals observed by various pagan groups. “Christmas” entered the English language later on as Christes Maesse, and many traditions from other nations were added through the years – one of the most popular being the Dutch name for St. Nicholas – Sinterklaas, the giver of gifts to children.
Fixing a date for Jesus’ birthday and attaching traditions to it can be explained, therefore, but it surely begs the question still, that if Jesus didn’t celebrate his birthday, why do we? And what if the one public celebration of Jesus as a baby the Bible does mention, wasn’t actually on his birthday?
It came forty days later, when Jesus’ parents took him to the temple in Jerusalem in Luke 2:22 to complete the purification ceremony commanded in the Law of Moses for every firstborn baby boy (verse 23). Waiting for them was a man by the name of Simeon, who on seeing Jesus “took him in his arms” and right there in a shout of praise to God, told the world in verses 29-32 what this baby boy had been born for. And then to Jesus’ stunned parents he added that because of their baby boy “the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed,” verse 35.
Now that’s a message worth noting, because what makes our world tick is people with good hearts, and what makes our world suffer is people with cold hearts. And Jesus came to reveal that, because it gives us the key to why good and bad things happen. It’s the thoughts in our hearts.
What we and the planet desperately need, then, is people with good thoughts in their hearts. And, fortunately, Jesus is creating such people, by birthing his lovely heart in them. Now there’s a birthday he’d celebrate.