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The Day

There are many who do, and many who do not, observe the
twenty-fifth of December as the day of our Lords birth; but
those who do not celebrate the event on that day are led to
this, not so much from any question as to the correctness of the
time, as from conscientious scruples respecting the observance,
as a religious festival, of any day not distinctly appointed on
Scriptural authority So that, upon the whole, it may be
considered that all !hristendom deems this to have been the
birth-day of our Lord, though all !hristendom does not celebrate
it as such
"et, in fact, the time of the year in which #esus was born is
quite as uncertain as that of the year of his birth; perhaps it is
more uncertain$as the notes of time in the sacred narrative are
fewer and less distinct The question is one of little importance,
even for those who observe the day, as the celebration of a
public event is not necessarily confined to the day of the year
on which it occurred The formal celebration of the birth-day of
our own sovereign is, with a view to public convenience, often
appointed for another day and month than that on which it
actually occurred The question is, however, one of some
%iblical interest, if only from the natural wish to &now, whether
the various circumstances attending and following our Lords
birth did or did not ta&e place in the depth of winter
't is clear, that a celebration of the day of !hrists nativity was
not thought of in the earliest ages of the !hristian church; when
it was at length considered proper, no clue or tradition e(isted
as to the real time, which had to be determined with reference
to probabilities, of which we are as competent to )udge as the
founders of the festival were, and perhaps more competent,
from the more severely critical tendencies of our age
*e strongly thin& that there is no satisfactory evidence as to the
time of the year, and still less as to the precise day; and it
appears to us that the season, and, consequently, the day, have
been determined on erroneous and uncritical data There is no
one now who will stand up for either the season or the day
+either have even ancient tradition or practice in their favor 't
would seem that the earliest writer who alludes to the matter
was !lement of ,le(andria, who wrote about the middle of the
third century, and spea&s with compassionate scorn of the
attempts made by persons in his time to fi(, not only the precise
year, but the e(act day, of !hrists birth, both of which he
considered equally futile and impracticable ,s there could have
been no ob)ect in fi(ing the day of our Lords birth but for the
purpose of ma&ing the anniversary day a festival, this may be
regarded as the first indication of a tendency in this direction,
and we &now from other sources that it was not until about this
time that there was any celebration of the nativity of !hrist in
the *estern church; and it is well &nown that there was nothing
of the &ind in the -astern churches till towards the end of the
fourth century These churches had but one festival bearing any
reference to the appearance of !hrist$and that was the feast of
the -piphany, then regarded .for it has since acquired another
meaning/ as celebrating the commencement of our Lords
ministry by his baptism by #ohn in the #ordan *hen the
!hristmas festival, as the anniversary of our Lords birth, came
to them from the *est, they at first resisted it strenuously; but
at length they accepted the anniversary, but not the day,
choosing rather to connect it, properly enough, with their own
old festival of the 0anifestation$and, therefore, celebrating the
Lords nativity on the 1th of #anuary, instead of the 23th of
Thus we see there is, in fact, no authority of tradition for the
time of the year or the day of the year 4ow it came to be fi(ed
to the 23th of December, seems to have happened thus$'t was
thought, most erroneously, that 5acharias, the father of #ohn
the %aptist, was high-priest, and that, when the angel appeared
to him in the temple, it was on the day of atonement, on which
day only the high-priest went into the inner sanctuary, to ma&e
e(piation for the sins of the people, by sprin&ling the blood of
atonement before and upon the ar& , greater error was never
made; as it is clear that 5acharias was an ordinary priest, who,
in the due course of service, went into the outer sanctuary to
offer the daily incense %ut the mista&e being made, the
reasoning went on thus$The day of atonement being in
September, #ohn would be born in #une; but #ohn was si(
months older than #esus, who, therefore, must have been born
in December This we firmly believe to be the basis, so worthless
and unsubstantial, on which the determination of our Lords
birth to December has been raised
,s little satisfactory is the process suggested by Sir 'saac
+ewton, as having been the one probably followed by those who
first began to celebrate this and other festivals 4e supposes
that they designedly distributed to the cardinal points of the
year$the annunciation of the 6irgin 0ary, the feasts of St
0ichael and of #ohn the %aptist, with this of the birth of our
Savior, being at first appointed to the days which they still
occupy in the calendar, as being at that time respectively the
days of the vernal and autumnal equino(es, and of the summer
and winter solstices
,s, therefore, it is admitted on all hands, that the real day of
the nativity is beyond the reach of calculation, it is open to us
to ac&nowledge, that all the circumstances seem to us
unfavorable to its having been in winter 't was little li&ely that
the 7omans would heighten the unpopularity of an intrinsically
unpopular measure by constraining a large part of the
population to travel at that time of the year Still less is it li&ely
that 0ary, in her delicate condition, would have accompanied
her husband in the inclement weather belonging to that season
The same ob)ection arises still more strongly from this being the
season for the )ourney to -gypt$for there was then a new-born
infant, the distance was far greater, and the season still less
favorable$for if the birth was at the close of December, this
)ourney must have been in 8ebruary The fact, that the
shepherds were abroad with their floc&s at night in the open air,
is also against that supposition The cold of the night during
winter is too severe in 9alestine to ma&e this practicable 't is
true, that the sheep might remain in the open air at night, as
they do in much severer climates %ut then they were folded in
pens or totes near the homestead, and had no need of night
watchers; for it is only when feeding at large in the open
pastures during the milder seasons, that there is need of this
night attendance of shepherds; for it requires to be well
noticed, that there appears to have been several shepherds in
charge of the floc&, which alone seems to indicate what was not
the time of the year *hat it was it is more difficult to say
Those who dissent from the e(isting conclusion usually name
some time about either the vernal or autumnal equino( *e
should be inclined to prefer the latter$ somewhere about the
feast of tabernacles The comparative leisure which the
conclusion of the labors of the agricultural year afforded to a
large part of the population, rendered this a favorite season for
)ourneying and visiting among the #ews, and was therefore more
li&ely than any other to be selected for the registration of the
people$which could not well have been made at any other time
without causing some of the useful and important labors of the
field to be interrupted$a result which must have appeared quite
as little desirable to the 7omans as to the #ews themselves
:pon the whole, we are clearly of opinion, that December is one
of the three least li&ely months of the twelve in which the birth
of our Saviour could be fi(ed; and that, in the absence of any
adequate materials for a definite conclusion, the month of
September may be indicated as affording some probabilities
which can scarcely be advanced in favor of any other