“If Christ was born in the spring, why do we celebrate Christmas in December?” New Era, Dec. 1974, 10–11
Answer/Brother Richard O. Cowan
First let us review how we know the Savior was born in April. As directed by revelation, the Church was organized on April 6, 1830 (a Tuesday), which was “eighteen hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh.” (D&C 20:1.) Thus we schedule general conference sessions on April 6 each year; we are not only marking the anniversary of the Church’s organization, but we are commemorating the Lord’s birth as well.
The Book of Mormon bears a similar testimony. The Nephites dated their calendars from the time of Christ’s birth. (See 3 Ne. 2:8.) Then, the sign of Christ’s crucifixion was given “in the thirty and fourth year, in the first month, on the fourth day of the month.” (3 Ne. 8:5) This meant that Jesus Christ’s mortal life lasted almost exactly 33 years, and therefore his birth and crucifixion occurred in about the same season of the year. This would have been early spring because the New Testament indicates that Christ was crucified at Passover time, which falls in that part of the year.
Bible scholars generally agree that Jesus was not born in the winter.
“It could not … have fallen in January or December, since at this time of the year the flocks are not found in open fields during the night. … Moreover, a census which made traveling necessary, would not have been ordered at this season.”1
Well, then, why do we celebrate Christmas in December? The answer lies in the early centuries when missionaries first carried Christianity to the peoples of northern Europe. Pope Gregory (A.D. 590–604) instructed these missionaries: “Remember not to interfere with any traditional belief or religious observance that can be harmonized with Christianity.”2 Such instructions opened the door to many pagan ideas and practices being introduced into Christianity. The observance of Christmas provides several examples.
December 25 was at the heart of the northern European mid-winter festival. There was a fearful superstition that as autumn days became shorter and shorter the sun might sometime completely disappear below the southern horizon and never return. Each year the coming of the winter solstice dispelled this fear, and the people rejoiced that the sun would again come back to warm their northern lands. Early Christian missionaries chose to link this important pagan celebration with the birth of Christ.
“The Christmas tree was a substitute for the sacred oaks and other trees used in pagan rights … interpreting the evergreen as the symbol of the everlasting Christ, in place of the leaf dropping trees of paganism. The green, gold and red lights which the pagan used in their trees to coax the sun-god to return, were re-interpreted to represent the frankincense, gold, and myrrh which the wise men brought to Jesus.”3
Thus, as the Encyclopedia Britannica concludes, the observance of Christmas “is attended with secular customs often drawn from pagan sources.”4
Some might ask if we are wrong in celebrating Christmas in December. Actually we should think about the Lord and his mission throughout the entire year—including December 25. Perhaps our greater concern ought to be how rather than when we commemorate the Savior’s birth. In a Christmas message the First Presidency counseled us:
“… may the true Christmas spirit rest upon each of us this season. May we help reverse the trend toward the gross commercialization of Christmas by gathering our families about us and reading and reflecting on the beautiful story of His birth. May we demonstrate our love for others not only with thoughtful gifts and messages, but also with expressions of love and kindness. May we demonstrate our love for God by worshiping Him in spirit and truth and by obeying His commandments.”5
Members of our family have tried to more adequately remember Christ and share the true spirit of Christmas with others by acting out the events surrounding Jesus’ birth as described in the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke. We have also enjoyed a special home evening reading the Christmas story in the Bible and singing carols.