first Church did not celebrate the birth of Christ. And the actual date
of his birth was and still is unknown. The earliest known indication to
such a celebration comes in a passing statement by St. Clement of
Alexandria who mentions that the Egyptians of his time celebrated the
Lord's birth on May 20. At the end of the 3rd century, the Western
Churches celebrated it in the winter, and this was only accepted in Rome
in the middle of the 4th century.
that time it was agreed by the Church all over the world to celebrate
the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ on 25 December (29 Kiahk in the
Coptic calendar), most probably to take the place of a pagan feast that
even Christians continued to celebrate until then.
that time, and until the sixteenth century, the civil calendar in use
the world over was the Julian calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar in
the year 46 B.C. This calendar considered the year to be 365.25 days 4
and thus had a leap year every four years, just like the Coptic
calendar. Therefore, until the sixteenth century, 25 December coincided
with 29 Kiahk, as the date of the celebration of the Lord's nativity.
the end of the sixteenth century, Pope Gregory XIII of Rome took
interest in studying astrology, dates and feasts. He noticed that the
vernal equinox, the point at which the sun crosses the equator, making
day and night of equal length, starting the spring, used to fall on 21
March (25 Baramhat) around the time of the council of Nicea (A.D. 325)
which set the times for the ecclesiastical feasts. The vernal equinox at
his time however fell on 11 March.
consultation with scientists, he learned that the equinoctial year (or
solar year), which is the time the earth takes to revolve around the sun
from equinox to equinox, was slightly shorter than the Julian year. It
was 365.2422 solar days (approximately 11 minutes and 14 seconds
shorter). This makes a difference of a full day every 128.2 years, hence
the difference of 10 days in the beginning of spring between the fourth
and sixteenth centuries.
Gregory XIII decreed the following:
A.D. 1582, October 5th will be called October 15th.
Julian calendar should be shortened by 3 days every 400 years, by
making the centenary year a normal 365-day year, not a leap year,
except if its number is divisible by 400.
Thus the year 1600 remained a leap year as usual, while 1700, 1800 and
1900 had only 365 days each and the year 2000 was a leap year of 366
This new calendar came to be known as the Gregorian calendar, and is
the common civil calendar in use in our world today.
these decrees, as the Church of Rome celebrated Christmas 25 December
1582 A.D., the Eastern Churches still fasted as they showed 15 December
or 19 Kiyahk on their Julian and Coptic calendars. As the Church of the
East celebrated the feast of Nativity, it was already 4 January 1583
A.D. on Pope Gregory's new calendar. That gap widened by 3 more days
over the next 4 centuries. This is why the Churches who still celebrate
on 25 December according to the ancient Julian calendar (such as most of
the Byzantine Churches and the non-Chalcedonian churches, except the
Armenians) find themselves, in the 21st century, celebrating the
Nativity on 7 January of the civil Gregorian new calendar. This will
become 8 January after the year 2100 A.D.
the questions present themselves:
it necessary that the liturgical calendar be adjusted to a
scientifically correct solar year?
did Pope Gregory correct the calendar to its status at the fourth
not we do it to resemble the status at Christ's birth or at the
beginning of the world?
Should we, as Christians, take the liberty to change a calendar
established and recognized by our fathers of the ecumenical councils
to be the basis of our liturgical life, just because of mere
Should we adjust our calendar to coincide with the western calendar,
or should the Catholics go back to the calendar of the fathers?
it important to have one Nativity day the world over or is it
preferable to unite really in doctrine first, and then look at these
it better, now that the Western Christmas has been so commercialized and
paganized, that we have a separate date where we worship in spirit and
in truth, away from the noise, drunkenness, gluttony and immorality of
the December Christmas practices? Many of our children and youth, born
and raised here, have voiced this opinion.
the ever-renewed birth of the Lord of glory in our hearts, every day of
every year, be unto our salvation to eternal life. Amen