Presepe by Francesco Londonio, circa 1750
This is a guest post by Souptik Banerjee.
The Gospel of Mathew states that the Magi (a group of wise men) spotted a new star that cropped up in the sky and used it to trace the location of the newborn Jesus in Bethlehem. They showered baby Jesus with gifts as they believed that the newborn was the “King of the Jews”. Using this proverbial star of Bethlehem as a clue, people have often tried to determine Jesus Christ’s birthday.
Two such studies are noteworthy. The first one was conducted by Colin J. Humphreys which was published in 1991 in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society. He suggests that the most probable year of Jesus’s birth was 5 BC. Around that time, Chinese astronomers had observed sui-hsing (star with a sweeping tail) in the Capricorn region of the sky. This must have been the comet which the Magi believed was the star of Bethlehem. Humphreys further concluded that the birth must have occurred between March 9 and May 4.
A more recent study has been made by an Australian astronomer Dave Reneke in 2008. He used a complex computer software to determine that the planets Venus and Jupiter came together to emit a single “beacon of light” in the summer of 2 BC. The exact date of this conjunction was the June 17.
It is said that the early Christians celebrated Easter as their most important festival. However, when the Roman emperor Constantine I embraced Christianity in 312 and the Romans picked it up from there. The Romans then merged the commemoration of the nativity of Christ with a popular pagan festival of the worshippers of the Romangod Saturn that spanned from December 17 to 25 every year to celebrate the “birthday of the unconquered sun” (natalis solis invicti) which what the Romans referred to as “winter solstice”. This gave rise to Christmas celebration on December 25.
No matter when Jesus was born and why we celebrate his birth on December 25, I wish you all Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.
Souptik Banerjee loves reading and writing. He blogs at raindried.wordpress.com.