Let me conclude something before I even start. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ; it is not intended to be his birthday. This is significant for those who believe it is a made up holiday used to highjack pagan celebrations. As you will read, the winter solstice is commonly used by most cultures and religions to signify rebirth. I don’t believe Christian should be excluded from this practice.
The Winter Solstice occurs exactly when the earth's axial tilt is farthest away from the sun at its maximum. Though the Winter Solstice lasts an instant in time, the term is also colloquially used like Midwinter to refer to the day on which it occurs. For most people in the high latitudes this is commonly known as the shortest day and the sun's daily maximum position in the sky is the lowest. The seasonal significance of the Winter Solstice is in the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days. Worldwide, interpretation of the event has varied from culture to culture, but most cultures have held a “recognition of rebirth”, involving holidays, festivals, gatherings, rituals or other celebrations around that time. 45 BCE December 25th was established as the winter solstice of Europe by the Julian calendar. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_solstice
Johannes Kepler, with backing from Tycho Brahe, in 1609 published the First and Second Laws of Planetary Motion and ten years later, the Third Law. These are still used by astronomers, NASA, the European Space Agency and everyone else studying the stars today. These laws do not change. With the advent of computer we are able to calculate sky maps showing the exact positions of all of the stars and planets in the night sky. Not just for that evening's observations, but for any day in history, as viewed from any place on the surface of the Earth.
Flavius Josephus (37 AD-95 AD), was a member of the Jewish Pharisee sect and interpreter for Titus (39 AD-81 AD), commander of the Roman expedition in Judea. Titus had ordered the destruction the Jewish temple. In one of Josephus works, Antiquities, he mentions Jesus, John the Baptist and other New Testament characters, including the murderous King Herod of the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 2. The Bible recounts that Herod learned of the Messiah's birth from astronomers who had seen the Star of Bethlehem.
Using this information, Kepler’s calculations and passages in the bible, three dates can be scientifically calculated. The first is in September 3 BC when the heaven revealed the right astrophysical phenomena that the bible predicted as the conception of Christ. Nine month later, June 2 BC would have been the birth of Christ and the Magi from the east would have arrived around December 25 of 2 BC as Jupiter entered retrograde, reaching a full stop in its travel through the fixed stars. Magi viewing from Jerusalem would have seen it stopped in the sky above the little town of Bethlehem.
So the birth of Christ would have been around June 2 BC with the celebration of that birth potentially in December. (www.bethlehemstar.net )
The earliest identification of the 25th of December with the birthday of Christ is in a passage, otherwise unknown and probably spurious, of Theophilus of Antioch (A.D. 171-183), preserved in Latin by the Magdeburg centuriators, to the effect that the Gauls contended that as they celebrated the birth of the Lord on the 25th of December, whatever day of the week it might be.
"Year 1 after Christ, in the consulate of Caesar and Paulus, the Lord Jesus Christ was born on the 25th of December, a Friday and 15th day of the new moon." Here again no festal celebration of the day is attested.
An early reference to the date of the nativity as December 25 is found in the Chronography of 354, a manuscript compiled in Rome in 354. In the East, early Christians celebrated the birth of Christ as part of Epiphany (January 6), although this festival emphasized celebration of the baptism of Jesus.
Christmas was promoted in the Christian East as part of the revival of Catholicism following the death of the pro-Arian Emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. The feast was introduced to Constantinople in 379, and to Antioch in about 380. The feast disappeared after Gregory of Nazianzus resigned as bishop in 381, although it was reintroduced by John Chrysostom in about 400. Puritans strongly condemned the celebration of Christmas, considering it a Catholic invention and the "trappings of popery" or the "rags of the Beast.
In Colonial America, the Puritans of New England shared radical Protestant disapproval of Christmas. Celebration was outlawed in Boston from 1659 to 1681. The ban by the Pilgrims was revoked in 1681 by English governor Sir Edmund Andros.
In 1870 Christmas Day (December 25th) became a federal holiday in the United States.
In all of this let us not forget why this is important. Christ was born so that he may live and die for our sin. Whether you believe Christ died for your sins or not, you have to admit he is probably the best known historic figure of all times. There has to be a reason for that. It might be worth finding out why……