In at least recent years, Messianic Jews (who also accept Yeshua—Jesus—as their Messiah) have proposed that He was not born during Christmastime, but rather earlier in the year. While their “argument” is not entirely persuasive, it is nonetheless interesting.
The main description of Jesus’ birth is found, of course, early in Luke’s Gospel. It is important to note that Luke does not specify the time of year when Jesus was born. It is also important to note that late December in Israel can be rather cold (with occasional snow), and so the shepherds would not likely be “tending their flocks by night” outdoors at that time of year. I will come around to the question of why there was “no room for them in the inn” for Joseph and Mary.
Luke’s story begins with the pregnancy of Elizabeth with John the Baptist, she being of “barren age.” In this “argument,” Elizabeth gets pregnant probably in June (possibly during Pentecost or Shavuot, which did occur at that time this year, but this is speculative historically), and Mary gets pregnant in December, perhaps on or near December 25th (also speculative, perhaps during Hanukkah). Remember, Jews had three major yearly festivals: Passover (Pesach), Pentecost and Sukkot, or the autumnal Feast of Tabernacles, which celebrated the summer harvest. Hence, John the Baptist was about six months older than Jesus. Luke’s business about “the leaping for joy in the womb” may be his own hyperbolic embellishment, yet the point is made.
John the Baptist is then born during springtime’s Passover, which could be considered a summation of most or all of the Old Testament prophets, he signaling the coming of their Messiah (Mashiach), and so he “gets his own festival.” Jesus is then born during the Sukkot festival in September or October, roughly six months after John. There is “no room in the inn” because of the large festival crowds in Jerusalem. Sukkot is an eight-day festival (this year: October 9-16) when a lot goes on: the erecting of booths (sukkahs), or temporary shelters, singing and much merriment, as it is the most celebratory of the three Jewish festivals. Jesus would have been born on the first day of Sukkot, and circumcised on the eighth or last day of the festival. Thus, He is born, circumcised and resurrected on Sunday, and since His original followers were largely still Jewish, it could have been them more than the early Christian church who saw Sunday as the proper day for worship of their new-found Mashiach.
Some people think that Christmas grew out of a Roman pagan festival called Saturnalia, based upon an earlier Greek festival, which included gift-giving. Pope Julius I decreed the December 25th date for Jesus’ birth only in the 4th Century, for somewhat unclear reasons. Christmas has evolved a lot over the centuries, including the Nordic fellow, “Kris Kringle” (a precursor to our Santa Claus) and the use of decorated trees.
If the Jews are right, then God was using their festivals to bring two very important figures into the world within a year’s time, in close proximity to the death of the last Jewish king, Herod the Great, in ca. 4 BCE. In John’s Gospel, Jesus goes to Sukkot one time, where He famously proclaimed that “those who are thirsty, come drink,” based on a festival water ritual.
You might ask: Does it really matter when Jesus was born? Well, didn’t you want to know when your own children were born?