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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

26 May 2006

A Christian New Year?

Q: Why don’t we celebrate December 25 as the new year? We separate BC and AD according to the birth of Christ, so why not use the 25th to begin the new year?

Happy New YearA: Not all of our divisions are according to the Christian calendar. The new year and our division of months comes from the Roman calendar. So do the names of the months. Our day names come from German-Nordic and Roman sources.

The beginnings of the “BC-AD” division began soon after Jesus’ Ascension. Marking and agreeing upon the dividing point took a few centuries to hash out — and still, we aren’t certain about some of the dates. Anyhow, as Christians started thinking about the history of the Church and its Savior, events from the life of Christ were imposed upon a Latin calendar. Of course, we need to remember that Jesus would have ordered much of His earthly life according to the Hebrew calendar.

Not only is there no exact match for some of the dates, the division given for BC and AD is incorrect. All the Scripture evidence points to Jesus being born several years BC. I’ve read anywhere from 3-8 BC (or even earlier) as possible birth years. Our current system formed slowly but received much of its final structure — and great impetus for its adoption in the Church — through the work of Saint Bede in the 8th Century AD.

The start of a new year is somewhat arbitrary, anyway. Why use the birth of Christ? Why not His resurrection, when new life began? Pentecost, which was the “birthday” of the Christian Church would be another possibility. In much of Christendom, the beginning of the Church’s new year is the First Sunday in Advent (four Sundays before Christmas Day). I wrote more about this in Happy New Year!

For more on what BC and AD mean and the growth of the Christian calendar, please see my previous post, Notes on the Christian Calendar.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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