Last night began the Jewish festival popularly known Sukkoth, the “feast of huts” or booths. The King James Version translated it as the “Feast of Tabernacles,” and that is how many thousands of Christians who observe it in some fashion refer to it most often today, see here for some biblical textual background from the Hebrew Bible.
What is all the more interesting about this day is that by some calculations (see Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology) Jesus was born on or very near the 15th day of the 7th month–based on the chronology given in the book of Luke. The calculations are complex but have to do with the time in which Zechariah, father of John the Baptizer, served in the Temple (Luke 1:8), as the “section” of priests in which he was part went on duty at a specific time of year. From that window calculations can be made as to the birth of John, followed by the birth of Jesus six months later. My own calculations based on a computer program I use puts the birth of Jesus in 5 B.C. very close to Sukkoth that year, or September 22nd on the Gregorian Calendar, corresponding to the Autumnal Equinox. So I suppose one could say tonight marks the original Christmas Eve and Jesus’ Hebrew birthday. For more details on these calculations see my article on a different take on “Silent Night,” here.
There is a fascinating Roman civic inscription dating to the year 9 B.C. that was passed by the cities of Asia to celebrate the birthday of the Emperor Augustus. It reads in part: “Whereas, finally, that the birthday of the god (i.e. Augustus) has been for the whole world the beginning of the gospel (euangelion) concerning him, therefore, let all reckon a new era beginning from the date of his birth, and let his birthday mark the beginning of the new year.” You can read the text in whole here.
It is surely more than ironic that the birth of Jesus, an insignificant Galilean peasant, living under the brutal boot of Roman occupation, just a few years later, did indeed lead to a new era, a kind of “birthday of the world,” that has paled into insignificance the birth of the celebrated Emperor Augustus.
So today in particular it seems has a double meaning, as the festival of Sukkoth for Jews and others who observe the Torah festivals, but for Christians, and really our entire society, the birthday of a new era, in that Jesus himself was born on or very near this day.