The following series of articles also appear in the Friday edition of the Sentinel Echo Newspaper and the Saturday edition of the Corbin Times-Tribune.
The Origin of Christmas
“…from heaven or of man?”
How was the date of December 25th chosen?
While there are many myths and misconceptions about Christmas, there are some facts that we KNOW. For instance: 1) The Bible does not reveal the date of Jesus' birth. 2) Biblical evidence indicates that Jesus was almost certainly NOT born on December 25th. The fact that shepherds were in the field at night tending their flocks on the night that Jesus was born points to a date that would have been in a warmer month of the year. By late December the flocks would not have been kept out in the fields at night. 3) The religious observance of Jesus' birth did not begin until several centuries after the New Testament was written. There is nothing in the New Testament that indicates a special "Christmas" celebration by first century Christians. 4) Many historical references confirm that December 25th was designated by the Catholic Church as a day to celebrate the birth of Christ. This celebration first took place in Rome around 350 A.D. There is clear evidence that this date was chosen to divert a longstanding pagan tradition of worshiping the sun at this time of year . 5) We know that Jesus was born of a virgin in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago. The Bible does reveal HOW we are to worship, but the Scriptures give us no authority for a special religious observance of His birth (Colossians 3:17). Is there evidence against the December 25? Yes, both external and internal. Outside the New Testament, evidence of uncertainty is found in the various dates already mentioned several centuries later. The “first certain mention” of December 25 as the birthday of Christ, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, was not till the year 354.
“The climate was mild, and to keep their flocks from straying, they spent the night with them. It is also a fact that the Jews sent out their flocks into the mountainous and desert regions during the summer months, and took them up in the latter part of October or the first of November, when the cold weather commenced. While away in these desert and mountainous regions, it was proper that there should be someone to attend them to keep them from straying and from the ravages of wolves and other wild beasts. It is probable from this that our Savior was born before the 25th of December or before what we call CHRISTMAS. At that time it is cold, and especially in the high and mountainous regions about Bethlehem. But the exact time of His birth is unknown; there is no way to ascertain it. By different learned men it has been fixed at each month in the year. Nor is it of consequence to know the time; if it were, God would have preserved the record of it. Matters of moment are clearly revealed; those which He regards as of no importance are concealed.”
(David Smith, in ‘The Days of His Flesh’, pp. 12, 13) wrote: “When He was born, the shepherds were keeping watch by night over their flocks in the wilderness of Judea; and, since the flocks were taken out to pasture about Passover-time and kept until the middle of October when winter set in, His birth fell betwixt April and October”
(Albert Barnes, a Presbyterian in his ‘Notes on the New Testament’, Luke, pp. 18, 19) wrote: “ The truth is that the keeping of December 25 as a “holy day” in celebration of Christ’s birth is a combination of Roman paganism and Roman Catholicism.”
The World Book Encyclopedia (Vol. 3, p. 416, 1960 ed.) declares: “In A.D. 354, Bishop Liberius of Rome ordered the people to celebrate on December 25. He probably chose this date because the people of Rome already observed it as the Feast of Saturn, celebrating the birthday of the sun…For many years, people observed Christmas as a religious festival only. But they gradually adopted more and more customs unrelated to the church. In England, during the Middle Ages, Christmas became the merriest day of the year. Celebrations eventually became so rowdy that the Puritans in England did away with the observance of Christmas by law in 1643. Colonists in New England copied the English laws. The blue laws of the Massachusetts Bay and New Haven colonies even outlawed mince pies. But immigrants brought with them Christmas customs from many lands.”
Notice from Encyclopedia Britannica (op. cit.) the following statements on “CHRISTMAS CUSTOMS” – “Christmas customs are an evolution from times that long antedated the Christian period – a descent from seasonal, pagan, religious and national practices, hedged about with legend and tradition. Their seasonal connections with the pagan feasts of the winter solstice (when the sun reaches its point furthest south) relate them to the beginning of time and their legacy in the birthday of Christ makes them shareholders in the most significant event in the history of the world – an event that gave it a new date, anno Domini.”
“In the beginning many of the earth’s inhabitants were sun worshippers because the course of their lives depended on its yearly round in the heavens, and feasts were held to aid it return from distant wanderings. In the south of Europe, in Egypt and Persia, the sun gods were worshipped with elaborate ceremonies at the season of the winter solstice, as a fitting time to pay tribute to the benign god of plenty, while in Rome the Saturnalia reigned for a week. In northern lands mid-December was a critical time, for the days became shorter and shorter and the sun was weak and far away. Thus these ancient peoples held feasts at the same period that Christmas is now observed; they built great bonfires in order to give the winter sun god strength and to bring him back to life again. When it became apparent that the days were growing longer, there was great rejoicing because of the promise of lengthening days to follow. Thus, the central idea of the winter solstice – the return of light – became the hope of the world in the birth of Christ, the light of the world.”
“…as Christianity spread among the people of pagan lands, many of the practices of the winter solstice were blended with those of Christianity because of the liberal ruling of Gregory I, the Great, and the co-operation of the missionaries.”
From this evidence, we see that Christmas observance EVOLVED from efforts to ‘divert’ people from pagan practices by creating a religious alternative presentation do not honor Christ. (does “Halloween Alternative” come to mind?) It is a product of Roman paganism and Roman Catholicism. Christians honor Jesus in obedience to the command to remember His atoning death on the first day of each week in the memorial of the Lord’s Supper. His death atoned for our sins, not His birth.