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?”
Christmas was not celebrated nor commemorated in any way by the apostles, nor was it celebrated in the apostolic church (not for at least the first 300 years of church history)! Such celebration only came into the church with the "Christianization" of pagan rites as Catholicism was made the state religion by Constantine in the fourth century A.D. History reveals that by about 440 A.D., the Church at Jerusalem started celebrating Christmas, following the lead of Roman Catholicism (see below).
Seemingly forgotten is the essential role religion played in the world of ancient Rome. But Constantine understood. A brilliant military commander, he also had the genius to recognize the need for a union between paganism and Christianity. Hence, the Babylonian mystery religions were introduced by Constantine in 313 A.D. as he tried to incorporate the pagans into the newly constituted "Holy" Roman Empire. The Constantine-led Roman Church was willing to adapt and adopt pagan practices in order to make Christianity palatable to the heathen.
Thus, pagan rituals and idols took on Christian names. For example, Jesus Christ was presented as the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2) replacing the sun god, Sol Invictus. Pagan holidays were reclassified as Christian holidays (holy-days). December 25th was the "Victory of the Sun-God" Festival in the pagan Babylonian world, and a celebration of the Festival of Saturn (Saturnalia), or winter solstice, in the ancient Roman Empire. To all ancient pagan civilizations, this date was the birthday of the gods -- the time of year when the days began to lengthen and man was blessed with a "regeneration of nature."
Moreover, all the December 25th Babylonian and Roman festivals were characterized by celebration periods of unrestrained or orgiastic revelry and licentiousness.
December 25th was particularly important in the cult of Mithras, a popular deity in the Old Roman Empire. Robert Myers (a proponent for celebrating Christmas) in his book Celebrations says: "Prior to the celebration of Christmas, December 25th in the Roman world was the Natalis Solis Invicti , the Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun. This feast, which took place just after the winter solstice of the Julian calendar, was in honor of the Sun God, Mithras, originally a Persian deity whose cult penetrated the Roman world in the first century B.C. ... Besides the Mithraic influence, other pagan forces were at work. From the seventeenth of December until the twenty-third, Romans celebrated the ancient feast of the Saturnalia. ... It was commemorative of the Golden Age of Saturn, the god of sowing and husbandry ." But, as mentioned earlier, Christianity had to be made palatable to the heathen. So the Roman church simply took the Festival of Saturnalia, adopted it into Christianity, and then eventually many of the associated pagan symbols, forms, customs, and traditions were reinterpreted (i.e., "Christianized") in ways "acceptable" to Christian faith and practice.
Thus, by giving Christianity official status, Constantine brought internal peace to the Empire. The pagans flocked into the Catholic places of worship, because they were still able to worship their old gods, only now under different names. It mattered not to them whether they worshiped the Goddess-mother and her Child under the old names (Isis and Horus), or under the names of the "Virgin Mary" and the "Christ-child." Either way, it was the same old idol-religion.
After the Reformation, godly Protestants in Europe were absolutely opposed to Christmas. It was despised by the Puritans and Non-conformists in England. In 1644, when the Puritans controlled the Parliament, it was declared that NO observation of Christmas was to be had on December 25th, but, instead, it was to be observed as a normal market-day. It was called "the Profane Man's Ranting Day." At that time, troops would actually break up Christmas celebrations, tear down decorations, and arrest anyone holding a service on that day! Some who celebrated it in Europe were also thrown into prison.
America's settlers (Protestant America) rightfully considered Christmas a "popish" holiday. In fact, it was only in the early 1800s that several founding members of the New York Historical Society "invented" Christmas. Before then, it was illegal in colonial Massachusetts to even take December 25th off work. Christmas was forbidden as "unseemly to ye spiritual welfare of ye community." (Christmas was banned in Massachusetts in 1659, and this law remained for about twenty years. In Boston, public schools stayed open on December 25th until as late as 1870!) It wasn't until 1836 that any state declared Christmas a holiday (Alabama), and then there were no more state declarations until the Civil War. The so-called Christmas customs and traditions were later concocted more for commercial purposes than for religious. In the past, denominational leaders based their objections due to a lack of authority from the scriptures to do so. They recognized that silence in the Bible prohibited such worship of Jesus’ birth.
Consider the words of the late Charles Haddon Spurgeon (a Baptist preacher), delivered in a Lord's Day sermon on December 24, 1871: "We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas. First, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be said or sung in Latin or in English; and secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Savior; and consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority. Superstition has fixed most positively the day of our Savior's birth, although there is no possibility of discovering when it occurred…It was not 'till the middle of the third century that any part of the Church celebrated the nativity of our Lord; and it was not 'till very long after the Western Church had set the example, that the Eastern adopted it. Because the day is not known, therefore superstition has fixed it...where is the method in the madness of the superstitious? Probably the fact is that the "holy" days were arranged to fit in with the heathen festivals. We venture to assert, that if there be any day in the year of which we may be pretty sure that it was not the day on which the Savior was born, it is the 25th of December...Regarding not the day, let us, nevertheless, give God thanks for the gift of His dear Son."
Constantine’s concern was to bring internal peace to his empire, not to rid his empire of idolatry. Thus I hope you can see how we have gotten to the point we are today. When people are zealous, but that zeal is not according to knowledge of how God said to do things, then they see no “harm” in such celebrations. We can no more make Mother’s Day or Father’s Day a religious observation and justify it from the Bible than we can the current religious observations of Jesus’ birthday. I also find it so ironic that more and more denominations cancel their services at this time of the year, all the while claiming to “honor” the birth of the Savior.