Do you observe Christmas because you think it's Christ's birthday? Was He born on or anytime near Dec. 25? If Jesus lived on earth today, would He celebrate Christmas at all?
Just what are the origins of Christmas? History shows that Christmas predates Christ by many centuries.
We should sit up and take notice of remarks from a popular American comedian and actor, Drew Carey. At a White House correspondents' dinner on May 5, Mr. Carey directed his comments to the president and vice president and their wives, several military and civilian dignitaries and a host of Hollywood entertainers:
"I can't watch the news lately," he said. "It gets too depressing. What I do now is turn the news off, get out my Bible and turn to the book of Revelation. I start just checking things off ... Got it, got it, need it, got it, need it ... Red dragon, seven horns, 10 crowns, got it.
"Yeah, I read the Bible a lot, you know. It's just crazy [the way] we celebrate holidays in the United States. I found out just recently there are so many religious holidays we celebrate here in this country that have nothing to do with the Bible at all. Real famous holidays, like Christmas. Christmas has nothing to do with the Bible.
"The birth of Jesus is in the Bible, but not Christmas. The tree is not in the Bible, you know. Gifts—that's not there either. There's no place where it says, '"Celebrate my birthday," says Jesus.' It's a pagan holiday that the Romans invented that we just do. But everywhere you go, I'm telling you, I've seen this so many times, you see a nativity scene and there's baby Jesus, the manger, sheep, shepherds, Mary, Joseph and Santa Claus right in the middle. Who's he? Mary's [birthing] coach? Santa Claus has nothing to do with anything."
Drew Carey actually brought up a serious side of Christmas: that history exposes the holiday as nothing more than a pagan observance dressed up in Christian garb.
Does the question of whether Christmas is biblical or not make any difference? What must Jesus Christ think about the feel-good, commercially driven season that supposedly honors Him?
Christmas before Christ?
Just what are the origins of Christmas? Did it really originate among pagan peoples before Jesus' birth , as Mr.Carey said?
History, in fact, shows that Christmas predates Christ by many centuries. Tertullian, an early cleric of the Catholic Church (A.D. 155-220), taught that Christmas and the New Year's season were pagan—in other words, they were based on the polytheistic religions of ancient Rome and its predecessors. He acknowledged that this infamous annual pagan season stretched from early December to early January. To the church, Tertullian railed against the entire season as a time of wholly heathen practices.
Born a non-Christian, Tertullian was sent by his parents to Rome to study law. There, according to Walter Elwell, "he was converted to Christianity and rejected his licentious mode of life. Returning to Carthage, he gave himself passionately to the propagation and defense of the gospel [as he understood it]. Ultimately disenchanted with the laxity of the Roman Church, he broke away and espoused the rigorous asceticism and enthusiasm of Montanism ... [He weighed the] practical aspects of Christian living [against] the failings of early Catholicism and [offered] polemic arguments against the heathen and heretics" ( Tertullian, 2001, p. 1176).
Tertullian defended the Christianity of his day against the growing influx of heathen practices, particularly in the Christmas and New Year's season. In his comments we see reference to the pagans' holiday trappings that have passed down largely unchanged to our day: "On your day of gladness, we [Christians] neither cover our doorposts with wreaths, nor intrude upon the day with lamps. At the call of public festivity, you consider it a proper thing to decorate your house like some new brothel. We are accused of a lower sacrilege because we do not celebrate along with you the holidays of the Caesars in a manner forbidden alike by modesty, decency, and purity" (quoted by David Bercot, A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, 1998, p. 342).
Continuing his comments on the season of Christmas and New Year's, Tertullian wrote: "The Roman traitors clad their doorposts with green and branching laurels. They smoked up their porches with lofty and brilliant lamps" (ibid.). Addressing Catholic Christians of his day about Christmas, he admonished, "Furthermore, you Christians [should] have no acquaintance with the festivals of the Gentiles" (ibid.).
Tertullian also contrasted the pagans' faithfulness to their pagan festivities with Christians' faithlessness and their tendency to compromise their beliefs: "The Saturnalia, New Year, Midwinter festivals, and Matronalia are frequented by us! Presents come and go! There are New Year's gifts! Games join their noise! Banquets join their din! The pagans are more faithful to their own sect . For, even if they had known them, they would not have shared the Lord's Day or Pentecost with us. For they would fear lest they would appear to be Christians. Yet, we are not apprehensive that we might appear to be pagans" (ibid., emphasis added).
What an incredible admission by an early Latin-church leader. The pagans were more faithful to their traditions than the church was to its traditions. Tertullian chastised professing Christians of his day by reminding them they were following pagan traditions that predated Christ's birth.
The surprising origins of Christmas
Many reputable authors have written well-researched books documenting the origins of Christian holidays, and many encyclopedias summarize the same information. They have no religious ax to grind; they simply report the historical record.
One such book is The Oxford Guide to Ideas and Issues of the Bible (Bruce Metzger and Michael Coogan, editors, 2001). In its entry "Christmas," this source reports: "Twenty-five December was by the fourth century [A.D.] the date of the winter solstice, celebrated in antiquity as the birthday of Mithras [an ancient Persian god] and of Sol Invictus [the 'unconquered' sun god]. In the Julian calendar the solstice fell on 6 January, when the birthday of Osiris [the Egyptian god of the dead] was celebrated at Alexandria. By about 300 CE [A.D.], 6 January was the date of the Epiphany in the East, a feast always closely related to Christmas.
"The earliest mention of 25 December for Christmas is in the Philocalian Calendar of 354, part of which reflects Roman practice in 336. Celebration of Christ's birthday was not general until the fourth century; in fact, as late as the fifth century the Old Armenian Lectionary of Jerusalem still commemorated James and David on 25 December, noting 'in other towns they keep the birth of Christ'" (p. 95, emphasis added).
Modern Christians should be shocked that as late as the mid-fourth century not all Christians had yet begun celebrating the pagan festivals of Christmas and New Year's. The Oxford Guide also notes that Christmas has its roots in the winter solstice, celebrated anciently as the birthday of the sun and the Persian deity Mithras.
More on Mithras
Sir James George Frazer wrote a well-researched book on Christian holidays, The Golden Bough . He expands on the origin of Christmas as the birthday of the ancient Persian god Mithras: "... There can be no doubt that the Mithraic religion proved a formidable rival to Christianity, combining as it did a solemn ritual with aspirations after moral purity and a hope of immortality. Indeed the issue of the conflict between the two faiths appears for a time to have hung in the balance. An instructive relic of the long struggle is preserved in our festival of Christmas, which the Church seems to have borrowed directly from its heathen rival.
"In the Julian calendar the twenty-fifth of December was reckoned the winter solstice, and it was regarded as the Nativity of the Sun, because the day begins to lengthen and the power of the sun to increase from that turning-point of the year. The ritual of the nativity, as it appears to have been celebrated in Syria and Egypt, was remarkable. The celebrants retired into certain inner shrines, from which at midnight they issued with a loud cry, 'The Virgin has brought forth! The light is waxing!'
"The Egyptians even represented the new-born sun by the image of an infant which on his birthday, the winter solstice, they brought forth and exhibited to his worshippers. No doubt the Virgin who thus conceived and bore a son on the twenty-fifth of December was the great Oriental [i.e., Middle Eastern] goddess whom the Semites called the Heavenly Virgin or simply the Heavenly Goddess; in Semitic lands she was a form of Astarte [also known as Easter]. Now Mithra was regularly identified by his worshippers with the Sun, the Unconquered Sun, as they called him; hence his nativity also fell on the twenty-fifth of December" (1996, p. 416).
Like many good researchers, Sir James Frazer followed the thread of Christmas through historical records and came up with one inescapable conclusion: Christmas is but a relic of the worship of a pagan god known by the Persians as Mithra or Mithras. In other words, those who observe Christmas today simply keep an ancient idolatrous holiday season dressed in Christian symbolism!
Why did the early Catholic Church adopt the pagan holiday of Christmas? Frazer continues: "What considerations led the ecclesiastical authorities to institute the festival of Christmas? The motives for the innovation are stated with great frankness by a Syrian writer, himself a Christian.
"'The reason,' he tells us, 'why the fathers transferred the celebration of the sixth of January to the twenty-fifth of December was this. It was a custom of the heathen to celebrate on the same twenty-fifth of December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and festivities the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnized on that day and the festival of the Epiphany on the sixth of January. Accordingly, along with this custom, the practice has prevailed of kindling fires till the sixth.'
"The heathen origin of Christmas is plainly hinted at, if not tacitly admitted, by Augustine when he exhorts his Christian brethren not to celebrate that solemn day like the heathen on account of the sun, but on account of him who made the sun. In like manner [Pope] Leo the Great rebuked the pestilent belief that Christmas was solemnized because of the birth of the new sun, as it was called, and not because of the nativity of Christ. Thus it appears that the Christian Church chose to celebrate the birthday of its Founder on the twenty-fifth of December in order to transfer the devotion of the heathen from the Sun to him who was called the Sun of Righteousness" (pp. 416-417).
Thus we see that one of the ancient world's most popular celebrations—a festival honoring pagan gods—was renamed and reborn as traditional Christianity's most popular celebration.
Born on Dec. 25?
Honest scholars admit that the customs of Christmas and a Dec. 25 celebration long predate the birth of Christ. Nevertheless, wasn't Jesus born on Dec. 25? Let's look at some of the scriptural evidence.
Luke's Gospel, describing Christ's birth, tells us: "So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn . Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night" (Luke 2:6-8, emphasis added throughout).
We see that when Jesus was born shepherds were spending the night with their flocks in open fields. In that region, from December to February, though the heat of the day might feel comfortable enough when the human body is covered, the cold of the night was piercing. Thus the shepherds never kept their flocks and herds out in the open country from December through February—it was simply too cold (Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, 1959, p. 2). This in itself tells us that Jesus could not have been born anywhere near Dec. 25.
The Roman census system is another historical proof that Jesus wasn't born in December. Luke 2:1 tells us that "it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered." However, this would not have happened in winter because "the middle of winter was not fitting for such a business, especially for women with child, and children to travel in. Therefore, Christ could not be born in the depth of winter ... And if any shall think the winter wind was not so extreme in these parts, let him remember the words of Christ in the gospel, 'pray that your flight be not in the winter'" (Hislop, p. 92).
The Romans were efficient administrators. They would never consciously choose a time to register every man, woman and child when travel would have been so difficult because of cold and inclement weather. Here, too, is biblical proof that Jesus was not born in December's cold weather.
A far more likely scenario is that Jesus was born in the autumn, around the time of the biblical Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:34-36), when Joseph and Mary would have traveled to Jerusalem to keep the Feast along with thousands of other Jewish families. This also helps us understand why in the town Bethlehem, a few miles to the south of Jerusalem, "there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7)—the town would have been crowded with other travelers keeping the Feast at this time of year. (For additional biblical evidence that Jesus was likely born at this time and not on or near Dec. 25, request our free booklet Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Really Matter Which Days We Observe? )
Did the apostles keep Christmas?
It's clear that Jesus wasn't born on Dec. 25. But could the apostles have instituted Christmas in the Church after Jesus' death and resurrection?
Nowhere in the New Testament can you find one iota of scriptural evidence that Jesus or any one of the apostles ever kept Christmas or taught anyone to keep this pagan celebration.
Jesus sternly corrected the religious teachers of His day who substituted human traditions and teachings for God's truths: "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites ... All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition" (Mark 7:6-9).
Further, Jesus instructed His apostles not to vary from God's edicts in the Old Testament: "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:17-19).
One of the commandments to which Jesus referred concerned God's instruction about honoring Him with pagan practices—the very thing Christmas does. Notice it in Deuteronomy 12:30-32: "... Do not inquire after their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.' You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way ... Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it."
Rather than teaching Christians to adopt pagan practices in their worship, Jesus and the apostles plainly kept and taught Christians to keep God's Holy Days and festivals first recorded in the Old Testament (see Leviticus 23).
They kept the Christian Passover (1 Corinthians 11:23-26), the Days of Unleavened Bread (Acts 20:6; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8), Pentecost (Acts 2:1; 20:16) and the fall feasts—the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement (called "the Fast" in Acts 27:9), the Feast of Trumpets, and the Feast of Tabernacles, along with the Last Great Day (John 7).
The apostle John is direct in his evaluation of any who claim to be Christian but refuse to follow Christ's laws and commandments: "He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:4).
Scripture proves God never sanctioned Christmas, nor does Scripture reveal Jesus' birth date. Available evidence suggests that He might have been born sometime in late September or perhaps early October. "There is no certainty as to the month or day of the birth [of Jesus]. The Christmas date, December 25, is first met within the West in the 4th century, and was then possibly borrowed from a pagan festival. December, in the winter season, seems unlikely, as unsuitable for the pasturing of flocks. A more probable date is a couple of months earlier" ( The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1986, "Jesus Christ," p. 1628).
Would Jesus keep Christmas today?
Faced with these historical facts, and God's clear instruction about mixing pagan practices with worship of Him, we can conclude only that Jesus would not keep Christmas today. Christmas is, in fact, an affront to Him.
In the Old Testament, God pronounced a curse on Israel for adopting pagan feast days: "Behold, I will rebuke your seed, and will spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your feasts; and ye shall be taken away with it" (Malachi 2:3, American Standard Bible). The Scriptures give us no reason to think that God's abhorrence of the celebration of pagan festivals to honor Him is any less today!
Satan, the great deceiver (Revelation 12:9), has duped mankind for millennia with his pagan holidays. He doesn't portray them as they really are, which Paul describes as "fellowship with demons" (1 Corinthians 10:20). Paul knew that Satan "transforms himself into an angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14). Satan has, for the time being, successfully substituted himself as this world's god in the place of the true God. He has counterfeited God's truth and true Holy Days, substituting his false religious holidays in their place.
If you keep Christmas and other religious holidays not sanctioned by the Bible, you have been hoodwinked by the god of this world into honoring him as an angel of light. Christmas trees, mistletoe, holly wreaths and Santa Claus don't honor Jesus' birth; they represent and honor pagan cult figures that predate Christ by centuries. Jesus was not born on Dec. 25, and, if He were on earth today, He not only wouldn't keep Christmas but He would rebuke any who would. God finds Christmas offensive because it blinds mankind from Him and His truth.
If you want to know which days Jesus wants you to keep, read our free booklet on God's true feasts and Holy Days . You'll be surprised at what you'll learn. GN