Don’t bother me with the facts—my mind’s made up!” This hypothetical retort exemplifies someone challenged over an entrenched false belief. And sometimes many people stubbornly cling to a particular fiction over fact as a result of groupthink.
How many Christians who observe this holiday are willing to research whether it’s rooted in Scripture? What if one’s Christian beliefs differ from biblical teachings? Do we ignore the Bible and go along with religious traditions that are more comfortable? Is concurrence-seeking more important to us than living by God’s eternal truths?
If you desire to know where Christmas came from, read on. Here you will find the answer to the question, Is Christmas really Christian? And if it isn’t, will you change and follow God’s truths?
Jesus’ birthday not a focus early on
An article at the popular Christian website Crosswalk.com defends Dec. 25 as an early established date for Jesus’ birthday, yet contains some significant admissions:
“The tradition for December 25th is actually quite ancient. Hippolytus, in the second century A.D., argued that this was Christ’s birthday [though this Roman church father wrote several generations after Jesus and the apostles]. Meanwhile, in the Eastern Church, January 6th was the date followed.
“But in the fourth century, John Chrysostom [Catholic archbishop of Constantinople] argued that December 25th was the correct date and from that day till now, the Church in the East, as well as the West, has observed the 25th of December as the official date of Christ’s birth [though some still opt for Jan. 6].
“Though the gospels of Matthew and Luke both give an account of Christ’s birth, neither one provides a date for this great event. Though it may sound strange to our modern minds, it is likely that early Christians did not place any particular value on birthdays. This makes it hard to conclude when Jesus was really born.
“It was not until the third century that various pockets of Christians began to show interest in the date of Christ’s birth, and it would take another century for the Church to begin celebrating it with some uniformity” (Angie Mosteller, “When Was Jesus Born and Why Do We Celebrate on December 25th?”, Dec. 6, 2011, emphasis added throughout).
Notice, Christmas was assigned the date of Dec. 25 not by God or His Word, but by the clergy of the church well after apostolic times. The article goes on to accept that the establishment of the “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” on Dec. 25 by the Roman Emperor Aurelian in 274 may have had a secondary influence on the church accepting this date as the birth of Jesus, but it contends that Aurelian may have co-opted a date already significant to Christians. Yet the timing of this sun-worship festival close to the winter solstice had a much more ancient origin, as we will see.
Christmas observance a late departure
The Catholic Church did not fix the date of Christmas until the fourth century. The same article notes that “the first clear record of Christ’s birth on December 25 was not until 336 AD.”
According to The Catholic Encyclopedia: “The liturgical [public ceremonial worship] year in the Roman rite, as known today, came into existence only gradually once Easter and Christmas feasts had been established . . . The commemoration of the birthday of the Lord on December 25 spread from Rome throughout the Western Church from the 4th century [A.D. 300s], and Epiphany [on Jan. 6] remained as the commemoration of the Magi incident recounted in M[atthew] 2.1-12” (“Early Christian Feasts,” 1967, Vol. 5, p. 868).
The same encyclopedia elsewhere states: “The celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25. The name is derived from the Old English Cristes Maesse or Cristes-messe, meaning the Mass of Christ [ironic since the Mass is a Catholic rite marking the death of Christ rather than His birth].
“Inexplicable though it seems, the date of Christ’s birth is not known. The Gospels indicate neither the day nor the month; and although Luke (2.1-3) sets the Nativity in a historical perspective, the year cannot be determined with exactitude” (“Christmas and Its Cycle,” Vol. 3, p. 656).
We also see in The Catholic Encyclopedia the incredible admission that Jesus, the apostles and the early New Testament Church persisted in the observance of God’s seventh-day Sabbath (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset) and the annual festivals mandated in God’s law:
“The earliest Christians did not immediately dissociate themselves from the observance of the Jewish feasts [actually God’s feasts, as He states in Leviticus 23:2]. Many references in the N[ew]T[estament] indicate that Jesus and His disciples, as well as the early . . . Christian communities, observed the Sabbath and the major annual festivals [those listed in Leviticus 23]” (“Early Christian Feasts,” Vol. 5, p. 867).
Here the notion is advanced that although the early Church initially continued to celebrate the same weekly Sabbath and annual festivals that the Jewish people did, which of itself is a remarkable admission, the church finally woke up and disassociated itself from these “Jewish feasts” in embracing a more “gentile” Christianity. Sunday observance and other unbiblical holidays were substituted for the allegedly archaic Old Testament Sabbath and annual feasts.
Yet Christ condemned the negation of God’s law, declaring of those who spin His truth, “In vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:7). Clearly, a wayward groupthink about rejecting biblical practice and adopting the Christmas tradition is at work here!
No real connection to Jesus’ birth
Today, Christmas is promoted as a commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and of course the story of His birth is indeed biblical. But how does that align with the observance of Christmas?
What was the purpose of Jesus’ birth? Most Christians would quickly answer that He was born to be our Savior. That’s true, but there’s more. He was also born to become our Sovereign Ruler (Daniel 2:44), Leader (Colossians 1:18) and Teacher (John 3:2).
If He is our Teacher, then where are His instructions to observe Christmas? Jesus asked those professing to follow Him, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ [signifying supreme Master] and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).
Some will argue that the accounts of Christ’s birth in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and the announcements of it made there prove the validity of observing Christmas today. But there is no hint anywhere of such observance for us (while the days we are told to observe have been summarily rejected).
Certainly God announced Jesus’ birth, and He was honored by a delegation of wise men from the East who brought gifts for the future King of Kings (Matthew 2:1-12). Yet their arrival with these gifts was evidently a considerable time after His birth, not on “the first Christmas,” as many try to paint it.
There were no Christmas trees, wreaths, Yule logs, reindeer, elves, stockings by the fireplace or exchanging of gifts with one another. There was no attachment to Dec. 25. Jesus was not even born in the winter.
Since the accounts of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke have nothing really to do with the observance of the Christmas holiday as we know it, where did this religious tradition originate?
Perpetuating a pagan winter festival
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church states in its entry on “Christmas”: “The popular observance of the feast has always been marked by the joy and merry-making formerly characteristic of the Roman Saturnalia and the other pagan festivals it replaced” (1958, p. 277). This celebration was filled with wantonness, reveling and drunkenness.
The Catholic Encyclopedia likewise shows that the Christmas season came from the ancient winter festival that celebrated the sun god in the lengthening days following the winter solstice. The early Catholic church father Origen, writing in the early A.D. 200s, never mentioned Christmas, and in fact said that Christians did not even observe Christ’s birth at all, as though He were a pagan king (compare “Christmas and Its Cycle,” 1967, Vol. 3, 1967, and “Christmas,” 1913, Vol. 3).
Tertullian, another outspoken Catholic theologian at the time, rebuked compromising Christians who joined in the pagan winter festival from which Christmas derives: “By us . . . who are strangers to Sabbaths, and new moons, and festivals [as found in Leviticus 23, since they had ceased to observe these], the Saturnalia [that is, the winter festival that with others became the Christmas season], the feasts of January, the Brumalia, and Matronalia are now frequented; gifts are carried to and fro, new year’s day presents are made with din, and banquets are celebrated with uproar; oh, how much more faithful are the heathen to their religion, who take special care to adopt no solemnity from the Christians” (Tertullian in De Idolatria, quoted by Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, p. 93).
Despite the warning, such celebration was eventually made part of “Christian” worship. The Christmas tree and other elements of the Christmas season were brought over with the ancient pagan festival, which was rooted in the idolatry of the early Babylonian king Nimrod, a rebel tyrant against God (see Genesis 10:8-11).
From clues in pagan traditions, it appears he was ultimately slain for his rebellion against God and debauchery. Yet his worship became diffused through many and varied pagan traditions, so that he is the one ultimately portrayed in the burning Yule log on Christmas Eve, the one who was cut down and died and, as the returning sun in the sky, then became the reborn divine son, the Christmas tree, on Christmas Day. “Now the Yule Log is the dead stock of Nimrod, deified as the sun-god, but cut down by his enemies; the Christmas-tree is Nimrod redivivus [i.e., reborn]—the slain god come to life again” (Hislop, p. 98).
Forms of the idolatrous winter festival spread throughout the Middle East. It also accompanied the peoples who migrated into Europe. Among the Romans it became the Saturnalia and Brumalia and New Year’s, as we’ve seen. In northern Europe it developed into the aforementioned Yule—and ultimately the Christmas we know today. The Wikipedia entry “Winter Solstice” tells us:
“The pagan Scandinavian and Germanic people of northern Europe celebrated a twelve-day ‘midwinter’ (winter solstice) holiday called Yule . . . Many modern Christmas traditions, such as the Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath, the Yule log, and others, are direct descendants of Yule customs. Scandinavians still call Christmas ‘Jul’. In English, the word ‘Yule’ is often used in combination with the season ‘yuletide’, a usage first recorded in 900. It is believed that the celebration of this day was a worship of these peculiar days, interpreted as the reawakening of nature . . .
“Julblot [or Yule sacrifice] is the most solemn sacrifice feast. At the Yule blot, sacrifices were given to the gods to earn blessings on the forthcoming germinating crops. The Yule blot was eventually integrated into the Christian Christmas.”
In short, the pagan winter festival of the ancient world changed clothes, eventually adding the title of Christ and reappearing as Christmas. The celebration was embraced by an increasingly wayward Christianity as a way to entice and hold on to new converts who refused to give up their frivolities, drinking and debauchery during the pagan winter festival.
How does God view this holiday?
Members of the early Church would have been astonished to think that the customs and practices we associate with Christmas—which they saw in the corrupt pagan Roman world around them—would be incorporated into a celebration of Christ’s birth. Yet after several centuries, Christ’s name was attached to this popular Roman holiday with its roots in Babylon.
Remarkably, when confronted with the facts about the real origins of Christmas, many Christians ask: “So what’s the big deal? I’m still honoring Jesus Christ!” But are they?
Scripture itself is clear that we are not to use pagan religious practices in the worship of the true God, as He considers that an abomination (Deuteronomy 12:29-32). Thus Christmas is not a festival of Christ or the true God at all. The only thing in Christmas that speaks of Christ is the misuse of His name.
God condemns such pagan festivals. They sadly blind people to His great plan as revealed in His true holy festivals, which serve as the symbolic map of humankind’s salvation. The well-meaning and heartfelt appeal by many to put Christ back into Christmas is futile. Christ was never in Christmas. Had He observed or told others to observe Christmas, He would have broken His own laws, which is sin (1 John 3:4-5), and we would have no Savior. We would then have no release from the wages of sin, which is death (Romans 6:23).
Will we wait for Christ to return before we honor Him? Must Christ be seen and touched for us to believe Him? Jesus addressed this: “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Do you believe God the Father and Jesus Christ? Not just believe in Them, but believe what They have said through Scripture?
Do They through the Bible tell you to observe Christmas—or not to observe it? Is Christmas really Christian? How can it be? God never instituted it, and He never taught that it be observed. Just the opposite, He tells us not to worship Him with pagan practices. However, God did give us His festivals and Holy Days to show His step-by-step plan for humanity’s salvation. With all this in mind, what will you choose to do?
The Grip of Groupthink
Groupthink has dominated mankind from time immemorial, motivating whole societies to make defective decisions. Groupthink is at once profound and pervasive.
Irving Janis, a 20th-century research psychologist at Yale University and professor emeritus at University of California, Berkeley, was famous for his work in this field. In his groundbreaking book Groupthink (1982), Janis explored eight main symptoms that run through case studies of historic fiascoes, like U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s decision to overthrow the Cuban government at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. The eight symptoms can be divided into three main groups: Type 1, overestimations of the group, perhaps concerning its power or its morality; Type 2, closedmindedness; and Type 3, pressures toward uniformity (pp. 174-175).
Janis writes, “When a policy-making group displays most or all of the symptoms in each of the three categories, the members perform their collective tasks ineffectively and are likely to fail to attain their collective objectives as a result of concurrence-seeking” (p. 175; emphasis added throughout).
Amazingly, groupthink dominates the entire world! Christendom is one major group—now more than 2 billion people worldwide—affected by groupthink, as it has been for nearly 2,000 years. The observance of Christmas, the biggest holiday among those identifying as Christians, fits the groupthink construct perfectly.