One day, years ago, someone asked me why I celebrated Christmas. “The Bible says to,” I responded. “Somewhere in the Gospel of Luke, it speaks of the nativity scene. An angel told some shepherds that were keeping their sheep in the fields at night that the baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem. I think they went to see Jesus at that time.
“That was the first Christmas! And that’s why I celebrate Christmas, because the Bible supports Christmas, the birthday of Jesus Christ.”
“That’s not true, and here’s why,” my friend replied.
I soon learned that the Bible didn’t teach Christmas. I also found that its origins have nothing to do with the Bible. It was an important lesson about things I’d long assumed to be true.
Just because some 2 billion people observe Christmas—roughly 1 billion Catholics and another billion in Protestant faiths—does that make it right? Does it really matter one way or the other?
Why do so many people celebrate this holiday?
If you were asked, “Why do you celebrate Christmas?” how would you respond? Many would say Christmas honors the birthday of Jesus. Others feel that Christmas is a good Christian family get-together. Many do it simply because they’ve always done it.
Christmas can appear tantalizing to the eye and ear. People appear happy, generous, full of good cheer. Twinkling lights decorate many houses. Santa Claus and his reindeer are pictured as poised to lift off from snow-covered front yards or rooftops, although in the southern hemisphere and tropics there is no December snow. The colorful, peaceful-appearing Christmas scene can be intoxicating and addicting.
Shoppers pack stores, browsing for gifts they hope to buy at bargain-basement prices. Soaring strains of “White Christmas,” “Silent Night” or “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” resonate everywhere.
The December weather of the northern hemisphere might be frightful outside, but the feeling and warmth inside is delightful. Christmas trees with twinkling lights and bright, sparkling ornaments create a mystical and glowing environment. Entire families want to experience the special mystery that only comes with the Christmas season. There is no religious holiday quite like it for the vast numbers everywhere who celebrate it.
Was Jesus really born on Dec. 25?
But stop and ask yourself: Was Christ really born on Christ-mas Day? After all, the Bible nowhere tells us the day of His birth.
In fact, most credible secular historical writings tell us that Christmas, more than 200 years after Jesus’ death, was considered sinful: “As late as A.D. 245 [the early Catholic theologian] Origen … repudiates as sinful the very idea of keeping the birthday of Christ” ( The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition, 1910, Vol. 6, p. 293, “Christmas”).
In A.D. 354, a Latin chronographer mentioned Christmas, but even then he did not write about it as an observed festival (ibid.).
There is no biblical evidence that Dec. 25 was Jesus’ birth date. In fact, the Bible record strongly shows that Jesus must not have been born then.
For example, Luke tells us that the shepherds were keeping their sheep in the fields at night when Jesus was born. “And she [Mary] brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger … Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:7-8 Luke 2:7-8 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
American King James Version×, emphasis added throughout).
But late December is Judea’s cold and rainy season. Would shepherds actually keep their fragile flocks out in the open fields on a cold late-December night near Bethlehem?
No responsible shepherd would subject his sheep to the elements at that time of year when cold rains, and occasional snow, are common in that region.
“The climate of Palestine is not so severe as the climate of this country [England]; but even there, though the heat of the day be considerable, the cold of the night, from December to February, is very piercing, and it was not the custom for the shepherds of Judea to watch their flocks in the open fields later than about the end of October” (Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, 1959, p. 91).
Luke also tells us that Jesus was born at the time of a census ordered by the Roman emperor (Luke 2:1-3 Luke 2:1-3 1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
American King James Version×). The Romans were brilliant administrators; they certainly would not have ordered people to journey to be registered at a time of year when roads would have been wet and muddy and traveling conditions miserable. Such a move would have been self-defeating on its face.
The belief that Jesus was born on or around Dec. 25 simply has no basis in fact, even if untold millions of people have accepted it without question. As the famous playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “If 50 million people believe a foolish thing, it’s still a foolish thing.”
Does Christmas really honor Christ?
If the Christmas holiday is an important celebration to honor the birth of Jesus Christ, why is it nowhere mentioned in the Bible? Why didn’t Christ instruct His closest followers, His 12 chosen apostles, to keep Christmas? Why didn’t they institute or teach it to the early Church?
Before you answer, consider that Jesus gave great authority to His 12 apostles, assuring them that they will hold positions of great importance and responsibility in His Kingdom (Matthew 18:18 Matthew 18:18Truly I say to you, Whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
American King James Version×; 19:28; Luke 22:29-30 Luke 22:29-30 29 And I appoint to you a kingdom, as my Father has appointed to me; 30 That you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
American King James Version×). But since Jesus never taught His apostles to keep Christmas, nor did they ever teach it to the Church even though they had years of opportunity to do so, shouldn’t that make us question whether Christmas is something Jesus really wants or appreciates?
So how did Christmas become such a widespread practice if the Bible doesn’t sanction it, if Christ didn’t observe it, and if He never taught His disciples and the early Church to celebrate it?
True origins of Christmas
Most people never stop to ask themselves what the major symbols of Christmas—Santa Claus, reindeer, decorated trees, holly, mistletoe and the like—have to do with the birth of the Savior of mankind. In the southern hemisphere summer climate of December, few people question why they observe a Christmas with northern hemisphere winter scenery!
The fact is, and you can verify this in any number of books and encyclopedias, that all these trappings came from ancient pagan festivals.
Even the date, Dec. 25, came from a festival celebrating the birthday of the ancient sun god Mithras. (If you’d like to learn more about the origins of the many customs and symbols associated with Christmas, request our free study guide Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Observe? )
Jesus never told His followers to celebrate Christmas, but He did warn us not to adhere to false, man-made religious doctrines: “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:7 Mark 7:7However, in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
American King James Version×). The truth is, Christmas and other unbiblical religious holidays arising from pagan religious practice constitute vain or empty worship.
The Catholic Encyclopedia indicates that the Christmas season came from an ancient festival that occurred at the time of the winter solstice. Interestingly, the previously noted Origen, despite the early period in which he lived (ca. 182-251), never even mentioned it ( The New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967, Vol. 3, 1967, and “Christmas and Its Cycle,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913, Vol. 3, “Christmas”).
Tertullian, another Catholic theologian who lived at about the same time (ca. 155-230), referred to compromising Christians who were beginning to join in the pagan winter festival celebrated in the Roman Empire, which eventually evolved into what is now Christmas:
“The Saturnalia, 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 Hislop, p. 93).
In time Catholic religious leaders added solemnity to this pre-Christian holiday by adding to it the Mass of Christ, from which it eventually came to be known by its common name of “Christmas.”
A matter of whether, not what
The purpose of Beyond Today magazine is to share with you the living truth of Jesus Christ. A true Christian cannot decide what he will obey, only whether he will obey God’s truth.
We strive to publish God’s pristine truth; people who read that truth have to decide what to do about it and whether they will honor it. Our commission from Jesus Christ is to teach the truth of God and to welcome as disciples and fellow workers those few who hear and obey the truth. We hope the truth about Christmas starts you on the road to true happiness and God’s purpose for you.
History shows that Christmas does not represent Christ. It misrepresents sound biblical teaching and is in opposition to God’s truth. God wants us to worship Him in truth (John 4:23-24 John 4:23-24 23 But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him.
24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
American King James Version×), not fable.
In Deuteronomy 12:28-32 Deuteronomy 12:28-32 28 Observe and hear all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you, and with your children after you for ever, when you do that which is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God.
29 When the LORD your God shall cut off the nations from before you, where you go to possess them, and you succeed them, and dwell in their land;
30 Take heed to yourself that you be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before you; and that you inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.
31 You shall not do so to the LORD your God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hates, have they done to their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.
32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: you shall not add thereto, nor diminish from it.
American King James Version×, God told His people to worship only in the ways He commanded, telling them, “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.” He explicitly ordered them not to copy or adopt the religious practices of the pagans, calling such practices “abomination [ s ] … which He hates.”
Yet hundreds of millions of men, women and children observe Christmas without knowing or caring about where it came from. They assume that 2 billion Christians can’t be wrong or that it doesn’t matter how we worship God so long as our intentions are good. But why should we think we honor God or please Him when we worship contrary to His commands?
Crucial questions only you can answer
The crucial question is, do we worry more about what others think or about what God requires? Also, can other human beings give us salvation? If honoring God’s truth determines our salvation, then why honor men above God?
Jesus Christ said to those who appeared religious but denied the power of His true teaching, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46 Luke 6:46And why call you me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
American King James Version×; compare Matthew 7:21 Matthew 7:21Not every one that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.
American King James Version×). Since Christ is opposed to Christmas, why would any thoughtful Christian observe it?
Walking in Jesus’ footsteps in a world that doesn’t is never easy. But it is much better and eminently more rewarding than following the empty ways of the world.
God tells us in 1 John 2:15-17 1 John 2:15-17 15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
17 And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God stays for ever.
American King James Version×: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
Christians Who Don’t Celebrate Christmas? Here’s Why
Why do some Christians not celebrate Christmas? Here are the reasons some gave for kicking the Christmas habit:
“I cannot find Christmas in the Bible, nor can I find that Jesus Christ told us to observe Christmas. Santa Claus is a lie that some people teach their children every year. For that matter, Christmas is false since it has nothing to do with Christ or His birthday.
“Beyond this, business people, who make most of their income during this time of the year, have increasingly promoted Christmas. Well-meaning people go in debt during Christmas time to give gifts to other people, which in turn motivates other people to give gifts to them. It makes no sense to keep a religious holiday that is not biblical, that Christ never sanctioned, that promotes lying to children, that puts people in debt and that blinds people to what Christ really taught.”
“It is a historical fact that Christmas is not the day or the season when Christ was born. So why observe a day that is a lie? Most people do not want to admit this fact. For example, how does the use of Santa Claus depict the birth of Christ? How does the Christmas tree depict Christ? Celebrating Christmas violates at least the First, Second and Third Commandments of God’s Ten Commandments. Observing a pagan holiday is a sin. God condemns the worship of pagan gods.
“The Bible does not command people to observe the birth of Christ as a holiday. This day, Dec. 25, is the date that has been observed for centuries as a pagan holiday in honor of the pagan sun god. God commands those who want to serve Him not to observe pagan holidays or any custom that breaks His holy laws.”
“Our family traditionally celebrated Christmas on Dec. 24. We then followed up with a family day on Dec. 25. One day I had a strong desire to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, which I thought I had been doing up to that point.
“I began to think of the songs we sang, ‘O Tannenbaum’ or ‘Oh! Christmas Tree.’ I had been singing to a tree as though it were alive and had some strange power. We decorated it and placed our gifts below the tree as though the gifts and good feeling emanated from and through the tree.
“I thought about the words to ‘Silent Night, Holy Night,’ a truly beautiful piece of music. I wondered about shepherds and their flocks in the fields on a lovely evening at the end of December. But this was a contradiction. December was a very cold time of the year, and sheep wouldn’t be in open fields during that time.
“The Christmas stories about Santa Claus and the shepherds in the fields on Christmas Eve were false. I found out that Jerusalem has rain and cold that time of year and that it sometimes snows in the region. Sheep are sheltered in the wintertime, not left out in inclement weather.
“I discovered that the Christmas tree and its ornaments and giving of Christmas gifts come from ancient Roman festivals. The gifts our children had asked of Santa Claus created a financial burden on us. The lies about Santa Claus and his flying reindeer were misleading our children.
“Also, the Bible tells us it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35 Acts 20:35I have showed you all things, how that so laboring you ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.
American King James Version×). During Christmas time, I saw little joy in giving and I saw children always expecting to receive. I have come to understand that godly blessings come from carefully obeying God. This is why I don’t keep Christmas.”
“God tells us to avoid the ways of the ancient pagans. Though modern Christianity observes Christmas, this is where it came from. To be frank, Christmas is a lie. Christmas is a substitute for righteous behavior. It makes people think they are doing good things for God, which somehow does Him service.”