WHERE did we get Christmas? From the Bible, or paganism?
Stop and think a moment! Very few have ever reflected on why they believe what they do, why they follow the customs they do, or from where those customs came. We were born into a world filled with customs. We grew up accepting them without question. But by nature we do tend to follow the crowd, whether right or wrong. Sheep follow others to the slaughter. Humans ought to check up where they are going.
How, when did Christmas originate?
Does Christmas really celebrate the birthday of Christ? Was Jesus born on December 25th?
Did the original apostles, who knew Jesus personally and were taught by Him, celebrate His birthday on December 25th? Did they celebrate it at all?
If Christmas is the chief of the Christian holidays, why do so many non-Christians observe it? Do you know?
Why do people exchange presents with family members, friends, relatives at Christmas time? Was it because the wise men presented gifts to the Christ-child? The answer may surprise you.
Most people have “supposed” a lot of things about Christmas that are not true. But let’s quit “supposing” and get the facts!
Jesus was probably not born in December: The Catholic Encyclopedia admits “there is no month in the year to which respectable authorities have not assigned Christ’s birth.” There are, however, a number of reasons to suggest that Jesus was probably not born in December.
Firstly, Luke 2:8 states that on the night of Jesus’ birth “there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Many scholars agree that this would have been unlikely in December, as shepherds would have been keeping their flock under cover during the cold winter months.
Secondly, it is written in the Bible that Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem to register in a Roman census (Luke 2:1-4). However, such censuses were not taken in winter when temperatures often dropped below freezing and roads were in poor condition.
Since it appears unlikely that Jesus was born on December 25th, it raises the logical question of why Christmas is celebrated on this date. The answer points back to pagan celebrations which occurred around the winter solstice. Two celebrations in particular took place around December 25 – Saturnalia and the birthday of the sun god, Mithra. The Saturnalia festival began on December 17th and later expanded with festivities through to December 25th. It paid tribute to Saturn, the agricultural god of sowing and husbandry, and was associated with the renewal of light and the coming of the new year. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice in the Temple of Saturn, followed by a public banquet and private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere.
Followers of the cult of Mithras (Mithra), which became popular among the military in the Roman Empire from the 1st to 4th centuries AD, are believed to have celebrated his birthday on December 25th, which was the most holy day of the year for many Romans. The worship of the sun god, Mithra (proto-Indo-Iranian ‘Mitra’), has its origin in Persia, from around the 6th century BC, and was later adapted into ancient Greece as ‘Mithras’. The most popular hypothesis is that Roman soldiers encountered this religion during military excursions to Persia.
While it is widely accepted that the Mithraic New Year and the birthday of Mithras on December 25 were celebrated as part of the Roman Natalis Invicti festival, some scholars have argued that the Natalis Invicti was a general festival of the sun, and was not specific to the Mysteries of Mithras. Nevertheless, it is clear that December 25 was an important day for the Romans and it revolved around a celebration of the sun.
When King Constantine converted to Christianity in the fourth century, he had quite a challenge ahead of him with regard to converting an empire full of pagans. It was therefore decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus on a date that was already sacred according to pagan traditions. So as a compromise with paganism and in an attempt to give the pagan holidays Christian significance, it was simply decided that the birthday of the Sun God would also be the birthday of the Son of God. The Catholic Encyclopedia quotes an early Christian as saying, “O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born…. Christ should be born.”