Well, today (in Australia) is Christmas Day. Quite possibly THE most popular holiday in the world (although the media’s trying to make horrid Halloween more and more popular).
For those of you who celebrate it, I hope you’re having/have a great day. For those of you (like me) for whom it’s just another normal day (and no, that’s not “legalistic”), I hope you’re having/have a great day.
Although it’s become lost in modern consumerism, Christmas is claimed to be a celebration of Christ’s birthday – although it’s generally agreed that He wasn’t born on that day.
Some of you might remember my post Christmas, in which I argued that it is an appropriated pagan festival (see Deuteronomy 12:30-31, Matthew 5, and Does the Torah Still Apply?). However, I have since discovered that some of the claims are false.
“False” as in I’m seriously questioning my view of Christmas as a pagan festival.
I’m going to go through each incorrect (or only partially correct) claim and correct it.
CLAIM: One may be surprised to know that the early Christians did not widely celebrate Jesus’ birth, and disagreed significantly about the date. Most months had proponents claiming a date in it for His birth (May 20, January 6, etc). December 25th was just one date among many. Then, in 336 AD, the pagan Roman Emperor Constantine (who had “converted” to Christianity – albeit remaining a staunch Mithra worshiper until literally the day of his death, when he suddenly decided he wanted a baptism – but very strongly mixed paganism [you know, the stuff the Bible repeatedly warns us to AVOID] in with Christianity, making modern-day Christianity unrecognisable compared to Jesus’ religion, and enforcing his pagan “Christian” religion [which we call Catholicism, which is the mother of all the current Christian denominations; and before you react to that last statement, go do some research]) declared that December 25th was the date of Yeshua’s birth. It was the law. (Not that legality means squat.)
FACTS: Yes, celebration of Jesus’ birthday was not a widespread practice among early Christians, and there were many suggested dates (March 28, May 20, January 6, December 25, April 20 or 21, etc). And yes, Constantine was a pagan until the day of his death, and yes, the Catholic Church has incorporated much paganism over the years – much of it starting around this time.
HOWEVER, CONSTANTINE NEVER WEIGHED IN ON CHRIST’S BIRTH DATE, AND CERTAINLY NEVER MADE A LAW DECLARING DECEMBER 25TH TO BE HIS BIRTHDAY.
CLAIM: So, if Yeshua was born on Sukkot/Tabernacles – which is in September/October – why did Constantine fix it at December 25th? Because that was the birthday of the sun god and indeed numerous other pagan “gods” – including Krishna, Buddha, Horus, Zarathustra, Hercules, Dionysus, Tammuz, Mithra, Hermes and Adonis. That’s right. We’re celebrating the birth of every deity… except the real One.
FACTS: Of course, Constantine never fixed the date of Christmas, or express an opinion on the matter (as far as I know). And yes, Yehoshua/Jesus very likely WAS born on the first day of Sukkot/Tabernacles (which means whenever someone celebrates Tabernacles – and that includes modern Judaism – they are actually celebrating Messiah’s birth).
HOWEVER, DESPITE AN EXTREMELY COMMON CLAIM TO THE CONTRARY, NO PAGAN DEITY APART FROM SOL HAD A BIRTHDAY ON DECEMBER 25, AND EVEN THEN, SOL’S BIRTHDAY WASN’T ESTABLISHED AS DECEMBER 25TH UNTIL 274 AD – MANY YEARS AFTER THAT DAY HAD BEEN PROPOSED AS JESUS’ POSSIBLE BIRTH DATE (it’s speculated by some historians that Emperor Aurelian – who fixed Sol’s birthday – may have actually been trying to usurp/distract from a Christian celebration of Christ’s birth on that day) AND EVEN THEN, THE DATE WAS NEVER CELEBRATED BY SOL WORSHIPERS, AND SIMPLY HELD NO INTEREST FOR PAGANS GENERALLY. THE ONLY RELIGION FOR WHICH DECEMBER 25TH WAS EVER SIGNIFICANT WAS CHRISTIANITY.
Of the other “gods” often cited as being born on December 25: they all either don’t have a birthday, have a birthday at a completely different time of year, or it’s unclear when their birthday was.
CLAIM: It is frequently claimed that Christmas is just Saturnalia renamed.
FACT: This claim has more weight than the previous ones examined. Saturnalia was a festival to the pagan Roman “god” Saturn that occurred from December 17th to the 23rd. It was celebrated with gift-giving and general celebration. The European Christmas custom of appointing a “Lord of Misrule” derives directly from this (and is therefore wrong).
It is certainly a possibility that December 25 was selected out of all the candidates for Christmas due to its proximity to Saturnalia; however, the earliest persons who made the argument for a later December birth date for Jesus couldn’t have cared less what pagan significance did or didn’t surround that time; some of them actually based it on a Jewish tradition: that great prophets left the world on the same day they entered it; that since Jesus was crucified around late March (Aviv 14; March 25 according to some ancient church fathers), He was either born or conceived on the same day – the former of which would put a Christmas in March, the latter around December 25 (give or take a few days).
Still others argued for the 25th because it is the Winter Solstice – the shortest day of the year, after which the days grew longer. Since Yeshua/Jesus is the “Sun of righteousness” (Malachi 4:2), some reasoned that He would’ve been born on a significant solar date like the Solstice, and that the subsequent lengthening of the days are symbolic of the Light of Jesus entering the world.
Still others reasoned that Creation occurred in late March (and considering that that’s when the Biblical calendar begins, that’s not an unreasonable conclusion), and that Jesus would be either conceived or born on the anniversary of either Creation itself – or the creation of the Sun, either of which left open the possibility of a late December (25th?) birthday for Jesus.
Whether or not you agree with their reasoning, it DOES demonstrate that the idea of selecting December 25th for the Divine Birthday HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH PAGANISM – if anything, it was at least partly influenced by JUDAISM!
ADDITIONALLY – the Talmud records a tradition that Saturnalia was in fact a feast celebrated by Adam, albeit corrupted by pagans. No clue if that’s actually true, but it certainly lends credence to what I’ve been saying.
CLAIM: That Santa (who isn’t real, kids! Stop lying, parents!) is based on an ancient fire god that infants were sacrificed to.
FACTS: Santa was largely based off Saint Nicholas, an ancient Bishop, with some elements likely drawn from Odin.
CLAIM: That the Christmas tree originated with a saint busting a human sacrifice to Thor and/or ancient pagan worship customs.
FACTS: There’s nothing to actually link the story of the sacrifice to Thor with the Christmas tree, that I’m aware of.
The Christmas tree itself may have actually been invented by Martin Luther, and for a while was connected with Lutheranism. There is a claimed link between Christmas trees and ancient paganism, but it’s never been proven.
(Notably, wreaths were a feature of Saturnalia.)
CLAIM: I’ll just add a note here: the public nudity/sex WAS incorporated by the Church & remained part of Christmas until 2 or 3 centuries ago.
FACTS: That was possibly Saturnalia, but never Christmas.
CLAIM: Jeremiah 10 describes the decorating of Christmas trees in idolatrous terms.
FACTS: If you look carefully, it clearly says it’s describing the carving & decorating of an idol out of wood.
There are probably one or two pagan elements in Christmas that one should be careful of – such as the Yule log, and possibly mistletoe (don’t quote me on that last one). And lying to children is questionable; especially since there have been several examples of Christian kids raised to believe in Santa who, when they find out the truth, turn on Christ as well (which almost happened to my mother).
HOWEVER – Christmas itself is not a pagan festival, whether or not it’s not Jesus’ actual birthday. With regards to the pagans giving gifts & celebrating on a pagan festival that COINCIDENTALLY happened at a similar time, which may have influenced Christmas: Christmas is a celebration of the greatest birthday ever. Condemning gift-giving and celebrating on that day (and THAT ONE DAY) is just nutty.