At some point, while watching the History Channel, talking to friends or browsing social media, you are bound to come across a familiar refrain: “Christmas isn’t Christian! Jesus was born in the summer! December 25th was stolen from the Egyptians/Babylonians/Romans! Christmas trees are pagan! Santa is an anagram of Satan!” And once again, it’s not just an accusation leveled by angry atheists. The greatest perpetrators of this myth are well-meaning but badly misinformed Christians.
Now let me say again that I am not attacking you or the people who taught you, because all of us want to be faithful to God’s will for our lives. But let me also say again that it is the Truth that sets us free. And I refuse to give Satan, the occult, the neopagans or any other group or individual power that is not theirs, whether it be Halloween or Christmas, rock n’ roll music or the Tooth Fairy. Nor will I give validity to their lies and fakelore out of fear of them or anyone else. Our God created the universe and everything in it, and all of it – every single bit of it – belongs to Him. And although not all things are good for us, we have the freedom in Christ to enjoy the things of this world that do no harm.
With that said, however you choose to celebrate or not celebrate Christmas is entirely up to you. Before you make up your mind, however, here is the real story behind the history of celebrating Christmas (sources linked below the post):
Christmas is first and foremost the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the One True God, who became a human being in order to save human beings from their sin. Christmas essentially means “festival of Christ.” Christ is the Greek word for ‘Anointed,’ which corresponds to the Hebrew word Messiah, both of which mean God’s chosen and appointed Savior of His people.
But how do we know when to celebrate Christmas? Are we sure Jesus was born on December 25th? Or was that date co-opted from some other festival, in order to emphasize Christ-worship over and above that of another god or deity?
Perhaps the most frequently cited myth with regard to the origins of Christmas states that the Christian Church co-opted the Roman festival of Saturnalia. The problem with this is that Saturnalia began on December 17th. And in every historical record, it extended no later than December 23rd, with one exception where it lasted until December 24th. But it was never associated with the 25th.
Often confused with Saturnalia in order to fill out the myth is the Roman celebration of the winter solstice. The problem with that is, the ancient Roman religions never celebrated the winter solstice! It is true that the Roman Emperor Aurelian tried to start a Winter Solstice celebration during his short five-year reign, but it was actually in an effort to co-opt December 25th from the Christians, not the other way around! And in spite of his attempt in 274 A.D., which he called a celebration of the “’Birth of the Unconquered Sun,” the holiday never caught on.
Now, we can certainly acknowledge that the date of Christmas was not ‘officially’ set by the Western church until 336, by Emperor Constantine. However! That does not mean what people think it means. Constantine set December 25th as the date of Christmas, not because of any pagan festival taking place on that date, but because there was a disagreement between Eastern and Western Christians as to whether Christmas should be on December 25th (as traditionally believed by the West) or on January 6th (as believed by Eastern churches). Note that this is not an argument over when to establish a date for Christmas- it is an argument over which of two dates less than two weeks apart should be observed.
The sad truth is that these and other myths that claim Christianity co-opted December 25th from pagan festivals originated almost exclusively from a Christian named Paul Jablonsky, who wrote in the 1700’s. His goal was to get Christians to leave the Roman Catholic Church by painting it as a false church corrupted by Satan into paganizing pure Christianity. The problem is, he made up all of his “research.”
Here is the actual Truth:
We know from exhaustive historical research – beyond any doubt – that the date of Christ’s birth (Christmas) was set between 100-200 A.D. as being December 25th, and it was based exclusively on the efforts of early Christians to determine the historical date of Christ’s death.
Wait a second – His death?
That’s right: in the Jewish tradition at the time of Jesus, there was a belief in what was called the “integral age.” The integral age was the belief that prophets died on the same day as their conception.
Now, because of the significance of Good Friday, the early Christians spent a great deal of energy determining the exact date of Christ’s death. Using historical sources, Christians in the first or second century settled on March 25th as the date of Jesus’ crucifixion and death – the original Good Friday.
Because of the belief in the “integral age,” this in turn established March 25th as the date of Jesus’ conception. Add nine months — the standard term of a pregnancy — to March 25th, and Christians came up with December 25th as the date of Christ’s birth. It’s really that simple! In fact, we have letters from both Clement of Alexandria and Hippolytus of Rome, both of which date to around 200 A.D., and both of which state that this was the case well before their writing.
Does that prove that Jesus was born on December 25th? Absolutely not. Unless we believe in the “integral age,” there is no evidence whatsoever for the specific date of Christ’s birth, though there are historical clues that point toward December 25th being as likely as any. But those who say He absolutely was not born on that date have no more compelling evidence than the “integral age” argument. And the date of His birth is not the point, at any rate – it is that the Church had established through very well-established and well-researched means the date of Christ’s birth very soon after Jesus’ death and resurrection – long before any argument that it was co-opted would have us believe.
The truth is, since the 1st or 2nd century, very close to the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christ’s birth has been celebrated by the church on either December 25th or January 6th. And by the way, for those of us living in the West, January 6th is the Day of Epiphany, which marks the end of Christmas, which we actually celebrate from December 25th through January 5th – a twelve-day period of time known as, yes, “The 12 Days of Christmas” (not the twelve days leading up to Christmas, as many believe).
And that means that the date of Christmas was set based on historical evidence and the faith traditions of Judaism and Christianity, long before encountering any European pagans and well before Roman paganism tried to co-opt it.
Of course, it really doesn’t matter that much when you believe Jesus was born – the Christian faith doesn’t stand or fall on the date of Christmas.
What matters is that He was born, and that He was born for you.
My question(s) to those who have a problem with the December 25th date is simply this: why? What are you protesting, and for what purpose? Are you saying we should give up celebrating the birth of Jesus altogether – or are you at least celebrating Christ’s birth on some other date? And if so, how did you choose it? Do you consider yourself more informed than 2,000 years of Church history and tradition?
Because there seems to me no good reason for any Christian to reject the celebration of the pivotal moment in all of human history: when eternal God stepped down from heaven and became human for the sake of humanity. Don’t want to follow the material trappings of Christmas? No problem, but please stop trying to make other Christians feel guilty for celebrating the birth of their Savior.
However you feel about the spiritual and material aspects of Christmas and how it should or should not be celebrated, it is valuable for all of us to give closer scrutiny to myths that are accepted and repeated as common knowledge – and not fall victim to those who use fear to keep us from celebrating the greatest gift ever given:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17.”
Thank you, and have a Merry, Merry Christmas!
And if, like me, you need a good laugh after all that, check out this video from Lutheran Satire:
And once again, I have taken generously from sources and wish to take credit for none of this content, which belongs to those who have done far more research than I. Please check them out for yourselves here, here, here, here, here and here. Thank you.