Christmas: The Untold Story..(Long read) #stolen

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Sparksxedo

Village Elder
#1
People almost everywhere observe Christmas.
But how did Christmas come to be observed?
How did the customs and practices associated
with Christmas make their way into traditional
Christianity's most popular holiday?
Did you know December 25 has a checkered past,
a long and contentious history? This should come
as no surprise given that Christmas and many of
its popular customs and trappings are nowhere
set forth in the Bible.
Our Creator's view of this popular holiday is
ignored or not even considered by most people.
Yet His perspective should be our main
consideration. Let's examine the history of
Christmas and compare it with God's Word,
rather than our own ideas and experiences, to
discover His opinion regarding this nearly
universal holiday.
Historians tell us the Christmas celebration came
from questionable origins. William Walsh
(1854-1919) summarizes the holiday's origins
and practices in his book The Story of Santa
Klaus : "We remember that the Christmas
festival ... is a gradual evolution from times that
long antedated the Christian period ... It was
overlaid upon heathen festivals, and many of its
observances are only adaptations of pagan to
Christian ceremonial" (1970, p. 58).
How could pagan practices become part of a
major church celebration? What were these
"heathen festivals" that lent themselves to
Christmas customs over the centuries?
The ancient origins of Christmas customs
During the second century B.C., the Greeks
practiced rites to honor their god Dionysus (also
called Bacchus). The Latin name for this
celebration was Bacchanalia. It spread from the
Greeks to Rome, center of the Roman Empire.
"It was on or about December 21st that the
ancient Greeks celebrated what are known to us
as the Bacchanalia or festivities in honor of
Bacchus, the god of wine. In these festivities the
people gave themselves up to songs, dances and
other revels which frequently passed the limits of
decency and order" (Walsh, p. 65).
Because of the nocturnal orgies associated with
this festival, the Roman Senate suppressed its
observance in 186 B.C. It took the senators
several years to completely accomplish this goal
because of the holiday's popularity.
Suppressing a holiday was unusual for the
Romans since they later became a melting pot of
many types of gods and worship. Just as the
Romans assimilated culture, art and customs
from the peoples absorbed into their empire, they
likewise adopted those peoples' religious
practices.
In addition to the Bacchanalia, the Romans
celebrated another holiday, the Saturnalia, held "in
honor of Saturn, the god of time, [which] began
on December 17th and continued for seven days.
These also often ended in riot and disorder.
Hence the words Bacchanalia and Saturnalia
acquired an evil reputation in later times" (p. 65).
The reason for the Saturnalia's disrepute is
revealing. In pagan mythology Saturn was an
"ancient agricultural god-king who ate his own
children presumably to avoid regicide [being
murdered while king]. And Saturn was parallel
with a Carthaginian Baal, whose brazen horned
effigy contained a furnace into which children
were sacrificially fed" (William Sansom, A Book
of Christmas, 1968, p. 44).
Notice the customs surrounding the Saturnalia:
"All businesses were closed except those that
provided food or revelry. Slaves were made equal
to masters or even set over them. Gambling,
drinking, and feasting were encouraged. People
exchanged gifts, called strenae, from the
vegetation goddess Strenia, whom it was
important to honor at midwinter ... Men dressed
as women or in the hides of animals and
caroused in the streets. Candles and lamps were
used to frighten the spirits of darkness, which
were [considered] powerful at this time of year. At
its most decadent and barbaric, Saturnalia may
have been the excuse among Roman soldiers in
the East for the human sacrifice of the king of the
revels" (Gerard and Patricia Del Re, The
Christmas Almanac, 1979, p. 16).
Winter-solstice celebrations
Both of these ancient holidays were observed
around the winter solstice — the day of the year
with the shortest period of daylight. "From the
Romans also came another Christmas
fundamental: the date, December 25. When the
Julian calendar was proclaimed in 46 C.E. [A.D.],
it set into law a practice that was already
common: dating the winter solstice as December
25. Later reforms of the calendar would cause the
astronomical solstice to migrate to December 21,
but the older date's irresistible resonance would
remain" (Tom Flynn, The Trouble With
Christmas, 1993, p. 42).
On the heels of the Saturnalia, the Romans
marked December 25 with a celebration called the
Brumalia. Bruma is thought to have been
contracted from the Latin brevum or brevis,
meaning brief or short, denoting the shortest day
of the year.
Why was this period significant? "The time of the
winter solstice has always been an important
season in the mythology of all peoples. The sun,
the giver of life, is at its lowest ebb. It is [the]
shortest daylight of the year; the promise of
spring is buried in cold and snow. It is the time
when the forces of chaos that stand against the
return of light and life must once again be
defeated by the gods. At the low point of the
solstice, the people must help the gods through
imitative magic and religious ceremonies. The sun
begins to return in triumph. The days lengthen
and, though winter remains, spring is once again
conceivable. For all people, it is a time of great
festivity" (Del Re, p. 15).
During the days of Jesus' apostles in the first
century, the early Christians had no knowledge of
Christmas as we know it. But, as a part of the
Roman Empire, they may have noted the Roman
observance of the Saturnalia while they
themselves persisted in celebrating the customary
"feasts of the Lord" (listed in Leviticus 23).
The Encyclopaedia Britannica tells us that "the
first Christians ... continued to observe the
Jewish festivals, though in a new spirit, as
commemorations of events which those festivals
had foreshadowed" (11th edition, Vol. 8, p. 828,
"Easter").
Over the following centuries, new, nonbiblical
observances such as Christmas and Easter were
gradually introduced into traditional Christianity.
History shows that these new days came to be
forcibly promoted while the biblical feast days of
apostolic times were systematically rejected.
"Christmas, the [purported] festival of the birth of
Jesus Christ, was established in connection with
a fading of the expectation of Christ's imminent
return" ( Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th
edition, Macropaedia, Vol. 4, p. 499, "Christianity")
.
The message of Jesus Christ and the apostles
—" the gospel of the kingdom of
God" ( Mark:1:14-15 )—was soon lost. The
Christmas celebration shifted Christianity's focus
away from Christ's promised return to His birth.
But is this what the Bible directs Christians to
do?
How the Christmas date was set
Gerard and Patricia Del Re explain the further
evolution of December 25 as an official Roman
celebration: "Saturnalia and the kalends [new
moon, in this case of January] were the
celebrations most familiar to early Christians,
December 17-24 and January 1-3, but the
tradition of celebrating December 25 as Christ's
birthday came to the Romans from Persia. Mithra,
the Persian god of light and sacred contracts,
was born out of a rock on December 25. Rome
was famous for its flirtations with strange gods
and cults, and in the third century [274] the
unchristian emperor Aurelian established the
festival of Dies Invicti Solis, the Day of the
Invincible Sun, on December 25.
"Mithra was an embodiment of the sun, so this
period of its rebirth was a major day in Mithraism,
which had become Rome's latest official religion
with the patronage of Aurelian. It is believed that
the emperor Constantine adhered to Mithraism up
to the time of his conversion to Christianity. He
was probably instrumental in seeing that the
major feast of his old religion was carried over to
his new faith" ( The Christmas Almanac, 1979,
p. 17).
Although it is difficult to determine the first time
anyone celebrated December 25 as Christmas,
historians are in general agreement that it was
sometime during the fourth century.
This is an amazingly late date. Christmas was
not observed in Rome, the capital of the empire,
until about 300 years after Christ's death. Its
origins cannot be traced back to either the
teachings or practices of the earliest Christians.
The introduction of Christmas represented a
significant departure from "the faith which was
once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).
European influences on Christmas customs
Although Christmas had been officially
established in Rome by the fourth century, later
another pagan celebration greatly influenced the
many Christmas customs practiced today. That
festival was the Teutonic feast of Yule (from the
Norse word for "wheel," signifying the cycle of the
year). It was also known as the Twelve Nights,
being celebrated from Dec. 25 to Jan. 6.
This festival was based on the supposed
mythological warfare between the forces of nature
—specifically winter (called the ice giant), which
signified death, vs. the sun god, representing life.
The winter solstice marked the turning point: Up
until then the ice giant was at his zenith of
power; after that the sun god began to prevail.
"As Christianity spread to northern Europe, it met
with the observance of another pagan festival
held in December in honour of the sun. This time
it was the Yule-feast of the Norsemen, which
lasted for twelve days. During this time log-fires
were burnt to assist the revival of the sun.
Shrines and other sacred places were decorated
with such greenery as holly, ivy, and bay, and it
was an occasion for feasting and drinking.
"Equally old was the practice of the Druids, the
caste of priests among the Celts of ancient
France, Britain and Ireland, to decorate their
temples with mistletoe, the fruit of the oak-tree
which they considered sacred. Among the German
tribes the oak-tree was sacred to Odin, their god
of war, and they sacrificed to it until St Boniface,
in the eighth century, persuaded them to
exchange it for the Christmas tree, a young fir-
tree adorned in honour of the Christ child ... It
was the German immigrants who took the
custom to America" (L.W. Cowie and John
Selwyn Gummer, The Christian Calendar, 1974,
p.22).
Instead of worshipping the sun god, converts
were told to worship the Son of God. The focus of
the holiday subtly changed, but the traditional
pagan customs and practices remained
fundamentally unchanged. Old religious customs
involving holly, ivy, mistletoe and evergreen trees
were given invented "Christian" meanings. We
should keep in mind that Jesus Christ warns us
to beware of things that masquerade as
something they are not ( Matthew:7:15 ; compare
Isaiah:5:20 ; 2 Corinthians:11:13-15 ).
The roots of modern customs
Many of the other trappings of Christmas are
merely carryovers from ancient celebrations.
"Santa Claus" is an American corruption of the
Dutch form "San Nicolaas," a figure brought to
America by the early Dutch colonists
( Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition, Vol.
19, p. 649, "Nicholas, St."). This name, in turn,
stems from St. Nicholas, bishop of the city of
Myra in southern Asia Minor, a Catholic saint
honored by the Greeks and the Latins on Dec. 6.
How, we might ask, did a bishop from the sunny
Mediterranean coast of Turkey come to be
associated with a red-suited man who lives at the
north pole and rides in a sleigh pulled by flying
reindeer?
Knowing what we have already learned about the
ancient pre-Christian origins of Christmas, we
shouldn't be surprised to learn that Santa Claus
is nothing but a figure recycled from ancient
beliefs tied in with pagan midwinter festivals.
The trappings associated with Santa Claus—his
fur-trimmed clothing, sleigh and reindeer—reveal
his origin from the cold climates of the far North.
Some sources trace him to the ancient Northern
European gods Woden and Thor, from which the
days of the week Wednesday (Woden's day) and
Thursday (Thor's day) get their designations (Earl
and Alice Count, 4000 Years of Christmas,
1997, pp. 56-64). Others trace him even farther
back in time to the Roman god Saturn (honored
at the winter Saturnalia festival) and the Greek
god Silenus (Walsh, pp. 70-71).
What about other common customs and symbols
associated with Christmas? Where did they
originate? "On the Roman New Year (January 1),
houses were decorated with greenery and lights,
and gifts were given to children and the poor. To
these observances were added the German and
Celtic Yule rites ... Food and good fellowship, the
Yule log and Yule cakes, greenery and fir trees,
gifts and greetings all commemorated different
aspects of this festive season. Fires and lights,
symbols of warmth and lasting life, have always
been associated with the winter festival, both
pagan and Christian" ( Encyclopaedia
Britannica, 15th edition, Micropaedia, Vol. 2, p.
903, "Christmas").
"In midwinter, the idea of rebirth and fertility was
tremendously important. In the snows of winter,
the evergreen was a symbol of the life that would
return in the spring, so evergreens were used for
decoration ... Light was important in dispelling
the growing darkness of the solstice, so a Yule
log was lighted with the remains of the previous
year's log ... As many customs lost their religious
reasons for being, they passed into the realm of
superstition, becoming good luck traditions and
eventually merely customs without rationale. Thus
the mistletoe was no longer worshiped but
became eventually an excuse for rather
nonreligious activities" (Del Re, p. 18).
"Christmas gifts themselves remind us of the
presents that were exchanged in Rome during the
Saturnalia. In Rome, it might be added, the
presents usually took the form of wax tapers and
dolls—the latter being in their turn a survival of
the human sacrifices once offered to Saturn. It is
a queer thought that in our Christmas presents
we are preserving under another form one of the
most savage customs of our barbarian
ancestors!" (Walsh, p. 67).
When we see these customs perpetuated today in
Christmas observance, we can have no doubt of
this holiday's origin. Christmas is a diverse
collection of pagan forms of worship overlaid with
a veneer of Christianity.
Accommodating a pagan populace
How, we should ask, did these pagan customs
become a widely accepted part of Christianity?
We should first understand what a strong hold
these celebrations and customs had on the people
of those early centuries. Tertullian, a Catholic
writer of the late second and early third century,
lamented the fact that the pagans of his day were
far more faithful to their beliefs than were the
compromising Christians who were happily joining
in the Roman midwinter festival that eventually
evolved into what is now Christmas:
"By us [Christians], ...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 Alexander Hislop, The Two
Babylons, 1959, p. 93).
It wasn't long before such non-Christian rites and
practices were assimilated into a new church
religious holiday supposedly celebrating Christ's
birth. William Walsh describes this process and
the rationalization behind it: "This was no mere
accident. It was a necessary measure at a time
when the new religion [Christianity] was forcing
itself upon a deeply superstitious people. In order
to reconcile fresh converts to the new faith, and
to make the breaking of old ties as painless as
possible, these relics of paganism were retained
under modified forms ...
"Thus we find that when Pope Gregory [540-604]
sent Saint Augustine as a missionary to convert
Anglo-Saxon England he directed that so far as
possible the saint should accommodate the new
and strange Christian rites to the heathen ones
with which the natives had been familiar from
their birth.
"For example, he advised Saint Augustine to allow
his converts on certain festivals to eat and kill a
great number of oxen to the glory of God the
Father, as formerly they had done this in honor of
[their gods] ... On the very Christmas after his
arrival in England Saint Augustine baptized many
thousands of converts and permitted their usual
December celebration under the new name and
with the new meaning" (p. 61).
Gregory permitted such importation of pagan
religious practices on the grounds that when
dealing with "obdurate minds it is impossible to
cut off everything at once" (Sansom, p. 30).
Tragically, Christianity never accomplished the
task of cutting off everything pagan. According to
Owen Chadwick, former professor of history at
Cambridge University, the Romans "kept the
winter solstice with a feast of drunkenness and
riot. The Christians thought that they could bring
a better meaning into that feast. They tried to
persuade their flocks not to drink or eat too
much, and to keep the feast more austerely —but
without success " ( A History of Christianity,
1995, p. 24).
Early contention over Christmas
In the beginning, Christians were opposed to
Christmas. Some of the earliest controversy
erupted over whether Jesus' birthday should be
celebrated at all.
"As early as A.D. 245, the Church father Origen
was proclaiming it heathenish to celebrate
Christ's birthday as if He were merely a temporal
ruler when His spiritual nature should be the main
concern. This view was echoed throughout the
centuries, but found strong, widespread advocacy
only with the rise of Protestantism. To these
serious-minded, sober clerics, the celebration of
Christmas flew in the face of all they believed.
Drunken revelry on Christmas! The day was not
even known to be Christ's birthday. It was merely
an excuse to continue the customs of pagan
Saturnalia" (Del Re, p. 20).
The Encyclopaedia Britannica adds: "The
[church] Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries,
such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and
Epiphanius, contended that Christmas was a copy
of a pagan celebration" (15th edition,
Macropaedia, Vol. 4, p. 499, "Christianity").
The decision to celebrate Christ's birth on
December 25 was far from universally accepted.
"Christians of Armenia and Syria accused the
Christians of Rome of sun worship for celebrating
Christmas on December 25 ... Pope Leo the Great
in the fifth century tried to remove certain
practices at Christmas which he considered in no
way different from sun worship" (Robert Myers,
Celebrations: The Complete Book of American
Holidays, 1972, p. 310).
Indeed, of all times of the year suggested as the
birth of Christ, December 25 could not have been
the date.
Again, the idea of celebrating Christ's birthday on
any date was initially problematic—to say nothing
of celebrating it on a date derived from paganism.
"To the early Christians the idea of celebrating
the birthday of a religious figure would have
seemed at best peculiar, at worst blasphemous.
Being born into this world was nothing to
celebrate. What mattered was leaving this world
and entering the next in a condition pleasing to
God.
"When early Christians associated a feast day
with a specific person, such as a bishop or
martyr, it was usually the date of the person's
death ... If you wanted to search the New
Testament world for peoples who attached
significance to birthdays, your search would
quickly narrow to pagans. The Romans celebrated
the birthdays of the Caesars, and most
unchristian Mediterranean religions attached
importance to the natal feasts of a pantheon of
supernatural figures.
"If Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, and his
purpose in coming was anything like what is
supposed, then in celebrating his birthday each
year Christians do violence, not honor, to his
memory. For in celebrating a birthday at all, we
sustain exactly the kind of tradition his coming is
thought to have been designed to cast
down" (Flynn, p. 42).
Christmas: a banned celebration
In England "the Protestants found their own
quieter ways of celebrating, in calm and
meditation," while "the strict Puritans refused to
celebrate at all ...The Pilgrims in Massachusetts
made a point of working on Christmas as on any
other day. On June 3, 1647, Parliament
established punishments for observing Christmas
and certain other holidays. This policy was
reaffirmed in 1652" (Del Re, p. 20).
Even colonial America considered Christmas more
of a raucous revelry than a religious occasion: "So
tarnished, in fact, was its reputation in colonial
America that celebrating Christmas was banned in
Puritan New England, where the noted minister
Cotton Mather described yuletide merrymaking as
‘an affront unto the grace of God'" (Jeffery Sheler,
"In Search of Christmas," U.S. News and World
Report, Dec. 23, 1996, p. 56).
The reason Christmas has survived and grown
into such a popular holiday—being observed by 96
percent of Americans and almost all nations, even
atheistic ones (Sheler, p. 56)—is because of
economic factors.
Christmas evaluated
We cannot escape that Christmas is rooted in
ancient customs and religious practices that had
nothing to do with Christianity and the Bible. Tom
Flynn summarizes the issue: "An enormous
number of traditions we now associate with
Christmas have their roots in pre-Christian pagan
religious traditions. Some of these have social,
sexual, or cosmological connotations that might
lead educated, culturally sensitive moderns to
discard the traditions once they have understood
their roots more clearly" (p. 19).
Originally envisioned as a way to ease converts'
transition from heathen worship to Christianity, in
more recent years the holiday's observance has
been driven by economic forces. The
Encyclopaedia Britannica observes that the
traditional Christian holidays have "undergone a
process of striking desacralization and—especially
Christmas—commercialization. The Christological
foundation of Christmas was replaced by the
myth of Santa Claus" (15th edition, Macropaedia,
Vol. 4, p. 499, "Christianity").
Even with its failings, Christmas remains an
entrenched tradition. Although some recognize the
intrinsic paganism of the holiday, they believe
people are free to establish their own days of
worship. Others cling to the naïve and biblically
insupportable belief that paganism's most
popular celebrations have been won over by
Christianity and therefore are acceptable to God.
Human reasoning aside, we need to consider
God's opinion about such celebrations. We need
to look into God's Word to see how He views
mixing pagan practices and customs with
worshipping Him. But first let's examine the other
major holiday of the Christian world, Easter.
 

Sparksxedo

Village Elder
#3
Acknowledge source, otherwise you are guilty of plagiarism.
Ok ndio hio link
People almost everywhere observe Christmas.
But how did Christmas come to be observed?
How did the customs and practices associated
with Christmas make their way into traditional
Christianity's most popular holiday?
Did you know December 25 has a checkered past,
a long and contentious history? This should come
as no surprise given that Christmas and many of
its popular customs and trappings are nowhere
set forth in the Bible.
Our Creator's view of this popular holiday is
ignored or not even considered by most people.
Yet His perspective should be our main
consideration. Let's examine the history of
Christmas and compare it with God's Word,
rather than our own ideas and experiences, to
discover His opinion regarding this nearly
universal holiday.
Historians tell us the Christmas celebration came
from questionable origins. William Walsh
(1854-1919) summarizes the holiday's origins
and practices in his book The Story of Santa
Klaus : "We remember that the Christmas
festival ... is a gradual evolution from times that
long antedated the Christian period ... It was
overlaid upon heathen festivals, and many of its
observances are only adaptations of pagan to
Christian ceremonial" (1970, p. 58).
How could pagan practices become part of a
major church celebration? What were these
"heathen festivals" that lent themselves to
Christmas customs over the centuries?
The ancient origins of Christmas customs
During the second century B.C., the Greeks
practiced rites to honor their god Dionysus (also
called Bacchus). The Latin name for this
celebration was Bacchanalia. It spread from the
Greeks to Rome, center of the Roman Empire.
"It was on or about December 21st that the
ancient Greeks celebrated what are known to us
as the Bacchanalia or festivities in honor of
Bacchus, the god of wine. In these festivities the
people gave themselves up to songs, dances and
other revels which frequently passed the limits of
decency and order" (Walsh, p. 65).
Because of the nocturnal orgies associated with
this festival, the Roman Senate suppressed its
observance in 186 B.C. It took the senators
several years to completely accomplish this goal
because of the holiday's popularity.
Suppressing a holiday was unusual for the
Romans since they later became a melting pot of
many types of gods and worship. Just as the
Romans assimilated culture, art and customs
from the peoples absorbed into their empire, they
likewise adopted those peoples' religious
practices.
In addition to the Bacchanalia, the Romans
celebrated another holiday, the Saturnalia, held "in
honor of Saturn, the god of time, [which] began
on December 17th and continued for seven days.
These also often ended in riot and disorder.
Hence the words Bacchanalia and Saturnalia
acquired an evil reputation in later times" (p. 65).
The reason for the Saturnalia's disrepute is
revealing. In pagan mythology Saturn was an
"ancient agricultural god-king who ate his own
children presumably to avoid regicide [being
murdered while king]. And Saturn was parallel
with a Carthaginian Baal, whose brazen horned
effigy contained a furnace into which children
were sacrificially fed" (William Sansom, A Book
of Christmas, 1968, p. 44).
Notice the customs surrounding the Saturnalia:
"All businesses were closed except those that
provided food or revelry. Slaves were made equal
to masters or even set over them. Gambling,
drinking, and feasting were encouraged. People
exchanged gifts, called strenae, from the
vegetation goddess Strenia, whom it was
important to honor at midwinter ... Men dressed
as women or in the hides of animals and
caroused in the streets. Candles and lamps were
used to frighten the spirits of darkness, which
were [considered] powerful at this time of year. At
its most decadent and barbaric, Saturnalia may
have been the excuse among Roman soldiers in
the East for the human sacrifice of the king of the
revels" (Gerard and Patricia Del Re, The
Christmas Almanac, 1979, p. 16).
Winter-solstice celebrations
Both of these ancient holidays were observed
around the winter solstice — the day of the year
with the shortest period of daylight. "From the
Romans also came another Christmas
fundamental: the date, December 25. When the
Julian calendar was proclaimed in 46 C.E. [A.D.],
it set into law a practice that was already
common: dating the winter solstice as December
25. Later reforms of the calendar would cause the
astronomical solstice to migrate to December 21,
but the older date's irresistible resonance would
remain" (Tom Flynn, The Trouble With
Christmas, 1993, p. 42).
On the heels of the Saturnalia, the Romans
marked December 25 with a celebration called the
Brumalia. Bruma is thought to have been
contracted from the Latin brevum or brevis,
meaning brief or short, denoting the shortest day
of the year.
Why was this period significant? "The time of the
winter solstice has always been an important
season in the mythology of all peoples. The sun,
the giver of life, is at its lowest ebb. It is [the]
shortest daylight of the year; the promise of
spring is buried in cold and snow. It is the time
when the forces of chaos that stand against the
return of light and life must once again be
defeated by the gods. At the low point of the
solstice, the people must help the gods through
imitative magic and religious ceremonies. The sun
begins to return in triumph. The days lengthen
and, though winter remains, spring is once again
conceivable. For all people, it is a time of great
festivity" (Del Re, p. 15).
During the days of Jesus' apostles in the first
century, the early Christians had no knowledge of
Christmas as we know it. But, as a part of the
Roman Empire, they may have noted the Roman
observance of the Saturnalia while they
themselves persisted in celebrating the customary
"feasts of the Lord" (listed in Leviticus 23).
The Encyclopaedia Britannica tells us that "the
first Christians ... continued to observe the
Jewish festivals, though in a new spirit, as
commemorations of events which those festivals
had foreshadowed" (11th edition, Vol. 8, p. 828,
"Easter").
Over the following centuries, new, nonbiblical
observances such as Christmas and Easter were
gradually introduced into traditional Christianity.
History shows that these new days came to be
forcibly promoted while the biblical feast days of
apostolic times were systematically rejected.
"Christmas, the [purported] festival of the birth of
Jesus Christ, was established in connection with
a fading of the expectation of Christ's imminent
return" ( Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th
edition, Macropaedia, Vol. 4, p. 499, "Christianity")
.
The message of Jesus Christ and the apostles
—" the gospel of the kingdom of
God" ( Mark:1:14-15 )—was soon lost. The
Christmas celebration shifted Christianity's focus
away from Christ's promised return to His birth.
But is this what the Bible directs Christians to
do?
How the Christmas date was set
Gerard and Patricia Del Re explain the further
evolution of December 25 as an official Roman
celebration: "Saturnalia and the kalends [new
moon, in this case of January] were the
celebrations most familiar to early Christians,
December 17-24 and January 1-3, but the
tradition of celebrating December 25 as Christ's
birthday came to the Romans from Persia. Mithra,
the Persian god of light and sacred contracts,
was born out of a rock on December 25. Rome
was famous for its flirtations with strange gods
and cults, and in the third century [274] the
unchristian emperor Aurelian established the
festival of Dies Invicti Solis, the Day of the
Invincible Sun, on December 25.
"Mithra was an embodiment of the sun, so this
period of its rebirth was a major day in Mithraism,
which had become Rome's latest official religion
with the patronage of Aurelian. It is believed that
the emperor Constantine adhered to Mithraism up
to the time of his conversion to Christianity. He
was probably instrumental in seeing that the
major feast of his old religion was carried over to
his new faith" ( The Christmas Almanac, 1979,
p. 17).
Although it is difficult to determine the first time
anyone celebrated December 25 as Christmas,
historians are in general agreement that it was
sometime during the fourth century.
This is an amazingly late date. Christmas was
not observed in Rome, the capital of the empire,
until about 300 years after Christ's death. Its
origins cannot be traced back to either the
teachings or practices of the earliest Christians.
The introduction of Christmas represented a
significant departure from "the faith which was
once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).
European influences on Christmas customs
Although Christmas had been officially
established in Rome by the fourth century, later
another pagan celebration greatly influenced the
many Christmas customs practiced today. That
festival was the Teutonic feast of Yule (from the
Norse word for "wheel," signifying the cycle of the
year). It was also known as the Twelve Nights,
being celebrated from Dec. 25 to Jan. 6.
This festival was based on the supposed
mythological warfare between the forces of nature
—specifically winter (called the ice giant), which
signified death, vs. the sun god, representing life.
The winter solstice marked the turning point: Up
until then the ice giant was at his zenith of
power; after that the sun god began to prevail.
"As Christianity spread to northern Europe, it met
with the observance of another pagan festival
held in December in honour of the sun. This time
it was the Yule-feast of the Norsemen, which
lasted for twelve days. During this time log-fires
were burnt to assist the revival of the sun.
Shrines and other sacred places were decorated
with such greenery as holly, ivy, and bay, and it
was an occasion for feasting and drinking.
"Equally old was the practice of the Druids, the
caste of priests among the Celts of ancient
France, Britain and Ireland, to decorate their
temples with mistletoe, the fruit of the oak-tree
which they considered sacred. Among the German
tribes the oak-tree was sacred to Odin, their god
of war, and they sacrificed to it until St Boniface,
in the eighth century, persuaded them to
exchange it for the Christmas tree, a young fir-
tree adorned in honour of the Christ child ... It
was the German immigrants who took the
custom to America" (L.W. Cowie and John
Selwyn Gummer, The Christian Calendar, 1974,
p.22).
Instead of worshipping the sun god, converts
were told to worship the Son of God. The focus of
the holiday subtly changed, but the traditional
pagan customs and practices remained
fundamentally unchanged. Old religious customs
involving holly, ivy, mistletoe and evergreen trees
were given invented "Christian" meanings. We
should keep in mind that Jesus Christ warns us
to beware of things that masquerade as
something they are not ( Matthew:7:15 ; compare
Isaiah:5:20 ; 2 Corinthians:11:13-15 ).
The roots of modern customs
Many of the other trappings of Christmas are
merely carryovers from ancient celebrations.
"Santa Claus" is an American corruption of the
Dutch form "San Nicolaas," a figure brought to
America by the early Dutch colonists
( Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition, Vol.
19, p. 649, "Nicholas, St."). This name, in turn,
stems from St. Nicholas, bishop of the city of
Myra in southern Asia Minor, a Catholic saint
honored by the Greeks and the Latins on Dec. 6.
How, we might ask, did a bishop from the sunny
Mediterranean coast of Turkey come to be
associated with a red-suited man who lives at the
north pole and rides in a sleigh pulled by flying
reindeer?
Knowing what we have already learned about the
ancient pre-Christian origins of Christmas, we
shouldn't be surprised to learn that Santa Claus
is nothing but a figure recycled from ancient
beliefs tied in with pagan midwinter festivals.
The trappings associated with Santa Claus—his
fur-trimmed clothing, sleigh and reindeer—reveal
his origin from the cold climates of the far North.
Some sources trace him to the ancient Northern
European gods Woden and Thor, from which the
days of the week Wednesday (Woden's day) and
Thursday (Thor's day) get their designations (Earl
and Alice Count, 4000 Years of Christmas,
1997, pp. 56-64). Others trace him even farther
back in time to the Roman god Saturn (honored
at the winter Saturnalia festival) and the Greek
god Silenus (Walsh, pp. 70-71).
What about other common customs and symbols
associated with Christmas? Where did they
originate? "On the Roman New Year (January 1),
houses were decorated with greenery and lights,
and gifts were given to children and the poor. To
these observances were added the German and
Celtic Yule rites ... Food and good fellowship, the
Yule log and Yule cakes, greenery and fir trees,
gifts and greetings all commemorated different
aspects of this festive season. Fires and lights,
symbols of warmth and lasting life, have always
been associated with the winter festival, both
pagan and Christian" ( Encyclopaedia
Britannica, 15th edition, Micropaedia, Vol. 2, p.
903, "Christmas").
"In midwinter, the idea of rebirth and fertility was
tremendously important. In the snows of winter,
the evergreen was a symbol of the life that would
return in the spring, so evergreens were used for
decoration ... Light was important in dispelling
the growing darkness of the solstice, so a Yule
log was lighted with the remains of the previous
year's log ... As many customs lost their religious
reasons for being, they passed into the realm of
superstition, becoming good luck traditions and
eventually merely customs without rationale. Thus
the mistletoe was no longer worshiped but
became eventually an excuse for rather
nonreligious activities" (Del Re, p. 18).
"Christmas gifts themselves remind us of the
presents that were exchanged in Rome during the
Saturnalia. In Rome, it might be added, the
presents usually took the form of wax tapers and
dolls—the latter being in their turn a survival of
the human sacrifices once offered to Saturn. It is
a queer thought that in our Christmas presents
we are preserving under another form one of the
most savage customs of our barbarian
ancestors!" (Walsh, p. 67).
When we see these customs perpetuated today in
Christmas observance, we can have no doubt of
this holiday's origin. Christmas is a diverse
collection of pagan forms of worship overlaid with
a veneer of Christianity.
Accommodating a pagan populace
How, we should ask, did these pagan customs
become a widely accepted part of Christianity?
We should first understand what a strong hold
these celebrations and customs had on the people
of those early centuries. Tertullian, a Catholic
writer of the late second and early third century,
lamented the fact that the pagans of his day were
far more faithful to their beliefs than were the
compromising Christians who were happily joining
in the Roman midwinter festival that eventually
evolved into what is now Christmas:
"By us [Christians], ...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 Alexander Hislop, The Two
Babylons, 1959, p. 93).
It wasn't long before such non-Christian rites and
practices were assimilated into a new church
religious holiday supposedly celebrating Christ's
birth. William Walsh describes this process and
the rationalization behind it: "This was no mere
accident. It was a necessary measure at a time
when the new religion [Christianity] was forcing
itself upon a deeply superstitious people. In order
to reconcile fresh converts to the new faith, and
to make the breaking of old ties as painless as
possible, these relics of paganism were retained
under modified forms ...
"Thus we find that when Pope Gregory [540-604]
sent Saint Augustine as a missionary to convert
Anglo-Saxon England he directed that so far as
possible the saint should accommodate the new
and strange Christian rites to the heathen ones
with which the natives had been familiar from
their birth.
"For example, he advised Saint Augustine to allow
his converts on certain festivals to eat and kill a
great number of oxen to the glory of God the
Father, as formerly they had done this in honor of
[their gods] ... On the very Christmas after his
arrival in England Saint Augustine baptized many
thousands of converts and permitted their usual
December celebration under the new name and
with the new meaning" (p. 61).
Gregory permitted such importation of pagan
religious practices on the grounds that when
dealing with "obdurate minds it is impossible to
cut off everything at once" (Sansom, p. 30).
Tragically, Christianity never accomplished the
task of cutting off everything pagan. According to
Owen Chadwick, former professor of history at
Cambridge University, the Romans "kept the
winter solstice with a feast of drunkenness and
riot. The Christians thought that they could bring
a better meaning into that feast. They tried to
persuade their flocks not to drink or eat too
much, and to keep the feast more austerely —but
without success " ( A History of Christianity,
1995, p. 24).
Early contention over Christmas
In the beginning, Christians were opposed to
Christmas. Some of the earliest controversy
erupted over whether Jesus' birthday should be
celebrated at all.
"As early as A.D. 245, the Church father Origen
was proclaiming it heathenish to celebrate
Christ's birthday as if He were merely a temporal
ruler when His spiritual nature should be the main
concern. This view was echoed throughout the
centuries, but found strong, widespread advocacy
only with the rise of Protestantism. To these
serious-minded, sober clerics, the celebration of
Christmas flew in the face of all they believed.
Drunken revelry on Christmas! The day was not
even known to be Christ's birthday. It was merely
an excuse to continue the customs of pagan
Saturnalia" (Del Re, p. 20).
The Encyclopaedia Britannica adds: "The
[church] Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries,
such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and
Epiphanius, contended that Christmas was a copy
of a pagan celebration" (15th edition,
Macropaedia, Vol. 4, p. 499, "Christianity").
The decision to celebrate Christ's birth on
December 25 was far from universally accepted.
"Christians of Armenia and Syria accused the
Christians of Rome of sun worship for celebrating
Christmas on December 25 ... Pope Leo the Great
in the fifth century tried to remove certain
practices at Christmas which he considered in no
way different from sun worship" (Robert Myers,
Celebrations: The Complete Book of American
Holidays, 1972, p. 310).
Indeed, of all times of the year suggested as the
birth of Christ, December 25 could not have been
the date.
Again, the idea of celebrating Christ's birthday on
any date was initially problematic—to say nothing
of celebrating it on a date derived from paganism.
"To the early Christians the idea of celebrating
the birthday of a religious figure would have
seemed at best peculiar, at worst blasphemous.
Being born into this world was nothing to
celebrate. What mattered was leaving this world
and entering the next in a condition pleasing to
God.
"When early Christians associated a feast day
with a specific person, such as a bishop or
martyr, it was usually the date of the person's
death ... If you wanted to search the New
Testament world for peoples who attached
significance to birthdays, your search would
quickly narrow to pagans. The Romans celebrated
the birthdays of the Caesars, and most
unchristian Mediterranean religions attached
importance to the natal feasts of a pantheon of
supernatural figures.
"If Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, and his
purpose in coming was anything like what is
supposed, then in celebrating his birthday each
year Christians do violence, not honor, to his
memory. For in celebrating a birthday at all, we
sustain exactly the kind of tradition his coming is
thought to have been designed to cast
down" (Flynn, p. 42).
Christmas: a banned celebration
In England "the Protestants found their own
quieter ways of celebrating, in calm and
meditation," while "the strict Puritans refused to
celebrate at all ...The Pilgrims in Massachusetts
made a point of working on Christmas as on any
other day. On June 3, 1647, Parliament
established punishments for observing Christmas
and certain other holidays. This policy was
reaffirmed in 1652" (Del Re, p. 20).
Even colonial America considered Christmas more
of a raucous revelry than a religious occasion: "So
tarnished, in fact, was its reputation in colonial
America that celebrating Christmas was banned in
Puritan New England, where the noted minister
Cotton Mather described yuletide merrymaking as
‘an affront unto the grace of God'" (Jeffery Sheler,
"In Search of Christmas," U.S. News and World
Report, Dec. 23, 1996, p. 56).
The reason Christmas has survived and grown
into such a popular holiday—being observed by 96
percent of Americans and almost all nations, even
atheistic ones (Sheler, p. 56)—is because of
economic factors.
Christmas evaluated
We cannot escape that Christmas is rooted in
ancient customs and religious practices that had
nothing to do with Christianity and the Bible. Tom
Flynn summarizes the issue: "An enormous
number of traditions we now associate with
Christmas have their roots in pre-Christian pagan
religious traditions. Some of these have social,
sexual, or cosmological connotations that might
lead educated, culturally sensitive moderns to
discard the traditions once they have understood
their roots more clearly" (p. 19).
Originally envisioned as a way to ease converts'
transition from heathen worship to Christianity, in
more recent years the holiday's observance has
been driven by economic forces. The
Encyclopaedia Britannica observes that the
traditional Christian holidays have "undergone a
process of striking desacralization and—especially
Christmas—commercialization. The Christological
foundation of Christmas was replaced by the
myth of Santa Claus" (15th edition, Macropaedia,
Vol. 4, p. 499, "Christianity").
Even with its failings, Christmas remains an
entrenched tradition. Although some recognize the
intrinsic paganism of the holiday, they believe
people are free to establish their own days of
worship. Others cling to the naïve and biblically
insupportable belief that paganism's most
popular celebrations have been won over by
Christianity and therefore are acceptable to God.
Human reasoning aside, we need to consider
God's opinion about such celebrations. We need
to look into God's Word to see how He views
mixing pagan practices and customs with
worshipping Him. But first let's examine the other
major holiday of the Christian world, Easter.
www.ucg.org/booklet/holidays-or-holy-days-does-it-matter-which-days-we-observe/christmas-untold
 

bluetooth

Village Elder
#6
People almost everywhere observe Christmas.
But how did Christmas come to be observed?
How did the customs and practices associated
with Christmas make their way into traditional
Christianity's most popular holiday?
Did you know December 25 has a checkered past,
a long and contentious history? This should come
as no surprise given that Christmas and many of
its popular customs and trappings are nowhere
set forth in the Bible.
Our Creator's view of this popular holiday is
ignored or not even considered by most people.
Yet His perspective should be our main
consideration. Let's examine the history of
Christmas and compare it with God's Word,
rather than our own ideas and experiences, to
discover His opinion regarding this nearly
universal holiday.
Historians tell us the Christmas celebration came
from questionable origins. William Walsh
(1854-1919) summarizes the holiday's origins
and practices in his book The Story of Santa
Klaus : "We remember that the Christmas
festival ... is a gradual evolution from times that
long antedated the Christian period ... It was
overlaid upon heathen festivals, and many of its
observances are only adaptations of pagan to
Christian ceremonial" (1970, p. 58).
How could pagan practices become part of a
major church celebration? What were these
"heathen festivals" that lent themselves to
Christmas customs over the centuries?
The ancient origins of Christmas customs
During the second century B.C., the Greeks
practiced rites to honor their god Dionysus (also
called Bacchus). The Latin name for this
celebration was Bacchanalia. It spread from the
Greeks to Rome, center of the Roman Empire.
"It was on or about December 21st that the
ancient Greeks celebrated what are known to us
as the Bacchanalia or festivities in honor of
Bacchus, the god of wine. In these festivities the
people gave themselves up to songs, dances and
other revels which frequently passed the limits of
decency and order" (Walsh, p. 65).
Because of the nocturnal orgies associated with
this festival, the Roman Senate suppressed its
observance in 186 B.C. It took the senators
several years to completely accomplish this goal
because of the holiday's popularity.
Suppressing a holiday was unusual for the
Romans since they later became a melting pot of
many types of gods and worship. Just as the
Romans assimilated culture, art and customs
from the peoples absorbed into their empire, they
likewise adopted those peoples' religious
practices.
In addition to the Bacchanalia, the Romans
celebrated another holiday, the Saturnalia, held "in
honor of Saturn, the god of time, [which] began
on December 17th and continued for seven days.
These also often ended in riot and disorder.
Hence the words Bacchanalia and Saturnalia
acquired an evil reputation in later times" (p. 65).
The reason for the Saturnalia's disrepute is
revealing. In pagan mythology Saturn was an
"ancient agricultural god-king who ate his own
children presumably to avoid regicide [being
murdered while king]. And Saturn was parallel
with a Carthaginian Baal, whose brazen horned
effigy contained a furnace into which children
were sacrificially fed" (William Sansom, A Book
of Christmas, 1968, p. 44).
Notice the customs surrounding the Saturnalia:
"All businesses were closed except those that
provided food or revelry. Slaves were made equal
to masters or even set over them. Gambling,
drinking, and feasting were encouraged. People
exchanged gifts, called strenae, from the
vegetation goddess Strenia, whom it was
important to honor at midwinter ... Men dressed
as women or in the hides of animals and
caroused in the streets. Candles and lamps were
used to frighten the spirits of darkness, which
were [considered] powerful at this time of year. At
its most decadent and barbaric, Saturnalia may
have been the excuse among Roman soldiers in
the East for the human sacrifice of the king of the
revels" (Gerard and Patricia Del Re, The
Christmas Almanac, 1979, p. 16).
Winter-solstice celebrations
Both of these ancient holidays were observed
around the winter solstice — the day of the year
with the shortest period of daylight. "From the
Romans also came another Christmas
fundamental: the date, December 25. When the
Julian calendar was proclaimed in 46 C.E. [A.D.],
it set into law a practice that was already
common: dating the winter solstice as December
25. Later reforms of the calendar would cause the
astronomical solstice to migrate to December 21,
but the older date's irresistible resonance would
remain" (Tom Flynn, The Trouble With
Christmas, 1993, p. 42).
On the heels of the Saturnalia, the Romans
marked December 25 with a celebration called the
Brumalia. Bruma is thought to have been
contracted from the Latin brevum or brevis,
meaning brief or short, denoting the shortest day
of the year.
Why was this period significant? "The time of the
winter solstice has always been an important
season in the mythology of all peoples. The sun,
the giver of life, is at its lowest ebb. It is [the]
shortest daylight of the year; the promise of
spring is buried in cold and snow. It is the time
when the forces of chaos that stand against the
return of light and life must once again be
defeated by the gods. At the low point of the
solstice, the people must help the gods through
imitative magic and religious ceremonies. The sun
begins to return in triumph. The days lengthen
and, though winter remains, spring is once again
conceivable. For all people, it is a time of great
festivity" (Del Re, p. 15).
During the days of Jesus' apostles in the first
century, the early Christians had no knowledge of
Christmas as we know it. But, as a part of the
Roman Empire, they may have noted the Roman
observance of the Saturnalia while they
themselves persisted in celebrating the customary
"feasts of the Lord" (listed in Leviticus 23).
The Encyclopaedia Britannica tells us that "the
first Christians ... continued to observe the
Jewish festivals, though in a new spirit, as
commemorations of events which those festivals
had foreshadowed" (11th edition, Vol. 8, p. 828,
"Easter").
Over the following centuries, new, nonbiblical
observances such as Christmas and Easter were
gradually introduced into traditional Christianity.
History shows that these new days came to be
forcibly promoted while the biblical feast days of
apostolic times were systematically rejected.
"Christmas, the [purported] festival of the birth of
Jesus Christ, was established in connection with
a fading of the expectation of Christ's imminent
return" ( Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th
edition, Macropaedia, Vol. 4, p. 499, "Christianity")
.
The message of Jesus Christ and the apostles
—" the gospel of the kingdom of
God" ( Mark:1:14-15 )—was soon lost. The
Christmas celebration shifted Christianity's focus
away from Christ's promised return to His birth.
But is this what the Bible directs Christians to
do?
How the Christmas date was set
Gerard and Patricia Del Re explain the further
evolution of December 25 as an official Roman
celebration: "Saturnalia and the kalends [new
moon, in this case of January] were the
celebrations most familiar to early Christians,
December 17-24 and January 1-3, but the
tradition of celebrating December 25 as Christ's
birthday came to the Romans from Persia. Mithra,
the Persian god of light and sacred contracts,
was born out of a rock on December 25. Rome
was famous for its flirtations with strange gods
and cults, and in the third century [274] the
unchristian emperor Aurelian established the
festival of Dies Invicti Solis, the Day of the
Invincible Sun, on December 25.
"Mithra was an embodiment of the sun, so this
period of its rebirth was a major day in Mithraism,
which had become Rome's latest official religion
with the patronage of Aurelian. It is believed that
the emperor Constantine adhered to Mithraism up
to the time of his conversion to Christianity. He
was probably instrumental in seeing that the
major feast of his old religion was carried over to
his new faith" ( The Christmas Almanac, 1979,
p. 17).
Although it is difficult to determine the first time
anyone celebrated December 25 as Christmas,
historians are in general agreement that it was
sometime during the fourth century.
This is an amazingly late date. Christmas was
not observed in Rome, the capital of the empire,
until about 300 years after Christ's death. Its
origins cannot be traced back to either the
teachings or practices of the earliest Christians.
The introduction of Christmas represented a
significant departure from "the faith which was
once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).
European influences on Christmas customs
Although Christmas had been officially
established in Rome by the fourth century, later
another pagan celebration greatly influenced the
many Christmas customs practiced today. That
festival was the Teutonic feast of Yule (from the
Norse word for "wheel," signifying the cycle of the
year). It was also known as the Twelve Nights,
being celebrated from Dec. 25 to Jan. 6.
This festival was based on the supposed
mythological warfare between the forces of nature
—specifically winter (called the ice giant), which
signified death, vs. the sun god, representing life.
The winter solstice marked the turning point: Up
until then the ice giant was at his zenith of
power; after that the sun god began to prevail.
"As Christianity spread to northern Europe, it met
with the observance of another pagan festival
held in December in honour of the sun. This time
it was the Yule-feast of the Norsemen, which
lasted for twelve days. During this time log-fires
were burnt to assist the revival of the sun.
Shrines and other sacred places were decorated
with such greenery as holly, ivy, and bay, and it
was an occasion for feasting and drinking.
"Equally old was the practice of the Druids, the
caste of priests among the Celts of ancient
France, Britain and Ireland, to decorate their
temples with mistletoe, the fruit of the oak-tree
which they considered sacred. Among the German
tribes the oak-tree was sacred to Odin, their god
of war, and they sacrificed to it until St Boniface,
in the eighth century, persuaded them to
exchange it for the Christmas tree, a young fir-
tree adorned in honour of the Christ child ... It
was the German immigrants who took the
custom to America" (L.W. Cowie and John
Selwyn Gummer, The Christian Calendar, 1974,
p.22).
Instead of worshipping the sun god, converts
were told to worship the Son of God. The focus of
the holiday subtly changed, but the traditional
pagan customs and practices remained
fundamentally unchanged. Old religious customs
involving holly, ivy, mistletoe and evergreen trees
were given invented "Christian" meanings. We
should keep in mind that Jesus Christ warns us
to beware of things that masquerade as
something they are not ( Matthew:7:15 ; compare
Isaiah:5:20 ; 2 Corinthians:11:13-15 ).
The roots of modern customs
Many of the other trappings of Christmas are
merely carryovers from ancient celebrations.
"Santa Claus" is an American corruption of the
Dutch form "San Nicolaas," a figure brought to
America by the early Dutch colonists
( Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition, Vol.
19, p. 649, "Nicholas, St."). This name, in turn,
stems from St. Nicholas, bishop of the city of
Myra in southern Asia Minor, a Catholic saint
honored by the Greeks and the Latins on Dec. 6.
How, we might ask, did a bishop from the sunny
Mediterranean coast of Turkey come to be
associated with a red-suited man who lives at the
north pole and rides in a sleigh pulled by flying
reindeer?
Knowing what we have already learned about the
ancient pre-Christian origins of Christmas, we
shouldn't be surprised to learn that Santa Claus
is nothing but a figure recycled from ancient
beliefs tied in with pagan midwinter festivals.
The trappings associated with Santa Claus—his
fur-trimmed clothing, sleigh and reindeer—reveal
his origin from the cold climates of the far North.
Some sources trace him to the ancient Northern
European gods Woden and Thor, from which the
days of the week Wednesday (Woden's day) and
Thursday (Thor's day) get their designations (Earl
and Alice Count, 4000 Years of Christmas,
1997, pp. 56-64). Others trace him even farther
back in time to the Roman god Saturn (honored
at the winter Saturnalia festival) and the Greek
god Silenus (Walsh, pp. 70-71).
What about other common customs and symbols
associated with Christmas? Where did they
originate? "On the Roman New Year (January 1),
houses were decorated with greenery and lights,
and gifts were given to children and the poor. To
these observances were added the German and
Celtic Yule rites ... Food and good fellowship, the
Yule log and Yule cakes, greenery and fir trees,
gifts and greetings all commemorated different
aspects of this festive season. Fires and lights,
symbols of warmth and lasting life, have always
been associated with the winter festival, both
pagan and Christian" ( Encyclopaedia
Britannica, 15th edition, Micropaedia, Vol. 2, p.
903, "Christmas").
"In midwinter, the idea of rebirth and fertility was
tremendously important. In the snows of winter,
the evergreen was a symbol of the life that would
return in the spring, so evergreens were used for
decoration ... Light was important in dispelling
the growing darkness of the solstice, so a Yule
log was lighted with the remains of the previous
year's log ... As many customs lost their religious
reasons for being, they passed into the realm of
superstition, becoming good luck traditions and
eventually merely customs without rationale. Thus
the mistletoe was no longer worshiped but
became eventually an excuse for rather
nonreligious activities" (Del Re, p. 18).
"Christmas gifts themselves remind us of the
presents that were exchanged in Rome during the
Saturnalia. In Rome, it might be added, the
presents usually took the form of wax tapers and
dolls—the latter being in their turn a survival of
the human sacrifices once offered to Saturn. It is
a queer thought that in our Christmas presents
we are preserving under another form one of the
most savage customs of our barbarian
ancestors!" (Walsh, p. 67).
When we see these customs perpetuated today in
Christmas observance, we can have no doubt of
this holiday's origin. Christmas is a diverse
collection of pagan forms of worship overlaid with
a veneer of Christianity.
Accommodating a pagan populace
How, we should ask, did these pagan customs
become a widely accepted part of Christianity?
We should first understand what a strong hold
these celebrations and customs had on the people
of those early centuries. Tertullian, a Catholic
writer of the late second and early third century,
lamented the fact that the pagans of his day were
far more faithful to their beliefs than were the
compromising Christians who were happily joining
in the Roman midwinter festival that eventually
evolved into what is now Christmas:
"By us [Christians], ...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 Alexander Hislop, The Two
Babylons, 1959, p. 93).
It wasn't long before such non-Christian rites and
practices were assimilated into a new church
religious holiday supposedly celebrating Christ's
birth. William Walsh describes this process and
the rationalization behind it: "This was no mere
accident. It was a necessary measure at a time
when the new religion [Christianity] was forcing
itself upon a deeply superstitious people. In order
to reconcile fresh converts to the new faith, and
to make the breaking of old ties as painless as
possible, these relics of paganism were retained
under modified forms ...
"Thus we find that when Pope Gregory [540-604]
sent Saint Augustine as a missionary to convert
Anglo-Saxon England he directed that so far as
possible the saint should accommodate the new
and strange Christian rites to the heathen ones
with which the natives had been familiar from
their birth.
"For example, he advised Saint Augustine to allow
his converts on certain festivals to eat and kill a
great number of oxen to the glory of God the
Father, as formerly they had done this in honor of
[their gods] ... On the very Christmas after his
arrival in England Saint Augustine baptized many
thousands of converts and permitted their usual
December celebration under the new name and
with the new meaning" (p. 61).
Gregory permitted such importation of pagan
religious practices on the grounds that when
dealing with "obdurate minds it is impossible to
cut off everything at once" (Sansom, p. 30).
Tragically, Christianity never accomplished the
task of cutting off everything pagan. According to
Owen Chadwick, former professor of history at
Cambridge University, the Romans "kept the
winter solstice with a feast of drunkenness and
riot. The Christians thought that they could bring
a better meaning into that feast. They tried to
persuade their flocks not to drink or eat too
much, and to keep the feast more austerely —but
without success " ( A History of Christianity,
1995, p. 24).
Early contention over Christmas
In the beginning, Christians were opposed to
Christmas. Some of the earliest controversy
erupted over whether Jesus' birthday should be
celebrated at all.
"As early as A.D. 245, the Church father Origen
was proclaiming it heathenish to celebrate
Christ's birthday as if He were merely a temporal
ruler when His spiritual nature should be the main
concern. This view was echoed throughout the
centuries, but found strong, widespread advocacy
only with the rise of Protestantism. To these
serious-minded, sober clerics, the celebration of
Christmas flew in the face of all they believed.
Drunken revelry on Christmas! The day was not
even known to be Christ's birthday. It was merely
an excuse to continue the customs of pagan
Saturnalia" (Del Re, p. 20).
The Encyclopaedia Britannica adds: "The
[church] Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries,
such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and
Epiphanius, contended that Christmas was a copy
of a pagan celebration" (15th edition,
Macropaedia, Vol. 4, p. 499, "Christianity").
The decision to celebrate Christ's birth on
December 25 was far from universally accepted.
"Christians of Armenia and Syria accused the
Christians of Rome of sun worship for celebrating
Christmas on December 25 ... Pope Leo the Great
in the fifth century tried to remove certain
practices at Christmas which he considered in no
way different from sun worship" (Robert Myers,
Celebrations: The Complete Book of American
Holidays, 1972, p. 310).
Indeed, of all times of the year suggested as the
birth of Christ, December 25 could not have been
the date.
Again, the idea of celebrating Christ's birthday on
any date was initially problematic—to say nothing
of celebrating it on a date derived from paganism.
"To the early Christians the idea of celebrating
the birthday of a religious figure would have
seemed at best peculiar, at worst blasphemous.
Being born into this world was nothing to
celebrate. What mattered was leaving this world
and entering the next in a condition pleasing to
God.
"When early Christians associated a feast day
with a specific person, such as a bishop or
martyr, it was usually the date of the person's
death ... If you wanted to search the New
Testament world for peoples who attached
significance to birthdays, your search would
quickly narrow to pagans. The Romans celebrated
the birthdays of the Caesars, and most
unchristian Mediterranean religions attached
importance to the natal feasts of a pantheon of
supernatural figures.
"If Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, and his
purpose in coming was anything like what is
supposed, then in celebrating his birthday each
year Christians do violence, not honor, to his
memory. For in celebrating a birthday at all, we
sustain exactly the kind of tradition his coming is
thought to have been designed to cast
down" (Flynn, p. 42).
Christmas: a banned celebration
In England "the Protestants found their own
quieter ways of celebrating, in calm and
meditation," while "the strict Puritans refused to
celebrate at all ...The Pilgrims in Massachusetts
made a point of working on Christmas as on any
other day. On June 3, 1647, Parliament
established punishments for observing Christmas
and certain other holidays. This policy was
reaffirmed in 1652" (Del Re, p. 20).
Even colonial America considered Christmas more
of a raucous revelry than a religious occasion: "So
tarnished, in fact, was its reputation in colonial
America that celebrating Christmas was banned in
Puritan New England, where the noted minister
Cotton Mather described yuletide merrymaking as
‘an affront unto the grace of God'" (Jeffery Sheler,
"In Search of Christmas," U.S. News and World
Report, Dec. 23, 1996, p. 56).
The reason Christmas has survived and grown
into such a popular holiday—being observed by 96
percent of Americans and almost all nations, even
atheistic ones (Sheler, p. 56)—is because of
economic factors.
Christmas evaluated
We cannot escape that Christmas is rooted in
ancient customs and religious practices that had
nothing to do with Christianity and the Bible. Tom
Flynn summarizes the issue: "An enormous
number of traditions we now associate with
Christmas have their roots in pre-Christian pagan
religious traditions. Some of these have social,
sexual, or cosmological connotations that might
lead educated, culturally sensitive moderns to
discard the traditions once they have understood
their roots more clearly" (p. 19).
Originally envisioned as a way to ease converts'
transition from heathen worship to Christianity, in
more recent years the holiday's observance has
been driven by economic forces. The
Encyclopaedia Britannica observes that the
traditional Christian holidays have "undergone a
process of striking desacralization and—especially
Christmas—commercialization. The Christological
foundation of Christmas was replaced by the
myth of Santa Claus" (15th edition, Macropaedia,
Vol. 4, p. 499, "Christianity").
Even with its failings, Christmas remains an
entrenched tradition. Although some recognize the
intrinsic paganism of the holiday, they believe
people are free to establish their own days of
worship. Others cling to the naïve and biblically
insupportable belief that paganism's most
popular celebrations have been won over by
Christianity and therefore are acceptable to God.
Human reasoning aside, we need to consider
God's opinion about such celebrations. We need
to look into God's Word to see how He views
mixing pagan practices and customs with
worshipping Him. But first let's examine the other
major holiday of the Christian world, Easter.
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