|"He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
and he is the glory of your people Israel!"
As a believer in the miraculous and Holy Birth of Jesus Christ, I am usually amused by the
statements of non-believers who like to challenge the celebration of Christmas. Beaming with
self-knowledge, they proudly put forth questions that really are statements, "Ya know . . .
Christmas is really a pagan holiday?" Or, "Ya know. . .they just picked December 25th as the
date?" These statements are usually delivered with a tone of dismissal; with the intent to
contradict or discredit the blessed event.
Christians are well aware of the true origin of Christmas. We acknowledge that the actual
birthdate of Christ is not known. However, this does not negate our belief. We also know that
Christmas is not a pagan holiday. There have been seasons; spring, summer, fall, and winter,
since God first created the heavens and the earth. And, there were many seasons that came to
pass before the birth of Christ. And, seasonal pagan traditions were indeed abundant in the
days prior to His birth. And, they continue to this day. However, these observances serve the
purpose to worship their own (false) gods, planets, and the passing of seasons.
For example, in ancient pagan times, the last day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere was
celebrated as the night that the Great Mother Goddess gives birth to the baby Sun God. It is also
called Yule, the day a huge log is added to a bonfire, around which everyone would dance and
sing to awaken the sun from its long winter sleep.
In Roman times, it became the celebrations honoring Saturnus (the harvest god) and Mithras (the
ancient god of light), a form of sun worship that had come to Rome from Syria a century before
with the cult of Sol Invictus. It announced that winter is not forever, that life continues, and an
invitation to stay in good spirit. The last day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere occurs
between the 20th and 22nd of December. The Romans celebrated Saturnalia between
December 17th and the 24th.
To avoid persecution during the Roman pagan festival, early Christians decked their homes with
Saturnalia holly. However, as Christian numbers increased and their customs prevailed, the
celebrations took on a Christian observance. But the early church actually did not celebrate
the birth of Christ in December until Telesphorus, who was the second Bishop of Rome from 125
to 136 A.D., declared that church services should be held during this time to celebrate "The
Nativity of our Lord and Saviour." However, since no one was quite sure in which month Christ
was born, Nativity was often held in September, which was during the Jewish Feast of Trumpets
(modern-day Rosh Hashanah). In fact, for more than 300 years, people observed the birth of
Jesus on various dates.
In the year 274 A.D., the winter solstice fell on December 25th. Roman Emperor Aurelian
proclaimed the date as "Natalis Solis Invicti," the festival of the birth of the invincible sun. In 320
A.D., Pope Julius I specified the 25th of December as the official date of the birth of Jesus Christ.
In 325 A.D., Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman emperor, introduced Christmas as
an immovable feast on December 25th. He also introduced Sunday as a holy day in a new
7-day week, and introduced movable feasts (Easter). In 354 A.D., Bishop Liberius of Rome
officially ordered his members to celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th, as well.
However, even though Constantine declared December 25th as the birthday of Christ, Christians,
recognizing the date as a pagan festival, and did not share in the emperor's good intentions.
Christmas failed to gain universal recognition among Christians until quite recently. In England,
Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas festivities between 1649 and 1660 through the so-called Blue
Laws, believing that Christmas should be a solemn day. When many Protestants escaped
persecution by fleeing to the colonies all over the world, interest in joyous Christmas
celebrations was rekindled. Still, Christmas was not even a legal holiday until the 1800s.
The popularity of a Christmas celebration was spurred on in 1820 by Washington Irving's book
The Keeping of Christmas at Bracebridge Hall. In 1834, Britain's Queen Victoria brought her
German husband, Prince Albert, into Windsor Castle, introducing the tradition of the Christmas
tree and carols that were held in Europe to the British Empire. A week before Christmas in 1834,
Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol, (in which he wrote that Scrooge required Cratchit
to work, and that the U.S. Congress met on Christmas Day). It was so popular that neither the
churches nor the governments could not ignore the importance of Christmas celebrations.
In 1836, Alabama became the first state in the U.S. to declare Christmas a legal holiday. In 1907,
Oklahoma became the last U.S. state to declare Christmas a legal holiday.
As believers, we can respond to those statements posed by non-believers, that Christmas is not a
pagan holiday. The truth is that some pagan traditions continue to be reflected in the
Christian celebration. Christmas celebrations end the 12th day of Christmas (January 6th), the
same amount of days that the return of the sun was celebrated by ancient and Roman pagans.
There are also early pagan tree and wreath symbolisms. However, early Christians under
persecution for their faith, took a page from today and made 'lemonade from lemons"! They took
many of those pagan traditions foisted upon them, and gave them a holy symbolism or
seasonal date for their belief in Christ's birth.
Since no one knows the day of His birth, the Roman Catholic Church felt free to choose the 25th
of December. The church wished to replace the pagan festival with a Christian holy day.
The psychology was that it would be easier to take away an unholy (but traditional) festival from
the population, when you can replace it with a good one. Otherwise, the church would have left a
void where there was a long-standing tradition, and risked producing a discontented population
and a rapid return to the old ways.
As believers, we are not as concerned with every grain of detail, as we are the actual event. We
celebrate the Blessed Birth that took place, not the exact day or moment in time. Among
Christians, His birth is celebrated every day. We call on His name in daily prayer and worship.
When He abides in our hearts, remembrance of His blessed First Coming can be done on any
day of the calendar, and at any movement of the clock.
This Christmas, may we all take the time to re-read the story of Christ's birth in the Gospels of
Matthew and Luke to always remember and joyfully celebrate the Birth of our King!
Hark the herald angels sing
Glory to the new born king
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled
Joyful all ye nations rise
join the triumph of the skies
with angelic host proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem
Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace
hail the Son of Rightousness
Light and life to all He brings
Risen with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
born that man no more may die
born to raise the sons of earth
born to give them second birth