If you ask people what the Christmas celebration symbolizes, most will say that it is the birth of Jesus. One saying occasionally heard around the holidays is, “Jesus is the reason for the season”, but more often people are immersed in a frenzied time of buying gifts, decorating their homes with lights and trees, and indulging in much eating and drinking at numerous social gatherings. If it is really the celebration of Jesus’ birthday, what does a mythical chubby man dressed in red, with elves and flying reindeer have to do with it? Why do people follow ancient traditions that are not scripturally based and associate them with the birth of God’s Son?
Although the majority of so-called Christian religions accept Christmas as an essential part of their traditions, few ever question when, why, or how the whole celebration actually started. All of the usual gift-giving, festivity, and decorations are supposedly in honor of the nativity of the Son of God, but a look at some historical information, coupled with Biblical facts, proves otherwise. Although it is considered to be a religious observance, this holiday originated from an ancient pagan festival. There are no teachings in the Bible that support the observation of the celebration.
The first time December 25th was referred to in any document as being Christmas Day was 354 A.D. By the fourth century, Christmas became an official holiday in Rome and most other parts of the so-called Christian world. The selection of December 25 as Jesus’ birthday came about for the simple fact that it coincided with the winter solstice, originally known as the celebration of the Roman Saturnalia in honor of their god, Saturn. Saturnalia was a week-long celebration that was a once-a-year time to indulge in feasting, drinking, exchanging of gifts and merrymaking in general. The ancient Babylonians also celebrated the feast of their god Isis on December 25. Boisterous celebration with gluttonous eating, drinking, and gift-giving were traditions of this feast as well.
By the time Christianity took root in Rome, the Saturnalia was a popular and well-known festival among the pagan people. Religious leaders (predominately those of the outset of the Catholic Church) realized they could not stop the Saturnalia from being celebrated, so they changed the former celebration to one that would fit their beliefs. Authorities of the Roman Catholic Church felt it was a wise idea to give a “sacred” meaning to pagan observances, rather than to discourage possible converts by eliminating their celebrations entirely. When the Emperor Constantine decreed Christianity as the “new faith” of the Roman Empire, the Saturnalia became known as “The Mass of Christ” and changed to honor the birth of Christ rather than worship of the sun. The result was an accommodation of the beliefs and practices of the two.
Many of the Christmas customs observed even today are ones that evolved from practices used long before that holiday ever began. Christmas greenery and the Christmas tree are two such “adopted” customs, which originated directly from the Saturnalia. At the winter solstice, the Romans decorated their homes with boughs of laurel, evergreen trees and others. Other pagan tribes who observed the solstice used holly, ivy, and mistletoe for both decoration and in their religious rites. The use of the Christmas tree dates back to the early Druidic practice of tree worship. The sacrifices made by some early pagan religions to trees were often human ones. Did you know there is something written about this practice in the Bible? The prophet Jeremiah was instructed to write: “Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.” (Jeremiah 10:2-4 KJV)
The exact date of Jesus’ birth is unknown. There is no record in history, scriptural or otherwise, from which the date of Jesus’ birth can be determined. However there is agreement among historians and Bible scholars that December 25 is decidedly not the correct date, nor is it even the month in which he was born. Yet it is possible to narrow it down to a season with some clues in the Bible. One good clue is the fact that there were shepherds in the fields at night with their flocks when Jesus was born. (Read Luke 2:8.) This alone indicates that Jesus was born during the warmer months. In the coldest months like December or January, the shepherds did not sleep in the unproductive fields but brought their flocks into corrals. To add to this, the Talmud (the body of Jewish law) states the flocks were put out to grass in March and were brought in at the beginning of November. It is also highly unlikely that Caesar Augustus would have required the census to be taken during coldest time of year when mass travel was necessary by large numbers of the population. (Read Luke 2:1-3.)
There is another clue in the Bible book of Daniel, which explains how Christ’s earthly ministry was only to last for 3-1/2 years. He began that ministry when he turned 30 years old (Luke 3:21-23). The scriptures also show he was killed at the Jewish Passover (John 18:39, 40), which occurred in the spring, so it stands to reason that he would have to have been born in the fall of the year. If it were important that we were to know the date of Jesus’ birth, Jehovah the Almighty God would most likely have made certain the date was recorded in the scriptures.
There is no passage in the Bible that instructs people to celebrate Christ’s birthday or any other for that matter. Ecclesiastes 7:1 says that the day of death is better than the day of one’s birth, and Ecclesiastes 7:8 states that, “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof…” The only two birthday celebrations mentioned in the Bible are those of Pharaoh and King Herod, both wicked men whose birthdays were each commemorated with a feast and an execution. The account of Pharaoh’s birthday in Genesis 40:20-22 tells how he hanged his chief baker. On Herod’s birthday, John the Baptist was beheaded. (Read Matthew 14:6-8, 10 and Mark 6:21-28.)
The apostle Paul gave this warning: “Previously, however, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to gods that essentially are not gods. But now, when you know God, or better yet, are known by God, how is it that you are turning back again to those weak and beggarly rudiments to which you want to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months, festivals and years. You make me fear that perhaps I wasted my efforts on you.” (Galatians 4:8-11, Revised Berkeley Version)
God commanded His people not to learn the ways of the heathen nations, knowing if they did it could turn them away from following what was right. Read Deuteronomy 18:9, 14 and Psalm 106:34-43. There are serious consequences for disobeying what our heavenly Father commanded. Remember what Jeremiah wrote about the tree as well.
People may argue that the Christmas celebration is all done with good and innocent intentions, but was Jesus’ birth simply an excuse for festivity and excess? The celebration has remained much the same for centuries, retaining many pagan traditions which clearly have no scriptural basis and which God opposes. Study of God’s true word in the Bible teaches a person to question whether things are right or wrong, which ways to follow and which to avoid. The Bible is the guidebook Almighty God Jehovah has provided so an individual can make the correct distinctions. His instructions are to be taken seriously and followed as the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16.
Many do not consider the reason that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, was born as a man on the earth was to fulfill the ministry his Father sent him to do. Jesus the Christ preached the good news of the new kingdom (government) which he and his heavenly Father would one day establish, and he showed how individuals could become a part of it by obeying the words he was given of his Father. It is those commandments we need to follow, rather than the false traditions of men.