How and When Christmas Came Into the Church
Did you ever wonder how the non-biblical holiday called “Christmas” came into the mainstream Christians church? What follows is the backstory to Christmas: the rest of the story.
Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts; Origen glancing perhaps at the discreditable imperial Natalitia, asserts (in Lev. Hom. viii in Migne, P.G., XII, 495) that in the Scriptures sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthday; Amodbius (VII, 32 in P.L., V, 1264) can still ridicule the “birthdays” of the gods. (The Catholic Encyclopedia, “Christmas”)
Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival in honour of the god Saturn, held on 17 December of the Julian calendar and later expanded with festivities through to 23 December. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, in the Roman Forum, and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturnalia)
Saturnalia may have influenced some of the customs associated with later celebrations in western Europe occurring in midwinter, particularly traditions associated with Christmas, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, and Epiphany. (ibid.)
The popularity of Saturnalia continued into the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, and as the Roman Empire came under Christian rule, many of its customs were recast into or at least influenced the seasonal celebrations surrounding Christmas and the New Year. (ibid.)
According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, Christmas is not included in Irenaeus’s nor Tertullian’s list of Christian feasts, the earliest known lists of Christian feasts. The earliest evidence of celebration is from Alexandria, in about 200, when Clement of says that certain Egyptian theologians “over curiously” assign not just the year but also the actual day of Christ’s birth as 25 Pachon (May 20) in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus. By the time of the Council of Nicea in 325, the Alexandrian church had fixed a dies Nativitatis et Epiphaniae. The December feast reached Egypt in the fith century. In Jerusalem, the fourth century pilgrim Egeria from Bordeaux witnessed the Feast of the Presentation, forty days after January 6, which must have been the date of the Nativity there. At Antioch, probably in 386, St. John Chrysostom urged the community to unite in celebrating Christ’s birth on December 25, a part of the community having already kept it on that day for at least ten years.
Some scholars maintain that December 25 was only adopted in the fourth century as a Christian holiday after Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity to encourage a common religious festival for both Christians and pagan. Perusal of historical records indicates that the first mention of such a feast in Constantinople was not until 379, under Gregory. In Rome, it can only be confirmed as being mentioned in a document from approximately 350 but without any mention of sanction by Emperor Constantine. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas)
Evidently, Christmas was birthed out of the infant baptism heresy that was gripping the church theologically in the fourth century. The precursor to Christmas was a reaction or counter-revolt against Marcionite the heretic who denied the birth of Yeshua claiming that the Messiah was not a person, but rather a phantom. By emphasizing the nativity of the literal birth of Yeshua this heresy was countered, and by placing Yeshua’s birth on December 25, Saturnalia, it was a way to woo the sun worshipping heathens into Christianity. Here is what the historians have to say on this subject:
The grounds on which the Church introduced so late as [AD] 350-440 a Christmas feast till then unknown, or, if known, precariously linked with the baptism, seem in the main to have been the following. (I) The transition from adult to infant baptism was proceeding rapidly in the East, and in the West was well-nigh completed. Its natural complement was a festal recognition of the fact that the divine element was present in Christ from the first, and was no new stage of spiritual promotion coeval only with the descent of the Spirit upon him at baptism. The general adoption of child baptism helped to extinguish the old view that the divine life in Jesus dated from his baptism, a view which led the Epiphany feast to be regarded as that of Jesus spiritual rebirth. This aspect of the feast was therefore forgotten, and its importance in every way diminished by the new and rival feast of Christmas, (2) The 4th century witnessed a rapid diffusion of Marcionite, or, as it was now called, Manichaean propaganda, the chief tenet of which was that Jesus either was not born at all, was a mere phantasm, or anyhow did not take flesh of the Virgin Mary. Against this view the new Christmas was a protest, since it was peculiarly the feast of his birth in the flesh, or as a man, and is constantly spoken of as such by the fathers who witnessed its institution. (The Encyclopedia Britannica, eleventh edit., “Christmas”)
We find [Christmas] first in Rome, in the time of the bishop Liberius, who on the twenty-fifth of December, [AD] 360, consecrated Marcella, the sister of St. Ambrose, a nun or bride of Christ, and addressed her with the words: ‘Thou seest what multitudes are come to the birth-festival of they bridegroom.’ This passage implies that the festival was already existing and familiar. Christmas was introduced in Antioch a bout the year 380; in Alexandria, where the feast of Epiphany was celebrated as the nativity of Christ, not until about 430. Chrysostom, who delivered the Christmas homily in Antioch on the 25th of December, 386, already calls it, notwithstanding its recent introduction (some ten years before), the fundamental feast, or the root, from which all other Christian festivals grow forth. (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 3, p. 395)
The Christmas festival was probably the Christian transformation or regeneration of a series of kindred heathen festivals—the Saturnalia, Sigillaria, Juvenalia, and Brumalia—which were kept in Rome in the month of December, in commemorating of the golden age of universal freedom and equality, and in honor of the unconquered sun, and which were great holidays, especially for slaves and children. This custom accounts for many customs of the Christmas season, like the giving of presents to children and to the poor, the lighting of wax t appears, perhaps also the erection of Christmas trees, and gives them a Christian import… Had the Christmas festival arisen in the period of persecution, its derivation from these pagan festivals would be refuted by the then reigning abhorrence of everything heathen; but in the Nicene age this rigidness of opposition between the church and the world was in great measure softened by the general conversion of the heathen. Besides, there lurked in those pagan festivals themselves, in spite of all their sensual abuses, a deep meaning and an adaptation to a real want; they might be called unconscious prophecies of the Christmas feast. Finally, the church father themselves confirm the symbolical references of the feast of the birth of Christ, the Sun of righteousness, the Light of the world, to the birth-festival of the unconquered sun, which on the twenty-fifth of December, after the winter solstice, break the growing power of darkness, and begins anew his heroic career. (ibid., pp. 394–397)
Of the Christmas festival there is no clear trace before the fourth century; partly because the feast of Epiphany in a measure held he place of it; partly because the birth of Christ, the date of which, at any rate, was uncertain, was less prominent in the Christian mind than his death and resurrection. It was of Western (Roman) origin, and found its way to the East after the middle of the fourth century.” (ibid., vol. 2, p. 222)
The Pagan Origins of Christmas
The Catholic Encyclopedia has this say about the origins of Christmas:
The well-known solar feast, however, of Natalis Invicti, celebrated on 25 December, has a strong claim on the responsibility for our December date. For the history of the solar cult, its position in the Roman Empire, and syncretism with Mithraism, see Cumont’s epoch-making “Textes et Monuments” etc., I, ii, 4, 6, p. 355. Mommsen (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, 12, p. 338) has collected the evidence for the feast, which reached its climax of popularity under Aurelian in 274. Filippo del Torre in 1700 first saw its importance; it is marked, as has been said, without addition in Philocalus’ Calendar. It would be impossible here even to outline the history of solar symbolism and language as applied to God, the Messiah, and Christ in Jewish or Christian canonical, patristic, or devotional works. Hymns and Christmas offices abound in instances; the texts are well arranged by Cumont (op. cit., addit. Note C, p. 355). The present writer is inclined to think that, be the origin of the feast in East or West, and though the abundance of analogous midwinter festivals may indefinitely have helped the choice of the December date, the same instinct which set Natalis Invicti at the winter solstice will have sufficed, apart from deliberate adaptation or curious calculation, to set the Christian feast there too. (Catholic Encyclopedia, “Christmas”)
The same article in The Catholic Encyclopedia then goes on to say:
The origin of Christmas should not be sought in the Saturnalia (1-23 December) nor even in the midnight holy birth at Eleusis (see J.E. Harrison, Prolegom., p. 549) with its probable connection through Phrygia with the Naasene heretics, or even with the Alexandrian ceremony quoted above; nor yet in rites analogous to the midwinter cult at Delphi of the cradled Dionysus, with his revocation from the sea to a new birth (Harrison, op. cit., 402 sqq.). (Catholic Encyclopedia, “Christmas”)
On what basis are we to accept the above statement? Just because the author says so, when the circumstantial evidence to the origins of Christmas disagree with this author? Hopefully not.
A Christmas-Type Celebration Predated Christianity
Both history and the Bible tell us that the pagans celebrated festivals that contained Christmas elements in them long before the advent of Yeshua the Messiah.
In Britain the 25th of December was a festival long before the conversion to Christianity, for Bede (Dc temp. rat. ch. 13) relates that the ancient peoples of the Angli began the year on the 25th of December when we now celebrate the birthday of the Lord; and the very night which is now so holy to us, they called in their tongue inodranecht (mdra niht), that is, the mothers night, by reason we suspect of the ceremonies which in that night-long vigil they performed. With his usual reticence about matters pagan or not orthodox, Bede abstains from recording who the mothers were and what the ceremonies. In 1644 the English puritans forbad any merriment or religious services by act of Parliament, on the ground that it was a heathen festival, and ordered it to be kept as a fast. Charles II. revived the feast, but the Scots adhered to the Puritan view. (The Encyclopedia Britannica, eleventh edit., “Christmas”)
In the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, hundreds of years before the birth of the Messiah, we read,
Hear ye the word which YHVH speaketh unto you, O house of Israel: Thus saith YHVH, 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 axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good. (Jer 10:1–5)
Indeed, many well-meaning lovers of Christmas have argued that Jeremiah’s tree is not specifically the Christmas tree as we know it today, and they are correct. But as we have argued elsewhere, the similarities between this pre-Christian pagan practice that the Bible clearly denounces and the modern Christmas tree are too striking to be coincidental. Moreover, the apostle enjoins the saints to “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thess 5:22). Certainly, Christmas with its many pagan traditions along with its tree would be “an appearance of evil” to anyone who is serious about following the Bible.
Christmas Was Originally Illegal in England and America
Due to the Protestant Movement’s Puritan revival in England and its zealous quest to rid the Church of England of all unbiblical Catholic and pagan influences, Christmas was outlawed in both England and colonial America for a time.
In England, Christmas was forbidden by Act of Parliament in 1644; the day was to be a fast and a market day; shops were compelled to be open; plum puddings and mince pies condemned as heathen. The conservatives resisted; at Canterbury blood was shed; but after the Restoration Dissenters continued to call Yuletide “Fooltide”. (Catholic Encyclopedia, “Christmas”)
In 1644 the English puritans forbad any merriment or religious services by act of Parliament, on the ground that it was a heathen festival, and ordered it to be kept as a fast. Charles II revived the feast, but the Scots adhered to the Puritan view. (The Encyclopedia Britannica, eleventh edit., “Christmas”)
In the early 17th century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe. When Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, they vowed to rid England of decadence and, as part of their effort, cancelled Christmas. By popular demand, Charles II was restored to the throne and, with him, came the return of the popular holiday. The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident. (http://www.historychannel.com/exhibits/holidays/christmas/real3.html)
After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America’s new constitution. Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870. (ibid.)
The Origin of Christmas Tree
We have already noted (above) the pagan practice cutting, decorating and placing an upright tree in the home of the ancient Canaanites, which YHVH Elohim, through Jeremiah the prophet denounces in the Bible (Jer 10:1–5). Let’s now explore in more detail the pagan origins of the Christmas tree.
The Christmas tree is often explained as a Christianization of the ancient pagan idea that the evergreen tree represents a celebration of the renewal of life. In Roman mosaics from what is today Tunisia, showing the mythic triumphant return from India of the Greek god of wine and male fertility Dionysus, (dubbed by some modern scholars as a life-death-rebirth-deity), the god carries a tapering coniferous tree. Medieval legends, nevertheless, tended to concentrate more on the miraculous “flowering” of trees at Christmastime. A branch of flowering Glastonbury thorn is still sent annually for the Queen’s Christmas table in the United Kingdom.… The modern custom, however, cannot be proved to be descended from pagan tradition directly. It can be traced to 16th century Germany; Ingeborg Weber-Kelly )Marburg professor of European ethnology) identified as the earliest reference a Bremen guild chronicle of 1570 which reports how a small fir was decorated with apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers, and erected in the guild-house, for the benefit of the guild members’ children, who collected the dainties on Christmas day. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_tree)
Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century Long before the advent of Christianity, plants and trees that remained green all year had a special meaning for people in the winter. Just as people today decorate their homes during the festive season with pine, spruce, and fir trees, ancient peoples hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows. In many countries it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness.
In the northern hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night of the year falls on December 21 or December 22 and is called the winter solstice. Many ancient people believed that the sun was a god and that winter came every year because the sun god had become sick and weak. They celebrated the solstice because it meant that at last the sun god would begin to get well. Evergreen boughs reminded them of all the green plants that would grow again when the sun god was strong and summer would return.
The ancient Egyptians worshipped a god called Ra, who had the head of a hawk and wore the sun as a blazing disk in his crown. At the solstice, when Ra began to recover from the illness, the Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes which symbolized for them the triumph of life over death.
Early Romans marked the solstice with a feast called the Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. The Romans knew that the solstice meant that soon farms and orchards would be green and fruitful. To mark the occasion, they decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs.
In Northern Europe the mysterious Druids, the priests of the ancient Celts, also decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life. The fierce Vikings in Scandinavia thought that evergreens were the special plant of the sun god, Balder.
Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if wood was scarce. It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the sixteenth century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles.
Most nineteenth century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity. The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania, although trees had been a tradition in many German homes much earlier. The Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees as early as 1747. But, as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans.
It is not surprising that, like many other festive Christmas customs, the tree was adopted so late in America. To the New England Puritans, Christmas was sacred. The pilgrims’s second governor, William Bradford, wrote that he tried hard to stamp out “pagan mockery” of the observance, penalizing any frivolity. The influential Oliver Cromwell preached against “the heathen traditions” of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression that desecrated “that sacred event.” In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted a law making any observance of December 25 (other than a church service) a penal offense; people were fined for hanging decorations. That stern solemnity continued until the 19th century, when the influx of German and Irish immigrants undermined the Puritan legacy.
In 1846, the popular royals, Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree. Unlike the previous royal family, Victoria was very popular with her subjects, and what was done at court immediately became fashionable—not only in Britain, but with fashion-conscious East Coast American Society. The Christmas tree had arrived.
By the 1890s Christmas ornaments were arriving from Germany and Christmas tree popularity was on the rise around the U.S. It was noted that Europeans used small trees about four feet in height, while Americans liked their Christmas trees to reach from floor to ceiling.” (http://www.historychannel.com/exhibits/holidays/christmas/trees.html)
The Real Meaning of “Ho, Ho, Ho! Merry Christmas”
What does the greeting “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas” really mean? You might be surprised!
As a grammarian, an academically trained journalist and an amateur linguist, I am a stickler for words and their meanings. What follows will no doubt will no doubt gore the sacred cow of men’s traditions, but don’t shoot me….I’m just the mailman delivering the message. Consider the following to be a little “iron-sharpening.”
The word “Christmas” is potentially a blasphemous term. Let me explain. It is comprised obviously of two words: Christ and mass. “Christ” is from the Greek word Christos, which has roughly the same meaning as its Hebrew counterpart: Mashiach from which derives the English word Messiah, which in its root meaning sense means “to smear, rub or anoint or consecrate with oil.” The word “mass” is from the Latin word missa meaning “to go, to depart, to dismiss” (Webster’s Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language, Publishers Guild, N.Y., 1936). So now if we combine the meanings of these two words, what do we have? “Anointed One go, depart, be dismissed.”
No let’s go one step further in our analysis of the phrase “Merry Christmas.” The word merry means just that: “joy, gaiety or merriment.” So “Merry Christmas” literally (not just colloquially) means “Joyous departing of the anointing or Anointed One.” Is this what people really mean when they use this salutation? Unlikely not, but, again, the Adversary has mockingly placed his dirty thumbprint on this holiday salutation, and the tradition of saying it gets passed on down from one generation to another without a critical thought on anyone’s part. Our fathers truly have inherited lies as the great biblical prophet predicted long ago (Jer 16:19)!
Now what the “ho, ho, ho” part that often precedes the phrase “Merry Christmas”? “Ho, ho, ho” his is likely a term of derision or mockery like “ha, ha, ha.” So “Ho, ho, ho Merry Christmas.” is, by the very definition of these words, not just a singular, or even a double, but a triple blasphemous statement against Yeshua the Messiah: “Ha, ha, ha joyous departing of the anointing or Anointed One.” To be sure, these are NOT words that any Elohim-loving and fearing saint want to have coming forth from their mouth!
Now I am in no way inferring that all good Christians who celebrate Christmas are telling Yeshua the Messiah to get lost. But Satan the Adversary, the hater of Yeshua, has placed his not so subtle imprint on the very name of this Christian high holiday. The same thing can be said of Easter the name of which derives from Ishtar or Astarte, who was the ancient Babylonian and Canaanite sex goddess.
In Scripture, YHVH admonishes his people to come out of religious Babylon lock, stock and barrel, to not learn the ways of the heathens, and to have nothing to do with the unfruitful works of darkness.
And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. (Rev 18:4)
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Messiah with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of Elohim with idols? for ye are the temple of the living Elohim; as Elohim hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their Elohim, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you… (1 Cor 6:14–17)
Thus saith YHVH, 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 axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. (Jer 10:2–4)
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. (Eph 5:11)
Rather than celebrate non-biblical, man-invented holidays that have Satan’s imprint all over them, YHVH has given us his seven biblical feasts that are totally devoid of any pagan taint, and focus entirely on Yeshua the Messiah with no distractions on things like fat men in red suits, sex-idol trees and egg-laying rabbits. Moreover, these seven biblical festivals are the seven steps in the Creator’s plan to redeem man from sin and death culminating in his glorification as immortalized children of Elohim. This is not a bad deal! We give up a couple of our holidays in exchange for seven of YHVH’s.
Now most of us have celebrated Christmas in the past and, by YHVH’s grace, we have had our eyes opened to the truth. Were it not for YHVH’s grace we’d still be involved in a garbage can load of uncouth and unrighteous practices including Christmas. So now let’s have grace for those who still have their eyes blinded to the deceptions of Christmas, but who love Yeshua nevertheless in spite their unbiblical ways. Remember, YHVH still calls those who are caught up in spiritual Babylon “my people” (Rev 18:4). Many of us have come out of religious Babylon, or are in the process of doing so, but we still have a garbage truck load Babylonian to get out of us. This process takes time, and so as YHVH is longsuffering and patient with us, let’s also be so with our Christians brothers and sisters. As the saying goes, “There for the grace of Elohim go we all.”