Christmas—What Will It Mean for You?
CHRISTMAS means different things to different people. Many view it as a time of vacation when the whole family gets together. They look forward to Christmas as a joyous occasion featuring good food, singing and dancing, preferred companionship and the exchanging of presents. A California musician summed up his feelings about his yearly trip home for Christmas in this way:
“All my grandparents will be there. . . . Everybody will be cooking, and I’ll probably gain 30 pounds. It’s the only time of the year when the whole family gets together.”
It is truly a fine thing for families to get together. A gift given in expression of heartfelt love can be most meaningful too. The Bible encourages: “Practice giving.” It also says: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Luke 6:38; Acts 20:35.
What Goes Wrong at Christmas?
Have you noticed, though, that happiness is often missing during the Christmas season? A Roman Catholic priest recently called Christmas “the annual season of depression and neurosis.” A worker at a large shopping center observed: “You go out on your break, and you see people running around, getting a present for so and so, and they’re really grouchy. People don’t give presents with joy.”
Writer Mike McGrady pointed to other problems that arise at Christmas: “This is the time when reformed alcoholics seek out cozy bars and throw away their futures, the time when normally faithful husbands start to notice the way gabardine can cling to a secretary’s thigh.”
The FBI reports more murders during December than during any other month. Police in large cities note more traffic accidents at this time.
Child psychologist Dr. Nancy Hayes says that Christmastime “is a period of the highest rate of depression and suicide among children.” She notes that many youngsters become depressed when Christmas does not provide the “magical solutions to problems” that they had expected. So, while Christmas may be a pleasant time for some, it is very different for others. Why is this so? What goes wrong for so many at Christmas?
Catholic priest Peter J. Riga pointed to one cause of the problems: “As one psychologist has said, Americans feel obliged to reaffirm the ideals of kindness, generosity and love at Christmas in order to atone for their neglect of these same ideals in their day-to-day lives. To see and to feel people return to their ordinary greed and unconcern can be devastating to lonely and sensitive persons in our society.”
Christmas giving, too, is often improperly motivated. Many feel compelled to give at this time of year. They may even go deeply into debt to do so. Then, too, some give Christmas presents for selfish reasons. A professor of sociology commented:
“We reckon up where we stand and whom we wish to be tied to. The giver has not only the anxiety of trying to guess what the recipient would like, but also the added anxiety of projecting a suitable image of himself.”
This, of course, would rob one of the joy of unselfish giving.
Because of this, some have discontinued celebrating Christmas altogether. Others insist that Christmas is basically good, but has been perverted by materialism and a lack of self-restraint. They urge people to “restore the religious meaning of Christmas” as a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. But is Christmas related to the birth of Jesus?
The Birthday of Jesus Christ?
In his book The Story of Christmas, Michael Harrison writes:
“First of all, it must be noted that, despite the efforts of innumerable scholars, it has not yet been proved upon what day . . . Christ was born.”
The Bible is silent about the date of Jesus’ birth. Writings of early “church fathers” are divided on the matter. Clement of Alexandria (of the second and third centuries C.E.) refers to some who believed that Jesus was born on April 19 or 20. Others preferred May 20. Still others pointed to January 1, January 6, March 21, March 28 and many other dates. The Catholic Encyclopedia comments that “there is no month in the year to which respectable authorities have not assigned Christ’s birth.”
Is that not significant to you? Is it not clear that if God wanted people to celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ he would have had the date recorded in the Bible? You will recall that the Bible does contain the date for the Passover and for the memorial of Christ’s death. (Ex. 12:6, 14; 1 Cor. 11:23-25; Luke 22:7-20) Apparently it was not God’s will for anyone to celebrate the birth of his Son, Jesus. It is not surprising, therefore, to read in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge: “There is no historical evidence that our Lord’s birthday was celebrated during the apostolic or early postapostolic times.”
But the churches of Christendom are determined to celebrate Jesus’ birth. By the year 354 C.E. most churches set the date for this on December 25. Where did they come up with that date?
The Date and Customs of Christmas
Scholars mention two explanations for the date December 25. One is due to a calculation attributed to a certain Hippolytus of the third century C.E. According to this calculation, Jesus died on March 25 and he was conceived thirty-three years earlier on the same date.* It has been pointed out that nine months from there would give December 25 for the date of Jesus’ birth.
The second opinion is that December 25 was chosen because of its being the day for the pagan celebration of “the birth of the Unconquered Sun,” known as the Brumalia in the Roman Empire. This followed the week-long festival of the Saturnalia (December 17-24) at the time of the winter solstice. At this time of year the daylight period begins to get longer. The pagan Romans believed that the sun-god, Mithras, was conquering the darkness and gloom of winter. According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, this second point of view “remains the most plausible explanation for the dating of Christmas.”
The book The Story of Christmas tells of the date December 25:
“It was, in particular, the greatest feast day of the Mithraic religion, which appeared, for a time, to be rivalling the Christian faith as the state religion of the Roman Empire. . . . The reverence that the Mithraists paid to 25 December certainly had its influence in deciding the Church authorities in fixing the official birthday of our Saviour on 25 December.
“To select 25 December, then, as the official date of the Nativity was to adapt, to the service of Christianity, a feast of immemorially ancient origins and world-wide observance.”
Professor A. H. Newman explains that Catholic religious leaders saw fit to make “the birthday of the Son of God coincide with that of the physical sun.” So the date for Christmas resulted from a compromise with pagan sun worship.
What about the “merry customs” of Christmas, such as the brightly lit and gayly decorated tree, holly, mistletoe, the yule log and the practice of exchanging gifts? Are these Christian customs?
Professor Edvard Lehmann writes in Hastings’ Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics: “Most of the Christmas customs now prevailing in Europe, or recorded from former times, are not genuine Christian customs, but heathen customs which have been absorbed or tolerated by the Church. . . . The Christmas feast has inherited these customs chiefly from two sources—from Roman and from Teutonic paganism.” Some customs even come from ancient Babylon.
Does It Make Any Difference?
In spite of this, the churches of Christendom go on celebrating Christmas year after year. To them it makes no difference where Christmas came from. All that seems to matter is that it is a time of fun that is now thought to be Christian. A Roman Catholic priest replied to a letter of inquiry to the Knights of Columbus on this matter, as follows:
“The evolution of certain objects or feasts used in some form of pagan worship is of no importance. When the Church begins missionary work among a new group of people, the Church regularly takes what is good from the customs and habits of the people and re-interprets such in the light of the teachings of Christ. If formerly something was associated with error, the Church re-educates the people in the light of Christian revelation and gives the object or custom new meaning for the future.”
Do you accept that line of reasoning? Is the origin of Christmas really of “no importance”? Can a church system ‘reinterpret’ something pagan and thereby make it acceptable to God and Christ Jesus? What does the Bible have to say about this?
Consider the case of the Israelites whom God liberated from slavery in Egypt and brought into the “promised land” of Canaan (later called Palestine). While in Egypt, the Israelites had become acquainted with many religious customs of that land. The inhabitants of their new home, Canaan, too, practiced many religious traditions. What if the Jews were to adapt some of the religious practices of Egypt and Canaan to the worship of the true God, Jehovah? Would God take the view that ‘it makes no difference as long as the worship now honors me’?
Note God’s own opinion of this matter, as recorded at Deuteronomy 12:30, 31: “Beware of . . . asking ‘How did these nations worship their gods? I will do the same way.’ You are not to do the same way for your God Jehovah.” (Byington’s translation) You may recall God’s displeasure at the nation of Israel when they adopted the idolatrous Egyptian practice of calf worship. Even though they claimed that the calf represented Jehovah and that this was a “festival to Jehovah,” God said to Moses: “Your people . . . have acted ruinously.”—Ex. 32:4, 5, 7.
In the first century of the Common Era another problem arose concerning religious customs. Jews who became Christians had formerly celebrated “the seasonal festivals of Jehovah” (Passover, Pentecost and the Festival of Booths) at which they were commanded to “rejoice before Jehovah your God.” (Lev. 23:2, 40) Yet Christians were not to continue even these celebrations. (Gal. 4:9-11) If festivals that God himself instituted were now to be discontinued, certainly Christians would keep away from pagan practices!
What Will Christmas Mean for You?
It would be good for all to reflect seriously on this matter. Concerning pagan religious practices, Christians are commanded: “Quit touching the unclean thing.” (2 Cor. 6:17) The Bible also admonishes: “Now that you have put away falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor.”—Eph. 4:25.
Do you wish to obey those Scriptural commands? Could you do so and at the same time engage in a celebration admittedly rooted in paganism and one that suggests a false date for the birth of Jesus Christ? Would not doing so mean that you love pleasure more than God and his truth?—2 Tim. 3:4; Rom. 1:25.
Christmas can mean a time of testing for many. They may be aware that Christmas smacks of paganism and is displeasing to God. But their family, friends and neighbors may go in big for the celebration. The pressure to ‘go along with the crowd’ can become severe.
What will this test reveal about you this year? Will it demonstrate to all that your love of God exceeds any desire you may have to please humans? Remember, the Bible shows that Jehovah God should be the supreme object of your love and fear.—Matt. 22:37; Isa. 8:13.
But what about the children? Is it not cruel to deprive them of the delights of Christmas presents and merriment? Actually, such a view is short-sighted. We have seen that some youngsters become depressed, even suicidal, at the Christmas season because it fails to solve their problems.
If you refuse to celebrate Christmas, this does not mean that you will never give gifts to your children, or to anyone else for that matter. Anytime throughout the year can be suitable for family fun and for giving presents.
Consider, for example, Jehovah’s witnesses. They do not celebrate Christmas, but neither they nor their children suffer because of this. Actually, it is a relief for them. Gone is the compulsion to give, gone the frantic ‘Christmas shopping’ that leaves so many drained physically and emotionally. Christmas means none of these things to Jehovah’s witnesses.
And think of the benefits to the children. There are now many happy occasions throughout the year instead of one. Just imagine the squeals of delight as a child receives an unexpected gift from Mom or Dad. How thankful he is for it! How reassured of his parents’ love! And how much better that his appreciation go to the real giver rather than to a nonexistent Santa Claus!
In contrast, the annual gift giving at Christmas does not induce thankfulness. Instead, people expect to receive presents. Many become highly insulted if they do not get anything. Even those who receive gifts are often disappointed if the gift does not meet their expectations.
What will Christmas mean for you this year? Will it mean an opportunity to show that your love of God and his truth is the strongest force in your life? Or will it mean a compromise with something you know is displeasing to God? What Christmas will mean for you is really up to you.
However, according to the Bible, Jesus died on Nisan 14, 33 C.E. This would correspond with April 3 on the Julian calendar, or April 1 on the Gregorian calendar.—Matt. 26:2; John 13:1-3; Ex. 12:1-6; 13:4.
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A Closer Look at the Nativity
● Who were the “wise men”? In nativity scenes, prominently displayed at this time of year, three “wise men,” kings, are shown bringing gifts to the babe Jesus in a manger. But the Bible does not say that these men were kings; they were pagan astrologers. “A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture,” page 856, acknowledges: “The Magi (D[ouay] V[ersion] ‘wise men’) were originally a Median priestly tribe of clairvoyants. . . . The term later became general . . . for astrologers, sorcerers, etc. of all nationalities.” Did you know that?
● How many “wise men” were there? If you look in the Bible you will nowhere find that it says there were three. The number is not given. The book “The Glory of Christmas,” on page 72, admits: “The brief account in Matthew . . . is the only mention of these Wise Men in the Bible. It does not name them, say where they came from or even how many there were.”
● When did the “magi” visit Jesus? Nativity scenes sponsored by church groups usually show the “magi” bringing their gifts to the newborn Jesus in a manger. But read the Bible account at Matthew chapter 2 for yourself. You will see that it says that, by the time the astrologers arrived, Jesus was a “young child” living in a “house.” (Matt. 2:11) It was only the shepherds who visited the babe Jesus in the manger.—Luke 2:12.
● Did God use a star to lead the astrologers to Jesus? Do not forget that God’s Word condemns astrology. (Isa. 47:13, 14) Remember, too, that the “star” seen by the astrologers led them first to wicked King Herod, who then ordered all the young boys in and around Bethlehem slaughtered in an effort to kill Jesus. Do these facts point to God or to his adversary, Satan the Devil, as the source of that moving “star”? God did indeed announce the birth of his Son, but he did so by means of an angel.—Luke 2:8-12.
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What Was Their Origin?
● The Christmas tree has its roots in paganism. Says “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” page 33: “The use of the fir (Tannenbaum) seems to have originated at the winter solstice celebrations of the pagan German tribes in the Black Forest.” “The Two Babylons” by Alexander Hislop points to origins all the way back in pagan Rome and ancient Babylon.
● Holly and mistletoe use in Christmas celebrations also has a pagan origin. Explains Funk & Wagnalls “Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend,” Volume 1, page 501: “The use of holly in religious ceremonies is of considerable antiquity; probably its use as Christmas decoration was adapted by early Roman Christians from the Roman Saturnalia.”
This dictionary also notes in Volume 2, page 732. “Decorating the house with mistletoe at Christmas is often assumed to be a survival of the old druid oak cult. Frazer links the custom of kissing under the mistletoe with the license of the Greek Saturnalia. Others associate the practice with certain primitive marriage rites.”