Christmas—Is It Christian?
CHRISTMAS is widely accepted as a Christian celebration by the churches throughout the world. It is observed by hundreds of millions of people.
However, is it truly Christian? Was it of divine origin? Did Jesus Christ or his disciples establish the celebration? Was December 25 the birth date of Jesus? And does it matter whether a person celebrates it or not?
Was Christmas of Divine Origin?
Regarding the origin of Christmas and the day of Christ’s birth, note the following comments from religious and historical sources:
“Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church.”—The Catholic Encyclopedia.
“The first mention of the celebration of Christmas occurred in A.D. 336 in an early Roman calendar.”—The World Book Encyclopedia.
“The observance of Christmas is not of divine appointment, nor is it of N[ew] T[estament] origin. The day of Christ’s birth cannot be ascertained from the N. T., or, indeed, from any other source. The fathers of the first three centuries do not speak of any special observance of the nativity.”—Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, by McClintock and Strong.
“Inexplicable though it seems, the date of Christ’s birth is not known. The Gospels indicate neither the day nor the month.”—New Catholic Encyclopedia.
If Christmas were important for Christians, would not Jesus or his disciples have mentioned it? Also, the Bible tells us: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial . . . that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) If Christmas were of divine origin, would not God have inspired the Bible writers to say something about it so that Christians could be “completely equipped for every good work”?
The Bible ignores Christmas because it is not a Christian doctrine or practice. It is not of divine origin. As the Sri Lankan Daily News observed: “It is quite significant to note that nowhere in the New Testament was a special day called Christmas set apart to celebrate the birth of Christ. . . . Christmas is of human origin. Christmas is not a part of the Bible.”
Jesus Not Born on December 25
Regarding the date December 25 given for the birth of Jesus, there is no evidence to indicate that this is correct. The evidence shows otherwise.
In the book Celebrations, by Robert J. Myers, we read: “The Biblical narrative of the birth of Jesus contains no indication of the date that the event occurred. However, Luke’s report [Luke 2:8] that the shepherds were ‘abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night’ suggests that Jesus may have been born in summer or early fall. Since December is cold and rainy in Judea, it is likely the shepherds would have sought shelter for their flocks at night.”
In Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, by Henri Daniel-Rops, we are similarly told: “The flocks . . . passed the winter under cover; and from this alone it may be seen that the traditional date for Christmas, in the winter, is unlikely to be right, since the Gospel says that the shepherds were in the fields.”
The Encyclopedia Americana says of December 25: “This date was not set in the West until about the middle of the 4th century and in the East until about a century later.” Thus, Jesus was not born on that date. And he did not authorize the celebration of Christmas; neither did his disciples or the Bible writers.
Where Did It Originate?
Where, then, did Christmas originate? On this, there is general agreement. U.S. Catholic states: “It is impossible to separate Christmas from its pagan origins.” It adds: “The Romans’ favorite festival was Saturnalia, which began on December 17 and ended with the ‘birthday of the unconquered sun’ (Natalis solis invicti) on December 25. Somewhere in the second quarter of the fourth century, savvy officials of the church of Rome decided December 25 would make a dandy day to celebrate the birthday of the ‘sun of righteousness.’ Christmas was born.”
The pagan celebration of Saturnalia took place at the winter solstice. The word “solstice” comes from two Latin words: sol (the name of a sun god) and sistere (to stop). The winter solstice is the time when the daylight hours stop getting shorter and instead begin to get longer. According to the ancient Julian calendar, the day of the winter solstice was December 25.
Thus, The World Book Encyclopedia states: “This celebration [Christmas] was probably influenced by pagan (unchristian) festivals held at that time. The ancient Romans held year-end celebrations to honor Saturn, their harvest god; and Mithras [the sun god].” The New Catholic Encyclopedia says: “On Dec. 25, 274, [Roman emperor] Aurelian had proclaimed the sun-god [Mithras] principal patron of the empire . . . Christmas originated at a time when the cult of the sun was particularly strong at Rome.” The book Celebrations states: “The clergy eventually brought the . . . world of the Saturnalia into the Church itself.” And the Encyclopædia Britannica notes that December 25 was regarded “as the birth date of the . . . [sun] god Mithra.”
Most of the customs associated with Christmas—the yule log, mistletoe, Christmas tree, Santa Claus, lavish gift giving, revelries—are also rooted in paganism. They have nothing to do with Christ. As James Hastings states in Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics: “Most of the Christmas customs now prevailing . . . are not genuine Christian customs, but heathen customs which have been absorbed or tolerated by the Church. . . . The Saturnalia in Rome provided the model for most of the merry customs of the Christmas time. This old Roman feast was celebrated on 17-24 December.”
So when at times we hear people say: ‘Let’s get back to the true meaning of Christmas’ or, ‘Put Christ back into Christmas,’ keep in mind that the original meaning of Christmas is a pagan celebration of nature, and that Christ never was in Christmas. And when some denounce the commercializing of Christmas, keep in mind that the feasting and gift giving of the Saturnalia celebration meant business for merchants. So for thousands of years, the winter solstice has been commercialized.
In 1643, England’s Parliament even outlawed Christmas because of its pagan background, but later it was restored. In 1659, it was also outlawed in Massachusetts, but there too it was later restored. And U.S. Catholic reports: “Because Christians in the U.S. . . . associated Christmas with pagan customs, they didn’t celebrate Christmas in a big way until the mid-19th century.”
Dishonors God and Christ
Hence, those who celebrate Christmas do not honor God or Christ, but honor pagan celebrations and pagan gods. And by fostering such myths as Santa Claus, they promote falsehoods. That does not honor Jesus, who taught that God must be worshiped with truth. (John 4:23, 24) Said Jesus: “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”—John 8:31, 32.
God’s Word also states: “What fellowship do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what sharing does light have with darkness? Further, what harmony is there between Christ and Belial [Satan]? Or what portion does a faithful person have with an unbeliever?” The answer to those questions is that faithful Christians have nothing to do with such things; otherwise they lose God’s favor. Therefore, God’s Word counsels: “‘Get out from among them, and separate yourselves,’ says Jehovah, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing’; ‘and I will take you in.’ . . . ‘And you will be sons and daughters to me.’”—2 Corinthians 6:14-18.
Real love for God has helped people break free from ungodly activities such as celebrating Christmas even though this does have an emotional appeal. They do not feel deprived by rejecting a practice that dishonors God and Christ, that in fact honors false gods. They recognize Christmas for what it is—a pagan holiday masquerading as Christian—and they shun it.
[Picture on page 18]
The fact that shepherds were out all night with their flocks is evidence that Christ could not have been born in December