Christmas—Why Is It Dangerous?
“CHRISTMAS,” wrote George Bernard Shaw in 1897, “is forced on a reluctant and disgusted nation by the shopkeepers and the press.” Was that so back then? More importantly, is it true today?
In its 1983 Christmas message, The Star of Johannesburg, South Africa, lamented: “With loud exhortations to spend, spend, spend, blaring from radios, television and supermarkets, in newspapers and in magazines, many people have lost the message of love in a fever of buying.”
In the face of such things, religious people urge: Put Christ back into Christmas. But Christians have reason to ask: Was Christ ever part of Christmas? This is of crucial concern, for true Christians understand the danger. If they share in religious activities that God does not approve, they will not have his blessing. So, what is the origin of Christmas?
Ancient northern peoples feared that the long darkness of December would conquer the sun. As part of a magical rite, they decorated their homes with holly, ivy, mistletoe, laurels and other evergreens because these seemed to have supernatural ability to survive. Candles and fires were burned in an attempt to revive the dying sun. In parts of Europe the ceremonial burning of a log is still practiced. What is behind this practice that is now a Christmas custom? “It was apparently the fusion of two old customs—lights with evergreens—which gave us our modern Christmas-tree,” concludes Michael Harrison in The Story of Christmas.
The ancient Romans had a winter festival called the Saturnalia, which commenced on December 17th and lasted until the 24th. In his book Ancient Italy and Modern Religion, Dr. Conway gives this description of that festival: “Ordinary life was by common consent turned topsy-turvy; people gave up serious occupations, and when they were not feasting at one another’s houses, they roamed about the streets calling to one another ‘Io Saturnalia’ just as we say ‘Merry Christmas’ . . . You were expected at this festival to make some present to all your friends; . . . you were thought to be a quite unsociable person if you were sober all through the Saturnalia!”
In about 85 C.E., the poet Martial published Xenia and Apophoreta, two books made up of 350 short verses. These poems were designed to be copied and sent with Saturnalia gifts to add, as Dr. Conway explains, “a pleasant literary flavour.” Does that not sound like today’s cards at Christmastime? And like some modern Christmas cards, a number of Martial’s verses were grossly immoral.
The Saturnalia was hardly over when the Romans celebrated the New Year festival of Kalends. “In the middle of this period of general gaiety,” explains The Story of Christmas, “there was a day set aside for special reverence to the sun whose apparent rebirth on the Winter Solstice had originally provided the excuse for all these widespread pagan jollifications. This day was known as Dies Solis Invicti Nati, the Day of the Birth of the Unconquered Sun, and it fell on what corresponds to 25 December in our calendar.” This celebration was later labeled Christmas so that the Roman population might be attracted to a decadent “Christianity.”
Yes, Christmas has its origin in non-Christian sun worship. The celebration can be further traced back to ancient Babylonia where the people worshiped the sun-god Shamash. “Uncanny parallels to Christmas customs occur in the New Year celebrations of Babylon,” admits historian Pimlott in The Englishman’s Christmas.
Can you thus see why the word “danger” should be linked with Christmas. The Bible gives a clear warning to Christians with regard to Babylon the Great (related to religion based on ancient Babylonish teachings). God’s Word advises: “Get out of her, my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins, and if you do not want to receive part of her plagues.” (Revelation 18:4) Some may feel that it is rather an exaggeration to view Christmas as a spiritual danger. But let us note the historical facts about how the early Christians viewed keeping a holiday that supposedly centered on Jesus’ birth but actually was linked with a pagan celebration.
Did Early Christians Celebrate Christmas?
“The early Christians,” states Professor Ferguson in his book The Religions of the Roman Empire, “did not celebrate the birthday of Jesus; it was unrecorded.” The Bible does not give the exact date of Jesus’ birth. Furthermore, it indicates that Jesus was born, not in the cold, rainy month of December or January but in a warmer season. How can this be said?
About the time of Jesus’ birth, the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus decreed that subjects travel to the city of their birth and get registered. The Bible reports: “All people went traveling to be registered, each one to his own city.” (Luke 2:1-7) Joseph and Mary traveled over 70 miles (110 km) from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Would this have been practical or possible in the cold, rainy December period?
But that is not all. Concerning the time of Jesus’ birth, the Bible adds: “There were also in that same country shepherds living out of doors and keeping watches in the night over their flocks.” (Luke 2:8) This description does not fit Israel’s rainy month that corresponds to our present December—a time when temperatures in the Bethlehem area can drop very low.—Ezra 10:9, 13; Jeremiah 36:22.
There is another important point. If Jesus wanted his followers to celebrate his birth, why did he not instruct them to do so? With respect to the day of his death, he outlined a simple celebration and commanded: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) Jesus gave no such instruction regarding his birth.
The word “Christmas” does not even appear in the Bible because there was no such celebration among Jesus’ early disciples. Dr. R. S. Conway explains: “The great theologian Origen, early in the third century several times repeats a remark which he says he took from one of his predecessors, that no just man or Christian saint had ever kept a birthday, his own or anyone else’s. It was only evil persons like Pharaoh or Herod whose birthday celebrations were mentioned in the Scriptures. This shows pretty clearly that if he had ever heard of such a festival as Christmas he repudiated it entirely.”
Apostate Christians and Pagan Winter Festivals
Early Christians resisted the temptation to join in the pagan festivities of their neighbors. But the Bible foretold that, in time, a great apostasy would develop among Christians (Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Peter 2:1, 2) Toward the end of the second century, the writer Tertullian had to censure “Christians” for taking part in “the feasts of Saturn, and of January, and of the Winter solstice.” He mentions the “dispensing of gifts” and expresses surprise that many were decorating their homes with “lamps and laurels.”
Despite such admonition the original pure Christian congregation was corrupted. Going from bad to worse, apostate Christians justified their course by giving the pagan celebrations a “Christian” name. As the book Christmas admits: “The Christian Church . . . in the 4th century found it convenient to take over the sacred pagan day of December 25, the winter solstice . . . The birthday of the sun became the birthday of the Son of God.”
Why Christmas Is So Dangerous
Some might feel that the celebration of Christmas is dangerous because it promotes a spirit of selfishness. For instance, entertainer Danie Martins said on a South African radio broadcast that he was shocked to learn how children viewed Christmas. At children’s parties he asked them why “we celebrate Christmas.” The usual reply: “To get presents.” Parents and authors Martin and Deidre Bobgan, point to another danger: “Many adults feed children dishonesties and distortions which eventually may lead to atheism. From a child’s eye view, if Santa told as truth is a lie, then maybe God told as truth also is a lie.”
Yet the most serious danger of celebrating Christmas is that it could lead to losing God’s favor. Why? There are a number of reasons. For example, Christmas promotes idolatry, something forbidden in the Bible. (1 John 5:21) This is openly practiced in front of many nativity scenes, such as in the Aracoeli church in Rome. What about the introduction of the heathen Christmas tree into many Protestant churches? Does this not smack of idolatry?
Furthermore, the celebration of Christmas has promoted the worship of Jesus in place of his Father, Jehovah God. This is another form of idolatry since the glorified Lord Jesus Christ is “the beginning of the creation by God.” (Revelation 3:14; see also Romans 1:25.) Carol-singing has served to entrench this wrong idea in billions of young hearts. One popular carol includes these words: “In the bleak mid-winter a stable-place sufficed the Lord God Almighty Jesus Christ.”
The fact is that Jesus never claimed to be God Almighty. Instead Jesus declared: “The Father is greater than I am.” (John 14:28) He directed all worship to his Father, saying: “It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.” (Matthew 4:10) Even after his resurrection, Jesus continued to direct worship to his heavenly Father.—John 20:17.
Christmas gives a religious covering to what in reality is a time of overindulgence and abandon. Loose behavior at Christmas parties is a notorious cause of marriage problems. According to the British National Marriage Guidance Council, twice the normal weekly number of couples came for counseling following the 1983 Christmas season. Christmas parties were singled out as one of the causes as well as “lack of money for food, gifts and toys.” Such things relate to another serious problem. “The rate of suicides and attempted suicides escalates alarmingly at this time,” according to a Johannesburg psychiatrist.
Nor can we ignore that those who continue under the religious spell of “Babylon the Great” face great danger. Bible prophecy indicates that the time for her judgment is very near.—2 Timothy 3:1-5.
To be sure, the world empire of false religion, with its heathen practices and holidays, will soon be gone forever. Now, while there is yet time, separate yourself from her enticing activities. Associate instead with true Christians who will survive to enjoy everlasting peace and goodwill among men.—Psalm 37:29.
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Are nativity scenes, such as this one at a church in Rome, linked to Christian worship?
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At Christmastime, children of Rome are brought to worship this image in the Aracoeli church