What do a tinsel-laden pine tree, a jolly ol’ elf, and gift exchanging have in common with the birth of the Savior at Bethlehem? Clearly, nothing.
Today’s Christmas customs do not exist in Scripture but derive from man-made traditions thousands of years old. Come take a journey with me through history and Scripture to understand the truth about this extravaganza of holidays.
Christmas Built on a False Premise
First, we consider the premise of Christmas. Do we have evidence that December 25th is the Messiah’s birthday? According to history and scholarship, there’s no evidence that Yahshua was born on this day or anywhere close to it.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia states: “Inexplicable though it seems, the date of Christ’s birth is not known. The Gospels indicate neither the day nor the month” (1967, “Christmas”).
The Roman Catholic Church chose December 25 as the date of the Messiah’s birth. No other evidence exists establishing that date. So we find that the very source responsible for the establishment of December 25 as the birth date for the Savior admits that the actual date is unknown!
Many other sources confirm its absence. For instance, the Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature says, “The fathers of the first three centuries do not speak of any special observance of the nativity. No corresponding festival was presented by the Old Testament…the day and month of the birth of Christ are nowhere stated in the Gospel history, and cannot be certainly determined…” (1981, Christmas).
This admission is staggering. The church fathers of the first three centuries spoke nothing about the celebration of the Nativity. Clearly, the observance of the Messiah’s birth was unknown to the men who governed the church for the first 300 years.
Any reasonable person would think that such an important, historic event would have been understood by these stewards. The fact that the church fathers were oblivious to this observance shows that it has no early ties to Christianity. So if the day of the Messiah’s birth is not known even in the earliest years of the church, why did the church later select December 25th? What was so special about this day?
Worship of Saturn
This day has another past more sinister than many realize. December 25th was chosen because of its connection with pagan worship, specifically with sun worship, a religion going all the way back to ancient Babylon.
In Roman culture there were three observances that contributed to the timing and customs of Christmas. Possibly the greatest and most popular celebration was in honor of Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture, hence Saturnalia, at the winter solstice. According to most historians, this festival resembled Mardi Gras and New Year’s: it was a time of decadence and confusion.
The Standard American Encyclopedia explains, “…the feast in honor of Saturn, celebrated by the Romans in December and regarded as a time of unrestrained license and merriment for all classes, even for the slaves…” (1940, “Saturnalia”).
According to the Encyclopedia Americana, “It [Saturnalia] probably originated as a harvest celebration. Under the Caesars it was celebrated from the 17th to the 23rd of December, during which period public business was closed, masters and slaves changed places, and feasting, giving of gifts, and general license prevailed” (1956, Saturnalia).
It is no coincidence that the dates of Saturnalia closely correspond to Christmas.
This Roman festival was one of the happiest times of the pagan year. It included the giving of gifts, the suspension of work, and easements in cultural norms and ethics. Slaves were given temporary freedom and certain cases of immorality were overlooked.
The Counterfeit Messiah
Another belief influencing Christmas was Mithraism. This was a cult in the Roman culture that was reserved for men only and was especially popular among soldiers.
Again the Catholic Encyclopedia says, “The origin of the cult of Mithra dates from the time that the Hindus and Persians still formed one people, for the god Mithra occurs in the religion and the sacred books of both races, i.e. in the Vedas and in the Avesta. In Vedic hymns he is frequently mentioned and is nearly always coupled with Varuna, but beyond the bare occurrence of his name, little is known of him (Rigveda, III, 59). It is conjectured (Oldenberg, Die Religion des Veda, Berlin, 1894) that Mithra was the rising sun, Varuna the setting sun; or, Mithra, the sky at daytime, Varuna, the sky at night; or, the one the sun, the other the moon. In any case Mithra is a light or solar deity of some sort; but in vedic times the vague and general mention of him seems to indicate that his name was little more than a memory….Mithraism was emphatically a soldier religion: Mithra, its hero, was especially a divinity of fidelity, manliness, and bravery; the stress it laid on good fellowship and brotherliness, its exclusion of women, and the secret bond amongst its members have suggested the idea that Mithraism was Masonry amongst the Roman soldiery” (see newadvent.org, “Mithraism”).
As we see from this reference, not much is known about this cult. It goes back to when the Hindus and Persians were one people, but how and in what form this deity was worshiped is unknown. As this deity evolved over time and cultures, it found a home in Rome; it especially gained popularity among the Roman military. At this point, Mithra had been reinterpreted as a deity of war and as a result, Mithraism again took root within the Roman culture.
The connection between Mithraism and Christmas is described in the book, Mystery Religions in the Ancient World. “Mithra was the creator and orderer of the universe, hence a manifestation of the creative Logos or Word. Seeing mankind afflicted by Ahriman, the cosmic power of darkness, he incarnated on earth. His birth on 25 December was witnessed by shepherds. After many deeds he held a last supper with his disciples and returned to heaven. At the end of the world he will come again to judge resurrected mankind and after the last battle, victorious over evil, he will lead the chosen ones through a river of fire to a blessed immortality,” p. 99.
The resemblance of Mithra and the Messiah is striking. Scripture states that the Messiah is the creative Word or Logos, John 1:1-3. We also know that His birth was witnessed by shepherds and that He shared a last supper with His disciples and was afterward murdered and resurrected to heaven.
The Bible also prophesies of His return, when He will remove evil and conquer all those who oppose Him. Because of these similarities, some scholars believe that Mithraism was a major force in Christianity and a serious threat to the Church. According to Ernest Renan, a French historian and expert in ancient cultures, “…if the growth of Christianity had been arrested by some mortal malady, the world would have been Mithraic…”
Mithra was born on December 25. There’s little doubt that the date of Mithra worship played a role in the establishment of December 25th as the Messiah’s birth.
Unconquered Sun Worship
In addition to Saturnalia and Mithraism, there was another celebration called the Feast of Sol Invictus that helped solidify December 25 as the date for the Nativity. The Encyclopaedia Britannica openly states that the Church adopted this day for Christmas:
“During the later periods of Roman history, sun worship gained in importance and ultimately led to what has been called a ‘solar monotheism.’ Nearly all the gods of the period were possessed of Solar qualities, and both Christ and Mithra acquired the traits of solar deities. The feast of Sol Invictus (unconquered Sun) on December 25th was celebrated with great joy, and eventually this date was taken over by the Christians as Christmas, the birthday of Christ” (2000, vol. 11, p. 390).
There should be no doubt that Christmas is an amalgamation of ancient pagan practices later adopted by the Roman church.
This ancient celebration was nothing more than sun worship or “solar monotheism.” The term “solar” refers to the sun, while “monotheism” refers to the worship of one deity. Most ancient religions were polytheistic, meaning they worshiped many gods. To find a point in history where sun worship was a monotheistic religion is noteworthy.
On a side note, vestiges of sun worship can be seen in other areas of the Church. For example, the day that nominal worship has chosen as a day of worship comes from the Latin dies solis, meaning, “day of the sun.” According to historians, it was Emperor Constantine who officially changed Sabbath worship to Sunday; prior to his conversion this man was a sun worshiper.
Authors Anthony F. Buzzard and Charles F. Hunting in their book, The Doctrine of the Trinity, state, “Constantine appears to have been a sun-worshiper, one of a number of late pagan cults which had observances in common with Christians. Worship of such gods was not a novel idea. Every Greek or Roman expected that political success followed from religious adherence.
“Although Constantine claimed that he was the thirteenth Apostle, his was no sudden Damascus conversion. Indeed it is highly doubtful that he ever truly abandoned sun-worship. After his professed acceptance of Christianity, he built a triumphal arch to the sun god and in Constantinople set up a statue of the same sun god bearing his own features. He was finally deified after his death by official edict in the Empire, as were many Roman rulers.”
We also find evidence for the role that sun worship played in Christmas from the New International Dictionary of the Christian Church.
“December 25 was the date of the Roman pagan festival inaugurated in 274 as the birthday of the unconquered sun which, at the winter solstice, begins again to show an increase in light. Sometime before 336 the Church in Rome, unable to stamp out this pagan festival, spiritualized it as the Feast of the Nativity of the Sun of Righteousness,” p. 223.
According to this source, December 25th was marked as the birthday of the sun in 274 CE and about 60 years later the Church adopted this day as the birthday of the Messiah because of its inability to stamp out this pagan observance. By not doing so, history was changed forever!
A Holiday Outlawed by Puritans
Because of its paganism and the fact that Christmas resembled more of a Mardi Gras during the time of early America, many Christians rejected Christmas and its customs.
Robert J. Myers in his book, Celebrations, writes, “In England, for example, the Puritans could not tolerate this celebrating for which there was no biblical sanction. Consequently, the Roundhead Parliament of 1643 outlawed the feasts of Christmas, Easter, Whitsuntide, along with the saints’ days,” p. 312.
As noted on the History Channel, this refusal was shared by the pilgrims and other early Americans: “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 outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings” (history.com, Christmas).
What would happen if believers took such a stand today? Much of today’s error and subsequent problems would be removed and a time of unparalleled truth would result. We need only to ask, is it sanctioned by Almighty Yahweh and His Word?
Tree Worship and a Claus for Error
Christmas is riddled with non-biblical traditions.
The evergreen tree has been an object of veneration for millennia. Scripture provides many examples of tree worship, but none clearer than Jeremiah 10.
“Hear ye the word which Yahweh speaketh unto you. O house of Israel: Thus saith Yahweh. 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,” vv 1-5.
Does this description sound familiar? Take a closer look; 1) one cuts a tree out of the forest; 2) they deck it with silver and gold; 3) they fasten it with nails and with hammers; and 4) they stand it upright. You’re probably thinking, Christmas tree. Truth be told, this is not referring specifically to a Christmas tree, which is nonetheless a form of tree worship.
Read what Jeremiah said in verse 2: “Learn not the way of the heathen.” Does this warning also apply to Christmas? We can answer that by simply asking: Is Christmas found in the Bible or in traditions of pagans? We can safely say this warning includes Christmas. When Yahweh said through Jeremiah, learn not the way of the heathen, He meant any pagan worship, including Christmas and Easter.
In addition to the biblical record, scholarship also confirms that tree worship was common. For example, The Golden Bough states. “…Tree worship is well attested for all the great European families of the Aryan stock. Amongst the Celts the oak-worship of the Druids is familiar to everyone. Sacred groves were common among the ancient Germans, and tree-worship is hardly extinct among their descendants at the present day,” p. 58.
We have the tradition of Saint Nick. According to the book, Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men, the traditional Santa Claus may have roots to Odin, a major deity in Norse mythology: “… children would place their boots filled with sugar, carrots or straw, near the chimney for Odin’s flying horse, Sleipnir, to eat. Odin would then reward those children for their kindness by replacing Sleipnir’s food with gifts or candy. This practice survived in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands after the adoption of Christianity and became associated with Saint Nicholas as a result of the process of Christianization and can be still seen in the modern practice of the hanging of stockings at the chimney in some homes” (pp. 171-173).
While many believe that Santa Claus traces back to Saint Nicholas, bishop of Myra, who lived during the 4th century, the truth is very different. The etymological roots of this figure harken back to German and Dutch folklore, but not to Scripture.
The True Birthday of Yahshua
Let’s now transition from the historical roots of Christmas to the scriptural facts about our Savior’s birth. From Scripture we find that He was likely born in the fall.
We find evidence in Luke 1:5, “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.”
Zacharias, John the Baptist’s father, served at the temple and his course of duty was of the course of Abia. What’s the significance about this? Before we answer that, we need to understand these courses a bit better.
In the Old Testament there were 24 courses or service schedules in the temple. The cycle of courses began at Abib (the first biblical month) in the springtime and was from Sabbath to Sabbath. Each priest was required to serve twice a year. Abia was the eighth course, which would have fallen around the beginning of June.
Based on the temple duty roster, we can pinpoint that John the Baptist was conceived around early June. Scripture states that Mary conceived Yahshua six months after Elisabeth conceived John the Baptist, Luke 1:26. From this we can determine the approximate date of the Messiah’s conception and birth. If John the Baptist was conceived in early June and if Yahshua was conceived six months later, then Yahshua was likely conceived in early December, placing His birth nine months away or sometime in September and possibly during the Feast of Tabernacles.
Snowmen and Frosty Shepherds?
What about the shepherds? The traditional Christmas story says that shepherds received a miraculous message about the infant Yahshua while in the fields on December 25th. The traditional story is based on Luke 2:13-18:
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising Elohim, and saying, Glory to Elohim in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass which Yahweh hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.”
The question is, were shepherds out tending flocks the end of December? This is highly unlikely. According to Adam Clarke’s Commentary, “It was a custom among the Jews to send out their sheep to the deserts, about the Passover, and bring them home at the commencement of the first rain: during the time they were out, the shepherds watched them night and day. As the Passover occurred in the spring, and the first rain began early in the month of Marchesvan, which answers to part of our October and November, we find that the sheep were kept out in the open country during summer. And as these shepherds had not yet brought home their flocks, it is a presumptive argument that October had not yet commenced, and that, consequently, our [Master] was not born on the 25th of December, when no flocks were out in the fields; nor could he have been born later than September, as the flocks were still in the fields by night. On this very ground the nativity in December should be given up. The feeding of the flocks by night in the fields is a chronological fact, which casts considerable light upon this disputed point.”
The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary agrees. “From this most critics, since Lightfoot conclude that the time which, since the fourth century, has been ecclesiastically fixed upon for the celebration of Christ’s birth – the 25th of December, or the midst of the rain season – cannot be the true time, as the shepherds drove their flocks about the spring or Passover time out to the fields, and remained out with them all summer, under cover of huts or tents, returning with them late in the autumn. …The nature of the seasons in Palestine could hardly have been unknown to those who fixed upon the present Christmas-period: the difficulty, therefore, is perhaps more imaginary than real.”
Three Men and a Baby’s Birthday?
Let’s consider one more piece of the puzzle – the wise men. This story is based on the second chapter of Matthew. It reads, “Now when Yahshua was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him…
“When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the voung child with Miriam his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh,” vv 1-2, 10-11.
Tradition says that three wise men visited the infant Yahshua in a manger to honor His birth. Do we find evidence of that here? First, Scripture says nothing about three wise men, only that three gifts were given. Second, they did not visit the infant Messiah at the manger, but the boy Messiah at His house, verse 11. And third, the wise men were not there to celebrate the birth of the Messiah, but to worship the King of the Jews, verse 2.
Other than the wise men visiting the Messiah, the traditional account is almost completely lacking in Scripture. Again, there is no mention of the number of wise men, there is no mention of a manger, and there is no mention of the Messiah’s birth. We find from verse 16 that Yahshua was around the age of two. It reads, “Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he diligently enquired of the wise men.”
Scripture verifies here that Herod murdered all male children two years and under. Why did he start with the age of two? It’s likely that Yahshua was near this age when the wise men came to visit. Again we find that the traditional story of the Messiah’s birth has little basis in Scripture. The story of Christmas is not in the Bible but it was through pagan Roman tradition that the Church adopted the rituals of Christmas.
Come Out, Be Separate, Touch Not
What does our Father Yahweh say about such compromise? We are commanded in Jeremiah 10 to abstain from learning the ways of the heathen.
Paul in 2Corinthians 6:14 also warns about compromise and accepting false worship. “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 Yahweh, and touch not the unclean thing: and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith Yahweh Almighty.”
Here in each question Paul shows the distinction between right and wrong, and between worship that is honoring and worship that is not.
Based on the facts that Christmas contains no scriptural foundation and was borrowed from pagan worship, it is clearly to be avoided by anyone who wants to honor the true Messiah.