Christmas 2000 Years Before Christ
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The following article was written by Dr Terry Watkins Th. Phd
How did customs, celebrated long before the birth of Jesus, come to be called “Christmas”?
IT was that festive season again. The little children were filled with anticipation and excitement. The whole family was busily involved in putting up decorations. Boughs of holly and ever-green were assembled and placed about the house. The mistletoe was hung. A tree was chosen and decorated with trinkets and ornaments.
It was a season of giving and receiving presents, a time to sing songs, admire all the pretty lights and burn the yule log. There were to be parades with special floats, sumptuous meals and merry-making.
A modern Christmas celebration?
Not at all!
At the end of December and the beginning of January all these festive celebrations were taking place in various nations of Europe centuries before Jesus was born!
An “Old-Fashioned” Christmas. Where Christmas customs came from is really no secret. You can read the origins of Christmas customs in encyclopedias and ready-reference works. The Encyclopedia Britannica, for example, draws the reader’s attention to these facts: “Christmas customs are an evolution from times that long antedate the Christian period–a descent from seasonal, pagan, religious and national practices, hedged about with legend and tradition” (15th edition, article “Christmas”).
In ancient times, many of the earth’s inhabitants, realizing their dependence upon the sun for light, heat and the growing of crops, watched the sun’s yearly course through the heavens with deep interest. At different seasons, feasts and celebrations were held to help, it was thought, the solar orb on its way.
The end of December was an especially significant time in the northern hemisphere. The days were short. The sun was at its lowest point. Special festivals of thanksgiving and encouragement to the sun were held. When, at the winter solstice, the days began to lengthen, there was great celebration lasting into the first part of January. The sun–the light of the world–had been (re)born!
Such festivities, once meant to honor the sun and its god, were freely adopted by the spreading and increasingly popular “Christian” religion. Why not, in the same way, honor Jesus–the real light of the world (even though He was not actually born in December!)?
Through the centuries different combinations of customs developed in different nations. But the fundamental origin of the celebrations go back at least 4,000 years.
Trees and Candles. The modern Christmas tree is supposed to have originated in German lands in the Middle Ages. But long before that, their ancestors customarily decorated their homes with lights and greenery at the winter festival.
Since evergreens were green throughout the dead of winter, the ancient Germans looked upon them as especially imbued with life. It was in honor of the tree spirit or the spirit of growth and fertility that greenery was a prominent part of ancient pagan winter celebrations.
The Romans trimmed trees with trinkets and toys at that time of the year. The Druids tied gilded apples to tree branches. It is difficult to trace back exactly where the legend first gained popularity, but to certain peoples an evergreen decorated with orbs and other fruit-like objects symbolized the tree of life in the garden in Eden.
Branches of holly and mistletoe were likewise revered. Not only did these plants remain green through the winter months, but they actually bore fruit at that time, once again honoring the “spirits'” of fertility. Still today, catching someone under a branch of mistletoe can serve as a convenient springboard for romantic activity. Few people stop to wonder what in the world such strange customs have to do with the birth of Jesus!
The ancients lit festive fires in the last part of December to encourage the sun just as Christmas bonfires, candles and other lights burn today at the same time of the year. Use of the “yule log,” part of the “yuletide” season, hearkens back to the ritual burning of a carefully chosen log by the Druids. The word yule comes from the old Anglo-Saxon word hweol, meaning wheel, a round wheel being an appropriate symbol for the sun.
Holiday Cheer? You thought the Christmas shopping spree was a 20th century phenomenon?
Listen to how 4th century writer Libanius described end-of-the-year gift-giving and partying in the ancient non-Christian Roman Empire: “Everywhere may be seen … well-laden tables … The impulse to spend seizes everyone. He who through the whole year has taken pleasure in saving … becomes suddenly extravagant … A stream of presents pours itself out on all sides” (as quoted in Christmas in Ritual and Tradition).
Of all times in the year, it was indeed the season to be jolly. Then, as now, in a constant round of partying, it was common–yes, expected–to seek the “spirit” of the season in whatever intoxicating drink was at hand. Drunkenness was widespread. Fortunately, however, the modes of transportation in those days did not lend themselves to the high rate of drunken-driver-induced traffic fatalities that are part of the Christmas season in many nations today.
And Santa Claus? An important part of the pagan harvest festivities–beginning in October-November with what has become Halloween–involved good and bad spirits. In many lands, mythical visitors–usually bringers of good or evil–became the center of attention in the winter season.
Through blending pagan legends with traditions about saints, certain figures emerged, with similar personalities. We recognize them today in different nations as Santa Claus, Father Christmas, St. Nicholas, St. Martin, the Weihnachtsmann, Pere Noel. Whatever name is used, all these winter visitors fulfill a similar role.
These fictional persons–“Christianizations” of the pagan Germanic deities–clearly perpetuate certain folk-ritual themes wherein varying degrees of rewards and punishments were dealt out to the celebrants. Through the centuries these customs came to be centered around children.
It is not hard to see a connection between Santa using the chimney, the shoes and stockings hung by the fireplace and the ancient superstitions about hearth spirits. The fireplace served as the natural entrance and exit of the gods of fire and solar gods when they visited homes. For thousands of years, especially among the Chinese, it was customary to sweep and scour the house in preparation for the visit of the hearth spirit.
Each year, dressed in a pointed fiery red cap and red jacket, this fire-god traveled from the distant heavens to visit homes and distribute favors or punishments. Today he is welcomed in the Western World each Christmas season.
Popular Christmas customs as we can see, plainly reflect non-Christian legends and practices. Since Jesus was not even born in December to begin with, the logical question to ask is: What is there that is Christian about Christmas? Did you know, for example, that some of the very Christmas customs observed today were once banned by the Catholic Council of Rome, the English Parliament, and the Puritans of New England?
More important, what does the Bible say about Christmas? Should a Christian have anything to do with such holidays?
Jer. 10:2 Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
3 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.
4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
Deut. 12:30 Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them … and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.
31 Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God.
The following information is from The History of The Reformation of Religion in Scotland by John Knox.“The establishment by St Columba of a seminary in Iona was highly favourable to the cause of literature both in Scotland and England. How far it tended to promote evangelical religion, does not clearly appear.
The form of sound words, and the image of Christian worship, are often long retained after the living spirit of the gospel is gone; and nothing proves more clearly the fact of its departure than an overweening attachment to superstitious practices, and an observance of rites and seasons which God has not ordained.
When the apostle Paul found the churches in Galatia observing days, and months, and times, and years, he expressed his fear that he had laboured among them in vain. These things were an evidence of their declining in their spiritual state, and departing from the faith. Long before this period of our history, we find our Christian ancestors stickling about the proper time of keeping Easter, when they ought to have rejected it altogether as an observance which God had not required.
In the time of St Columba, the controversy was revived, and after a keen contest the eloquence of those who favoured the church of Rome prevailed. St Columba yielded, whether from conviction, or from some other cause, we are not told; “and the Pope found in the Abbot of Iona himself, a sedulous and devoted convert to the new lunar cycle.” Russel’s Prelim. Diss. to Keith’s Scottish Bishops, p. lxxv.“About the same time the feast of Christmas was introduced to our ancestors.
“The vulgar persuasion is,” says Buchanan, “that these festivities celebrated the birth of Christ, when, in truth, they refer, as is sufficiently evident, to the lascivious rites of the Bacchanalia, and not to the memory of our Saviour’s nativity.” It is probable that this was originally the Gothic pagan feast of Yule, or Zul, so called in Scotland to this day; see Dr Jamieson’s Scottish Dictionary on the word, Yule.
We know the Popes instructed their missionaries not to abolish, but rather adopt the heathen rites of the people among whom they introduced Christianity, and adapt them to Christian worship. This was the source of innumerable corruptions; and with regard to this festival, it not only opened a door for all manner of licentiousness.
But also bound the churches to the acknowledgment of a thing as true which never has been proved,—that Christ was born on the 25th of December, which rests on no credible authority. Our neighbours in the south condemn our reformers for rejecting this holiday.
With much more reason we wonder at their retaining it.” (The History of The Reformation of Religion in Scotland, John Knox, 1841, Introduction pp. 13, 14) (see also Acts of The General Assembly of The Church of Scotland, 1638-1842, p. 19)
We know from the Bible that the apostles of Jesus Christ did not celebrate his birthday. And we know from other historical accounts that the early Christian church did not celebrate the birth of Christ. “In regard to the day or month in which the Saviour was born, a subject to which the devotion of a large proportion of the Christian world has attached much importance, we have no means of accurate knowledge.”(Encyclopedia Britannica, 7th Ed., 1830-1842).
If God had wanted us to celebrate Jesus Christ’s birthday, one would think that at least one Bible verse would mention it. There are no Bible examples of the apostles or the disciples keeping December 25th (or any appropriate corresponding day of the year) as a “holy day”.
When the Roman Emporor, Constantine “The Great” (A.D. (285)306-337), used the corrupt manuscripts of Eusebius (A.D. 260-340) and Origin (A.D. 184-254) to merge Paganism with Christianity in the fourth century, the Roman church quite naturally incorporated pagan customs and rituals into her many unscriptural doctrines (praying to saints, use of images in worship, purgatory, Mary worship, Sunday sacredness, celibacy of the clergy, etc.).
And, unlike the disciples in the New Testament who suffered rejection and persecution for the word of God and their faithfulness to the scriptures (1 Peter 4:3,4), many apostate Christians simply accepted these false doctrines and teachings and chose to observe anti-biblical pagan holy days (holidays).
Thus limiting or avoiding persecution altogether. There is not a single Bible verse indicating that the apostles or disciples practiced any of the heathen customs mentioned in the above article.
There are, however, a number of scriptures in the Bible instructing us not to borrow the customs of the heathen or pagans to worship the true God: “Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen… For the customs of the people are vain:”(Jer. 10:2,3). “Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them… and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying,
How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God:”(Deut. 12:30,31). “that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God.”(Lev. 18:30).
The Encyclopedia Britannica informs us that “the festival of the nativity was not observed in the primitive church”(Encyclopedia Britannica, 7th Ed., 1830-1842). Neither the apostles nor the early church celebrated His birth, at all. In 245 A.D., it was declared to be a sin even to think of keeping His birthday.
The Reformation Protestants did not, Puritans and Pilgrims even outlawed it in the 1600’s, and as late as 1855 Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists refused to recognize it as a holiday.
Public schools in Boston were still open for classes on December 25th as late as 1870. In fact, Webster’s Dictionary tells us that as late as 1913 many States did not even recognize it as a legal holiday (Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1913 Ed., p. 253). Christmas did not begin to be a legal holiday anywhere in the United States of America until the 19th century when Alabama became the first state to succumb to its spellbinding influence in 1836. The modern Christmas tree was not introduced to this country by Germans until the 19th century.
The annual tradition of erecting a Christmas tree at the White House did not begin until 1889, some 113 years after the birth of our nation and 282 years after the first permanent English settlement in America (est. 1607, Jamestown, Virginia, named after King James I of England, a devout Christian).
(Because of its heathen roots, Easter too was dismissed as a pagan holiday by the nation’s founding Puritans and did not begin to be widely observed until after the Civil War era coinciding with the spread of Roman Catholicism).
For a period of three hundred years, from the first permanent English settlement in America in 1607, the majority of Bible believing Christians did not celebrate Christmas in America. But with the influx of Roman Catholics since the mid to late 1800’s the practice spread and gained acceptance by all but the “remnant”.
Just why do so many professing “Christians” celebrate un-biblical/anti-biblical pagan holidays? Compromising the commandments of God with the comfort of the world is almost as old as man himself. It is almost always easier to go with the flow of the world than it is to go against the current of popular tradition.
With the exception of a small remnant of faithful Bible believing Christians, practically the whole world (Hindu, Muslim, Mormon, Jewish, Pagan, even atheist) celebrates Christmas (and Easter (in some instances the names may have been changed, but the customs are unmistakably pagan in origin).
The apostle John said, “They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.”(I John 4:5,6). The questions now presented to the professing Christian: (1) Is your final authority the Holy Bible which is “the word of God”?
Or is your final authority “your tradition” and the desire of your “own heart”? (2) Will you be among the remnant of “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus” who “shall suffer persecution” “for the word of God”? Or will you be among the many compromisers and “seducers” who “shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived”? (Prov. 28:26; Matt. 15:3-9; Mark 7:6-16; II Tim. 3:12,13; I Pet. 1:25; Rev. 1:9; 6:9; 20:4)
|“And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15).|
Christians are repeatedly warned in the Holy Bible not to borrow pagan customs to worship the Lord Jesus Christ!
Hebrews 13:8,9 Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines.
Exodus 34:12 Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee:
13 But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves:
14 For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:
15 Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice;
16 And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods.
Matt. 15:7 Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,
8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
Luke 7:9 Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.
Jer. 44:4 Howbeit I sent unto you all my servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, saying, Oh, do not this abominable thing that I hate.
Jer. 22:21 I spake unto thee in thy prosperity; but thou saidst, I will not hear. This hath been thy manner from thy youth, that thou obeyedst not my voice.
Jer. 11:11 Therefore thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.
Is. 66:4 I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear: but they did evil before mine eyes, and chose that in which I delighted not.
Ezk. 23:30 I will do these things unto thee, because thou hast gone a whoring after the heathen, and because thou art polluted with their idols.
Rev. 17:1 And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:
2 With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.
15 And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
Rev. 18:3 For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.
4 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. 2:21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.
22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.
1Pet. 4:1 Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;
2 That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.
3 For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries:
4 Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you:
5 Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead.
1John 4:5 They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.
John 15:19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
2Cor. 6:14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.
18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
2Cor. 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
2Pet. 3:17 Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.
18 But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
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