Where did Christmas originate? From the Bible or paganism? What is the real origin of Santa Claus—mistletoe—Christmas trees—holly wreaths—and the custom of exchanging gifts? Many are concerned about putting “Christ back into Christmas.” Was He ever there? Here are the stunning answers!
Every year after Thanksgiving, most people's thoughts turn to Christmas. It is the time when professing Christians are supposed to focus on Jesus Christ. After all, it is the “Christ-mass” season!
Christmas is thought by most to be a wonderful time, focusing the participants on giving, family togetherness, beautiful music and decorations, feasting on special foods and singing Christmas carols throughout the neighborhood (as my family did every year). All of this is supposedly centered around the worship of Christ. Surely the Bible instructs us to do all this—right?
The answers will shock you!
Why do people think that Christmas is wonderful? Most never reflect on whythey believe what they believe or do what they do. We live in a world filled with customs, but few ever seek to understand their origin. We generally accept them without question. Most people basically do what everyone else does—because it is easy and natural!
Let's carefully examine the roots of Christmas. Let's look at why people follow the customs associated with it. Why is it kept on December 25th? Did the early New Testament Church keep it? This article is filled with facts from history that, when placed together, paint a complete picture. Let's avoid all assumptions and only accept what can be PROVEN!
In 1990, the Solon, Ohio (a Cleveland suburb) school board banned all nativity and other Christmas scenes on any school property because they felt it violated the separation of church and state. They were challenged in court when outraged parents opposed them, feeling that Christmas was being stolen from their children and the community. The board lost the case! The citizenry had contended that Christmas was a worldwide tradition that was not part of, and transcended, religion. It was deemed to be secular—a part of virtually all cultures worldwide.
The court decision affirmed that Christmas has no Christian roots! However, the court's opinion also noted that Bible reading and prayer obviously are associated with Christ-ianity—a remarkable admission! The court concluded that Christmas-keeping and manger scenes could remain because they are not really part of either Christianity or religion—but prayer and Bible reading, which are, must remain excluded from schools!
Can Christ Be Honored by Christmas?
The most common justification that one will hear regarding Christmas is that people have replaced old pagan customs and intents by asserting that they are now “focusing on Christ.” I have heard many say that they are “honoring Christ” in their Christmas-keeping. The problem is that God does not say this is acceptable to Him! Actually, He plainly commands against it! Keeping Christmas dishonors Christ! He considers everything about it to be an abomination! We will soon see why.
Christ said, “But in vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9). Christmas is not a command of God—it is a tradition of men. Christ continued, “Full well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition” (Mark 7:9). Every year, throughout the world, on December 25th, hundreds of millions do just that!
Was Christ Born on December 25th?
Christ was born in the fall of the year. Many have mistakenly believed He was born around the beginning of winter—December 25th! They are wrong! Notice the Adam Clarke Commentary, volume 5, page 370, New York edition: “It was custom among Jews to send out their sheep to the deserts about the Passover [early spring], and bring them home at the commencement of the first rain.” The first rains began in early-to-mid fall. Continuing with this same quote: “During the time they were out, the shepherds watched them night and day. As…the first rain began early in the month of March-esvan, which answers to part of our October and November [begins sometime in October], we find that the sheep were kept out in the open country during the whole 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 Lord 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…See the quotations from the Talmudists in Lightfoot.”
What About Santa Claus?
Parents reason that they owe the whole Christmas myth to their children! Christmas traditions are focused primarily on kids, and they are certainly the center of most of what happens. I know because I kept seventeen Christmases. My older sister and younger brother and I were the recipients of much and the givers of very little on that day—and it all started with the Santa Claus lie.
Some years ago, a priest in New Jersey told his Sunday school class that Santa was a myth. The outrage from parents and his supervisors was swift. He had “killed Santa!” He had “destroyed family tradition!” He had “usurped family authority,” the article continued. He was officially censored by his superiors for being “overzealous and insensitive.”
Is It Scriptural to Exchange Gifts?
Merchants regularly report that over 60% of their annual retail sales occur during the Christmas shopping season. This represents a tremendous amount of gift buying. Most today believe that gift-giving comes from the Bible example of the “three wise men” (the Bible gives no number) presenting gifts to Christ. Is this true? Where did exchanging gifts come from, and what does God's Word say about it?
The Bibliotheca Sacra states, “The interchange of presents between friends is a like characteristic of Christmas and the Saturnalia, and must have been adopted by Christians from the pagans, as the admonition of Tertullian plainly shows” (Vol. 12, pp. 153-155).
Like every other aspect of Christmas, the shocking truth is that even this supposed Christian custom does not come from the Bible. It is an irony that people love to believe they are following the custom of the wise men giving to Christ, when actually they are giving almost exclusively to each other! What hypocrisy! Christ is completely forgotten.
Origin of the Christmas Tree
No article about Christmas is complete without some explanation of the “Christmas tree.” We have touched on it without directly focusing on it. The modern Christmas tree originated in Germany. But the Germans got it from the Romans, who got it from the Babylonians and the Egyptians.
The following demonstrates what the Babylonians believe about the origin of the Christmas tree: “An old Babylonish fable told of an evergreen tree which sprang out of a dead tree stump. The old stump symbolized the dead Nimrod, the new evergreen tree symbolized that Nimrod had come to life again in Tammuz! Among the Druids the oak was sacred, among the Egyptians it was the palm, and in Rome it was the fir, which was decorated with red berries during the Saturnalia!” (Walsh, Curiosities of Popular Customs, p. 242).
The Source of Holly Wreaths, Yule Logs and Mistletoe
The Encyclopedia Americana states, “The holly, the mistletoe, the Yule log…are relics of pre-Christian time.” In other words, paganism! The Yule log was commonly used in a rite of Teutonic nature worship.
Frederick Haskin further states, “The use of Christmas wreaths is believed by authorities to be traceable to the pagan customs of decorating buildings and places of worship at the feast which took place at the same time as Christmas.”
The Encyclopedia Britannica, under “Celastrales,” exposes the origin of the holly wreath: “European pagans brought holly sprays into their homes, offering them to the fairy people of the forests as refuge from the harsh winter weather. During the Saturnalia, the Roman winter festival, branches of holly were exchanged as tokens of friendship. The earliest Roman Christians apparently used holly as a decoration at the Christmas season.”