A Brief History of Christmas
No one knows when Jesus was born, but scholars speculate around Sep./Oct. during the Feast of Tabernacles. Many hold that the term Christmas derives from two words Christ and mass (referring to the worship service of the Catholic church). In the Western world, the birthday of Jesus Christ has been celebrated on December 25 since AD 354. The birth of the ancient sun god Attis in Phrygia was celebrated on December 25, as was the birth of the Persian sun god, Mithras. Some Romans celebrated their dependence upon the sun’s yearly course in the heavens, they held feast around December when the days were shortest, and Saturnalia, a festival dedicated to Saturn, the god of peace and plenty, that ran from the 17th to 24th of December. Public gathering places were decorated with flowers. Also, gifts and candles were exchanged and the population, slaves and masters alike, celebrated the occasion with great enthusiasm. Some legends claim that the Christian "Christmas" celebration was invented to compete against the pagan celebrations of December. The 25th was not only sacred to the Romans but also the Persians whose religion Mithraism was one of Christianity's main rivals at that time. The Church was eventually successful in taking the merriment, lights, and gifts from the Saturnalia festival and bringing them to the celebration of Christmas. This is where most believe the idea of exchanging presents came from. Celebrating Christmas has been controversial since its inception. Since numerous festivities found their roots in pagan practices, they were greatly frowned upon by conservatives within the Church.
The real question that must be addressed is what was the intent of the church in choosing this date. Many say the church was trying to Christianize these popular pagan celebrations. Maybe it was chosen to point to the triumph that Christ’s birth represented over the pagan traditions of the Roman Empire. In essence, they were establishing a rival celebration. Yes, many today get caught up in the “holiday spirit”, but many have all but forgotten the pagan gods of Rome. At least millions of people on planet Earth celebrate the Christ of Christmas.
Are Christmas trees a form of idolatry?
This question is asked out of the scripture in Jeremiah 10:2-4. At first, this may seem to be referring to our custom of decorating Christmas trees. When interpreting scripture we have to look at three distinct areas: observation, interpretation, and application. When considering the second question, which is interpretation, certain questions must be formulated. To name a few, whom is it talking to? When was it written? Why was it written? However, a closer look at the passage reveals that God is in reality condemning the creation of permanent wooden idols carved from the trees of the forest. You will see that in the next verse (v.5) God ridicules these idols because they cannot walk or talk. Furthermore, this passage was written thousands of years before the “Christmas tree” was formed. Actually, Christmas trees come from combining two Christian symbols. The Paradise tree was decorated with apples to symbolize the tree of life in the Garden. The other symbol was a triangular shelf that contained Christmas figurines and was adorned by the star that represented the one followed by the Magi. By the 16th century, these two symbols had been merged into the modern-day Christmas tree. Not only does this have a spiritual meaning, but also it provides a great witnessing tool for believers. In addition, certain accounts claim that Martin Luther introduced the Christmas tree lighted with candles.
Should Christians celebrate it?
Scripture does not specifically command believers to celebrate Christmas, or not. For there are no prescribed “Holy days” the church must observe. Celebrating Christmas is not a question of right or wrong since, Romans 14:5-6 provides us liberty to decide whether to observe special days or not. Certainly, don’t judge anyone for choosing to celebrate Christmas for Colossians 2:16 says, “Therefore don’t let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to religious festival . . .” According to these verses, a Christian can rightfully set aside any day, including Christmas, as a day for the Lord. Every day for the believer should be a day set aside for the Lord. Regardless of the pagan background of so many December traditions, days of the week, and whether or not Jesus was born on December 25th, our goal is still to turn the eyes of all men upon the true Creator and Christ of Christmas. Christmas is a time to focus on His birth. Without Him making His tabernacle (dwelling) on Earth, there would be no death, burial, and resurrection. By becoming a human being, dying on the cross for our sins, and rising from the dead, Jesus Christ overcame sin, death, and the grave. Jesus was born to give us the greatest gift of all - the gift of salvation, a gift that truly keeps on for-giving. The Christmas season and celebration presents the church with a wonderful opportunity to preach the gospel, that men can be made righteous and have peace with God through faith in His Son, Jesus the Christ. If you have been missing the reality of Christmas in your life, know that if you receive the Lord Jesus Christ and believe in His name, Christmas will become real to you. It can happen today; and it is between you and God (2 Corinthians 6:1-2; Romans 10:8-11).
By: Robert L. Wagner
© 2002 P.H.A.T.B.O.Y. Music & Publishing
© 2002 P.H.A.T.B.O.Y. Music & Publishing