Skip to comments.The Origin and Practices of Christmas: Christian or Pagan ?
Posted on 12/08/2006 11:47:00 AM PST by 4lifeandliberty
The Origin and Practices of Christmas: Christian or Pagan ?
RELIGIOUS HOLIDAYS AND CALENDARS - AN ENCYCLOPAEDIC HANDBOOK, 1993
Christmas Day December 25
Christmas Sermon - "Is Christmas A Perversion?"
I preached the abouve noted sermon at Dayspring Christian Fellowship on Christmas Day, 2005. It is an important message for the body during this season. Check it out at [url]www.lifeandlibertyministries.com[url]
Christmas is the day on which Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The Roman Catholic Church designates it as a day of holy obligation on which members of the Church must attend services.
Originally, the birth of Jesus was commemorated in the East on the Feast of Epiphany (January 6) but by 354, the Christmas Feast had taken hold in the West and was observed on December 25. Since the fifth century, most Eastern Orthodox Churches have celebrated the Nativity on December 25; however, some Eastern congregations, called "Old Calendarists," still use the Julian calendar and honor the birth of Christ thirteen days later, on January 7. The Armenian Church continues to celebrate "Old Christmas" on January 6.
As with many traditions surrounding Christmas, the selection of December 25 as a commemoration of Jesus' birthday may be an example of the blending of Christian ideas and the pagan traditions they replaced. December 25 was the date of the Mithric observance of the "Birthday of the Invincible Sun." This also coincided with Saturnalia and the Winter solstice during the period when Mithraism was practiced in Rome. Since the day was already being kept as a holiday, Christians may have adjusted the symbolism of the day, declaring it the birthday of their "Invincible Son." According to events in the Gospel of Matthew, the date of Jesus' birth may actually have taken place much earlier in the year.
The word "Christmas" means "the mass of Christ," and originated in the 11th century as a name for this feast. It was one of the most popular and universally celebrated holidays in Europe during the Middle Ages. During the Reformation, however, the celebration of Christmas began to decline in importance. Reformers engaged in complex doctrinal arguments in an attempt to prove the celebration of Christmas was unscriptural.
In some countries, the Protestant reforms brought about a ban of Christmas celebrations. By the time of the Restoration in 1660, however, the celebration of Christmas as a much more secular holiday was revived in these countries. In New England, Christmas remained outlawed until the mid-nineteenth century, and in Boston classes were held in the public schools on Christmas Day until 1870, with pupils who missed school that day being punished or dismissed. The mass immigration of Irish Catholics to New England brought about the reinstitution of Christmas celebrations. _________________________________________________________________
"Christmas.", DICTIONARY OF CHRISTIANITY IN AMERICA, 1990
Both the northern European and North American custom of exchanging gifts at Christmas... are possibly related to pre-Christian celebrations at the close of the year. The celebration of Christmas has sometimes been opposed as pagan by religious leaders. New England Puritans* considered Christmas "popish" idolatry, and the Massachusetts General Court in 1659 passed an act against its celebration, though the law was repealed in 1681." _________________________________________________________________
"Christmas", THE WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA, Vol. 3, "C-Ch", 1997
"The first mention of December 25 as the birth date of Jesus occurred in A.D. 336 in an early Roman calendar. The celebration of this day as Jesus' birth date was probably influenced by pagan [unchristian] festivals held at that time. The ancient Romans held year-end celebrations to honor Saturn, their harvest god; and Mithras, the [sic] god of light... As part of all these celebrations, the people prepared special foods, decorated their homes with greenery, and joined in singing and gift giving. These customs gradually became part of the Christmas celebration."
"In the late 300's, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire... The popularity of Christmas grew until the Reformation, a religious movement of the 1500's. This movement gave birth to Protestantism. During the Reformation, many Christians began to consider Christmas a pagan celebration because it included nonreligious customs. During the 1600's, because of these feelings, Christmas was outlawed in England and in parts of the English colonies in America." _________________________________________________________________
"Christmas", COLLIER'S ENCYCLOPEDIA, Vol. 6, 1992
"... The suppression of the Mass during the Reformation led to a sharp change in the observance of Christmas in some countries. In England, the Puritans condemned the celebration and, from 1642 to 1652, issued a series of ordinances forbidding all church services and festivities. This feeling was carried over to America by the Pilgrims and it was not until the nineteenth-century wave of Irish and German immigration that enthusiasm for the feast began to spread throughout the country. Objections were swept aside and the old traditions revived among Protestants as well as Catholics." _________________________________________________________________
"Christmas," COMPTON'S INTERACTIVE ENCYCLOPEDIA, 1997
THE CHRISTMAS WREATH The use of evergreens and wreaths as symbols of life was an ancient custom of the Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews, among other peoples. Tree worship was a common feature of religion among the Teutonic and Scandinavian peoples of northern Europe before their conversion to Christianity. They decorated houses and barns with evergreens at the new year to scare away demons, and they often set up trees for the birds in winter. For these northern Europeans, this winter celebration was the happiest time of the year because it signified that the shortest day of the year--about December 21--had passed. They knew the days would start to get longer and brighter. The month during which this festival took place was named Jol, from which the word yule is derived. Yule has come to mean Christmas in some countries.
THE CHRISTMAS TREE Trees and decorations. Ancient, pre-Christian winter festivals used greenery, lights, and fires to symbolize life and warmth in the midst of cold and darkness. These usages, like gift giving, have also persisted.
CHRISTMAS GIFT GIVING Gift giving is one of the oldest customs associated with Christmas: it is actually older than the holiday itself. When the date of Christmas was set to fall in December, it was done at least in part to compete with ancient pagan festivals that occurred about the same time. The Romans, for example, celebrated the Saturnalia on December 17. It was a winter feast of merrymaking and gift exchanging. And two weeks later, on the Roman New Year--January 1, houses were decorated with greenery and lights, and gifts were given to children and the poor. As the Germanic tribes of Europe accepted Christianity and began to celebrate Christmas, they also gave gifts.
Excerpted from Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia Copyright © 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 The Learning Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. _________________________________________________________________
"Christmas," THE WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA, 1966 Edition
THE CHRISTMAS TREE There are several stories about the origin of the Christmas tree. People in Scandinavia once worshipped trees. When they became Christians, they made evergreen trees part of Christian festivals.
The Custom of decorating homes and churches with evergreens began in ancient times. The Romans exchanged green tree branches for good luck on the Calends (first day) of January. The English took this custom over for Christmas.
THE YULE LOG The custom of burning the Juul (pronounced yool) came from the Norse and Anglo-Saxons. They burned a huge oak log once a year to honor Thor, the god of thunder. After the Norse became Christians, they made the yule log an important part of their Christmas ceremonies. The Scandinavians adopted the word yule to mean Christmas. In Lithuania, the word for Christmas actually means log evening. The yule log became equally important in England. The English considered it good luck to keep an unburned part of the log to light next year's yule log.
MISTLETOE Mistletoe decorates many homes in the United States, Canada, and Europe at Christmastime. No one knows exactly how mistletoe became connected with Christmas. Ancient Celtic priests, called Druids, used to give people sprigs of the plant as a charm. Hundreds of years ago, some people in Europe used it at religious gatherings.
HISTORY In A.D. 354, Bishop Liberius of Rome ordered the people to celebrate on December 25. He probably chose this date because the people of Rome already observed it as the Feast of Saturn, celebrating the birthday of the sun. _________________________________________________________________
EXTERNALS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, 1917, page 134, authored by John F. Sullivan
SOME CHRISTMAS CUSTOMS
"When we give or receive Christmas gifts, and hang green wreaths in our homes and churches, how many of us know that we are probably observing pagan customs? We do not wish to assert that they are not good customs; but they undoubtedly prevailed long before Christian times. The Romans gave presents on New Year's Day, and our bestowing of gifts at Christmas is a survival of that practice, as well as a commemoration of the offerings of the Magi at Bethlehem. The Yule-log, a feature of Christmas in old England, goes back to the days of the pirate Norsemen. Holly and mistletoe and wreaths of evergreen have been handed down to us by the Druids. And even our friend Santa Claus, that mysterious benefactor of our childhood days, existed in one form or another long before Christianity had attributed his virtues to St. Nicholas; for the god Woden, in Norse mythology, descended upon the earth yearly between December 25 and January 6 to bless mankind.
But, pagan though they be, they are beautiful customs. They help to inspire us with the spirit of "good will" even as the sublime services of our Church remind us of the "peace on earth" which the Babe of Bethlehem came to bestow. May that spirit fill the heart of each of us on every Christmas Day!"
Technically, a lot of the physical parts of Christmas are connected to Saturnalia and paganism. Christmas trees, yule logs (misletoe was sort of a peace thing--hence the kissing, originally a sort of diplomatic European kiss), Santa Claus (not Saint Nick), etc.
On the other hand, Christmas has been Christianized. Saint Nick merging with Wodin in Santa Claus, Christmas songs, and the point of the day, the birth of God on Earth.
Could be interesting to see other freepers' opinions....
This pagan origin stuff is meant to say: "It is OK to remove Christmas from public practice, because you Christians don't know Christmas is Pagan anyway. Please thank us for telling you what is in your heart and for saving you from the pagan Christmas tree"
It isn't as though you're forced to read these threads.
Actually I think it's mostly turnabout. There's a vocal chunk of Christianity that likes to trumpet the pagan origins of Halloween as good reasons not to celebrate that. And two months later there are some folks that enjoy Halloween that like to trumpet the pagan relationship to Christmas to thumb their nose at the anti-Halloween crowd.
Personally, anti-Halloween. In contrast to Christmas, Halloween has definitely not lost its paganism.
Byzantine Catholics and Eastern Orthodox still celebrate St. Nicholas' feast day on Dec. 6 with all the Old World pageantry.
Santa Claus and St. Nicholas are two different things.
Most Christians celebrate Christmas as a special holiday of giving to others with perhaps only slight recognition of the fact it is the supposed birthday of Jesus. Probably, that birthday was later during the year ( because it was reported there were shepherds in the fields with their flocks at about that time ). The actual birthday doesn't matter, because neither Jesus or his disciples ever suggested remembering his birthday. Jesus seemed to be a person who preached the spirit of laws rather than rote celebration, with the possible exception of the last supper; it is assumed by many Christians that the command to his disciples to participate in that ceremony extended to all later followers. I don't think there will be any divine grading points one way or the other regards observance of a holiday such as Christmas.
Before someone accuses me of being a scrooge on the point, I am a Christian and do like Christmas and have no problems with participation therein.
Depends on how you want to look at it. As far as the acoutrement of the holidays are concerned both are seriously steeped in paganism, almost all of the generally accepted decorative symbols of both holidays come straight from the non-Christian side. As for the spirit of the holidays that largely depends on the individual celebrant, living down here in the Southwest with a large Mexican Catholic population I see a lot of the Christian side of the celebration of the evening before All Saints Day. For most Americans Halloween is just an excuse to where funny clothes and do silly thing, neither Christian nor pagan. Just as for many Americans Christmas is just an excuse to buy presents for loved ones, drink eggnog, and eat their favorite holiday cookie (I'm fond of Pfeffernusse myself); again neither Christian nor pagan.
Chapter 34. Place of Christ's birth foretold.
And hear what part of earth He was to be born in, as another prophet, Micah, foretold. He spoke thus: "And thou, Bethlehem, the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah; for out of thee shall come forth a Governor, who shall feed My people." Micah 5:2 Now there is a village in the land of the Jews, thirty-five stadia from Jerusalem, in which Jesus Christ was born, as you can ascertain also from the registers of the taxing made under Cyrenius, your first procurator in Judæa.
Against Marcion: Tertullian
And yet how could He have been admitted into the synagogueone so abruptly appearing, so unknown; one, of whom no one had as yet been apprised of His tribe, His nation, His family, and lastly, His enrolment in the census of Augustusthat most faithful witness of the Lord's nativity, kept in the archives of Rome
The Liturgical Year: Dom Gueranger
And firstly, with regard to our Saviour's Birth on Dec. 25, we have St. John Chrysostom telling us in his homliy for this Feast, that the Western Churches had, from the very commencement of Christianity, kept it on this day. He is not satisfied with merely mentioning this tradition; he undertakes to show it is very well founded, inasmuch as the Church of Rome had every means of knowing the true day of our Saviour's Birth, since the acts of the enrollment, taken in Judea by command of Augustus, were kept in the public archives of Rome.The Holy Doctor adduces a second arguement, which he founds upon the Gospel of St. Luke, and he reasons thus: we know from the sacred Scriptures that it must have been in the fast of the sevent month (Lev 23.the 7th month, Tsiri, corresponded to out Sept, beginning of October) that the Priest Zachary had the vision in the Temple; after which Elizabeth, his wife, conceived St. John the Baptist; hence it follows that that the Blessed Virgin Mary having, as the Evangelist St Luke relates, received the Angel Gabriel's visit, and conceived the Saviour of the world in the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, that is to say March, the Birth of Jesus must have taken palce in the month of December.
* Now, it is a historicl fact that the Acts of the Enrollment were kept in the Public Liberry in Rome. Converts regularly were shown them as part of their catechesis...So, itt seems an odd way to spend Advent by undermining the date of Jesus Birth.
Just to be fair, I will post from a protestant website that references what I have just referenced plus a few other things.
As to the Pagans - Fortitute, Temperance, Pruduence, and Justice had already been estanlsihed as Cardinal Virtues by them. The Incarnation set in motion what resulted in the the perfection/completion of ALL the Cardinal Virtues - Faith, Hope, Love.
Given what they had, the pagans didnt do too badly...Even St. Paul cited the works of the pagan poets in the New Testament :)
Agree with your last sentence. There are also predominantly non-Christian countries such as Japan which have a decidedly atheistic "Christmas."
The early Christian traditions about St. Nicholas are the modern traditions in my Church.
Some of us celebrate St Nicholas feast day on the 19th.
It's still Dec. 6th, but on the Julian reckoning.