Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Christmas FAQ


AsBereansDid has been studying and writing about Christmas since 2010. Over the years one thing has become apparent – the need for a condensed FAQ on the topic.

When we first began writing about Christmas it was not apparent how very large a topic it is, nor how very wrong so many people were on the details, including ourselves. Most of the research on Christmas on the Internet in general is nothing but a great cloud of utterly baseless and false claims. A full-length and comprehensive study is absolutely necessary to root out the bad information. We have one! And more than just one or two articles on the topic. But comprehensive studies suffer from an inherent weakness in their length and dry, academic makeup. Everything you need is there but most people simply won't read them. A condensed FAQ is needed as a companion piece to give all of the most popular details in a summary “sound bite” fashion. A FAQ addresses the weakness of the comprehensive study. But FAQs have their own weaknesses. So we apologize in advance.

This FAQ represents our effort to summarize the highlights of several years of research done in the most thorough, unbiased and honest way we could.

A brief note for the visitors to this page who are unfamiliar with Armstrongism:
As Bereans Did blog is authored by former members of the Worldwide Church of God and its splinter churches. For short, we refer to this movement as Armstrongism, after its founder Herbert W Armstrong. This post was written primarily to counter the accusations against Christmas coming from Armstrongism, but was modified over time to be more general after we learned more non-Armstrongists were reading it than our target audience. Those unfamiliar with Armstrongism may find some of our references confusing. We apologize in advance and are working to minimize this effect.


Did the early church ignore the birth of Jesus?

No. The early church did not ignore the birth of Jesus by any means. The Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, and to a very lesser degree the Gospel of John (and some also say Revelation 12: 1-5) spend time discussing the incarnation of our Savior. I've heard people say "Christmas isn't in the Bible" but these ones might want to go back and re-read a few chapters. Direction to observe a holiday is not there (we discuss this later) but the event certainly is! Matthew and Luke go into great detail regarding the circumstances of Jesus' birth. There was interest in Jesus' birth since the start. By no means was it ignored. Bear in mind that Luke had to research his material because he wasn't a disciple. The fact that it is written about demonstrates that the earliest Christians were curious about and honored Jesus' birth. They may not have set aside a feast day, but they did honor the miracle. Many details surrounding the birth demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah. Consider before you move on how the timing is far, far less important than the fact that our God took on flesh and became like us. This is arguably the second greatest miracle in the history of mankind - second only to the death and resurrection. The birth is nothing without the resurrection, but without the birth there could be no resurrection. The birth points to the resurrection. The birth brings God to man; the cross brings man to God. Jesus was laid in a manger - a place where the sheep eat - which points to Jesus being spiritual food for us His sheep. Is the vague timing really enough to cause us not to pause and honor God for such a wondrous thing as the Incarnation?


Did the gospel writers tell us when Jesus was born?

Yes. They did! Both Matthew and Luke leave details on when Jesus was born. The details are in the style of writers of that century and would have been understandable to the people of that place and time. We have unfortunately lost most ability to interpret them since. Just because those details aren't exactingly specific in the way our modern minds would like to see them doesn't mean that they didn't exist. The Bible does not leave us the day, however (it doesn't give us the day for most things). In the next century many began attempting to pin down those exacting details.
Does Revelation 12 tell precisely when Jesus was born?

Inconclusive. Some scholars say Revelation 12: 1-5 gives us an astronomical map to determine when Jesus was born. The imagery, they say, describes the constellation Virgo, with Jupiter at her middle and the moon at her feet, with another constellation like a dragon close by. The interpretation of the dragon constellation is difficult to nail down, with top choices being Corvus or Hydra. This claim seems quite interesting, provides the very day and year of the birth, and has a shocking conclusion! (Read the link below for details.) Problems are this interpretation is speculative, hinges on the timing of Herod's death which is contested, and most people interpret Rev. 12 as describing multiple actual events rather than star signs pointing to one event. Some will take offense at the use of constellations at all, but we stress God Himself set the sky for determining times and seasons (GEN 1: 14). There is nothing  unbiblical about using stars astronomically in the way proposed here. The Jews around Jesus' day put the zodiac on the floors of synagogues for this very reason. What is unbiblical is astrology - when the stars control you and your fate. Using the stars as markers of time and events is an integral part of the nativity story, as the Magi followed stars. Possibly these very stars described in Rev. 12! IF that is indeed what Rev. 12 is describing. It is worth a mention here because it's so very interesting, but we cannot hang our hat on it.


Does the name Christmas come from a Roman phrase meaning, roughly, “The Death of Christ?”

No. That grossly misrepresents both the Mass and the phrase. Christmas comes from the phrase “Christ Misse” or Mass of Christ. The word mass is derived from the final words of the liturgy: "Ite, Missa Est". Literally, "Go, it is dismissed." Some may say, “Mass means dismissed.” Except the word is an idiom and that purposefully literal reading is not intellectually honest to the meaning of the idiom. Long story short, mass is just a nickname for the liturgy. Liturgy and mass are synonyms. And liturgy does not mean “death” or any such thing. The word mass first came into common use in the 600s AD, far too late to have anything to do with anything. An early name for Christmas was “Deis Natalis” or Birthday [of Christ]. Not to be confused with Natalis Invicti.
No, mass does not mean death. The singular focus of every mass is the Eucharist, and that remembers the death of Jesus, but it celebrates the death of our Savior because of grace, not death. If anyone has a problem with remembering Jesus' death then they really have a problem with Christianity. The word Eucharist comes from the Greek word for grace: "charis." So the word Eucharist has everything to do with grace, not death. We should ask, do any Catholics see Christmas as being “the death of Christ?” The answer is no.

Did Christmas begin in deep-ancient Mesopotamia?

No. There is no evidence for this in ancient primary source documents. There is no evidence for this in trustworthy secondary source documents. There is no valid evidence for this at all. All evidence in support of this claim has turned out to be fabricated. At the very best, such claims are strung together by preconceptions, amateurish methodology, and breathtaking violations of logic. The history of Christmas as a celebration can be traced back no farther than the mid-second century AD.


Was Christmas started by Nimrod?

No. The claim is not that Nimrod founded the holiday but that Semiramis founded it in honor of Nimrod. But the answer is no to both. These claims were invented out of thin air in the 1800s.

Nimrod is a character about which we know next to nothing for certain. The KJV Bible mentions Nimrod by name in four verses, with one additional verse speaking of him without naming him. Five verses. Both Genesis 10: 8 and I Chronicles 1: 10 speak to his lineage from Cush and are basically duplicate information so we can discount one of those, while Micah 5: 6 is really a place name. So of the five verses there are really only three with any unique information about Nimrod. The long and short of it is that there are only a very few verses about Nimrod. There is no genuine, verifiable, unmistakable information outside of the Bible that clearly refers to Nimrod. Speculations abound. Is he Gilgamesh? Is he Marduk? Is he the Scorpion King? Is he Hammurabi? (I prefer Hammurabi.) Is Nimrod even his real name? “Nimrod” has the feel of being a title rather than a proper name. The Hebrews had a habit of changing names like this. There currently exists no strong record of the person Nimrod outside of the Bible. Cities exist which the Bible says Nimrod founded, but no information on the person of Nimrod has been found in any of them. Note that I am not claiming there was no Nimrod. I believe there was. My entire point is simply that there is not enough extant information anywhere to make the highly detailed claims that float around the Internet about him. We do have some records of Semiramis, though. The difficulty is, the information we have tells us Semiramis lived and died hundreds of years after the time when Nimrod would have lived. What can we conclude besides all claims about Semiramis inventing Christmas to honor her husband Nimrod are patently false. Baseless. Invented. The inventor of these tales is known, and that is Alexander Hislop, author of the thoroughly debunked book “Two Babylons.” Herbert Armstrong and others simply fell for a lie and plagiarized it as God's truth. The lie propagates to this day.

Was Nimrod's birthday on the 25th of December?

Who knows? The fact is no one on earth has sufficient information about Nimrod to even tell us what his name really is, let alone such small details as on which day he was born. At that time, in such ancient antiquity, most cultures used a 360-day lunar calendar. Could it really be that the year once had 360 days? If that is the case, then there are 5 days now that could not have been Nimrod's birthday because they didn't exist. Consider this. December 25th could be one of those. No one knows, however. But this we do know - Herman Hoeh said Nimrod was born on January 6th. [Herman Hoeh was the leading Armstrongist "historian".] So, Armstrongism can't even make up its own mind. And why did Hoeh say that? Because he mistakenly tried to use the error of the Julian calendar, back-dating some 1,700+ years before the calendar was invented, in order to put the winter solstice on January 6th. The solstice isn't and never was in January. There would be a solid answer to Nimrod's birthday if there was any documented proof. There isn't. There is just pseudo-history, baseless conjecture, and spurious claims.


Were the claims of Alexander Hislop and his book The Two Babylons trustworthy?

No. They are fallacious. The entire book is a hateful anti-Catholic screed. Anyone should be ashamed of themselves if they propagate Hislop's material or belong to an organization that does. Hislop wrote his book decades before Babylon was excavated. Chaldean was barely even deciphered at the time. Where did he get his information, then? His claims were made up by stringing together pictures and utterly unrelated information into a pseudo-history the details of which turn out to be literally impossible. This FAQ is too brief for the details, so I refer you to Ralph Woodrow's thorough review of Hislop entitled "The Babylon Connection?"
A quote from ‘The Saturday Review’ printed September 17th, 1859 about Hislop's work: "We take leave of Mr. Hislop and his work with the remark that we never before quite knew the folly of which ignorant or half-learned bigotry is capable."


Was Isis, Horis, or Osiris' birthday on the 25th of December?

No. Egypt had no month of December, and before 450 BC December was in autumn. The Egyptian calendar was reset every year in summer. Anciently, the Roman calendar was often changed for political reasons. The Egyptian calendar did not correlate to the Roman calendar that we could match them up like this and say such and such was always on December 25th. The ancient record of the birthday for these Egyptian gods is not in December but in the summer. Why all the confusion? In the late 1800's to mid-1900's, German religious historians assigned almost every aspect of Christianity, including Jesus Himself, to theft from pagan religions. Horus was a popular target. Armstrongism built its case against Christmas on such claims as these. Since then, the theories have switched places. Now, evidence leads us to see that pagan religions copied from Christianity. Myths of pagan gods being born on December 25th do not crop up until after Jesus was associated with the date.


Were Cybele and Attis worshiped on December 25th?

No. The major celebration days for Cybele and Attis (called “Hilaria”) were in the Spring, in March.

Has December 25th been the focus of sun worship for millennia?

No. That claim doesn't even make sense. It would be closer to the truth that the winter solstice was the focus of sun worship for millennia. However, December 25 was not and is not the date of the winter solstice. Other cultures didn't have a December in their calendars, so December 25th couldn't be the focus for those cultures. One may ask, "Then what of the date on the other culture's calendar that matched December 25th?" The calendars of other cultures didn't align with the Roman calendar. At first, the Roman calendar had no winter months. That's right - no winter months. They had ten months then a huge gap. Before about 450 BC, December was an autumn month. For the next several hundred years, the Roman calendar was unreliable and changed frequently. When Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar in 46 BC, he finally declared December 25th to be the date of the solstice. However, we have two problems: 1) It didn't stay that way but for a few short years, and 2) Rome had no solstice holiday. Rome had no solstice holiday when the Christian scholars arrived at December 25 as the birth of Jesus. The popular claim is that there was a pagan holiday so popular that the Christians were all but compelled to absorb it. False! Not only was there no popular holiday, there was no holiday at all. The first mention of any Roman celebration on December 25 is in a calendar made in 354 AD, and the precise nature of that holiday remains a mystery to this day. There is no truth to this claim.
Q: Was Mithra's birthday on December 25th?

No. There is more than one Mithra – the original Persian Mithra and the Roman mystery religion Mithra. The Persian version had no such birthday. The Roman version also had no such birthday. Then Mithra pretty much died out in the 400's. Mithra only became associated with December 25th after Sol became associated with it in the mid 300s. And even this is speculation since nothing at all links Mithra to December 25th but a since abandoned claim by Franz Cumont. Cumont was wrong that Jesus came from Mithra and Christianity borrowed from Mithraism. The reality it would appear is quite the opposite.

Q: Was Sol's birthday on December 25th?

A: Yes and no. Sol was imported into Rome in the early 200's AD. Sol was not originally associated with December 25th. There is no solid record that Sol was honored on December 25th before the year 363 AD. There is one earlier reference, but that it referred to Sol at all is highly disputed. It all comes down to what Filocalus meant in his famous Chronography by the phrase “Natalis Invicti.” Filocalus wrote his Chronography in 354 AD. It consisted of several different parts, one of which was a calendar and another a list of martyrs and the dates of their deaths. In the calendar, Filocalus marked December 25th with the words “Natalis Invicti.” Did he mean Sol Invictus or Jesus or just the sun in general? None of the other dates in the calendar were Christian holidays, so why would this one be? Yet in the section called Commemoration of the Martyrs, Filocalus specifically states that Jesus was born on December 25th. One document, two mentions of December 25th, one directly associated with Jesus. So maybe this one reference in the calendar is Christian? Most scholars do not think Filocalus' mention of Natalis Invicti in his calendar was in reference to a Christian holiday. Even so there is no strong reason to associate it with Sol. So when did Sol become associated with December 25th? No one knows for sure but it could very well be in 363 AD when Emperor Julian tried to return Rome to paganism. So we will say in this case the answer is yes and no. But when did Jesus become associated with the day? Decades earlier! Jesus was associated with December 25 before Sol worship was introduced to Rome.

Is Christmas a solstice holiday?

No. December 25th is not on the solstice. December 25th was not on the solstice when Jesus' birth became associated with that date. It could not have been the solstice prior to Julius' Caesar's calendar reforms. Caesar ordered December 25th to fall on the solstice in his reforms, but it only remained that way for a few short years. The Romans - after Julius Caesar reformed the calendar - did consider December 25th to be the solstice but only as a matter of tradition, not fact, and as a matter of astrology, not religion. Regardless of any of this, the Romans didn't celebrate the winter solstice until either 274 AD or 363 AD. There simply was no major Roman solstice holiday.

What of “Deis Natalis Solis Invicti”?

There is no such thing. The name is made up. There is no ancient day of that name. There is only Natalis Invicti, and that doesn't necessarily have anything in particular to do with Sol as we've explained elsewhere.

Did Emperor Aurelian set up Natalis Invicti to honor the sun on December 25th in 274 AD?

Unlikely. That there is something called Natalis Invicti on December 25th is true. What it honored or when it began is not known. It can be known that the day is not an older celebration, judging from the number of races ordered on that day. It could not have started any earlier than the mid-200's AD and no later than the mid-300s AD. Many speculate that Aurelian set up a birthday to the sun or dedicated a temple to the sun on this day. But that is mere conjecture not at all based in the best evidence. German scholar Hermann Usener appears to be where this claim begins. Steven Ernst Hijmans is currently a faculty member at the University of Alberta’s History and Classics department, and he disagrees with Usener. He wrote a book titled “Sol – the Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome”. In Volume I, chapter 9, page 588, he has this to say:
"...that there is no evidence that Aurelian instituted a celebration of Sol on that day. A feast day for Sol on December 25th is not mentioned until eighty years later..."

"In short, while the winter solstice on or around the 25th of December was well established in the Roman imperial calendar, there is no evidence that a religious celebration of Sol on that day antedated the celebration of Christmas, and none that indicates that Aurelian had a hand in its institution. One might think that celebrating the sun on the winter solstice is so self-evident that we need hardly doubt that such a festival had a long tradition, but what evidence we have actually belies that notion."
Hijmans lists the known festivals of Sol as August 8 and/or 9, August 28, October 19 and 22, and December 11. Aurelian is suspected in this affair because from 274 AD onward, games were held every four years to honor Sol. However, these games were not in December but on the Ludi Solis from October 19-22. Sol was not honored on any solstice or equinox. Nothing appears to tie Aurelian to December 25th.


Was Christmas stolen from pagans in ancient Rome?

No. Christmas is and always was a memorial of the birth of Jesus. Regardless of whatever else may or may not have happened on that day or where a decoration tradition may have come from. As we have demonstrated in our articles Christians calculated the birth date of Christmas from the March 25th date which was believed to be the date of His death, and they did so decades before there was a Roman holiday on December 25th, and a decade before Sol was first introduced in Rome. In the early-to-mid 200's AD there were no other deities said to have been born on December 25th. Not Mithra. Not Horus. None. There was no holiday on December 25th at that time to borrow from.

Another thing we need to consider here is that it doesn't make any sense that Christians in that time period were borrowing from pagans. At that formative time, Christians all but ignored paganism and were much more interested in Jewish thinking. The pagans had just spent decades trying to exterminate Christians. A main test given to identify Christians was to ask a person to put a pinch of incense in a bowl to Caesar. If they refused, then they were Christian and they were executed. Are a people who would die for refusing a pinch of incense going to be the people who adopt a pagan holiday? In Constantine's day, Christianity had finally become legal. By the end of the 300's, Emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the official religion of the empire. Paganism was then outlawed. Doesn't sound very conciliatory to me. Only at this time did pagans begin pouring into Christian churches. Yet Christians remained vigilant. In the 400's, Senator Andromachus petitioned Pope Gelasius I to reinstate the pagan festival of Lupercalia but the Pope refused, saying he had the authority to suppress the heathen observance and he would exercise his power to do so. He mentioned that if earlier Popes would have had the power, they would have done the same. Again, this doesn't sound conciliatory in the least. The Quinisext Ecumenical Council (aka “Council in Trullo”) in 692, in Canon 62, expressed its desire to banish heathen festivals in the East with these words, “The so-called Calends, and what are called Bota and Brumalia, and the full assembly which takes place on the first of March, we wish to be abolished from the life of the faithful.” It just doesn't make any sense that Christians were so busy absorbing the pagan holidays at a time when they were very much opposed to them and working to abolish them. Ask yourself where are all of the other Roman holidays? Gone. All gone. If the Christians were absorbing all of these days, then they should all still be here. Yet they are not.

Did Christmas come from Yule?

No. Yule comes from Germania. Christmas and Epiphany come from Rome before Christianity spread into Germany/Scandinavia. Yule was likely not a single day. It was a winter festival named after the two-month season in which it fell, but could have possibly lasted for several days and fell anywhere from November to January. Before the Romans invaded, the ancient Germans didn't notice equinoxes or solstices. (Even if they had, Yule still would not align with Christmas as December 25th was/is not the solstice except in Roman tradition.) Before Charlemagne, the German calendar was lunar and did not match up with the Roman solar calendar very at all. German years were counted as winter and summer (not summer and winter as we do now) therefore their year most likely began at the start of winter, likely in November. The year was divided into sixths, with several double-months in the year. German months followed the moon. They had no weeks prior to the invasions of the Romans, but observed moon phases. An ancient tomb found in the region was created to track the moon phases. German days began at night. There is little real reason whatsoever to suspect that the Germans observed the winter solstice or that the Yule celebration had anything whatsoever to do with the winter solstice. The most likely reason why Christmas was so important in Germania is not because of Yule at all but because Charlemagne, William the Conqueror, and others were crowned on Christmas day.

Was Yule on December 25th?

No. Not originally. You must understand the Germanic year was very different than the Roman, and therefore our own. For example, their year was divided into sixths, which could then be combined into thirds or halves. This led to only three recognized seasons (they did not have an Autumn) and several double-months. Holidays were often named after the months in which they fell, therefore the holiday of Yule could fall anywhere in the double-month of Yule. Originally, Yule fell anywhere from mid-November to mid-December in Germania, and mid-December to mid-January for the Anglo-Saxons. But that Yule was a solstice festival goes against what we understand of their reckoning of time.
"Modern research has tended to disprove the idea that the old Germans held a Yule feast at the winter solstice, and it is probable, as we shall see, that the specifically Teutonic Christmas customs come from a New Year and beginning-of-winter festival kept about the middle of November."
-Miles, Clement A., "Christmas in Ritual and Tradition", chapter 1 section IV, p.25
After Charlemagne that changed. There were many attempts by kings and emperors to Christianize the pagans of northern Europe. Charlemagne (768-814) was one. Charlemagne was a scourge of German paganism and fought bitterly to wipe it out. He changed their entire method of reckoning time, renamed months, altered the beginning and ending points of months, and otherwise “Romanized” their reckoning of time. Haakon I of Norway (934-961) is another. Haakon rearranged pagan holidays to make them more like Christian holidays, in order to make Christianity more acceptable to pagans in the hopes of converting them in time. He had to balance his desire to introduce Christianity to Norway with the political expediency necessary to unite the realm. The following is a quote from the Saga of Haakon the Good:
King Haakon was a good Christian when he came to Norway; but as the whole country was heathen, with much heathenish sacrifice, and as many great people, as well as the favor of the common people, were to be conciliated, he resolved to practice his Christianity in private. But he kept Sundays, and the Friday fasts, and some token of the greatest holy-days. He made a law that the festival of Yule should begin at the same time as Christian people held it, and that every man, under penalty, should brew a meal of malt into ale, and therewith keep the Yule holy as long as it lasted. Before him, the beginning of Yule, or the slaughter night, was the night of mid-winter, and Yule was kept for three days thereafter. It was his intent, as soon as he had set himself fast in the land, and had subjected the whole to his power, to introduce Christianity.”
The point of this quote is to show that an effort was made to bring the timing of Yule into line with Christmas in order to make Christianity more palatable to the pagan Norse.

Do the Twelve Days of Christmas come from Yule?

No. This can be demonstrated by a little math. Yule comes from the northern Europeans. St. Boniface was the first Christian missionary to establish Christian churches in many parts of Germania. He did this in the 700's AD. The Christianization of the Norse happened over the next 300-400 years. So, the northern Europeans were evangelized beginning in the 700's. When did the Twelve Days of Christmas start? Well before the 500's AD. The Second Council of Tours (566-567 AD), cannons xi and xvii, proclaimed the importance of the fasts of Advent and the days between Christmas and Epiphany (Twelve Days of Christmas). If the Council of Tours declared the sanctity of these practices in 567, we can be assured the practices long predated the declaration by the council. Therefore, the Twelve Days of Christmas originated in Christendom more than 200+ years before missionaries were sent to Germany and Scandinavia. Therefore, it is simply not possible that the Twelve Days of Christmas was adopted from Yule.


Doesn't the name "Yuletide" mean Christmas mixed with Yule?

No ...odd as that may sound. We need to know something about the Germans to understand why not. The Germans of that time had a peculiar habit of naming things after the month in which they fell. This is exactly the same thing that caused the Passover season to be named "Eastertide." The name Easter does not come from the name of any goddess. The name comes from the month in which the holiday fell - Ostarmonath. So it is with Christmas. In England, Christmas falls in the two months named Yule so it got the name Yuletide. Since Christianity gained the forefront in the region, the name Yuletide has not referred to Yule at all. (It would be difficult to demonstrate that it ever did.) For example, see the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (1912) article on "Yuletide." The article has almost nothing to do with Yule at all but is entirely about Christmas. Yule as it was used long ago often simply meant a time of celebrating. Or for another example, the earliest written record of a Yule Log in Britain is from the 1620-30s by a man named Robert Herrick, but he used the term "Christmas Log." It seems apparent that the terms Yule and Christmas were simply interchangeable, not because of the celebrations but because the English language is heavily influenced by the German. These German names made their way west into the British Isles and on into the Americas. When we hear the name Yuletide, our natural reaction is to think of Yule, not Christmas. This simply betrays our lack of familiarity with the peculiarities of the old German culture. So, the next time you hear the word Yule in the carol "Deck the Halls" try to resist the improper urge to assign a pagan connotation to the reference.

Aren't there many encyclopedias and sources that say Christmas is pagan origin?

Yes. This much is quite true. However, mind your source material! When we dig into the facts, we find that most of these encyclopedias and etc pull such claims from outdated information. Take for example the oft-quoted New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (1952) article on “Christmas.” Not only is the article vague and speculative, but the dates of Saturnalia and Brumalia are simply incorrect, and some of its information is contradicted by the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (1911) article on “Yuletide.” An encyclopedia can only tell us what current learning is. If future evidence proves current thinking wrong, the wrong information cannot be un-published from encyclopedias past. This is the danger of old encyclopedias (and old encyclopedias are a mainstay of anti-Christmas enthusiasts.) For example, most older encyclopedia articles on Christmas, including the New Catholic Encyclopedia, relied heavily on the research of Franz Cumont. Since the 1970s Franz Cumont's conclusions about Mithras have since been proven false. What do we do with those old encyclopedias? They are good for knowing where learning used to be but not good for knowing where learning currently is. If one wants accurate, reliable information, one should not go to old encyclopedias. If that isn't bad enough, I have seen several cases of people simply misquoting the encyclopedia altogether. When modern Armstrongist material perpetuates Herbert Armtrong's errors, I see no reason to believe they are interested in the truth at all.

Does Christmas come from Hanukkah?

Inconclusive. Some people think the dating of Christmas was influenced by the Jews keeping Hanukkah on the 25th of the month of Kislev, and Kislev usually falls in December. So when the Gentile Christians moved towards December as the date of Christ's birth (doing so based heavily on Jewish folklore), the 25th as a date may have been a natural choice as it already held significance. But whether or not this genuinely influenced the early Christians is inconclusive.

So how did Christmas start, then?

By mid-first century, heresies arose concerning the nature of Jesus' humanity. Gnostics were claiming that human flesh is evil; some were denying that Jesus was truly a human being. So a great interest arose in the church regarding the details of Jesus early life. The Gospels, especially John's, contained many details in answer to these heresies. But they never said precisely when Jesus was born. In the 100's AD, Christians began wondering when Jesus was born. Some in Egypt calculated Jesus' birth in May. Birthday celebrations arose by mid-second century. The Eastern churches eventually accepted January 6th as the birth date. This celebration is known as Epiphany. In about 198, Clement of Alexandria calculated Jesus' birth to late November. In 200-211 AD, Clement's student, Hippolytus, calculated Jesus' death to March 25th and then added 9 months. March 25th + 9 months = December 25th. To make this leap Hippolytus employed an old Jewish tradition that said important people die on the day they were conceived. Julius Africanus (160-240 AD) agreed with Hippolytus' calculation. As did John Chrysostom (349-407) and Augustine (354-430). The calculation of March 25th as the conception date it still celebrated to this day as the Feast of the Annunciation. For several years, the churches of the East preferred Epiphany over Christmas. Eventually it was settled that Christmas would be held in honor of the birth and Epiphany in honor of early events of Jesus' life such as the presentation at the temple and the visit of the Magi. The time between Christmas and Epiphany has come to be known as the Twelve Days of Christmas.


Here is a quick timeline of events to help put things in perspective:

This timeline only includes things that we at ABD have personally verified. However, there are growing reasons to believe that this timeline should start a few decades earlier. But until we get around to thoroughly investigating this new evidence, we will continue to start our timeline where we do.

·46 BC - Julius Caesar sets December 25 as the solstice. Due to errors in the calendar, the solstice moved 1 day every 130 years. By 90 AD, December 25 was no longer the solstice.
·150-190 AD - Christians begin celebrating Jesus' birth, eventually as Epiphany.
·190-200 AD - Clement of Alexandria calculates Jesus' birth to late in the year.
·200 AD - Tertullian sets Jesus' crucifixion on March 25.
·202-211 AD - Hippolytus uses the March 25 date to calculate Jesus’ birth as December 25.
·218 AD - Elagabalus becomes Emperor at age 14. Introduces Sol to Rome.
·220 AD - Elagabalus is killed. Sol worship is suppressed.
·221 AD - Sextus Julius Africanus agrees with December 25 date.
·243 AD - Pseudo-Cyprian concludes the birth and the death are linked (demonstrating the idea really was popular in Christian scholarly thinking in that time).
·245 AD - Origen takes a stand against birthdays.
·274 AD - Aurelian elevates Sol worship. Dies the next year.
·354 AD - The first mention of "Natalis Invicti" on December 25th. Same document mentions Jesus born on December 25.
·363 AD - Emperor Julian “the Apostate”, who despised Christianity and tried to replace Christianity with paganism, gives us the first explicit reference to a celebration of Sol on December 25th.

Why isn't Theophilus of Caesarea on your list?

That's a good question. There are several people who say that around 180 AD Theophilus of Caesarea  said something like, "We ought to celebrate the birth-day of our Lord on what day soever the 25th of December shall happen." That's a game changing quote. Why wouldn't I include it? The answer is because I can't confirm the source.

Every time I see the quote from Theophilus, the sources cited are the same, and it looks like this: (Magdeburgenses, Cent. 2. c. 6. Hospinian, de origen Festorum Christianorum). The Magdeburg Centuries is a scholarly work written by a group of eight Lutheran ecclesiastical scholars from Magdeburg Germany in the 1500s. It covers the first 13 centuries of church history, with the quote coming from century 2. This is a respected work in Protestantism. So it isn't like this work is without merit. But then there is Rudolph Hospinian, who was also a Lutheran scholar from the 1500s. But so far as I can tell was not one of the Centuriators. So why does one quote have two sources? Am I dealing with two separate works cited here and they say the same thing? I don't know. I can't find either of them in English. The real problem I have is that somewhere in here is supposedly a quote from Theophilus of Caesarea but I can't find the original. Well, something about that makes me suspicious. Until I can see the source they cite, and can verify on my own from Theophilus of Caeesaria, I won't include this quote.


Are all evergreens now forbidden by God?

No. Absolutely not. God delights in the use of trees and greenery in His worship.

(ISA. 41: 19) I will plant in the wilderness the cedar and the acacia tree, the myrtle and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the cypress tree and the pine and the box tree together
(ISA. 60: 13) The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, the cypress, the pine, and the box tree together, to beautify the place of My sanctuary; and I will make the place of My feet glorious.

Note -- Isaiah 60: 13 is AFTER Isaiah 44: 14-17! Verses about these same trees being used to craft pagan idols. In Isaiah 41, God plants the trees. In Isaiah 44, man uses them as false gods. In Isaiah 60, God redeems them for His worship. It's a picture of our own redemption. Very much a Christmas lesson.

Evergreen trees (Cyprus) were used to build and finish the Temple. Evergreen branches (myrtle, palm) were used to build booths during the Feast of Booths. The tree is innocent! It is the quite specific use of the tree that makes the difference. If used to worship God, He is pleased. If used to make an idol god, He is displeased. More accurately, it's the heart that makes the difference.

Did the Christmas Tree originate in worship of Semiramis and Nimrod?

No. As stated earlier, there is no evidence whatsoever for this. None. In fact, there is ample evidence to disprove it. Ancient Mesopotamia has no such tradition. Not only is there no evidence for the tradition in the first place, but there is no evidence linking the tradition to Germany in the 1500s. It is not sufficient to claim that a certain ancient people found symbolism in trees. It is also necessary to prove a link to the modern Christmas Tree. We can no more say the Christmas Tree comes from ancient Mesopotamia than we can say evergreen swags come from the Feast of Booths. As it stands, there is no similar ancient tradition and there is no clear link to the modern tradition. Until we see real evidence we must conclude all such tales are fabrications.


Did the Christmas Tree originate in worship of Isis and Osiris?

No. There is no evidence for this whatsoever. There was a tree involved in the myth of Osiris, but exactly what kind of tree is in dispute. Most candidates were not even evergreen. None were pine. Even so, the Egyptians did not decorate with trees in response to the myth. The details surrounding this myth have absolutely nothing in common with the Christmas Tree. They are unrelated. Once again, it is not enough to claim a tree existed in a myth ergo Christmas Tree. We have to prove that they truly correlate. These do not.

Did Egyptians decorate their homes with evergreen trees in December?

No. Egypt isn't Germany. Egypt doesn't have a “winter.” Ancient Egypt recognized three seasons which were tied to the flooding of the Nile. December is in the rainy season, when the world is at its greenest. There is no psychological reason why anyone would bring evergreen into their homes in Egypt in the rainy season.

Did the Christmas Tree originate in worship of Cybele and Attis?

No. There is no evidence for this whatsoever. The cult of Cybele would decorate a tree with violets at the Spring “Hilaria” festival. On March 22nd, the tree was then brought to the temple, the next day the tree was mourned for, then the next day the tree was given a funeral and sometimes even buried. This is a far cry from the Christmas Tree. These people did not bring trees into their homes to decorate. Correlation does not prove causality. There has to be an actual line of evidence leading from one place (Hilaria, Rome, 100 AD) to another place (Christmas, Germany, 1500's AD). What people seem to forget when they dig for things like this is that the Romans did not invent the Christmas Tree, the Germans did.

Did Virgil speak of decorating trees for the Bacchus festival?

Yes. Virgil said that they hung images of Bacchus on trees. "Thee with glad hymns, O Bacchus, and to thee Hang puppet-faces on tall pines to swing." And that is all that he said. The tradition apparently was one where people would tie ropes to trees and swing from them. However, to prevent from getting hurt they started tying images of Bacchus to the tree so he could hang there. I see no correlation between that and the Christmas tree. What's more, if this is the true origin, then it cannot be any of the other things people claim. Correlation does not prove causality. We require a lot more than merely what barely even seems to be surface similarity. That a tree was involved is insufficient. There were several instances of trees being decorated in ancient times. There also has to be an actual line of evidence leading from one place (Bacchus, Rome, 100 BC) to another place (Christmas, Germany, 1500's AD).


Did Romans decorate their homes with evergreen trees in December?

No. Rome had no such tradition of decorating with evergreen trees. One would think if the tradition were really unbroken to the time of Nimrod that somebody in the Mediterranean would observe it. Rome did have a tradition of decorating with evergreen swags for the New Year. Tertullian specifically stated that the Romans decorated with Laurels (a fragrant evergreen). It wasn't a pagan religious thing necessarily but more a national event, it was swags not trees, it was laurels not pine, and it was at New Year's not December 25th. Know that before Julius Caesar reformed the calendar, Roman New Year was March 1, not January 1 (technically, the New Year was moved to Jan 1 in 153 BC, but most people ignored that until Caesar's reforms). The claim implies that all of these things happened anciently on December 25th but that simply is not the case. The Christmas garlands of evergreen may have originated from this Roman practice as best as anyone can tell. But don't be too quick to condemn garlands. The Temple in Jerusalem was decorated in garlands of silver.


Does Jeremiah 10 condemn Christmas Trees?

No. Jeremiah 10 is neither for nor against Christmas Trees. Jeremiah 10 is not talking about Christmas Trees or any precursor to the Christmas Tree. There simply was no such tradition in that place at that time for Jeremiah to talk about, let alone one so pervasive that Jeremiah should actively warn against it. Jeremiah 10, just like Isaiah 40, talks about chopping down a tree then carving it into an idol to worship. Jeremiah and Isaiah speak about the useless futility of a hand-made god in comparison to the One Living God. What was Jeremiah talking about? Something much more like this, an Asherah:

Our article on Jeremiah 10 and Christmas Trees goes into far greater depth on this than we can do here. The entire issue here is that one must read Christmas Trees into Jeremiah 10. One never reads Christmas Trees out of Jeremiah 10. We prefer to let the Bible interpret the Bible.


Where did the Christmas Tree tradition come from, then?

The origin of Christmas Tree is not perfectly clear. The traditional story of Martin Luther is certainly just a legend. But the origin is without a doubt Germanic and from around Luther's time. Most likely, the Christmas Tree tradition comes from another peculiar German tradition. From the eleventh century to the fifteenth century, the medieval Germans had a tradition of putting on Biblically-themed plays. One of them, the “Paradise Play” which was held on the Feast of Adam and Eve on December 24th, had a prop called the “Paradise Tree.” This tree mimicked the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Apples, Communion wafers, and other items decorated the tree. By the time the plays were finally shut down, the people had already begun to copy the Paradise Tree in their own homes. The earliest known record of a decorated Christmas Tree is from the year 1521. The decorated tree caught on slowly and only began to gain real popularity in Germany in the late 1600's. This tradition made its way into England in 1800 when the German wife of King George III imported the tradition. This is generally recognized as when the tradition truly caught on.



Aren't some Christmas traditions from pagan origin?

Yes. That much is not in dispute. But not the majority by any means. A few - mistletoe, holly, swags of greenery - all of these definitely appear to have been borrowed from non-Christian sources. I say appear because the history is somewhat spotty. Some historians claim these items are not nearly as pagan as they are accused of being. For example, according to Ronald Hutton:
"...there seems to be no reference to the use of mistletoe in medieval or Tudor English Christmases" p.73
"The custom of kissing under a bunch of foliage appears to have commenced in the late eighteenth century..." p.75
Hutton, Ronald. Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. ch.4. Oxford Press, 2001.
So, even though mistletoe was without a doubt part of ancient Druidic ritual, its presence in recent Christmas is so far removed from the extinction of the Druids that it is highly improbable that one is a continuation of the other. Even the way the Druids used mistletoe bears no resemblance to its use at Christmas. So, what at first appears to be pagan isn't so simple on closer inspection.

Let's take a moment to understand the people who did this. In a culture where most people are uneducated and illiterate, images and symbols hold a far greater place than what we now may be used to. These items were useful as symbols to teach about Jesus. Such things as these were all the learning tools many people had. If holly could be used to teach about the crown of thorns and the blood, then why not use it? Because it was also used by pagans? That is hardly a Biblical objection!

Where does Santa Claus come from?

Santa Claus is a complicated mix of three previous characters: the real Saint Nicholas the Bishop of Myra, the German Protestant Christkindl (Christ Child), and the English Protestant Father Christmas. When Bishop Nicholas died on December 6, 343, he became so beloved that he is arguably the most popular saint in both Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. It was inevitable that legends would develop. His generosity led to the custom of gift giving on his feast day, December 6. It was not until much later that Christmas became the day of gift giving. When Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation, he ended the veneration of saints and their feast days. He moved the gift giving tradition to Christmas Eve and created a new gift bringer, the Christkindl. When King Henry VIII of England split from the Catholic Church, he also ended veneration of saints, moved gift giving to Christmas Eve, and created a new gift bringer, Father Christmas. Henry borrowed the appearance of the Roman god Saturn for this new character. This is the same appearance of the Ghost of Christmas Present we read about in Charles Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol." Note that Father Christmas is not Saturn; only the outward appearance was borrowed. This appearance, it should be understood, has since been almost entirely replaced by modern Santa imagery.

In America's great melting pot is where these three figures merged into a new one. In 1809, Washington Irving (of Headless Horseman fame) wrote a history of the Dutch in New York. In it, he shared a poem about Saint Nicholas (although Protestant, the Dutch loved St. Nicholas and he was the patron saint of New York). This St. Nicholas wore Dutch hat and trunk clothes, smoked a pipe, laid his finger on his nose, and drove a flying wagon. This poem was the inspiration for Clement Moore's infamous "A Visit From Saint Nicholas" (aka. Twas The Night Before Christmas) in 1823. It was a hit! This was a game changer for Santa. Moore's St. Nick relied on popular Dutch imagery in his day - his clothes were either red or green fur (you can see the Dutch is blending with the English), he rode in a sleigh pulled by reindeer. 
For the first time we have the jolly, plump Santa. And due to the growing popularity of stoves and stove pipes over open hearths and chimneys, Santa was now much smaller with miniature sleigh and reindeer, as he had to fit into the small stove pipes. The image changed again in 1862 when Thomas Nast (creator of the Republican Elephant and Democrat Mule) popularized Santa in red fur. The North Pole was introduced at this time; no doubt as a slight to the Confederate south. Until then, Saint Nicholas was often depicted as living in New Jerusalem or some other Heavenly estate. Modern Santa Claus had arrived - just in time to almost die out because now even the stove pipes had been replaced by radiators and duct heating. The last step for our modern Santa was in the 1930s when Haddon Sundblom (creator of the Quaker Oats man) created the iconic image of the modern Santa Claus for a Coca Cola ad campaign. This ad campaign single-handedly saved Santa. The rest is history.

Did Santa Claus evolve from Odin?

No. There are many claims that Santa evolved from Odin, but that is not the case. Santa Claus is entirely a product of Christianity, and is very recent. Because of vague similarities between Saturn and Odin, and because of Henry VIII's Father Christmas being patterned on Saturn's appearance, some people have concluded that Santa evolved from Odin. Granted this is logical, but it is incorrect. The Father Christmas / Weihnachtsmann characters, with their traditional appearances borrowed from Saturn, have all been completely replaced by the modern Santa Claus appearance that developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Does God condemn Christmas traditions?

No. We find that people condemn these things ...despite what is in the Bible or Christian practice. Most of the traditions associated with modern Christmas can be found in the Bible. In addition to novel holidays (EST. 9: 20-28; JON. 10: 22-23), and gift-giving (EST. 9: 22), God also lists the use of statues in His worship (EXO. 25: 17-19), garland, bells and fruit (EXO. 28: 33-34; 39: 25-26; II COR. 3: 16), lights, flowers and ornamentation (EXO. 25: 31-37), greenery (LEV. 23: 40; NEH. 8: 13-15), and other things I could list but won't. It doesn't appear to matter if things are in the Bible. Some people just don't seem to care. Sadly, it seems all some people want is to maintain the narrative of condemnation. I get email and comments from people regularly who stretch beyond limit to condemn Christmas. One even claimed if there were any pagan holidays in December or the neighboring months then Christmas was pagan. By that standard, all things whatsoever are pagan!


Is "once pagan always pagan" a valid, Biblical position to take?

Unlikely. God Himself used many things that were previously pagan in order to teach us about Him. Temples, a "holy of holies", priests, days of rest, feast days, harvest festivals, circumcision, alters, sacrifices, arks (ie. Ark of the Covenant), a mercy seat, prayers, music, incense, sacred documents, tithes, and many more things were all of pagan employ long before Moses wrote the Torah. Why the very Ark of the Covenant itself is patterned directly from the Egyptian palanquin. There are a great many other things I could list here, but I will spare you. We can see that "once pagan always pagan" is not something we get from the Bible. The phrase isn't in there; the implication isn't in there. Now consider the many inane claims that even Jesus himself came from pagan myths and you will see that pagan similarities do exist, and that some people take this line of thinking to a wild extreme. So we are left with some choices: 1) throw out the entire day because of a handful of incidentals, 2) enjoy the day but abstain from the particular traditions that make us uncomfortable, 3) enjoy the day and all of the traditions in their new, redeemed meanings.

Now consider I Corinthians 8, where Paul attempts to sooth the conscience of people who make the claim we address in this question, regarding "once pagan always pagan." Some people know Christmas decorations are nothing, while others are terribly afraid of these things defiling their conscience. Neither group is condemned by Paul, but both are commanded to live in peace and patience with one another. Paul goes through it again in I Corinthians 10: 23-33, and again in Romans 14: 5-13. Therefore, it is crystal clear that calling people "pagan" or "Nimrod worshipers" or whatever epithet is thrown around - from either side - is against the law of love and contrary to the Bible both in word and in Spirit.

Doesn't Deuteronomy 12:2-4 condemn anything of pagan origin?

No. That is an attempt to proof-text a few verses and craft a new context for them.

(DEU: 12: 2-4) 2 You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. 3 And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place. 4 You shall not worship the Lord your God with such things.

In verses 2-4 God says to destroy the places where the heathen nations worshiped their gods. He did not want to be worshiped that way. In verses 5 to the end of the chapter, God speaks of a place where He will be worshiped. The focus in this chapter is the place. But why did God do this? In the Old Covenant, people and place are important. The point of the matter is to keep Israel separate and prevent them from turning to idolatry. God chose the people and land of Israel for Himself. The rest was given over to idolatry. Other laws were enacted for this very same reason - to keep Israel separate - such as meats laws, circumcision, and marriage prohibitions. This chapter has nothing to do with "once pagan always pagan." For evidence, consider God commands Israel to destroy temples and altars and images ... and then He turns right around and commands them to build a temple with altars and images [Yes, images! (EXO. 25: 18-22)]. If this chapter was about once pagan always pagan, God would not have done this. Once pagan always pagan does not factor in. Yet when the time came, Jesus obsoleted this chapter about place, explaining to the Samaritan woman that true worship would not be this way any longer (JON. 4: 20-24).

Doesn't Deuteronomy 12: 29-32 condemn making new Christian traditions?

No. That is an attempt to proof-text a few verses and craft a new context for them.

(DEU. 12: 29-31) 29 “When the Lord your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, 30 take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ 31 You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.

This particular topic is far more complicated than we can cover here, but let's touch on some basics. First, these verses must be taken in the context of the chapter (also see the section about verses 2-4 above) which this claim completely ignores. The chapter is about Israel displacing the heathen nations in Palestine, it is about keeping Israel separate and distinct, it is regarding the practices of the abrogated Old Covenant, and it is directly about abominable practices that would draw Israel away from God. Second, neither the Jews nor the overwhelming Christian community in their combined history have taken these verses as a ban on new traditions. Third, the idea of banning novel traditions does not come from this chapter, it is read into this chapter. People who proof-text this selection of verses have already come to their conclusion regarding traditions and are looking for some form of justification. Fourth, the people who make stands on this proof-texted selection of verses are generally violating it themselves. Not a single one of them keep the tenets of the Old Covenant as written; legion are the excuses why not. All of them have their own novelties, quite a few borrowed from other religious groups. And lastly, this objection assumes Christmas in general comes from paganism, which we have and many others have demonstrated it does not.


Do Matthew 15: 9 and Mark 7: 7 condemn Christmas and its traditions?

No. That is an attempt to proof-text a few verses and craft a new context for them.

(MAT. 15: 9) And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.
(MAR. 7: 7-8) And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ 8 For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men —the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.”

What is the context of these verses? Jesus was accused of violating the law, so He turned the tables and accused the religious establishment in Israel of putting minutiae of law over and above the weightier matters of the law - love and the value of human life. Turns out it was not He but their legalism that had actually nullified the law - to the point where a person could give money to the temple and justify ignoring their elderly parents and thus violating the commandment to honor father and mother. Jesus was telling the Pharisees that their hands and cups were clean but their hearts were filthy. Jesus ultimately undoes the very point of the people who look to these proof-texted verses for aid against Christmas tradition. Nothing from the outside defiles a person, but what comes from inside can.

(MAR. 7: 14-16) 14 When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand: 15 There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. 16 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Christmas trees and holly cannot defile you, but a heart of false accusation and condemnation against your brother can. In the words of Jacob Marley:
"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Can I accidentally commit idolatry?

No. I am shocked by how often I have been asked this over the years. It is impossible to accidentally commit idolatry. Idolatry cannot come from outside of you. Idolatry must come from inside, from the heart. Idolatry is not a thing or a thoughtless act (such as stooping down to pick up a gift from under a tree). Idolatry is an act of worship. Learn from the story of Naaman the Syrian who was healed of his leprocy by Elisha the prophet (II KIN. 5: 1-19). Naaman was obligated to kneel to the idol at the temple of Rimmon but his heart did not worship there (v. 18), and God pardoned him (v. 19).
My heart goes out to people who seriously ask questions such as this. The fear; the uncertainty in their Lord to love and keep them! False teachers have done this to people. But no incidental act is more powerful than God. No trinket can undo the victory Jesus gained on the cross. Listen to Him:

(JON. 10: 27-30) 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. 30 I and My Father are one.


Was Jesus born on December 25th?

No one knows. He could have been born on this day. He could have been born on another day. There is no definite answer. There are plenty of reasons both for and against. Some people say that astronomy proves Jesus was born on or near December 25th. The evidence is interesting, but ultimately inconclusive. There is too much guessing. December 25 is a serious option simply because of the Course of Abijah. The priests served twice, so the other Abijah date would place the nativity in late June. You end up with either Jesus Christ or John the Baptist being born at Christmas time. A third alternative is that Jesus was born on or very close to the Feast of Trumpets. That could even make Jesus' birthday September 11th. Imagine the implications of that!

The long and the short of the research here at As Bereans Did is not that December 25 is the correct date, but that it is not a pagan date. It can be innocent of paganism yet be incorrect. If it's right it's right, if it's not it's not, but it isn't borrowed from paganism. That's all we here have ever claimed.


Doesn't the Course of Abijah rule out December 25th?

No. There are so very many interpretations for when the Course of Abijah served that it is nearly impossible to tell which is the correct one. The courses also served twice per year. Which one was Luke referring to – the first or the second? I can't tell you how many websites I've read that say the course of Abijah ran in (pick a month .. let's go with June here) therefore Jesus was born in September. Not so fast! The timing of the Course of Abijah was one of the earliest supporting proofs given in defense of December 25th. John Chrysostom was known to have used it. Therefore it cannot preclude a December 25th date. There are ways to calculate the courses of Abijah that very much support a December 25th birth. Therefore, the course of Abijah can only support December 25th or be neutral about December 25th, it cannot rule December 25th out.


Was Jesus born during the Feast of Tabernacles?

Unlikely. No one knows, but with Tabernacles there is valid reason to conclude the likeliest answer is no. If the time of year was Tabernacles, or Passover or Pentecost for that matter, every male should have been in Jerusalem. Luke doesn't say a thing about Tabernacles at all. Luke tells us why Joseph was in Bethlehem – he was there for the census. All people went to their homes for the census (LUK. 2: 3). If all people were in their home towns then many people were not in Jerusalem. Hence why the Inn in Bethlehem was full. Joseph's ancestral home was Bethlehem. That is why he and others were there. Joseph should not have stayed in Bethlehem for the Feast, nor either should the other people who had filled the Inn before he got there, nor either should the people whose stable Joseph stayed in, nor either should the shepherds who were in the fields. None of them should have been in Bethlehem. They would have missed the Feast contrary to the law. If this were at Tabernacles then those people would be building Tabernacles in and around Jerusalem. To put Jesus' birth at Tabernacles is too problematic to be workable.

Do shepherds outside at night mean Jesus' birth could not be in the winter?

No. Bethlehem produced sheep for the sacrifices in Jerusalem. They had shepherds outside all year round. December is the rainy season, a prime time for feeding in the arid Israeli climate. That time period wasn't far from the peak of the Roman Warm Period. Their climate was warmer than we see it today.


Does Christmas come from Saturnalia?

No. Saturnalia was on December 17th. When Caesar reformed the calendar, he added two days to December. This moved Saturnalia to the 19th. Now, people celebrated some on the 17th and others the 19th. After this the celebration lasted three days, from the 17th to the 19th. Over time the celebration expanded from the 17th to the 23rd, but was then limited to five days from the 17th to the 21st. Saturnalia was never on the 24th or 25th of December. The traditions of Saturnalia, the imagery, the dates – none of these are Christmas. The traditions of Saturnalia were merged into Brumalia. (Brumalia was in November.)
"The origin of Christmas should not be sought in the Saturnalia..."
-Martindale, C.C. (1908). Christmas. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved December, 2015 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03724b.htm
Much has been said about the “great debauchery” of Saturnalia, in an attempt to associate Christmas with a very stylized picture of Roman paganism. This attempt to poison the well is desperate ignorance. People thoughtlessly conclude since some recent Christmas traditions resemble ancient Saturnalia traditions, ancient Christmas did too. Truth is, the original Christmas was a very somber event. People went to church, then people went home. Hence the name “Mass of Christ.” Modern people would likely be quite disappointed with it.

Does Christmas come from Brumalia?

No. The Bruma was on November 24th. In the Byzantine east, around the sixth century (hundreds of years after Christmas began), Bruma grew into a multi-day festival from November 24th to December 17th.


Does Christmas come from Natalis Invicti?

No, but this is a tough one. Although Natalis Invicti and Christmas were on December 25th, the December 25th date of Jesus' birth was calculated decades before Natalis Invicti was created. The December 25th calculation of Jesus' birth comes not from any winter holiday but from the March 25th calculation of Jesus' conception. The phrase Natalis Invicti comes from a calendar written in 354 AD by a Christian named Filocalus. The calendar does not directly say who Natalis Invicti honored. Here comes the catch. The calendar does mention Jesus being born on December 25th. Two mentions of December 25 - one clearly about Jesus, and one completely ambiguous. That is why we say it's a tough one. So, is Natalis Invicti an early name for Christmas? We can't say for sure, but it doesn't make sense that it would be. Some people speculate that Natalis Invicti honored the sun god Sol, but this is just speculation. There is nothing tying December 25th to Sol until decades later when Emperor Julius the Apostate wrote a poem, Ode to King Helios, in 362 AD. Julius was attempting to return Rome to paganism. The most important takeaway from this is that Christians concluded Jesus was born on December 25 before there was a Natalis Invicti, and even before was first introduced to Rome.

Does Christmas come from Zagmuk?

No. Zagmuk is part of the Persian New Year festival, and that occurs in the Spring.

What are the Twelve Days of Christmas?

They are the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany.


Did the English outlaw Christmas for a time?

Yes. King Charles I oppressed the Puritans, but they rose up in a civil war and took power in England. The English government was heavily influenced by Puritans under their new leader, Oliver Cromwell. The Puritans were pious anti-Catholics who despised anything overly festive and anything Catholic. Since Christmas was both festive and came to us through the Catholics, they hated it. The name was changed from Christ-mass to Christ-tide (to further remove Catholic elements). At first, people were still allowed to close shops and attend special church services. Christmas was ordered to be a day of fasting. Government officials were allowed to raid homes and confiscate goods and food upon the mere suspicion that people were celebrating Christmas privately in their homes. Suspicion that a family was eating a dinner that might be more fancy or larger than what is expected on a normal day was grounds for such a raid. It wasn't just Christmas that they banned, but most holidays. Eventually shops were ordered to remain open and the day commanded to be a normal day without special church services or other festivities.
The question we ask is – is this really the example people should follow?

Did the early colonialists in America outlaw Christmas?

Yes, but not all early colonialists. It was the Puritans of New England that outlawed Christmas. The Puritans in America were in most things exactly like their counterparts in England – except they were even more radical. These are the people who fled to America partly because they were oppressed by Charles I and partly because they didn't think the anti-Catholic reformations of Puritans in England went far enough. The Puritans in America banned Christmas. No enjoyment was allowed to be sought, not even the most mundane. Playing card games on the day brought penalties. Not the best example to follow, if you ask us.

Was Christmas shunned by early Americans?

Yes, but not all Americans. It was mainly the Puritans of New England that shunned Christmas. Some, like the Dutch of New York, very much loved Christmas. Some anti-Christmas groups will tell you a great deal about the Puritans outlawing Christmas, but will not type a single word about the Dutch who brought us Santa Claus. I have heard a very big deal made of the first Capitol Christmas Tree being purchased in 1889, but that ignores the fact that Christmas Trees weren't popular until the latter 1800s, and ignores the fact that the first Christmas Party in the Whitehouse was in 1800. So yes, some early Americans shunned Christmas but not all.



Isn't Christmas the worst time of the year for crime?

No. According to modern statistics, crime rates are not higher in winter but lowest in winter. It only makes sense that people who turn to crime for gain are too lazy to face the elements. They would rather prey on their fellow man in the comfort of good weather.

Doesn't the suicide rate skyrocket at Christmas?

No. Suicide rates are not higher in winter but spring.


Should I observe Christmas if I don't know the exact right day of Jesus' birth?

That's up to you. But let's examine whether this is actually a consistent standard to go by or a convenient excuse to use. We don't know the exact right day for many things. Take for example the decades-long argument in Armstrongism over when Pentecost should fall. There are several interpretations on how to calculate Pentecost. Would you say it is right to dump Pentecost? I doubt it. Or when is the exact right day for Passover? Armstrongism follows the modern Jewish calendar to determine Passover. Problem is, the modern Jewish calendar is a far cry different from the ancient Jewish calendar. They are not the same by any means. So we don't really know when the exact correct date of Passover should be. Would you advocate no longer celebrating Passover, then? I doubt it. Now think about this, if we don't know when Passover should be then we don't really know when any of the other Holy Days should be. What's even more, IF the Lunar Sabbath theory is correct, then people haven't been observing the weekly Sabbath on the right day. So I ask again, is it a consistent rule or a convenient excuse to reject something because we don't know the exact right day it should fall on? Appears to me to be an excuse.

Should I observe Christmas if it wasn't among the early feasts of the church?

That's up to you. Christmas was not among the earliest feasts, this much is true. The early feasts of the church were basically ordered around the weekly and annual gatherings to celebrate the death and resurrection and various fasts, and were different from area to area. The church was in its infancy and many things were not fleshed out at that point. Many people have an honest and well-meaning desire to "return to original Christianity" but most of those people have little real understanding of exactly what that means or all it entails. We recommend using your best judgment in faith and much prayerful consideration. But if your concern is that the church cannot make new annual feasts, please see the next point.

Should I observe Christmas if we aren't directly commanded in the Bible to celebrate Christmas?

That's up to you to decide. But let's look further into that. The Bible nowhere says to avoid holidays it does not command. This idea didn't come from the Bible. In fact the Bible shows the opposite. The Jews made up holidays and God not only recorded it in the Bible but personally took part in those days. Hanukkah is not commanded, but Jesus participated (JON. 10: 22). Or take Purim for example. Esther 9: 27 tells us, “The Jews established and imposed it upon themselves and their descendants and all who would join them, that without fail they should celebrate these two days every year, according to the written instructions and according to the prescribed time...”.  
Now look what else they did:

(EST. 9: 22) "as the days on which the Jews had rest from their enemies, as the month which was turned from sorrow to joy for them, and from mourning to a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and joy, of sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor."

Sounds an awful lot like Christmas, doesn't it?
So what can we see here? It is not at all a sin to create a holiday to honor God. It is Biblical to do so. God apparently even participates.

No. What an odd thing it would be if the incarnation - which is necessary for the death - somehow distracted from the death. Was the incarnation of our Lord not a miraculous work of God, foretold by prophets, attended by angels, accompanied by signs (the star, the presence of John the Baptist, the visitations both to Mary and Joseph, born of a virgin, the death of the innocents), rich with prophetic imagery (the manger prophesying Jesus as true food from Heaven, the prophetic words of Elizabeth calling Mary the Mother of her Lord, the gifts of the Magi predicting Jesus' death), and did it not fulfill the specific timing as prophesied in Daniel?? The birth was no small event! Some have claimed that the birth distracts from the God's plan for mankind. The birth and the death are linked; they are mutually dependent. If the birth somehow distracts, then what doesn't? If the birth distracts, then so does the Old Testament - especially the Exodus - and so does His childhood, and so does His 3-year ministry, and all the Christian era after His resurrection, and all other things besides. OR! We can see all of these things as parts in a single story, all necessary, all linked, all wonderful, all bringing glory to God. Nothing distracts because it's all part and parcel of the glorious story that God has been authoring from the very beginning.

Doesn't the Bible say not to 'learn the way of the Heathen'?

Yes, the Bible says that. But what was the actual context of what the Bible means? Jeremiah was talking about learning the God-rejecting ways of Gentile pagan idolatry and the worship of false gods. “Learn not the way of the heathen” in this context begs the question that Christmas was heathen to begin with. The entire thrust of our research here at ABD leads us to conclude that Christmas and Christmas Trees were never pagan to begin with. Paganism must be assumed contrary to the evidence. Then, from that false starting point, all forms of accusation are heaped on top of these things. All of this in wanton abandonment of the fact that Christmas is meant to honor Jesus Christ, not some false god.

If it's Jesus' birthday, why give gifts to everyone but Him?

And how exactly do you propose we give Him gifts? His address is certainly not listed and everything belongs to Him already. Or, we could give to Him the way He told us to - by giving to others.

(MAT. 25: 40, 45) 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’

Now, if anyone gives you grief about this response, perhaps you might ask them how they give money to God by cutting a check to churches.

Should I observe Christmas since it has become so commercial?

That's up to you to decide. It has become quite commercial lately. Not because of Christians, mind you. It has become commercial despite Christians. I suggest rather than abandoning it we instead should reclaim it. Observe Christmas but turn it back into the holy memorial of our Savior's birth.

Here are some resources to aid you in finding the truth about Christmas:

Material on ABD:

Falsely Accused? Christmas Trees and Germanic Paganism

Falsely Accused? Christmas Trees Were Christian Theater Props

Falsely Accused? Catholics Rejected Trees as Too Protestant?

Falsely Accused? Nazi Christmas Propaganda Lives On

Falsely Accused? You Decide

On Nimrod And Christmas Trees part 1

On Nimrod And Christmas Trees part 2

On Nimrod And Christmas Trees part 3

Nimrod's Birthday Was January 6?

Jeremiah 10 and Christmas Trees

A Dialogue On Jeremiah 10

The Plain Truth About December 25th

The Plain Truth About December 25th (full study)

The Quotes Before Christmas

Crazy About Christmas

Established And Imposed

Material off-site from ABD:

Vance Stinson, of the Church of God International (CGI) [an Armstrongist splinter church] gives a message affirming much of what we've said here for years. "The Word Became Flesh" on YouTube.

Ralph Woodrow’s book “Christmas Reconsidered”
Dr. Michael Heiser's podcast "What Day Was Jesus Born?" [ep. 138] on NakedBibilePoscast.com

"Calculating Christmas" on Touchstonemag.com

"Why December 25th" on Redstate.com

"Christmas and Paganism"  [ep.148] on ChristIsTheCure.org

Star of Bethlehem documentary, on YouTube.com

"Why December 25th Is Christmas" on Patheos.com

"Pagan Origins of Christmas" on Pious Fabrications.com

"Christmas Day – Was Jesus Really Born On December 25th" on Hebrew4christians.com

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas, on Bible.org

Why December 25, on Catholic.com [I don't see any COG quoting this one.]

"Hebrew Roots Movement, the Law and Christmas", on Throwbackchristianity.com

"Christmas: Pagan Festival or Christian Celebration?" on AnsweringIslam.org

"Christmas In Rome Through The Ages" on Reginamag.com

"Spurious Correlations" on tylervigen.com

"St Nicholas of Myra: A Guide to the Real Santa Claus" on arthuriana.co.uk

"Is Christmas Pagan? No!" on FreeRepublic.com

"Is Christmas Pagan?" on Stand To Reason

"Have Yourself a Very Pagan Christmas! (not)" on RightReason.org

"The Pagan Origin of Christmas?" on Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries (OODE)

"Horus Ruins Christmas" on Lutheran Satire

"Was Christ Actually Born on December 25" on NCRegister.com

"Was Christ Born on December 25th? Yes!" By Dr. Taylor Marshall on YouTube



Anonymous said...

well this blog is a big crock of crap. not a bit of truth in any of it.
read the book the two babylons by alexander hyslop.

xHWA said...

Thanks for thoroughly reading and prayerfully considering our blog, Anonymous.

I recommend you read our many articles on the subject of Alexander Hislop. His book was thoroughly debunked over 100 years ago. Or, better yet, read Ralph Woodrow's book "The Babylon Connection?"

God bless!

zyldar said...

You say "Matthew and Mark go into great detail regarding the circumstances of Jesus' birth."

Don't you mean Matthew and Luke? Mark's gospel begins with the ministry of John the Baptist.

xHWA said...


Yes. Those two mentions were supposed to be Luke. That was an early mistake that I made that I thought I'd corrected. Obviously not. Well, it's corrected now!

Thanks for catching it.


ericsjca said...

Some of the FAQ answers have links to more details, some do not.
Could you please kindly add links to details on all the answers?

By the way, I'm always sending people here around this time of year, but what if something happened to you and this blog? Is all this magnificently compiled research mirrored somewhere else?

ericsjca said...

I thought it would be fun to deliver an Advent calendar day by day of the most popular FAQs.
But what would be the top choices for such a calendar?

xHWA said...

Thanks for reading our blog and thanks for the comments, Eric Matthews. Your compliments are much appreciated. My apologies for not moderating them sooner. For whatever reason, Blogger failed to notify me that we had comments.

Some of the FAQ answers do not have links, that is a good observation. I considered fixing that some time ago but never did. I guess when you write the blog you just know where things are. No one ever mentioned that they wanted it so I figured it wasn't worth doing. I will try to do this for you as I get some time.

None of this is mirrored anywhere else. I make backups, so we are good in case of a disaster. But if Blogger ever shuts down, or shuts us down, we could be in trouble.

xHWA said...

Oh. You had two comments. And one was time sensitive. Now I feel bad. Please accept my apologies.

I don't know which to say are the most important. In my experience it changes. I go with what is the most popular that season. But I'd say that Christmas is not Saturnalia is a big one, the Horus one is big, the Jeremiah 10 one. Those are probably my top 3 choices if I had to choose. I am personally fond of the brief timeline. I think it's easier to understand when I see things in a list like that. Puts it in order and perspective.

Well, I do hope your Advent Calendar worked out. It's a fabulous idea. I mean that. And if you ever need anything feel free to email me. God bless!

ericsjca said...

This year I'm doing a personal Advent share on facebook, mostly featuring your blog.

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZKg6N10OBo
2. Christmas Trees https://www.facebook.com/OneRule/posts/10221428858496792
3. Sorry, this was too funny to me: https://babylonbee.com/news/fun-new-greta-on-the-shelf-will-track-your-climate-sins
4. The timeline from http://asbereansdid.blogspot.com/2015/12/christmas-faq.html

Twenty more to go...