A Brief History of Christmas
But because both celebrations fall on Dec. 25, the two are constantly confused. Religious Christians condemn taking "the Christ out of Christmas," while First Amendment absolutists see a threat to the separation of church and state in every poinsettia on public property and school dramatization of "A Christmas Carol."
A little history can clear things up.
The Christmas of parties and presents is far older than the Nativity. Most ancient cultures celebrated the winter solstice, when the sun reaches its lowest point and begins to climb once more in the sky. In ancient Rome, this festival was called the Saturnalia and ran from Dec. 17 to Dec. 24. During that week, no work was done, and the time was spent in parties, games, gift giving and decorating the houses with evergreens. (Sound familiar?) It was, needless to say, a very popular holiday.
In its earliest days, Christianity did not celebrate the Nativity at all. Only two of the four Gospels even mention it. Instead, the Church calendar was centered on Easter, still by far the most important day in the Christian year. The Last Supper was a Seder, celebrating Passover, which falls on the day of the full moon in the first month of spring in the Hebrew calendar. So in A.D. 325, the Council of Nicea decided that Easter should fall on the Sunday following the first full moon of spring. That's why Easter and its associated days, such as Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, are "moveable feasts," moving about the calendar at the whim of the moon.
It is a mark of how late Christmas came to the Christian calendar that it is not a moveable feast, but a fixed one, determined by the solar calendar established by Julius Caesar and still in use today (although slightly tweaked in the 16th century).
By the time of the Council of Nicea, the Christian Church was making converts by the thousands and, in hopes of still more converts, in 354 Pope Liberius decided to add the Nativity to the church calendar. He also decided to celebrate it on Dec. 25. It was, frankly, a marketing ploy with a little political savvy thrown in.
History does not tell us exactly when in the year Christ was born, but according to the Gospel of St. Luke, "shepherds were abiding in the field and keeping watch over their flocks by night." This would imply a date in the spring or summer when the flocks were up in the hills and needed to be guarded. In winter they were kept safely in corrals.
So Dec. 25 must have been chosen for other reasons. It is hard to escape the idea that by making Christmas fall immediately after the Saturnalia, the Pope invited converts to still enjoy the fun and games of the ancient holiday and just call it Christmas. Also, Dec. 25 was the day of the sun god, Sol Invictus, associated with the emperor. By using that date, the church tied itself to the imperial system.
By the high Middle Ages, Christmas was a rowdy, bawdy time, often inside the church as well as outside it. In France, many parishes celebrated the Feast of the Ass, supposedly honoring the donkey that had brought Mary to Bethlehem. Donkeys were brought into the church and the mass ended with priests and parishioners alike making donkey noises. In the so-called Feast of Fools, the lower clergy would elect a "bishop of fools" to temporarily run the diocese and make fun of church ceremonial and discipline. With this sort of thing going on inside the church to celebrate the Nativity, one can easily imagine the drunken and sexual revelries going on outside it to celebrate what was in all but name the Saturnalia.
With the Reformation, Protestants tried to rid the church of practices unknown in its earliest days and get back to Christian roots. Most Protestant sects abolished priestly celibacy (and often the priesthood itself), the cult of the Virgin Mary, relics, confession and . . . Christmas.
In the English-speaking world, Christmas was abolished in Scotland in 1563 and in England after the Puritans took power in the 1640s. It returned with the Restoration in 1660, but the celebrations never regained their medieval and Elizabethan abandon.
There was still no Christmas in Puritan New England, where Dec. 25 was just another working day. In the South, where the Church of England predominated, Christmas was celebrated as in England. In the middle colonies, matters were mixed. In polyglot New York, the Dutch Reformed Church did not celebrate Christmas. The Anglicans and Catholics did.
It was New York and its early 19th century literary establishment that created the modern American form of the old Saturnalia. It was a much more family -- and especially child -- centered holiday than the community-wide celebrations of earlier times.
St. Nicolas is the patron saint of New York (the first church built in the city was named for him), and Washington Irving wrote in his "Diedrich Knickerbocker's History of New York" how Sinterklaes, soon anglicized to Santa Claus, rode through the sky in a horse and wagon and went down chimneys to deliver presents to children.
The writer George Pintard added the idea that only good children got presents, and a book dating to 1821 changed the horse and wagon to reindeer and sleigh. Clement Clarke Moore in 1823 made the number of reindeer eight and gave them their names. Moore's famous poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas," is entirely secular. It is about "visions of sugar plums" with nary a wise man or a Christ child in sight. In 1828, the American Ambassador Joel Roberts Poinsett, brought the poinsettia back from Mexico. It became associated with Christmas because that's the time of year when it blooms.
In the 1840s, Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol," which does not even mention the religious holiday (the word church appears in the story just twice, in passing, the word Nativity never). Prince Albert introduced the German custom of the Christmas tree to the English-speaking world.
In the 1860s, the great American cartoonist Thomas Nast set the modern image of Santa Claus as a jolly, bearded fat man in a fur-trimmed cap. (The color red became standard only in the 20th century, thanks to Coca-Cola ads showing Santa Claus that way.)
Merchants began to emphasize Christmas, decorating stores and pushing the idea of Christmas presents for reasons having nothing whatever to do with religion, except, perhaps, the worship of mammon.
With the increased mobility provided by railroads and increasing immigration from Europe, people who celebrated Christmas began settling near those who did not. It was not long before the children of the latter began putting pressure on their parents to celebrate Christmas as well. "The O'Reilly kids down the street are getting presents, why aren't we?!" is not an argument parents have much defense against.
By the middle of the 19th century, most Protestant churches were, once again, celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday. The reason, again, had more to do with marketing than theology: They were afraid of losing congregants to other Christmas-celebrating denominations.
In 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law a bill making the secular Christmas a civil holiday because its celebration had become universal in this country. It is now celebrated in countries all over the world, including many where Christians are few, such as Japan.
So for those worried about the First Amendment, there's a very easy way to distinguish between the two Christmases. If it isn't mentioned in the Gospels of Luke and Mark, then it is not part of the Christian holiday. Or we could just change the name of the secular holiday back to what it was 2000 years ago.
Merry Saturnalia, everyone!
Mr. Gordon is the author of "An Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power" (HarperCollins, 2004).
CHRISTMAS AND PAGANISM* 2009by Tamar Yonah
Holidays are given to us to in order to remind us who we are. We remember the history and the importance of the day and use it to develop and mold us into better people so we can serve G-d better.
Note: This post is a re-post from 2007. I want to remind everyone that this piece is not meant to hurt anyone's feelings or put anyone down. This is merely to enable people to male an educated decision as to what they want to teach their children and bring into their home.
Growing up in the West, where people are steeped in a xmas atmosphere with trees, lights, mistletoe, santas and manger scene decorations, I decided to do some research to find out more about the symbols of Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, some of the holiday decorations are very beautiful to the eye, but I believe that one should know the truth behind these symbols in order for them to be true to themselves and serve G-d the best they can. We should not be deceived by 'cosmetics' or decorations, if behind these symbols lies darkness and leads people away from truth.
And so, below are some questions posted on the internet asked by people wanting to know more about their own holiday, and some of the answers posted by their own fellow holiday celebrators.
Why do we celebrate Christmas in December when Jesus was born in March or even around the feast Of Tabernacles (sukkot) in the Fall? Why did the Catholic Church choose December 25 for the birth date of jesus?
"It was chosen in order to compete with the pagan winter solstice festivals. It was not chosen because it is the correct historical date…"
Is this in your house?
"The idea to celebrate Christmas on December 25 apparently originated in the 4th century. The Catholic Church wanted to eclipse the festivities of a rival pagan religion that threatened Christianity's existence. The Romans celebrated the birthday of their sun god, Mithras during this time of year. Although it was not popular, or even proper, to celebrate people's birthdays in those times, church leaders decided that in order to compete with the pagan celebration they would themselves order a festival in celebration of the birth of (their god)….
Xmas was slow to catch on in America. The early colonists considered it a pagan ritual. The celebration of xmas was even banned by law in Massachusetts in colonial days."
Question: Why do "Christians" use a Pagan symbol, like the Christmas tree, in their celebration of the birth of Jesus?
Answer: "Because way back in the day, the Catholic church started to absorb Pagan symbols in order to make conversion less of a drastic step for Pagans."
"Pagan and Christian families would bring a live tree into the home so the wood spirits would have a place to keep warm during the cold winter months. Bells were hung in the limbs so you could tell when a spirit was present. Food and treats were hung on the branches for the spirits to eat and a five-pointed star, the pentagram, symbol of the five elements, was placed atop the tree. The colors of the season, red and green, also are of Pagan origin, as is the custom of exchanging gifts."
Christians, you believe in the Tanach, the Bible. G-d specifically commands:
Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. 3 For the customs of the people [are] vain: for [one] cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. 4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
Cutting down a tree to place in the house.
This is what the Pagans did, and you are carrying this on.
Question: Why do they allow a plethora of other Pagan symbols?
"Mistletoe and Holly: Two hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the Druids used mistletoe to celebrate the coming of winter. They believed the plant had special healing powers. Scandinavians also thought of mistletoe as a plant of peace and harmony. They associated mistletoe with their goddess of love, Frigga. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe probably derived from this belief. The early church banned the use of mistletoe in Christmascelebrations because of its pagan origins."
Elves are a pagan idea from Scandinavian countries.
Santa never existed. He is based on the original St. Nicklaus who lived in what is now modern-day Turkey back in the 3rd or 4th century.
Answer from another Christian site:
"Christmas is a Pagan holiday - "Christmas" is not in the Bible, and we are not commanded to celebrate the Messiah's birth in all of Scripture. The Messiah was not born on or near December 25. He was born sometime in late September (most likely Sept. 29) or early October during the Feast of Tabernacles, but no one can be sure of the exact day. If the Almighty Sovereign Creator wanted us to celebrate the day He would have told us in Lev. 23.
"December 25th was celebrated by the Pagan sun-worshippers of Mithraism as the "birthday of the invincible sun," because on that day the sun began its return to the northern skies "the winter solstice." And so, the sun and the Son, have become a deliberate Pagan mix. Tammuz, the Babylonian Pagan sun deity, was also the first counterfeit savior… December 25th was also the date of the Pagan Brumalia (winter) festival in Rome. It was preceded by the Saturnalia festival Dec. 17-24 - in honor of the Roman god Saturn, as a period of unrestrained merriment in celebration of the winter solstice. The Saturnalia and Brumalia festivals were so popular among the heathen and so deeply entrenched in their customs, that rather than attempt to reform the Pagan populous the Roman Church, the Emperor Constantine, chose instead to absorb their festivities into the Constantine Roman Catholic Church."
Friends, is this what you wish to perpetuate? Do you wish to continue pagan ways in today's world?
Paganism: It's the fastest-growing religion in Australia, according to the 2001 census. Sydney pagan worshippers learns about spells, covens and the importance of being "skyclad"( being clad/covered only by the sky, Ritual nakedness performing their rituals naked).
Moonstruck: high priest David Garland celebrates the summer solstice with other pagans on Rotaract Hill. Photo: Tamara Dean
So, to my brothers and sisters on this planet who celebrate xmas, this is not an attack, but an honest query to you: What’s the deal here? What are you bringing into your homes? What rituals are you really observing? Will you embrace a holiday that brings paganism into your homes? Should you not go back to the word of G-d as given to Moses on Mt. Sinai? Should you not embrace instead the 7 laws of Noah as commanded by G-d to all Gentiles, whom He created and loves and wants to be closer to Him? To read about what your obligations are as a Gentile, you must RETURN to the source.
Wishing you truth and a closer relationship with the One Creator of the Universe. May you remove darkness from the world and let in the light!
Eric Phelps, historian, writes:
On the other hand, the cursed pope is teaching the following, below .He has the nerve to appose Xmas to Chanukah and basically say that Chanukah has been superseded by Xtianity - he will say this regarding anything in Judaism , it is called "replacement theology" -. Meanwhile, apparently even according to Xtian sources, his claims are bogus. See above.
Dec 23....the Pope in his address to the faithful at today’s general audience catechesis dedicated to the origin and the significance of this feast...
...Hippolytus of Rome, in his Commentaries on the Book of Daniel written around 204, has been the first to “mention clearly” that Jesus was born on 25 December”, said the Pope. “For many exegetes, the coincidence of this date with the feast of the Dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, instituted by Judah Maccabeus in 164 BC, means that “with Jesus, who appears as the light of God in the night, the consecration of the temple, the coming of God into this world, is truly achieved”.
See also these two very interesting videos about "Santa", the reindeer, etc.
Warning: this video above has Xmas music that won't stop until you get off, that is why I did not embed it on this post; but the concept is interesting and worth watching.
Contributed by its original author, Mike dF.