Why December 25th?
December 21 04
As we talked about last week, Jesus was not born on December 25th and, in fact, there is clear evidence that He was probably born during the Feast of Tabernacles instead. So, why do we celebrate His birth on December 25th?
Most of you are probably aware that it was the Roman Emperor Constantine who instituted the first celebrations of Jesus' birth. In 312, Constantine had a "spiritual encounter" after which he began to incorporate Cristos (the Christ) into his life. For at least 150 years prior to that, Christians in the Empire were celebrating the Saturnalia festival right alongside their pagan friends, although some Christians rightfully abstained. When Constantine began following Cristos he did not altogether stop following the Roman gods; yet, he seemed to have a special affection for Cristos. Seeing that Christians were already participating in Saturnalia, Constantine added Cristos to the mix.
Saturnalia was the Roman winter solstice festival, a time of revelry and paying homage to the sun and the sun god, Saturn. Saturnalia was itself a mixture of even more ancient Babylonian and Egyptian festivals. The winter solstice occurs on December 21st and has been celebrated virtually since Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden. Winter solstice festivals celebrate the death and rebirth of the sun god. Many Christians in the Roman Empire were sacrificing to pagan gods and godesses, so the Church elders decided to incorporate the pagan festivals into the Church in hopes of attracting, or keeping, believers.
In 321, Constantine declared that the "venerable day of the sun" (Sunday) would be the sabbath, and he aligned the birth of Cristos with the festival of Natalis Solis Invicti (the birth of the unconquered sun) on December 25th. The 25th of December had for centuries been the day on which pagans celebrated the rebirth of the sun god, so Constantine simply added our Jesus to the festival of Saturn.
There is a ton of information out there on the ancient origins of the sun gods and the "virgin" godesses who gave birth to sons who then died and were resurrected. Very briefly, then, I will say that Satan knew from the Garden that his days were numbered, that the Seed of the woman would crush him, that there would be a virgin birth. Right away, Satan went to work on a counterfeit virgin birth story. It began with Cain and then down to Nimrod. The story was told that Nimrod had a son through a virgin birth. After Nimrod was killed, Semiramis supposedly had a son named Tammuz who was the reappearance of Nimrod. Tammuz, legend has it, died and was resurrected. Semiramis was worshiped as the Queen of Heaven. As time and places change, as we walk through history in different parts of the world, the names change but the story remains intact. Different cultures add some things but the story remains.
Throughout history, in every culture, the death and rebirth of the sun god has been celebrated. As the sun reaches its furthest point from the earth at the winter solstice it appears to "die" and then, of course, it begins to come back to life as the days continue. Saturnalia would begin on the 17th of December and continue to the 25th. Houses were decorated with evergreens and people exchanged gifts, especially candles. In ancient times, human sacrifice was a part of the celebration. The sun god was appeased with the sacrifice and we see that today in the burning of the Yule log. The Hebrew UL means "infant." It was believed that the ashes of the sacrifice would come back to life in the evergreen tree. December 21st (the winter solstice) is celebrated today as the Wiccan Yule Day and those of the Shinto faith also celebrate.
In ancient times, and still today, sacrifices were often associated with trees where sacrifices were made. Trees were decorated with silver and gold balls that represented the sun and the moon. The winter solstice in Egypt was particularly celebrated by illuminating the outside of dwellings. Lamps were lit and burned all night to guide Osiris, their sun god, home from the dead. Candles were used, in general, from the festival of the dead (Halloween) through the winter solstice celebrations with the belief that dead souls would revisit their homes and could be guided by the lights. In 701, Pope Sergius saw that the citizens were jealous of the Celtic "Festival of Lights," so he instituted Candlemas for the purification of the virgin after childbirth. As time went on and Christians continued to participate in the festival, they further "Christianized" it with the twelve days of Christmas, referring to the extended festival that incorporated Epiphany (the visitation of the wise men in some cultures; the supposed day of Jesus' baptism in other cultures) on January 6th.
It was not until the Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries that these pagan excesses in the Church were suppressed, at least somewhat. However, out of Christendom in the 18th and 19th centuries, other stories were formulated, particularly the Santa Claus story. But the Puritans opposed the Christmas feast and in 1647 decreed that all such festivals must not be kept. John Knox put a stop to the festival in Scotland. Christmas was not officially a holiday in America until the 19th century.
So, you say, "I know all that; or, at least, I knew some of it. But I'm not worshiping Saturn or any other pagan god. I'm celebrating the birth of Jesus." As true as that may be, what do the tree and it's trimmings, the candlelight services, the holly and ivy, and the gift exchange have to do with the birth of Jesus? Nothing. In the last century or so, some creative people came up with christianized meanings for such things as the Twelve Days of Christmas, and the tree, and candy canes. That doesn't make the festival "Christian," especially in light of what we talked about in last week's segment. God purposely came to earth as a baby during the Feast of Tabernacles. If we associate Jesus instead with the winter solstice, not only are we associating His birth with those of the pagan gods, but we are missing the real teaching from the word of God that He so much wants us to see.
The apostle Paul was clear that he was not judging those who observed one day over another, but he did say that those who insisted on partaking of such festivals were weak and did not have much knowledge of God (Romans 14:1-2; 1 Corinthians 8:7). Paul and the other apostles, however, also condemned idol worship. Paul also said that believers are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14-17). In 2 Corinthians 6:17 - 7:1, Paul says, "Therefore, 'Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.' Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."
The Lord instituted seven feasts for the Israelites. Now, I know we aren't the Israelites and those feasts proclaim the truth of Christ to the Jews until He comes again. But God has blinded Israel for the most part and has made known the truth to us who would believe. Those festivals that God instituted give us a picture of Yeshua. A festival that points to pagan gods does not honor our God. I do not believe that ignorance of a believer deserves condemnation. Nor do I believe that the sincere heart of a believer will be judged harshly. Yet, if knowledge of God is made known, the believer must now be responsible. I am not here to tell you to observe December 25th or not, but I am here to remind you of the wonderful blessings found in the true birth story of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, the one who tabernacled among us.
Think about it: nowhere in Scripture are we instructed to remember Jesus' birth, but only His death and resurrection. If His birth was so important, why did the early Church never celebrate it? Nowhere in history do we see Christians observing the birth of Christ, but we do see Christians observing pagan festivals that were then "christianized." We often say that "Jesus is the reason for the season," yet the Bible indicates that the season of Jesus' birth was autumn, not winter.
In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul says not to judge one another concerning days and feasts. What he was referring to were the Jews who had come to Christ but insisted that they must keep the levitical feasts. Paul would not criticize those who kept the feasts out of reverence for God, for they realized that the feasts were merely symbolic, and not required. Paul would also say that those who did not keep the feasts should not judge those who did. Paul's teaching, however, does not say that those who keep the pagan feasts are merely exercising liberty. Paul's teaching does not say that those who keep the pagan feasts are merely misunderstanding the requirements of their faith. Indeed, Paul said that we are not to do what the pagans do. Here's the difference: When the Jewish Christians observed the Jewish feasts, they knew the feasts pointed to Jesus, but when Christians observed the pagan feasts, Paul corrected them. While he would say that eating something that had been sacrificed to idols is of no concern to us, he would never say that it's okay to partake of the worship of idols or of the fleshly pleasures associated with those pagan festivals. While God's festivals point to Yeshua, our modern Christmas symbols point to pagan gods. While it may not be a sin to accept a gift or eat a meal with unbelievers on December 25th, it would be sinful to esteem the gifts and food higher than Christ. It would be sinful to get carried away to the point of partaking of pagan behaviors in order to fit in with a group of unbelievers.
How wonderful it would be to celebrate Christmas during the Feast of Tabernacles. Can you imagine the witness that would be as we were able to go through the Scriptures and put the whole story together? The story that says not only did Jesus come as a baby but He came at the appointed time? Can you imagine how powerful that would be to be able to show people that the Bible is perfect? That not only were the prophecies surrounding Jesus' birth fulfilled exactly but that His birth was also a fulfillment of a Festival that God had ordained some 1400 years earlier?
That's powerful stuff, but we walk right past it. We are told about it but then we scoff. We want so desperately to hold on to tradition. Is that idolatry? We cling to December 25th, but December 25th is obscured in pagan symbolism. How ironic it is that after all these thousands of years of winter solstice celebrations we are now fighting to have the right to use pagan symbols to depict the Christmas story. We believe the stories about the Catholic Boniface in the eighth century using the evergreen tree to symbolize eternal life, yet we fail to go back earlier than that to see that the evergreen had been used as a pagan symbol for at least 4000 years before Boniface was even born.