Christmas is a season of great celebration, overwhelming
commercial inundation and much religious controversy.
Let’s start with the obvious.
No mention is made of December 25 or Christmas in the Bible.
In fact, no indication is given of Jesus’ exact date of birth.
Nor is there any suggestion that 1st century Christians
celebrated Jesus’ birth.
In fact, early Christians kept Jewish feasts and holy days,
especially Passover, fulfilled by Yeshua the Lamb of God.
The closest incident to celebrating the ‘birth’ of Jesus in the
Bible is the prophetic declarations made by Simeon and Anna
when Jesus was brought into the temple for dedication on his
eighth day. (Luke 2:22-38)
So how did we get Christmas December 25?
Long before Christmas was established, Europeans celebrated
the winter solstice (Dec. 21), when light once more pushed back
the encroaching darkness of winter, bringing with it the promise
of spring and new life.
Under Roman rule, these celebrations centered around Saturnalia—
a ‘Mardi Gras’ type revelry in honor of Saturn, the Roman god of
agriculture. Wild partying and feasting began on Dec. 17 and
continued through to a New Year’s bash in the first week of January.
In the midst of these festivities was December 25, the most
sacred day of the year for many Roman soldiers, government
officials & upper class citizens. It was the birthday of Mithra,
god of the unconquerable sun.
First Century Christians paid little mind to the pagan festivities.
They were on a mission: “Let the whole house of Israel know beyond
doubt that God has made him both Lord and Messiah – this Yeshua,
whom you executed on a stake!” (1)
Severe persecution of Christians only intensified their passion.
Their message spread like wild-fire throughout the Roman world.
A familiar cry arose everywhere Christians went, “These men who have
turned the world upside down have come here also … saying there is
another king, Jesus.” (2)
Christians infiltrated every nation and ethnic group, challenging
every religion and culture. Meeting in house churches, Christians
celebrated their new-found freedom, joy and love in Christ so
different from anything they had ever known. Converts readily
left their paganism to embrace the Kingdom of God.
As Constantine became Emperor of Rome in the 4th century, he
accomplished what no other emperor before could. He changed
the face and structure of Christianity thereby curbing its power.
Declaring Christianity the state religion, Constantine outlawed
house churches replacing them with state-owned ‘church’
buildings and state-appointed clergy. He forbade the celebration
of Passover, replacing it with the celebration of Easter. Rather
than outlaw pagan customs, his church leaders absorbed them.
December 25th was designated as the ‘Feast of the Nativity’,
celebrating the birth of Jesus. After morning Mass, however,
celebrants joined friends and neighbors in Saturnalia festivities.
By the eighth century, Christmas spread throughout Europe.
December 25th Christmas had become a common-ground celebration
for pagans and Christians.
Does this mean we Christians should not celebrate Christmas?
Let’s hold judgment until we will see some
interesting twists and turns in the history of ‘Christmas’ recounted
in part 2 of this exposé .
(1) Acts 2:36 (CJB)
(2) Acts 17:6 (ESV)
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