HUNDREDS of millions of people around the world are looking forward to the Christmas holiday season. Families will soon be busy putting up Christmas decorations. Holly, mistletoe and evergreen will deck the house. And just the right tree will be chosen and decorated with tinsel and ornaments.
Christmas is traditionally the time when presents are exchanged. A time to sing carols, admire colorful twinkling lights, to roast chestnuts in the fireplace and burn the Yule log. It's when family and friends get together for a sumptuous Christmas dinner.
Yet, paradoxically, Christmas is also the time of year when suicides, family fights, depression and drunkenness reach a peak!
Stop and think for a moment. Very few have ever reflected on why they believe what they do-why they follow the customs they do, or where those customs came from. Having been born into this world with its religious customs, most people naturally accept the customs and beliefs of society without question.
Have you ever wondered how and when Christmas originated? Does it really celebrate the birthday of Christ? Was Jesus really born December 25? Did the original apostles, whom Jesus taught personally, celebrate his birthday?
Let's begin this eye-opening study and discover the surprising answers!
Non-Christian Origin of Christmas 1. What does the Bible reveal about weather and farming conditions surrounding the time of year when Christ was born? Luke 2:6-8, especially verse 8.
COMMENT: Many encyclopedias and other historical sources point out that Christ's birth could not have occurred in the month of December. The shepherds in Judea always brought their flocks in from the mountainsides and fields and corralled them no later than mid-October! They did this to protect the sheep and themselves from the cold rains that followed. The Bible itself shows that winter in Judea is the rainy season (Song of Solomon 2:11; Ezra 10:9, 13).
Encyclopedias and other reference works all show that the exact date of Christ's birth is unknown. If Jesus Christ had intended for us to celebrate his birthday, then he would have commanded that it be done and revealed the exact date in the Bible. But he did not.
There is no biblical record of Christ, his apostles or his Church having observed his birthday. Rather, the apostle Paul commanded true Christians to commemorate the date of his death (I Cor. 11:24-26).
Since Jesus was not even born in December, what about the various customs and traditions associated with Christmas? Have we assumed that the customs of this most-observed religious holiday stem from Christian origins?
Christmas customs and practices date long before Christ! According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "Christmas customs are an evolution from times that long antedate the Christian period-a descent from seasonal, pagan, religious and national practices, hedged about with legend and tradition" (15th edition, article, "Christmas").
The Encyclopedia Americana, 1944 edition, further explains: "It was, according to many authorities, not celebrated in the first centuries of the Christian church, as the Christian usage in general was to celebrate the death of remarkable persons rather than their birth.... A feast was established in memory of this event [Christ's birth] in the fourth century. In the fifth century the Western Church ordered it to 'be celebrated forever on the day of the old Roman feast of the birth of Sol [the sun], as no certain knowledge of the day of Christ's birth existed."
These authoritative reference works further state that many familiar Christmas trappings such as the holly wreath, mistletoe and the Yule log are relics of pre-Christian times!
2. A common custom during the Christmas holidays is to cut down an evergreen tree and decorate it. Does the prophet Jeremiah make reference to such a practice occurring during his time- hundreds of years before Christ? Jer. 10:2-5. Whose custom was this? Verses 2-3.
COMMENT: Have you ever read a clearer description of a Christmas tree? The Bible clearly shows that it was an ancient custom to cut down trees, decorate them and put them in their homes! God warned his people not to learn that way or follow it.
Does Christmas Honor Christ? One of the traditional customs of Christmas is the buying and exchanging of gifts. Many believe they are following an example set by the wise men who presented gifts to the infant Jesus.
1. Why did the wise men present gifts to Christ? Matt. 2:1-11.
COMMENT: The wise men were not starting a new Christian custom. They were not exchanging gifts with friends to honor Christ's birthday! Rather, they were following an ancient Eastern custom of presenting gifts to a king when they came into his presence. They were approaching Christ, the "King of the Jews" (verse 2, Revised Authorized Version throughout).
These gifts obviously were not given on Christ's birthday because the wise men came a number of days, or even weeks, after Christ was born. Notice also that unlike today they did not exchange gifts among themselves, but "presented gifts to Him" (verse 11).
2. Many who understand that Christmas evolved from pagan customs originally honoring the sun god will often say that they observe it to "honor" Christ. But what does God say about following the customs and traditions of the heathen? Deut. 12:29-31.
COMMENT: God plainly warns his people not to adopt the practices of pagan nations. God will not accept this kind of worship, even though intended in his honor!
3. Did Christ say it is possible to worship him and still do it all in vain? Matt. 15:9. What did he tell his disciples about following man's ideas on how to worship God? Mark 7:7-9.
COMMENT: God does not want people trying to honor Christ by following traditions and customs devised by men. Notice again God's command, "You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way" (Deut. 12:31).
4. Those who celebrate Christmas end up breaking many (if not all) of God's commandments. Which commandments are these? Read Exodus 20:1-17.
COMMENT: Christ's name is used in vain because he certainly never put his name on Christmas; lying is involved by telling children about Santa Claus; and coveting material things seems to be the true "spirit" of the holiday. And more murder, suicide, drunkenness and a host of other sins are committed during the Christmas season than at any other. time of the year!
The whole accent of the Christmas season is on get, contrary to Jesus' statement, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). The question most often asked at this time of year seems to be "What did you get?"-not "What did you give?" Probably no other day stresses getting, especially to children, as much as Christmas.
God's Commanded Days Even though many realize Christmas is pagan in origin, some feel it is rather unfair to condemn the "positive aspects" of Christmas unless there were something far better to take its place. Happily, there is!
1. What days of the year does God command his people to observe and keep holy? Read Leviticus 23:1-36.
2. Is there great rejoicing associated with God's annual feast days? Deut. 16:13-15. And is there evidence that Jesus kept these very same days? Luke 2:41-43; John 7:1-2, 14, 37.
COMMENT: These and other scriptures show that Jesus Christ and the Church he founded kept God's yearly festivals. These joyous occasions teach and remind his people how he is accomplishing his great master plan for mankind. It is through the knowledge of these days that one can understand what man is, the purpose of life and all about the soon-coming kingdom of God on earth!
If you would like to know more about the true origins of Christmas and related customs than could be presented in this short study be sure to read our free booklet The Plain Truth About Christmas. It is free! And don't forget to visit our free Bible Correspondence Course for more information on Christmas and many other topics.