The Bible Answers Short Questions From Our Readers
Plain Truth Staff
Should a Christian observe Christmas? How did Christmas originate? O. M., London, England
Look at the FACTS of history. Did you know that in Great Britain, for example, "the 25th of December was a festival long before the conversion to Christianity? (See the Encyclopedia Britannica.) That in the Roman Empire, Christmas was first proclaimed and officially celebrated as a Church festival by Pope Liberius in 354 A.D. more than 350 years after the birth of Jesus Christ? Says the Catholic Encyclopedia, "Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the church. Irenaeus and Tertullian [writers who lived around 200 A.D.] omit it from their lists of feasts..." (Vol. III, p. 724). "The observance of Christmas," comments a Protestant encyclopedia, "is not of Divine appointment, nor is it of New Testament origin... The fathers of the first three centuries do not speak of any special observance of the nativity." (Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, McClintock and Strong, Vol. III, p. 276.) But, adds the Catholic Encyclopedia, "by the time of Jerome and Augustine [mid-fourth century], the December feast is established" (Vol. III, p. 275). These are the facts of history! Contrary to popular belief, Christmas does not commemorate the birth date of Jesus Christ. The early Christian church never kept it. Then how did Christmas come to be considered a "Christian Holiday"? Turn back the pages of history for a moment. Here's what happened. For more than 250 years after the birth of Christ, pagan Rome indulged in the worship of many gods. The primary Roman deity during this period, however, was Jupiter. His festival fell in September of each year. But in 273 A.D. something extra-ordinary occurred. Jupiter was dethroned and another chief deity became the supreme god of pagan Rome. It was the SUN-god Bel or Baal. The emperor responsible for introducing this new form of pagan worship into the Roman Empire was Aurelian. Here is what history tells us about him. "Emperor Aurelian made the Babylonian Baal chief god of the empire, under the name of 'Sol Invictus [the unconquerable sun], in 273 A.D. HIS FESTIVAL WAS ON DECEMBER 25." (Grosse Brockhaus, Vol. III, p. 1.) Notice in particular that this heathen Sun-festival was celebrated on December 25, the very same day on which a professing "Christian" world now celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. With the introduction of the December feast began a new era in the religion of pagan Rome. Instead of keeping a September festival to honour Jupiter, the Roman masses now kept a December 25 festival to honour the new SUN-god, Baal. But why did the pagan Romans worship the sun on that particular day December 25? "In the Julian calendar [a pagan Roman calendar] the twenty-fifth of December was reckoned the winter solstice, and it was regarded as the nativity of the sun, because the sun begins to lengthen and the power of the sun to increase from that turning point of the year." (Gold", Bough, Frazer, p. 358, abridged edition.) That turning point of the year was a time of great jubilation. a time of idolatrous, heathen merry-making. The masses enjoyed it. Often it would degenerate into a drunken debauchery with unrestrained sensual pleasures. By introducing such a festival in Rome, Emperor Aurelian gave the pleasure-mad Romans something to look forward to each season. Once introduced, this pagan sun-worship festival caught on like wildfire. But what circumstances led the Roman head of state to depose Jupiter and replace him with the sun-god Baal? Here is what happened! During his life, Aurelian had become interested in the religions of the East of Persia and Babylon. At the same time many Romans considered Jupiter as old-fashioned and consequently were not fervently behind the old State religion. This influenced the emperor to look for another religion a religion which would be more attractive and more appealing to the Roman populace. Aurelian then made a journey to the East to the areas of Babylon and Syria. He chose these areas because a vast number of the Romans had come from there. During the centuries preceding his reign, a massive East-to-West movement of peoples had taken place. Babylonians, Syrians, Samaritans and Persians flocked into Rome as slaves or immigrants. "By far the larger part perhaps ninety percent had Oriental blood in their veins," says Professor Frank (see "American Historical Review," July 1916). The people comprising these new races who had left their Eastern lands and made Italy and Rome their new homeland were Babylonian sun-worshipers, And they brought their brand of religion with them. "Immigrants from the East, and Romans, especially soldiers who had resided there, brought the religion of the sun with them" (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. VIII, p. 59). Consequently, when the Roman Emperor Aurelian ousted Jupiter and replaced his worship with that of the sun god, the masses in Rome and Italy welcomed this new and yet familiar form of worship. It was an easy task to install this new Babylonian sun worship within the Roman Empire. And that, as history records, is exactly what took place! Aurelian, returning from his trip to the East, decreed that Jupiter be ousted and Baal-worship instituted. "Romans" were no longer to observe a September feast to Jupiter. Rather, they were commanded to celebrate a December 25.