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Many ancient nations created their own midwinter festivals to honour the sun and other gods around the time of the winter solstice. These pagan celebrations later morphed into Christmas, but biblical scholars overwhelmingly admit that Jesus was born nowhere near Dec. 25.
Christmas began long before the birth of Jesus Christ. Alexander Hislop's book The Two Babylons proves from many historical sources the holiday preceded Christ by at least 2,000 years (1957, pp. 97-98). A nativity celebration for pagan gods was observed near the winter solstice in both Syria and Egypt. Later, some 400 years before Christ, the Mithraic religion, which worshipped the Persian sun god Mithras, provided the foundation for the Christmas celebration.
The noted British anthropologist, historian and scholar Sir James Frazer wrote, “There can be no doubt that the Mithraic religion proved a formidable rival to Christianity ... An instructive relic of the long struggle is preserved in our festival of Christmas, which the Church seems to have borrowed directly from its heathen rival. In the Julian calendar the twenty-fifth of December was reckoned the winter solstice, and it was regarded as the Nativity [birthday] of the Sun...The Egyptians even represented the new-born sun by the image of an infant... " (The Golden Bough, 1993, p. 358).
The early Catholic theologian and writer Tertullian (A.D. 155-230) described how Christian converts were ignoring the biblical Sabbath day and annual festivals and flocking to the pagan Roman winter festivals, such as the Saturnalia, which honoured the god Saturn: “ ... the Saturnalia, the feasts of January, the Brumalia and Matronalia, are now frequented; gifts are carried to and fro, new year's day presents are made with din, and sports and banquets are celebrated with uproar" (Tertullian, On Idolatry, chap. 14, quoted by Hislop, p. 93).
Man, Myth & Magic is an encyclopedia on mythology and religion, uncovering the origins of major Western religious holidays and exploring their histories. It documents when Christmas gained official recognition and when the name was substituted for the ancient heathen midwinter festival. "Once given a Christian basis the festival became fully established in Europe with many of its pagan elements undisturbed. It was only in the 4th century that 25 December was officially decreed to be the birthday of Christ, and it was another 500 years [the ninth century] before the term Midwinter Feast was abandoned in favour of the word Christmas" (Man, Myth & Magic, Richard Cavendish, ed., 1995, Vol. 3, p. 480).
James Hastings, Bible scholar, writer and editor of The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, confirms most churches absorbed and tolerated heathen customs: "Most of the Christmas customs now prevailing in Europe, or recorded from former times, are not genuine Christian customs, but heathen customs which have been absorbed or tolerated by the Church" (1910, Vol. 3, p. 608).
This change occurred despite God's direct warning against adopting pagan worship customs to honour Him (Deuteronomy 12:29-32). The fact is, Jesus neither observed Christmas nor taught others to do so. But He did speak out strongly against the traditions of men: "And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Mark 7:7).
After Jesus Christ returns to earth God's annual festivals will once more be observed. The book of Zechariah reveals it will take a few years before all nations learn to do this with the autumn Feast of Tabernacles being a case in point. Zechariah 14 addresses the second coming of Christ, concluding with one particularly revealing insight into the observance of the autumn Feast of Tabernacles: "And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King [Jesus Christ], the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles" (Zechariah 14:16).
Christmas does not represent Christ and its observance should be avoided. God’s annual festivals and Holy Days, revealing God's wonderful plan and purpose for humankind were observed in both the Old and New Testaments, and Christians who understand God still commands us to observe these Holy Days continue to celebrate them today.
The Good News Magazine