What do evergreen trees, reindeer, mistletoe and yule logs have to do with the birth of Jesus Christ? And was He really born on Dec. 25? You need to discover the real history of Christmas!
Already the decorations are going up, the parties are being planned, the presents are being bought. Soon people around the world will again be celebrating Christmas.
More than any other religious holiday, Christmas is associated with the name of Christ. The word Christmas is short for “Christ’s mass,” instituted by the Catholic Church and continued by many Protestant churches.
Yet, curiously, the Bible records nothing about the apostles or early Church observing Christmas. History shows that it wasn’t celebrated until hundreds of years after Jesus Christ lived on earth, and long after the apostles had passed from the scene.
Even more curious are the surprising circumstances under which Christmas came to be observed, and the many aspects of today’s Christmas celebrations—including the date, Dec. 25—that have nothing to do with Jesus’ birth , but do have a lot to do with ancient pre-Christian religions.
What does history show us about the origins of the world’s most popular holiday? It’s quite an eye-opening story!
New Catholic Encyclopedia on Christmas
The New Catholic Encyclopedia, in discussing the unlikelihood of a Dec. 25 date for Jesus Christ’s birth and how that particular date was chosen, gives some insight into the holiday’s origins:
“Why, then, were December 25 and January 6 chosen for the celebration of the Lord’s birth? Several theories are offered in explanation. Some actually believed December 25 was the birthday of Christ and tried to prove it by arguing from the conception of St. John the Baptist. Assuming, gratuitously, that Zachary was high priest and that the Day of Atonement fell on September 24, John would have been born on June 24 and Christ 6 months later, on December 25. This theory is now considered completely untenable.”
Continuing in the same source: “L. Duchesne suggested that the date of Christmas was determined from March 25, the traditional date of the Crucifixion. If He died on March 25, He must also have been conceived on this date and thus have been born 9 months later on December 25. More recently H. Engberding has tried, unsuccessfully, to defend a comparable position.
“According to the hypothesis suggested by H. Usener, developed by B. Botte, and accepted by most scholars today, the birth of Christ was assigned the date of the winter solstice, because on this day, as the sun began its return to the northern skies, the pagan devotees of Mithra celebrated the birthday of the invincible sun.
“Christmas originated at a time when the cult of the sun was particularly strong at Rome. This theory finds support in some of the Church Fathers’ contrasting the birth of Christ and the winter solstice. Though the substitution of Christmas for the pagan festival cannot be proved with certainty, it remains the most plausible explanation for the dating of Christmas” (1967, Vol. 3, p. 656, emphasis added throughout).
This encyclopedia admits that arguments for a Dec. 25 birth of Jesus Christ simply aren’t credible (see “Biblical Evidence Shows Jesus Christ Wasn’t Born on Dec. 25 ,” ). It acknowledges that this date was chosen because of popular existing festivities honoring the ancient sun god Mithra and celebrating the winter solstice.