The Christmas Celebrations In December: Are They Right or Wrong?
Below the reader will find many scholarly reference sources. Each of these materials can be found via computer by going to books.google.com. Thus, nothing here is inaccessible or beyond your ability to verify.
Tainted Worship According To The Bible
Christmas is the worship of Jesus. Worshipping Jesus as King Messiah is never wrong. (Dan. 7:13, Son of Man comes with glory (of God) and will be worshipped.) There is no suggestion by any critic of Christmas that we should ever lose remembering the work of Christ on our behalf. To describe the criticism of Christmas celebrations as about whether to worship Christ on special days is a red herring. It is a non-issue.
Rather, the issue is whether the manner in which Jesus is worshipped in the West, with the traditions of gift-giving, wreaths, Santa stories and dolls, ornaments, and trees (whether all or just a few of these traditions are practiced), in the season of celebratory days leading up to and culminating with December 25th is wrong.
In the Bible, God gives us an example where a proper worship to God goes awry by adding other imageries or symbolisms.
When Moses was up on the Mountain with God, Aaron, the High Priest, led a Yahweh-worship that used a golden image of a calf during the service. (Exodus 32:4.) However, the audience without Aaron’s prompting responded by thanking the calf for delivering them from Egypt along with thanking Yahweh. “And he received it at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made it a molten calf: and they said, These are thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” (Id.) God was furious.
Hence, while the minister Aaron meant to please the people’s appetite for imagery and symbolism, the event turned into the people mistaking who was the focus of the worship service. While Aaron planned the calf to assist worship, the people misdirected worship so as to thank both Yahweh and the calf as each a God to be thanked for their blessings.
To prevent this from ever happening, God had previously given the people the Second Commandment. It made worship eliminate any kind of imagery or symbolism, regardless of the good intentions that might be involved.
You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I The Lord your God am a jealous God. (See Exodus 19:23 ff; Deut. 5:2 ff.)
Christmas Celebrations Without Any Imagery or Symbols Exist In The East
Contrary to what some believe, there is one tradition of celebrating Christ’s birthday that has not a single use of imagery or symbolism of which we are so familiar with in Western Christianity.
In the Eastern Orthodox church, Jesus’ birth is celebrated on January 6th along with a celebration of Jesus’ baptism. It is called Epiphany. It has none of the common items seen in the Western Christian world’s practice of celebrating Jesus in the December month: trees, wreaths, ornaments, reindeer, Santa Claus dolls, etc. In fact the issue of Jesus’ birth is minor in the Orthodox celebration in comparison with Jesus’ baptism which is the emphasis of the celebration.
Thus, few, if any, have ever called into question the validity of Epiphany or Orthodox belief and practice. The Orthodox practices lack virtually every problem issue that afflicts the validity of the Western Christian practice of celebrating Christ’s birthday on December 25th in conjunction with trees, wreaths, garland, Santa dolls and imagery, etc.
This is not to say the Eastern Orthodox practice is entirely proper according to the Bible. It is simply to say that other competing versions of worshipping Christ’s birth among major ancient denominations do not include most of the troublesome aspects of the Western tradition.
Consequently, the question presented here is about the practice in the Western Christian community, both Roman Catholic and their protesting offshoots — the Protestant churches.
What Does The Bible Say About Christmas?
Any investigation whether to celebrate as we do in the West should start with Scripture. The facts in this regard are undisputed:
- First, the Bible clearly contains no command to celebrate the birth of Christ. If there is any dispute or argument about that, it can even be said there is no command in Scripture to celebrate any one’s birthday. (For an argument that the Bible commands observance of Christmas, see the Tacoma Pastor’s 1995 sermon discussed at “Counter-Argument That Christmas Is A Command To Obey” below on page 26 et seq.)
- Second, it is equally clear that if God intended us to celebrate Christ’s birthday, he did not provide us any data in inspired Scripture upon which one could identify or estimate the birth date of Christ.
- Finally, there was no orthodox discussion in any early historical church writing for over 200 years that even attempted to establish the day of Christ’s birthday let alone any orthodox church seeking to celebrate it for 353 years.
Early Church Condemned Celebrating Birthdays
It is also an undisputed fact that the concept of celebrating birthdays of any Biblical hero or person was condemned in the early church. In the article “Yuletide,” in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (1912) at 497, it explains:
The Church of the first two centuries had no thought of celebrating it as a festival. Origen (In Lev. horn., viii. 3, In Matt. xiv. 6 [MPG, xii. 495, xiii. 893-894]), followed by Jerome (In Matt. xiv. 6 [MPL, xxvi. 97]), pronounced decisively against the celebration of birthdays of saints and martyrs.... 2
Origen followed a Sola Scriptura rationale, writing:
...of all the holy people in the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners (like Pharaoh and Herod) who make great rejoicings over the day on which they were born into this world below. (Origen, in Levit., Hom. VIII, in Migne P.G., XII, 495.)
Similarly, the first century Jewish historian Josephus noted that Jewish families did not celebrate birthdays based upon Sola Scriptura reasoning:
Nay, indeed, the law does not permit us to make festivals at the birth of our children, and thereby afford occasion of drinking to excess. (Josephus (translated W. Whiston) Against Apion, Book II, Chapter 26, in Josephus, Complete Works (Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids (MI), 14th printing, 1977) at 632.)
The Hebrew Calendar: Barrier to Birthday Celebrations
The Hebrew calendar itself makes the celebration of birthdays somewhat difficult when one attempts to superimpose it on our modern (essentially Roman-derived) calendars. The reason for this is that it is about 11 days shorter than the annual orbit around the sun. Hence, it adds a thirteenth month seven times in every nineteen year cycle. Thus, one’s “birthday” on a modern calendar will vary 11 or so days from year to year — and the positions of the constellations in the sky would always be to some degree different. Therefore, from an astrological perspective, one’s alleged “sign” would often be different. If God wanted birthdays celebrated, would not God have given the children of Israel the type of calendar which would have made it possible for the “birthday” to fall on the same solar calendar day each year — instead of one in which it basically cannot happen but a relatively few times in a life-time?
Birthday Celebrations in Ancient Roman Empire
The practice of celebrating birthdays actually was not common in Rome until the cult of Mithras spread to Rome.
History of celebration of birthdays in the West. It is thought that the large-scale celebration of birthdays in Europe began with the cult of Mithras, which originated in Persia but was spread by soldiers throughout the Roman Empire. Before this, such celebrations were not common; and, hence, practices from other contexts such as the Saturnalia were adapted for birthdays. Because many Roman soldiers took to Mithraism, it had a wide distribution and influence throughout the empire until it was supplanted by Christianity. (“Birthdays,” Wikipedia (July 12, 2007).
The Year-end Pagan Celebratory Practices Up To 353 A.D. Are Well-Known
Saturnalia, December 17-23d
Meanwhile, in the first 300 or so years of Christianity, pagans celebrated Saturnalia on December 17th to the 23rd with gift-giving and merry-making.
Only since 273 A.D., did Rome worship any god on December 25th. It was chosen as the birthday of a god that a Roman emperor born in Syria — Varius Bassianus — had previously brought to Rome in 217-222 A.D. This god was Baal also known as El-Gabal aka Elagabalus and later known as Sol Invictus (The Unconquered Sun). This is detailed below in an Appendix at page 42 (of PDF)
The Baal-Sun-god cult languished after Varius’ death. This changed in 270 due to Aurelian. He was a Roman whose mother was a priestess of the Sun-God (Baal) at Tyre in Phoenicia. “As to his mother, Callicrates of Tyre, by far the most learned writer of the Greeks, says that she was a priestess of the temple of his own Sun-god in the village in which his parents lived.” Aurelian (quote attributed to him by Flavius Vopiscus - 305-337AD). See http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/sol_invictus.htm
In 270 A.D., Aurelian became emperor of Rome.
Then in about 273 A.D., Emperor Aurelian (214-275 A.D.), “an ardent worshipper of the Syrian sun-god Baal,” inaugurated celebrations of the Sun-god’s birthday on December 25th. (Clement A. Miles, Christmas in Ritual and Tradition (1912) at 24.)
The holiday’s official name was Birthday of the Unconquered Sun (Lat. “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti.”) (“Sol Invictus,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sol_Invictus (accessed 12/16/08).)
To revive the moribund worship of Baal as “sun-God” that had been languishing, in 273 the Emperor Aurelian built a new Temple at Rome “probably erected where St. Peter’s now stands” to the Invincible Sun (Sol Invictus). (R.M. Johnston, The Holy Christian Church From Its Remotest Origins To The Present Day (Boston & N.Y.: Houghton Mifflin, 1912) at 121.)
He enlisted a special order of priests of the Sun. Aurelian also restored “the temple of Malachbel (Baal) (the Sun-god) at Palmyra [in central Syria], and interpreted its deity [i.e.,Baal] as a form of the Sol Invictus.” (Michael Grant, The Collapse and Recovery of the Roman Empire (London: Routledge, 1999) at 51.)
Aurelian vigorously spread this Middle-Eastern religion at Rome. While other gods were not specifically abolished, Aurelian believed the sun-God (Baal) should be the god “at the head of the Pantheon” of gods. (Michael Grant, The Collapse and Recovery of the Roman Empire (London: Routledge, 1999) at 51.)
“Emperor Aurelian came to Homs to make offerings to Baal prior to his defeat of Queen Zenobia. Aurelian attributed his success to the sun god’s intervention and went on to build a temple to the Sol Invictus (‘Invincible Sun’) in Rome, raising Baal once again to the status of an official religion.” (Ivan Mannheim, Syria & Lebanon Handbook (2001) at 205-206.)
The Roman citizens came to view the “Sun” god as the “universal deity.” (Dean Milman, History of Christianity Vol. II, bk. II, ch. IX.)
The ceremonies attached to the worship of the Sun-god Baal was the sacrifice of children to the deity. “[T]hese public ceremonies included human sacrifices of small children....” (Susan K. Roll, Toward the Origins of Christmas (Netherlands 1995) at 112 fn. 19.)
On December 25th specifically, there was always a great civic festivity with thirty-five chariot races in honor of the Sun-god Baal. (Id., at 113.)
Holiday Festivities In Year End Period December 17-January 1st
What took place between December 17th and January 1st in those first 300 years of Christianity are virtually identical to the same season-activities we practice today despite there being nothing Christian about those earlier ‘festive’ practices:
Modern Christmas customs include: gift-giving and merrymaking from Roman Saturnalia [December 17th to 23rd];17 greenery, lights, and charity from the Roman New Year; and Yule logs and various foods from Teutonic feasts.18
Footnote 17.Originally, this feast ended on the 19th. However, the Romans gradually extended it to last until the 23rd. Id.
Footnote 18.“Christmas,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas (accessed 12/12/08).
In the article “Christmas Tree” in Wikipedia,19 it expands upon the pagan origins of the Christmas tree as part of the winter solstice pagan worship:
Patron trees (for example, the Irminsul, Thor’s Oak and the figurative Yggdrasil], held special significance for the ancient Germanic tribes, appearing throughout historic accounts as sacred symbols and objects.
Other notable traditions in relation to Christmas have also been derived from Germanic pagan practices, including the Yule log, Christmas ham, Yule Goat, stuffing stockings, elements of Santa Claus and his nocturnal ride through the sky, and surviving elements of Pre-Christian Alpine traditions.
Footnote 19.“Christmas Tree,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_tree (last accessed 5/ 31/08).
Was Christmas Adopted To Transform Baal’s Day Into A Christian Holiday?
Later Catholic writers claimed the church’s selecting December 25th in 354 A.D. to celebrate Christ’s birthday effectively replaced the celebration of the birthday of the Sun-god.20 Some then conclude this was precisely the Church’s plan — it chose Baal’s birthday to be replaced by Christ’s birthday so as to supplant it. For example, the World Book Encyclopedia says:
Christmas...In 354 A.D., Bishop Liberius of Rome ordered the people to celebrate on December 25. He probably chose this date because the people of Rome already observed it..., celebrating the birthday of the sun [god].21
20.Clement A. Miles, Christmas in Ritual and Tradition (1912) at 25 (citing same).
21. E.H. Sechrist, “Christmas,” World Book Encyclopedia (Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, Chicago, 1966) Vol. 3 at 408-417.
The Catholic Encyclopedia in 1913 made a scholarly ‘concession’ that Jesus’ birthday was chosen to be December 25th because this coincided with the birthday of Sol Invictus.
“Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church.... There is no month in the year to which respectable authorities have not ascribed Christ’s birth.... At Rome, then, the Nativity was celebrated on 25 December [not] before 354; in the East, at Constantinople, not before 379.... The well-known solar feast, however, of Natalis Invictis, celebrated on 25 December, has a strong claim on the responsibility for our December date.... The earliest rapprochement of the births of Christ and the Sun is in Cyprian (De pasch. comp. xix): ‘O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which the Sun was born... Christ should be born.’ In the fourth century Chrysostom (De Solst. et AEquin., II, p. 118) says: ‘But our Lord too is born in the month of December (25).... But they call it the “Birthday of the Unconquered.” Who is so unconquered as our Lord? Or, if they say that it is the birthday of the Sun, He is the Sun of Justice.’...The abundance of midwinter festivals may have helped the choice of the December date, the same instinct which set Natalis Invictis at the winter solstice will have sufficed, apart from deliberate adaptation or curious calculation, to set the Christians feast there too.” (Cath. Encyclopedia (N.Y.: 1913) Vol. III, at 724-727). [Same in "Christmas," Catholic Encyclopedia (1908) at 727 Col. 1, 10 lines down.]
However, more recent scholarship shows that the Emperor of Rome -- Constantine -- had a warped Christian outlook . He viewed Jesus as identical to Sol Invictus. See “Constantine Continues Sun-god (Baal) Worship” on below.
Hence, this connection to Sol Invictus has proven embarrassing. To guard Roman Catholicism from the attack that it is simply a pagan religion in Christian garb, the recent pope, Joseph Ratzinger, recently denied the Sol Invictus association yet with weak reasoning.24
Footnote 24. The recent Roman pope, Joseph Ratzinger, challenged the idea Jesus’ birth was selected as December 25th because this was the birthday of Sol Invictus. He claims December 25th merely represents nine months from March 25th — the Feast of Annunciation. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sol_Invictus.) However, this nine month figure is arbitrary, and does not help refute the fact Jesus’ birthday was chosen because it matched that of Sol Invictus.
Early Admonishment To Not Participate In Any Aspect of Pagan Holiday Behaviors (ca. 205 A.D.)
Tertullian was a leading voice of the early Christian church. He tried to warn that the majority of Christians had succumbed to the practices of gift giving at Saturnalia and New Year’s, and Christians were participating in the general merriment that marked the pagan holidays. Writing in about 205 A.D., he admonished Christians to not copy such behavior of the pagans. He did not merely insist they stop frequenting the festivals. Tertullian wrote about the year end festivals in these strong admonishing terms:
But, however, the majority (of Christians) have by this time induced the belief in their mind that it is pardonable if at any time they do what the heathen do, for fear “the Name be blasphemed”...To live with heathens is lawful, to die with them is not. Let us live with all; let us be glad with them, out of community of nature, not of superstition. We are peers in soul, not in discipline fellow-possessors of the world, not of error. But if we have no right of communion in matters of this kind with strangers, how far more wicked to celebrate them among brethren! Who can maintain or defend this?...By us,...the Saturnalia and New-year’s and Midwinter’s festivals and Matronalia are frequented — presents come and go — New-year’s gifts — games join their noise — banquets join their din! Oh better fidelity of the nations to their own sect, which claims no solemnity of the Christians for itself!...Not the Lord’s day, not Pentecost, even it they had known them, would they have shared with us; for they would fear lest they should seem to be Christians. We are not apprehensive lest we seem to be heathens! (Tertullian, On Idolatry, Chapter XIV (translated by S. Thelwall) excerpted in Ante-Nicene Fathers (edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donald-son)(American Edition, 1885) Vol. 3.)
Because these practices belonged to non-Christian celebrations, Tertullian said that Christians should not participate in them so as not to give any connection of Christ to pagan practices.
But what if the participants did not believe in idols? What if the non-Christians too could care less about the former connection to idols? Would it then be all right for Christians to participate?
Idolatry Exists Without Proof Of Intention To Worship A False god
Tertullian actually confronted these questions. Apparently, the Saturnalia traditions of using wreaths were not in the 200s referenced any longer to pagan deities. It was being done now for fun (“for man’s sake” as Tertullian put it). The old links to false deities were forgotten. Tertullian replied that it was still wrong and idolatry.
[This is a transfer from PDF to HTML -- in process. If you wish to read the rest, go to the PDF. The only part we will put below is from discussion of Constantine]
Under Constantine the Great (274-337 A.D.), this worship of the Sun-god (Baal) continued. “Constantine was a monotheist who revered the Sun, like his forebears before him in their Sun-worshipping Balkans” and “Constantine the Great began” in 309 A.D. “his vast homogenous series of coinages inscribed SOLI INVICTO COMITI....” (Michael Grant, The Collapse and Recovery of the Roman Empire (London: Routledge, 1999) at 51.)
This was a “huge scale operation unmistakably intended to implant an idea in the minds of the population of the empire.” (Grant, id., at 51.)
When Constantine later claimed victories due to Jesus, he had Jesus depicted as the Sun God (Baal) in a mosaic still visible in Rome. “Undernearth Saint Peter’s... there is a mosaic in which Jesus is depicted as the Sun-god.” Grant, id., at 52. This is admitted in the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) in its article “Constantine the Great” in which we read: “Besides, the Sol Invictus had been adopted by the Christians in a Christian sense, as demonstrated in the Christ as Apollo-Helios [i.e., Apollo-Sun] in a mausoleum (c. 250) discovered beneath St. Peter’s in the Vatican.” (Quoted in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Sol_Invictus.)
Constantine’s ‘conversion’ to Christ was therefore in his mind done by equating Jesus with the Sun-god (Baal). Constantine claimed that when he was looking up at the Sun he saw the Cross. Later that night he had a dream. He claimed he saw the “Sun-god” or Christ or himself. (Paul Dehn Carleton, Concepts: A Prototheist Quest for Science-Minded Skeptics of Catholic, and other Christian, Jewish and Muslim Backgrounds (Michigan: Carleton House, at 24.)
Thus, later when he erected the Arch of Constantine, all the old gods were removed but he represented himself as sitting between “the Sun and the moon, and the victory-giving figure is the Sun-god [Baal/Jesus], whose statuettes are carried by the army’s standard bearers.” (Grant, supra, at 52-53.)
In devotion to the Sun-god, in 321 A.D., Constantine “instituted the weekly Day of the Sun [dies Solis] as a recognized civil holiday.” (Susan K. Roll, The Origins of Christmas (The Netherlands 1995) at 115.)
It was the official Roman “day of rest.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sol_Invictus (accessed 12/16/08).)
The decree ran: “On the venerableday of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sol_Invictus (accessed 12/16/08).
This was also the first use of a seven-day week in the Roman calendar. (Journal of Calendar Reform (September 1953) at 128 fn.)
The names of the seven days given to them by Constantine still is used in most of the Western world. The Journal of Calendar Reform is a journal dedicated to the study of calendars, and advocates a single world calendar to replace the current system. In 45 B.C., the 12 months, 365 day system was first employed in Rome, at the suggestion of an Egyptian scientist named Sosigenes. Id.
This had the advantage of promoting a single day of rest and worship for the Sun-worshippers and the Christians. Constantine was the same who held the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. to determine church doctrine.
The Christianity that Constantine promoted, however, had overt influences from the Sun-god (Baal) cult. “Although Constantine was one of the greatest influences in promoting the Christian faith, he is also credited with infiltrating it with pagan practices, and bringing idols into the church. While Christianity was growing in popularity, sun worship...remained strong in the empire.” (“Constantine The Great,” accessed at http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/bios/ b2constantine.htm (accessed 12/12/08).)
“The religion of Sol Invictus continued to be part of the state religion until all paganism was abolished by decree of Theodosius I on February 27, 390.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sol_Invictus (accessed 12/16/08).
The Last Appearance of Worship of Sun-God (Baal) Without Christian Veneer
Later, when Julian (331-360 A.D.) sought to revive paganism after Constantine made Christianity an official Roman religion, Julian made this same Sun-god (Baal) the “centre of his ill-fated revival of paganism.”109
Footnote 109.Miles, supra, at 24
How Worship Of Mary Arose Out of Effort to Replicate Paganism
In the ancient religion of Egypt, they worshipped a goddess known as Isis. The myth of Isis was that by her power Osiris, her sister, was resurrected. Isis was also the “consort of...Hathor at the Festival of Reunion.”110 Every March 25th, her statue would be carried into a temple to meet a male deity-statue as part of a mating ritual. This was to celebrate the renewal of life.111 As a result of this annual reunion, the god of all gods — the Sun (Sol Invictus) — would be born nine months later — on December 25th. As a result, Isis was also known as the “Queen of Heaven” and “Mother of God.” Also, her celestial sign was in the celestial Virgo. She was like a new virgin each year who would encounter Hatho and then give rebirth to the Sun-god — the chief god. The reason that Sol Invictus, her son, had his birth celebrated on December 25th was that this date was precisely nine months after the symbolic male-female reunion on March 25th.112
The Isis cult had spread to Rome long prior to adoption of Christmas as December 25th. The name of Isis was often Isis Invicta113 — thereby linking her to her mythological son — Sol Invictus.
Footnote 110.Safiya Karimah, Moon Goddess (2003) at 19. This festival was played out at Denderah.
Footnote 111. See David Frankfurter, Pilgrimage and Holy Space in Late Antique Egypt (Brill-Die Deutsche Bibliothek, 1998) at 235. See also “The Festival of the Beautiful Reunion,” http://www.philae.nu/akhet/BeautReun.html
Footnote 112.Katharine Hillard, “The Black Madonna of Loreto,” The Atlantic Monthly (1889) at 412.
Footnote 113.Ronald Syme, Ten Studies in Tacitus (Clarendon Press, 1970) at 96. She had other names as well, such as Isis Triumphant or Victorious Isis. See Michel Malaise, Les conditions de pénétration et de diffusion des cultes égyptiens en Italie (1972) at 182.
Interestingly, Eusebius in the 300s condemned that some women transferred the worship of Ceres (aka Isis aka Cybele) to the worship of Mary.114 Later, the Lady-Day aka the Feast of Annunciation, March 25th, was a date instituted by the Roman Catholic Church obviously made to coincide with the date dedicated to Cybele (Isis), the “mother of the gods.”115 The Egyptians on this date “celebrated the Union of Isis and Osiris,” and nine months later (on December 25th) celebrated the birthday of Harpocrates, which means “the sun in winter.”116
Footnote 114.Katharine Hillard, “The Black Madonna of Loreto,” The Atlantic Monthly (1889) at 412. See also the extensive quote below.
Footnote 115.Katharine Hillard, “The Black Madonna of Loreto,” The Atlantic Monthly (1889) at 412. Footnote 116.Katharine Hillard, “The Black Madonna of Loreto,” The Atlantic Monthly(1889) at 412.
Thus, what is the true origin of this adoption of adoration of the Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic Church? It clearly came from paganism. Roman Catholics know that, so they try to claim paganism instead arose from an earlier divine ‘catholic’ revelation to early man which Catholicism later restored to the meaning of the holiday. Katharine Hillard mentions this absurd Catholic Church argument, after she first explains the Annunciation has its origin in the pagan holiday to worship Isis:
It is to the pagan mythologies that we must look for the true explanation, and even the conservative Mrs. Jameson confesses that “the earliest effigies of the Virgin and Child may be traced to Alexandria, and to Egyptian influences; and it is as easily conceivable that the time-consecrated Egyptian myth of Isis and Horus may have suggested the original type, the outward form, and the arrangement of the maternal group as that the classical Greek types of the Orpheus and Apollo should have furnished the early symbols of the Redeemer as the Good Shepherd, — a fact which does not rest upon supposition, but of which the proofs remain to us in the antique Christian sculptures and the paintings in the Catacombs.” Mrs. Jameson accepts the theory that a pagan symbol was adopted for the expression of Christian thought, but many Romanists would go further than this, and maintain with the Marquis de Mirville in his Archeologie de la Vierge that “as the dogma, the liturgy, and the rites professed by the Roman Apostolical Church in 1862 are found engraved on monuments, inscribed on papyri and cylinders, hardly posterior to the Deluge, it seems impossible to deny the existence of a first, ante-historical (Roman) Catholicism, of which our own is the faithful continuation.” (Id., at 410).
To this Katharine Hillard responds with facts to the contrary:
This is a matter of opinion. As a matter of fact, we must remember that the worship of Mary as the mother of God by the Church generally did not begin till the fourth century. In 431, Nestorius and his sect were condemned as heretics by the first Council of Ephesus, for maintaining that in Christ the two natures of God and man remained separate, and that Mary, his human mother, was parent of the man, but not of the God; consequently, that the title which during the previous century had been popularly applied to her (Theotokos, mother of God) was improper and profane. Cyril and his party held that the two natures were made one, and that therefore Mary was truly the mother of God. The decision of the Council, condemning Nestorius, gave the first great impulse to the worship of Mary, and the subsequent multiplication of the pictures of the Madonna and Child. (Id., at 411.)
Katharine Hillard then explains the first appearance of the worship of Mary:
The first historical mention of a direct worship of the Virgin occurs in a passage in the works of Eusebius, in the fourth century. Having occasion to enumerate the eighty-four heresies which had already sprung up in the Church, he instances a sect of women who had come from Thrace into Arabia, and who offered cakes of meal and honey to the Virgin, transferring to her the worship that had been paid to Ceres [N.B. Another name for Isis]. They were called Collyridians, from collyris, the name of the twisted cake used in their offerings. Here we have the first link between the new faith and the old; for every one knows that the policy of the Church from the beginning has always been to give to the old symbols a new meaning, to the old festivals a new significance, to the old places a new sanctity, and where dates were wanting to supply them from the chronology of the older religions. So that primitive Christianity, while founding its churches upon the ruins of Mithraic temples, filled up the missing dates in the Scriptural narratives from the pagan chronology which was based upon the history of the sun. (Id., at 411.)
In sum, the worship of Mary arose out of a misguided attempt to supplant the worship of Isis on March 25th with the worship of Mary.
Richard Reeves, Pagan Holidays Celebrated by False Christians - youtube -- explains Christmas was illegal in England in the 1600s, so too in New England in mid-1600s, etc. Quick 3 minute video.
Roderick Meredith (tomorrowsworld.org), Pagan Holidays or God's Holy Days -- you tube -- claims Christmas is out of paganism.
For the opposing view, see Andrew McGowan "How December 25 Became Christmas," Bible Archeology Review. The main flaw is this does not study carefully the cult of Sol Invictus, or reviews how the decrees making December 25th a Christian observation came about. The article also ignores the concession by Roman Catholicism of its position that it transferred this pagan day to Christ's birthday. McGowan instead casts historical doubt on all the facts that support these points (for all history that far back has always a room for doubt). The author, however, then essentially is trying to leave unknown how December 25th was picked. In the end, McGowan offers speculation that December 25th was picked because it is 9 months after March 25th, and that Jesus supposedly was executed on March 25th. So someone was thinking to pick a gestation of 9 months after March 25th to select as Jesus' birthday. That makes no sense.
What makes better sense is in the cult of Isis / Eostre, her son, Sol Invictus is conceived March 25th, and 9 months later is December 25th when the Sun begins its solstice rebirth each year. McGowan, of course, does not give that more sensible explanation. Furthermore, McGowan's premise that Jesus was crucified on March 25th is flawed. At least the evidence he cites, he must have misread or miscalculated. McGown cites March 25th from Tertullian's Against the Jews from the 200s as the date of the crucifixion. However, Tertullian's words prove Jesus' crucifixion was on March 24th, not the 25th. This work reads: “[the crucifixion was] in the month of March, at the times of the passover, on the 8th day before the calends of April, on the first day of unleavened bread, at which they slew the lamb at even.” (Answer to the Jews (Trans. Rev. S. Thelwal) at 288.) Eight days prior to April 1st is March 24th, not March 25th. Hence, McGowan's supposition that Christmas was December 25th as 9 months after March 25th as the supposed crucifixion date does not match the facts.
McGowan's 2015 Update. This article was improved in December 2015. See this link. He added these very murky claims to give any historical basis that preceded Constantine's influence:
The December 25 feast seems to have existed before 312—before Constantine and his conversion, at least. As we have seen, the Donatist Christians in North Africa seem to have known it from before that time. Furthermore, in the mid- to late fourth century, church leaders in the eastern Empire concerned themselves not with introducing a celebration of Jesus’ birthday, but with the addition of the December date to their traditional celebration on January 6. FN7
So there are 2 "seeming" statements. Then there is a statement of the eastern church in the mid-300s -- after Constantine's influence could arise -- to add the "December date" to the celebration of January 6, but not representing Jesus' birthday. This is extraordinarily vague. Here is footnote 7:
7. For example, Gregory of Nazianzen, Oratio 38; John Chrysostom, In Diem Natalem.
So let's test McGowan's murky statements. Let's look at Gregory of Nazianzen, Oratio 38 -- which in the modern era is one click away -- here it is -- http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310238.htm
This oration of 380 AD approximately says nothing about celebration on December 25th to be something other than Jesus' birth, such as Jesus' baptism. There is question among scholars whether this celebration of Jesus in the oration was about (a) Jesus' birth or (b) the baptism of Jesus where Jesus was born in the Spirit (as preached in the East), and whether this was an oration on December 25th or January 6th (where the latter was to celebrate Jesus' baptism). Thus, it is utterly inconclusive on what it is specifically talking about, and what date it was given. Whatever it say, it still is no evidence of how December 25th came to be chosen to celebrate Jesus' birth that did not have to do with the pagan worship of Sol Invictus on that date.
Email Comments on Article
I am extremely humbled and blessed after reading your "exhaustive research" links on Christmas.
I find I am only scratching at the surface of that and many issues.
Thanks so much again Doug for taking the time to do your brilliant research for all to be blessed by.
You are such a gifted researcher!
KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK
Doug N. (11/19/2012)