The origin of Christmas is presented beautifully in the well-known biblical account of Luke: "And it
came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world
should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went
to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of
Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the
house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so
it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she
brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger;
because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds
abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon
them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel
said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all
people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke
Origin of Christmas - The Traditions and Controversies
For today's Christian, the origin of Christmas is, and should be, the birth of Jesus Christ as recorded
in the Bible. Nothing more and nothing less. However, most of what we witness on December 25th
each year has absolutely nothing to do with that blessed day, which probably occurred in late summer
or early fall about 2,000 years ago. In fact, most of the customs and traditions of Christmas actually
pre-date the birth of Jesus, and many of them are downright deceptive in their meaning and origin.
Here are a few examples:
The date of December 25th probably originated with the ancient "birthday" of the son-god, Mithra, a
pagan deity whose religious influence became widespread in the Roman Empire during the first few
centuries A.D. Mithra was related to the Semitic sun-god, Shamash, and his worship spread
throughout Asia to Europe where he was called Deus Sol Invictus Mithras. Rome was well-known for
absorbing the pagan religions and rituals of its widespread empire. As such, Rome converted this
pagan legacy to a celebration of the god, Saturn, and the rebirth of the sun god during the winter
solstice period. The winter holiday became known as Saturnalia and began the week prior to
December 25th. The festival was characterized by gift-giving, feasting, singing and downright
debauchery, as the priests of Saturn carried wreaths of evergreen boughs in procession throughout
the Roman temples.
Variations of this pagan holiday flourished throughout the first few centuries after Jesus Christ, but it
probably wasn't until 336 AD that Emperor Constantine officially converted this pagaan tradition into
the "Christian" holiday of Christmas.
No one knows what day Jesus Christ was born on. From the biblical description, most historians
believe that his birth probably occurred in September, approximately six months after Passover. One
thing they agree on is that it is very unlikely that Jesus was born in December, since the Bible records
shepherds tending their sheep in the fields on that night. This is quite unlikely to have happened
during a cold Judean winter. So why do we celebrate Christ’s birthday as Christmas, on December
The answer lies in the pagan origins of Christmas. In ancient Babylon, the feast of the Son of Isis
(Goddess of Nature) was celebrated on December 25. Raucous partying, gluttonous eating and
drinking, and gift-giving were traditions of this feast.
In Rome, the Winter Solstice was celebrated many years before the birth of Christ. The Romans
called their winter holiday Saturnalia, honoring Saturn, the God of Agriculture. In January, they
observed the Kalends of January, which represented the triumph of life over death. This whole
season was called Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. The festival
season was marked by much merrymaking. It is in ancient Rome that the tradition of the Mummers
was born. The Mummers were groups of costumed singers and dancers who traveled from house to
house entertaining their neighbors. From this, the Christmas tradition of caroling was born.
In northern Europe, many other traditions that we now consider part of Christian worship were begun
long before the participants had ever heard of Christ. The pagans of northern Europe celebrated their
own winter solstice, known as Yule. Yule was symbolic of the pagan Sun God, Mithras, being born,
and was observed on the shortest day of the year. As the Sun God grew and matured, the days
became longer and warmer. It was customary to light a candle to encourage Mithras, and the sun, to
reappear next year. Huge Yule logs were burned in honor of the sun. The word Yule itself means “wheel,” the wheel being
a pagan symbol for the sun. Mistletoe was considered a sacred plant, and the custom of kissing
under the mistletoe began as a fertility ritual. Hollyberries were thought to be a food of the gods.
The tree is the one symbol that unites almost all the northern European winter solstices. Live
evergreen trees were often brought into homes during the harsh winters as a reminder to inhabitants
that soon their crops would grow again. Evergreen boughs were sometimes carried as totems of good
luck and were often present at weddings, representing fertility. The Druids used the tree as a religious
symbol, holding their sacred ceremonies while surrounding and worshipping huge trees.
In 350, Pope Julius I declared that Christ’s birth would be celebrated on December 25. There is little
doubt that he was trying to make it as painless as possible for pagan Romans (who remained a
majority at that time) to convert to Christianity. The new religion went down a bit easier, knowing that
their feasts would not be taken away from them.
Christmas (Christ-Mass) as we know it today, most historians agree, began in Germany, though
Catholics and Lutherans still disagree about which church celebrated it first. The earliest record of an
evergreen being decorated in a Christian celebration was in 1521 in the Alsace region of Germany. A
prominent Lutheran minister of the day cried blasphemy: “Better that they should look to the true tree
of life, Christ.”
Origin of Christmas - What Really Matters?
The true origin of Christmas is filled with controversy and compromise. In short, the Christmas holiday
we celebrate today is indicative of Christianity's willingness to absorb the world's customs and
traditions, and forget its simple roots in the historical reality of Jesus Christ. Christmas should be
nothing more than a simple, yet wonderful reminder of Christ's humble beginning as a human child in
this world. His birth merely set the stage for the power, glory, and salvation that would be revealed in
His life, death, and resurrection! Whether it's December 25th, sometime in late September, or any
other day of the year, we should use each and every opportunity to reflect on Jesus Christ and His
message of hope for all of us.