Christmas and Paganism
Was Jesus Born in December 25?
The birth of Jesus is never mentioned in the New Testament. It shows that the early Christians do not know or just are not interested in His birth date. Accordingly, the early Christians consider the celebration of birthdays a pagan custom.
There was a Scythian monk, an abbot of a Roman monastery named Dionysius Exiguus who tried to calculate the year Jesus was born by counting the years from ab urbe condita (AUC), a Latin phrase meaning “the founding of the City of Rome” which is traditionally placed at 753 BC, considered 1 AUC.
The Roman Emperor Augustus reigned from 27 BC (727 AUC) until his death in 14 AD (768 AUC). He was succeeded by Tiberius who reigned from 14 AD to 37 AD (791 AUC).
In Luke 3:1, he mentions that it was the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman Emperor. And in verse 23, he writes that it was that time when Jesus started his public ministry, and he was about thirty years old. That means that Jesus has lived his first 15 years under the reign of Augustus.
Going back 15 years into the reign of Augustus would bring us to his 28th year of reign or 754 AUC, the year that Dionysius calculated to be Jesus’ birth date.
The problem is that in Luke 1:5, he places the birth of Jesus in the days when Herod was king of Judea and Herod died in 750 AUC.
Here is a calculation on how to convert AUC to AD (Anno Domini):
753 AUC = 1 BC (Before Christ)
754 AUC = 1 AD (Anno Domini)
755 AUC = 2 AD
2753 AUC = 2000 AD
If we look at the calculation, 754 AUC is the first year of the Anno Domini or the Year of the Lord. Perhaps this is based on Dionysius Exiguus’ calculations.
An expert on Biblical Studies has written that even if the year of Jesus’ birth cannot be ascertained, the birth did not happen in 1 AD. According to the expert, the Anno Domini (AD) or the Christian era which is supposed to start when Jesus was born is based on a miscalculation by Dionysius Exiguus. This Biblical Studies expert guesses that Jesus was born on September 11, 3 BC.
A document called De Pascha Computus, written by an anonymous author in the 3rd century places the birth date of Jesus in March 28. Also in the 3rd century, Clement, a bishop of Alexandria thought Jesus was born in November 18.
Because there is no scriptural evidence as to when Jesus was exactly born, it has become anybody’s guess. Though it is not impossible that He was born on December 25, it seems unlikely.
From Luke 2:7-8, we know that when Jesus was born, there were shepherds in the fields nearby, watching their flocks at night. Shepherds would not be in the fields in December because it would be cold and rainy in Judea. The shepherds would have put their flocks under shelter during the night. Normally, the flocks would be in the fields from Spring to Autumn.
Joseph and Mary came to Bethlehem to register for the Roman Census. The census would not have been taken in winter because temperatures could drop below freezing point and the roads would be in poor condition. It would have been very difficult for citizens to go to their birthplaces, and especially difficult for the pregnant Mary to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem which is about 70 miles.
When speaking of Christmas, it is not only the exact date of Jesus’ birth that is being questioned but also the practices in the celebration of Christmas which may be based on pagan rituals.
Christmas and Paganism
There are evidence showing that Christmas celebrations have been based on the Roman mid-winter festival of misrule called the holiday of Saturnalia. It is a week-long period when lawlessness is celebrated from December 17-25. Within that period, there is no law in Rome. No one is punished for depraved behavior such as damaging properties or injuring people.
Lucian, an ancient Greek writer, poet, and historian described the celebration of Saturnalia as widespread intoxication, rape and other sexual license, and singing naked in the streets. All of these in addition to human sacrifice.
It seems that in the 4th century CE (Common Era), Christian leaders converted large numbers of pagans with the promise that they could continue celebrating the Saturnalia even when they become Christians. But there was nothing Christian about Saturnalia so the Christian leaders assigned the last day of Saturnalia which is December 25 to be the birth of Jesus Christ.
The earliest Christmas was celebrated just like the last day of Saturnalia. There was drinking, sexual indulgence, singing naked in the streets or singing naked from house to house, which perhaps turned into the modern Christmas caroling.
During the season of Saturnalia, homes were decorated with wreaths, and parties were held. It was the season of merry-making and of goodwill. Families give each other gifts. Gambling was allowed. It was such a joyful season.
Today, during the Christmas season, homes are decorated with wreaths, and parties are held. It is the season of merry-making and of goodwill. Families and friends give each other gifts. Christmas is such a joyful season.
Is there much of a difference between Christmas and Paganism?
In the same manner that the early Christians enticed the Roman pagans to become Christians by incorporating Christmas with Saturnalia, they also recruited the worshippers of the Asheira cult by sanctioning the “Christmas Tree.” It has long been a practice of this pagan group to worship trees in the forest, or bring them home and decorate them.
The modern Christmas trees originated from the Germans who got them from the Romans, who got them from the Babylonians and Egyptians. The Christmas tree’s origin dates long before the Christmas Era. To the Egyptians, it’s the palm tree, and to the Romans, it’s the fir which they decorated with red berries during the Saturnalia.
The emperors in the pre-Christian Rome require their most despised citizens to present gifts and offerings during the Saturnalia which has later become a gift-giving ritual among the general populace.
The exchange of gifts in the modern day celebration of Christmas must have been adopted from pagan practices during the Saturnalia, though most Christians today believe that gift-giving comes from the Bible when the wise men have presented gifts to Jesus.
The truth is that this does not come from the Bible. Christians would like to believe that they are doing the same gift-giving done by the wise men to the infant Jesus, but the problem is that today Christians give gifts to each other and not to Jesus Christ.
Many have the wrong notion that the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh are birthday gifts for baby Jesus but they are not. It is an ancient custom of the East that when one comes before a king, a gift is presented. The wise men have understood that they are in the presence of a king, the King of the Jews.
In Matthew 2:11, it says they presented unto Him gifts. The people of the East would never approach a king or other great persons without a gift in their hands. The gifts were presented to Jesus, they did not stand in His presence and exchange the gifts among themselves, or distributed the gifts to others.
Christmas is never the same without Santa Claus, the fat man in red suit who lives in the North Pole with Mrs. Claus. He has elves who work all year-round to make toys in his workshop. He has reindeers who fly him all over the world to distribute gifts to the “nice” kids.
Santa Claus is often called St. Nick or St. Nicholas. Good news because there is a real Nicholas. He was born in Parara, Turkey and became Bishop of Myra. He lived from 270 CE – 345 CE. In the 19th century, he was named a saint.
Nicholas had been idolized by a group of sailors, and in 1087, this group took his bones from Turkey and brought them to a sanctuary in Italy. In Bari, Italy, there was a shrine for a gift-giving deity called “The Grandmother” or Pasqua Epiphania. She used to fill the children’s stockings with gifts. “The Grandmother” was removed from her shrine which was turned into the center of the Nicholas cult. Members of the group exchanged gifts during an annual pageant conducted on Nicholas’ death anniversary which is December 6.
The Nicholas cult spread and was adopted by Celtic and German pagans who worshipped a pantheon that is led by Woden, their chief god. Woden wore a long and white beard. One evening each Autumn, Woden would ride a horse through the heavens. To merge Nicholas with Woden, he was portrayed with a beard and also rode a flying horse but he would fly in December and wore winter clothes.
The church, in their bid to recruit pagans adopted the Nicholas cult and thought that he should distribute gifts on December 25. Washington Irving, the famous author of “The Legend of the Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle” wrote a satire of Dutch culture which referred to the white bearded Saint Nicholas riding a flying horse. He used St. Nicholas’ Dutch name which is Santa Claus.
A professor at Union Seminary, Dr. Clement Moore published a poem in 1822 based on the character of Santa Claus. In that poem, he portrayed Santa Claus with eight reindeers, and who descended through the chimneys.
Thomas Nast, a German-born American caricaturist and editorial cartoonist drew more than 2,200 cartoon images of Santa for Harper’s Weekly. Before his drawings, St. Nicholas was pictured as a stern-looking bishop or a gnome-like figure in a frock. It was Nast also who thought that the North Pole would be a good home for Santa. He even gave him a workshop filled with elves, and he also introduced Santa’s list of the naughty and nice children but Santa was not in his bright red outfit.
In 1931, Coca-Cola Corporation contracted a commercial artist to create a coke-drinking Santa. The artist took his friend with a cheerful and chubby face as his model. Lastly, Coca Cola wanted Santa’s fur-trimmed suit to be bright, Coca Cola red. And that is Santa today – a commercial idol, a pagan god, and a Christmas icon.