This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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Some of the Myths Surrounding the Happiest Time of the Year
In 2016, we elected President Donald Trump President of the United States, and one of his most outstanding actions as president-elect was to tell Christians in the United States “Merry Christmas”, ending a eight year drought of support for the largest religion in the United States. He also told American Jews “Happy Hanukkah” too! Now as we come into the Christmas season of 2019, we see something that has become all too normal during the “cancel culture” of the modern world. The war on Christmas.
We can expect rabid liberals to attack the celebration of Christ’s birth. What is shocking for many people is how many people who identify as Christian condemn the celebration of Christmas. Note: We also see this in sometimes the same people who condemn Easter. If you have these people on your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram feed, they will regale you with their “research”.
It’s all about how Christmas is a Pagan holiday, on the wrong day, and countless other assertions that they have come to the conclusion of through reading the “research” of others. This is often based on YouTube videos as well as other sources. However, if you take the time to do real research into history, using source documents that are not third-hand information, then you will find that Christmas is a beautiful celebration of Jesus’s birth. Which is both biblically and historically sound.
The Origins of Christmas Day
The research for this article was completed in depth from actual sources, both by book and by digital means. This meant looking at several prominent pages people often use to justify why Christmas is bad, as well as the Biblical and historical sources that support the celebration of Christmas. Any time you are looking for something to truly follow in the footsteps of Jesus, you will see that most of the statements are “You” statements or “He” statements referring to Jesus Christ. Looking at the “anti-Christmas” pages, one of the first thing’s you notice are that almost all of them start off with “I” statements.
Some of the sites, like the United Church of God’s Beyond Today publication, even entitle their stories “The Top 10 Reasons Why I don’t Celebrate Christmas.” We also see this in the LonerWolf’s article “I don’t Celebrate Christmas and never have- Here’s Why.” In fact, the impetus of writing this article was the despair born out of a Facebook post from a friend who said, “After doing MY research, I have decided that God does not want anyone to honor him through Christmas.” (emphasis added). At the risk of making an “I” statement, I felt really worried for this person for deciding what God wants on their own without consulting the Bible.
Other more legitimate sites, like Becoming Christians, do not fall victim to the “I” trap, but still turn in what colleges call “High-school research.” What this amounts to is when a person breaks out their trusty encyclopedia, or worse goes online to Wikipedia, and then augments their “research” with sites that support their already decided upon hypothesis. That which in this case is that Christmas is bad. This results in statements such as “Christmas is a Pagan Festival” or “God did not command us to celebrate Christ’s birth.”, both of which we will deal with later in this article.
There are also fringe groups that do college-level research (undergraduate admittedly but still college research), who then conflate the facts and leave out historical issues. Such as the Church of the Great God’s statement about the feast of Saturnalia, conflating it with a Sun feast (it was a feast of the planet Saturn but the Sun reference is needed to keep it linked to the solstice), and then claiming that it was the reason for Christmas. It is related, but its abolishment was part of the cause of the day selection. These traps lead us away from celebrating all parts of Christ’s life, both as the greatest gift possible to us and also as a good example of how to live our lives. Let’s look at and dispel some of the myths (with accurate sources, including “shockingly” the Bible).
Christmas Myth-busting 101
1, “I do not celebrate Christmas because Jesus was not born on December 25th.”
This is one of the more common arguments that you hear going around as to why people do not celebrate Christmas. Let’s start off with the obvious, Jesus was not born on December 25th. This is well accepted by most scholars. While this is well accepted, it is not a reason not to celebrate the birth of the Lord, once again assuming you are Christian.
It can be broken down into its two root words, “Christ” and “Mass.” Christ is relatively self-explanatory and mass is a feast. Hence, Christmas is Christ’s Feast, thus the Mass is celebrating Christ. While most people are quick to point out that most of the Catholic Mass for Christmas focuses on the infancy narrative, you will realize when you read the Bible in its entirety, that the infancy narrative is a very important part of the story.
However, if you follow a strain of Christianity that was derived from the works of Martin Luther, you may not see that the story runs from Christmas to Easter. The Christmas season focuses on the childhood of Jesus (mainly the Infancy, the “Ordinary Time” between the Christmas Season and Lent that focuses on the Life of Christ). Lent and Easter Season focus on the ministry of Christ and the formalization of the Apostolic Calling. Lastly you have the Crucifixion narrative. Thus the Christmas mass is the beginning of the life of Christ (to be fair the story starts with the first week of Advent following the Mass of Christ the King.
It is in understanding the story of the Mass, and the purpose of the Mass, that we understand the meaning of Christmas, which is Christ. When we allow other things to interfere with the understanding, we drift away from Christ in the season. This is why Advent is so important, because it takes time to prepare ourselves and think about the story of Christ to be ready to celebrate in Christ, not in culture. Thus when you understand the seasons and the mass schedule, you see that when Christ said “Do this in memory of me…” it is not limited to something as magnificent as the Eucharist or as simple as Faith – but it was the entirety of his life (Luke 22:19-20).
In that passage, it is worthy to note that you see the triune message that is throughout the Bible, where Christ shows that three are one in the faith, in his body and in his life. Thus if you are celebrating Christmas the Catholic Way, you are celebrating the Mass in the high times (Advent, Christmas Season, Lent, Easter and the lead up to Pentecost) and in the ordinary times (first Ordinary time from Christmas season to Lent and Second Ordinary time from Pentecost to Christ the King). So in a way the nay-sayers are right, if you are only celebrating the life of Christ on December 25th, you are doing it wrong. You should be celebrating the life of Christ all through the year. The feast of the birth of Christ is still December 25th, I hope that this helps people understand the significance of taking 1 day out of 365 to acknowledge that Christ became human to redeem us from our sins.
2. “I do not celebrate Christmas because it is a Pagan feast celebrating the winter solstice.”
This is one of the arguments that is most annoying when people make it. Yes, we understand that you are part of the group of people who know that the winter solstice is on December 21st, it is a club that includes everyone with a smart phone. Once you get past the idea that knowledge somehow makes something right, remember the serpent had knowledge that Adam and Eve did not have in the Creation story (Gen 3:1-4). While it made him technically right, it did not make Lucifer morally or even factually right.
We see this same problem in the conflation of the solstice and the Feast of Christmas. Yes, the nay-sayers are correct that Winter Solstice is on December 22st, (as you can see, it is moving toward Christmas because of the way we do our days, not away from it), but it has really little to do with the feast of Christmas. In fact it strengthens the claim that it is okay to celebrate Christmas! How? Let me explain…
Early Christians knew when the winter solstice was. Additionally, they knew that it was a Pagan holiday and that they should not celebrate as the Pagans do (Colossians 2:8; Jeremiah 10:1-5). So, when the Church set the date for the feast of the Birth of Christ, they did not pick the darkest day of the year, nor did they choose a day that was right after the darkest day of the year. They chose a day when the light had conquered the darkness.
By December 25th, the days are getting longer and the night is getting shorter. It is a time of celebration and of new hope. Yes, there is natural symbolism there, but this symbolism is used to represent that Jesus is the light of the world. Just like St. Patrick teaching the Trinity with the clover, so to did the church teach the coming of the light of God with the longer days!
St. Paul summarizes this point quite well in Romans 14:5-6. This says, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord.” The day is not important, it is the intent to honor the Lord that is important. Toss away petty details.
3. “I do not celebrate Christmas because it is just an extension of Saturnalia.”
This is another frustrating argument because it is in no way historically accurate. Many of the common anti-Catholic and anti-Christian myths started in the period after the Civil War. The KKK spread rumors and false stories about Catholicism and some Christian Groups (mainly Baptists) because these groups were helping black Americans get on their feet after the period of slavery. One of the most common myths in this area created the idea that “everything bad Catholics do was an extension of Pagan Constantine.” (Smithmyer, 2018).
The narrative around this and Christmas is that “Constantine moved Christmas to December 25th because it was the end of Saturnalia and he wanted his people to celebrate it”. Saturnalia is basically the Roman “Purge” where crime was not punished for five days of Darkness. The problem with their argument is that Constantine ruled at the beginning of the 4th century and the first appearance of “Christmas,” more accurately “Christes Maesse” in Old English was 1131. Even the Mass of Christ moniker is not seen in the record until 1038.
4. “I do not celebrate Christmas because early Christians did not Celebrate it.”
Interestingly enough, in answering this question we find the origin of the Constantine myth, however it takes a while to get there. Early Christians observed the nativity of Christ, but around the beginning of the third century Origen asserted that “in the scriptures sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthday.” However, this is not where to be found in the Bible, and most scholars feel that Origen was citing the discredited Natalitia rather than the Bible. It is of note that the numbering of the Commandments (Between Origen and Augustine) was an element in the early Christian Schisms (though both authors contain the same information, just numbered differently).
While Origen was condmning celebrating birthdays (not Christ’s just in general), St. Clement was arguing for the celebration of Christ’s birthday on the 20th of May (25 Pachon that year). Others in the area argued that it was on the 19th or 20th of April (24-25 Pharmuthi). The Basilldalans celebrated the Epiphany and the Nativity on the 10th or the 5th of January (depending on the region), which would be the 15th or 11th of Tybl. Many of these celebrations had been taking place since before 250 AD. (Id.)
The original use of December 25th seems be have come from Egyptian Monks that discovered texts of “ancient customs” that the birth of Christ was on 29 Cholack, or December 25th (Cassian Text). By 433, this date was firmly established around the region. In Asia Minor, there was a separate tradition that the Birth of Christ was on January 6th, but this was limited to Cyprus, Mesopotamia, Armenia and the rest of the Middle East. It should also be noted that as of 385 AD, December 25th was still not accepted as the “birthday of Jesus.”
The Early church had a feast to commemorate the birth and the baptism of Christ On January 6th. However, Cyril informed Pope Julius that a procession could not be held to Bethlehem and the Jordan River on the same day, so Pope Julius moved the Birthday Celebration to December 25th to allow for both processions. Regardless, they did not speculate that this was the actually day of the Birth of Christ. The myth surrounding Constantine is based on the fact that he Celebrated the feast in Constantinople on December 25th (as per common practice) as early as 335.
It did not become fully adopted in Constantinople until 380, mainly because the Roman’s rejected it. The real conversion of Constantinople to the date of December 25th was from Gregory Nazlanzen in 380. Thus we see a celebration of the Birth of Christ throughout history, and the Bible does not mention early Christians celebrating it after 50 AD, because none of the events in the Bible take place after 50 AD. The historical record, however, shows that this was not only celebrated, but also hotly debated by early Christians as to when the date was, not whether to celebrate it or not (see this for more information and a full history of the celebration).
5. “I do not celebrate Christmas because it is not in the Bible.”
This one is hard to make arguments for, not because it is true but because it is obviously false. In Matthew, we see that the Birth of Jesus is covered in Chapter 1:18-25. We know this because the name of the section is “The Birth of Jesus.” In Luke 1:15-80, we see a long explanation of the importance of the annunciation and birth of Jesus.
Then in Luke 2 (yes, the whole chapter), we see the birth of Jesus in detail. Critics often claim that Mark and John do not mention the birth of Christ. They are half correct. Mark starts his version of the Gospel with the teaching of Jesus (Mark 1:1). However, John does mention the birth of Christ, subtly but in an important way “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, and the glory as of the Father’s only son, full of grace.” (John 1:14). Thus in three of the four gospels we see mention of the birth of Christ.
The “Bah Humbugs” Relent Not
Now we move on from the scriptural element of the anti-Christmas sentiment. Some who wishes to banish the Christmas season from the calendar does so not out of a Biblical argument, but because of a traditional argument. This argument will be seen in the second part of this article, which focuses on some of the traditions which have been wrongfully declared Pagan. As you can see, the Biblical arguments against Christmas do not have a Biblical leg to stand on.
The truth of the matter is this, if you are honoring God, then you are celebrating the life of Christ. The way we do this is by kindness to others, faith in the Lord and hope of a better tomorrow through the good that people do for each other in Christ’s name. The City of God is here, in the world right now- we just obscure it through inaction, bad action and greed. To truly celebrate Christmas this year, take some time to give to those who are in need, be less focused on getting things for yourself, and take a moment (or the whole year) to give Glory to the Lord in your actions. Let us remember the reason for Christmas season!