Christmas—December the 25th—
is a day which has been set apart by the Christian church on which to celebrate the birth of their Lord and Saviour, Jesus. All the Christians believe it to be the day on which he was born. This is altogether erroneous.
In the distant past the early Christian churches had no uniformity in the period of observing the Nativity; some held the festival in the month of May or April, others in January.
The year in which the Jesus character was born is also as uncertain. Says Mosheim, the ecclesiastical historian, "The year has not hitherto been fixed with certainty, notwithstanding the deep and laborious researches of the learned."
According to Irenæus (A. D. 190), on the authority of "The Gospel," and "all the elders who were conversant in Asia with John, the disciple of the Lord," Jesus lived to be nearly fifty years of age. If this celebrated Christian father is correct, and who can say he is not, Jesus was born some twenty years before the time which has been assigned as of his birth year.
The Rev. Dr. Giles says:
"Concerning the time of Christ's birth there are even greater doubts than about the place; for, though the four Evangelists have noticed several contemporary facts, which would seem to settle this point, yet on comparing these dates with the general history of the period, we meet with serious discrepancies, which involve the subject in the greatest uncertainty."
Again he says:
"Not only do we date our time from the exact year in which Christ is said to have been born, but our ecclesiastical calendar has determined with scrupulous minuteness the day and almost the hour at which every particular of Jesus' miraculous life is stated to have happened. All this is implicitly believed by millions; yet all these things are among the most uncertain and shadowy that history has recorded. We have no clue to either the day or the time of year, or even the year itself, in which Christ was born."
Some Christian writers fix the year 4 B. C., as the time when Jesus was born, others the year 5 B. C., and again others place his time of birth at about 15 B. C. The Rev. Dr. Geikie, speaking of this, in his Life of Christ, says:
"The whole subject is very uncertain. Ewald appears to fix the date of the birth at five years earlier than our era. Petavius and Usher fix it on the 25th of December, five years before our era. Bengel on the 25th of December, four years before our era; Anger and Winer, four years before our era, in the Spring; Scaliger, three years before our era, in October; St. Jerome, three years before our era, on December 25th; Eusebius, two years before our era, on January 6th; and Idler, seven years before our era, in December."
Albert Barnes writes in a manner which implies that he knew all about the year (although he does not give any authorities), but knew nothing about the month. He says:
"The birth of Christ took place four years before the common era. That era began to be used about A. D. 526, being first employed by Dionysius, and is supposed to have been placed about four years too late. Some make the difference two, others three, four, five, and even eight years. He was born at the commencement of the last year of the reign of Herod, or at the close of the year preceding."
"The Jews sent out their flocks into the mountainous and desert regions during the summer months, and took them up in the latter part of October or the first of November, when the cold weather commenced. . . . It is clear from this that our Saviour was born before the 25th of December, or before what we call Christmas. At that time it is cold, and especially in the high and mountainous regions about Bethlehem. God has concealed the time of his birth. There is no way to ascertain it. By different learned men it has been fixed at each month in the year."
Canon Farrar writes with a little more caution, as follows:
"Although the date of Christ's birth cannot be fixed with absolute certainty, there is at least a large amount of evidence to render it probable that he was born four years before our present era. It is universally admitted that our received chronology, which is not older than Dionysius Exignus, in the sixth century, is wrong. But all attempts to discover the month and the day are useless. No data whatever exists to enable us to determine them with even approximate accuracy."
Bunsen attempts to show (on the authority of Irenæus, above quoted), that Jesus was born some fifteen years before the time assigned, and that he lived to be nearly, if not quite, fifty years of age.
According to Basnage, the Jews placed his birth near a century sooner than the generally assumed epoch. Others have placed it even in the third century B. C. This belief is founded on a passage in the "Book of Wisdom," written about 250 B. C., which is supposed to refer to Christ Jesus, and none other. In speaking of some individual who lived at that time, it says:
"He professeth to have the knowledge of God, and he calleth himself the child of the Lord. He was made to reprove our thoughts. He is grievous unto us even to behold; for his life is not like other men's, his ways are of another fashion. We are esteemed of him as counterfeits; he abstaineth from our ways as from filthiness; he pronounceth the end of the just to be blessed, and maketh his boast that God is his father. Let us see if his words be true; and let us prove what shall happen in the end of him. For if the just man be the son of God, he (God) will help him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies. Let us examine him with despitefulness and torture, that we may know his meekness, and prove his patience. Let us condemn him with a shameful death; for by his own saying he shall be respected."
This is a very important passage. Of course, the church claim it to be a prophecy of what Christ Jesus was to do and suffer, but this does not explain it.
If the writer of the "Gospel according to Luke" is correct, Jesus was not born until about A. D. 10, for he explicitly tells us that this event did not happen until Cyrenius was governor of Syria.
Now it is well known that Cyrenius was not appointed to this office until long after the death of Herod (during whose reign the Matthew narrator informs us Jesus was born
), and that the taxing spoken of by the Luke narrator as having taken place at this time, did not take place until about ten years after the time at which, according to the Matthew narrator, Jesus was born.
Eusebius, the first ecclesiastical historian, places his birth at the time Cyrenius was governor of Syria, and therefore at about A. D. 10. His words are as follows:
"It was the two and fortieth year after the reign of Augustus the Emperor, and the eight and twentieth year after the subduing of Egypt, and the death of Antonius and Cleopatra, when last of all the Ptolemies in Egypt ceased to bear rule, when our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ, at the time of the first taxing—Cyrenius, then President of Syria—was born in Bethlehem, a city of Judea, according unto the prophecies in that behalf premised."
Had the Luke narrator known anything about Jewish history, he never would have made so gross a blunder as to place the taxing of Cyrenius in the days of Herod, and would have saved the immense amount of labor that it has taken in endeavoring to explain away the effects of his ignorance. One explanation of this mistake is, that there were two assessments, one about the time Jesus was born, and the other ten years after; but this has entirely failed. Dr. Hooykaas, speaking of this, says:
"The Evangelist (Luke) falls into the most extraordinary mistakes throughout. In the first place, history is silent as to a census of the whole (Roman) world ever having been made at all. In the next place, though Quirinius certainly did make such a register in Judea and Samaria, it did not extend to Galilee; so that Joseph's household was not affected by it. Besides, it did not take place until ten years after the death of Herod, when his son Archelaus was deposed by the emperor, and the districts of Judea and Samaria were thrown into a Roman province. Under the reign of Herod, nothing of the kind took place, nor was there any occasion for it. Finally, at the time of the birth of Jesus, the Governor of Syria was not Quirinius, but Quintus Sentius Saturninus."
The institution of the festival of the Nativity of Christ Jesus being held on the 25th of December, among the Christians, is attributed to Telesphorus, who flourished during the reign of Antonius Pius (A. D. 138-161), but the first certain traces of it are found about the time of the Emperor Commodus (A. D. 180-192).
For a long time the Christians had been trying to discover upon what particular day Jesus had possibly or probably come into the world; and conjectures and traditions that rested upon absolutely no foundation, led one to the 20th of May, another to the 19th or 20th of April, and a third to the 5th of January. At last the opinion of the community at Rome gained the upper hand, and the 25th of December was fixed upon. [362:4] It was not until the fifth century, however, that this day had been generally agreed upon.
How it happened that this day finally became fixed as the birthday of Christ Jesus, may be inferred from what we shall now see. On the first moment after midnight of the 24th of December (i. e., on the morning of the 25th), nearly all the nations of the earth, as if by common consent, celebrated the accouchement of the "Queen of Heaven," of the "Celestial Virgin" of the sphere, and the birth of the god Sol. In India this is a period of rejoicing everywhere. It is a great religious festival, and the people decorate their houses with garlands, and make presents to friends and relatives. This custom is of very great antiquity.
In China, religious solemnities are celebrated at the time of the winter solstice, the last week in December, when all shops are shut up, and the courts are closed.
Buddha, the son of the Virgin Mâya, on whom, according to Chinese tradition, "the Holy Ghost" had descended, was said to have been born on Christmas day, December 25th.
Among the ancient Persians their most splendid ceremonials were in honor of their Lord and Saviour Mithras; they kept his birthday, with many rejoicings, on the 25th of December.
The author of the "Celtic Druids" says:
"It was the custom of the heathen, long before the birth of Christ, to celebrate the birth-day of their gods," and that, "the 25th of December was a great festival with the Persians, who, in very early times, celebrated the birth of their god Mithras."
The Rev. Joseph B. Gross, in his "Heathen Religion," also tells us that:
"The ancient Persians celebrated a festival in honor of Mithras on the first day succeeding the Winter Solstice, the object of which was to commemorate the Birth of Mithras."
Among the ancient Egyptians, for centuries before the time of Christ Jesus, the 25th of December was set aside as the birthday of their gods. M. Le Clerk De Septchenes speaks of it as follows:
"The ancient Egyptians fixed the pregnancy of Isis (the Queen of Heaven, and the Virgin Mother of the Saviour Horus), on the last days of March, and towards the end of December they placed the commemoration of her delivery."
Mr. Bonwick, in speaking of Horus, says:
"He is the great God-loved of Heaven. His birth was one of the greatest mysteries of the Egyptian religion. Pictures representing it appeared on the walls of temples. One passed through the holy Adytum to the still more sacred quarter of the temple known as the birthplace of Horus. He was presumably the child of Deity. At Christmas time, or that answering to our festival, his image was brought out of that sanctuary with peculiar ceremonies, as the image of the infant Bambino is still brought out and exhibited in Rome."
Rigord observes that the Egyptians not only worshiped a Virgin Mother
"prior to the birth of our Saviour, but exhibited the effigy of her son lying in the manger, in the manner the infant Jesus was afterwards laid in the cave at Bethlehem."
The "Chronicles of Alexandria," an ancient Christian work, says:
"Watch how Egypt has constructed the childbirth of a Virgin, and the birth of her son, who was exposed in a crib to the adoration of the
Osiris, son of the "Holy Virgin," as they called Ceres, or Neith, his mother, was born on the 25th of December.
This was also the time celebrated by the ancient Greeks as being the birthday of Hercules. The author of "The Religion of the Ancient Greeks"
"The night of the Winter Solstice, which the Greeks named the triple night, was that which they thought gave birth to Hercules."
He further says:
"It has become an epoch of singular importance in the eyes of the Christian, who has destined it to celebrate the birth of the Saviour, the true Sun of Justice, who alone came to dissipate the darkness of ignorance."
Bacchus, also, was born at early dawn on the 25th of December. Mr. Higgins says of him:
"The birth-place of Bacchus, called Sabizius or Sabaoth, was claimed by several places in Greece; but on Mount Zelmissus, in Thrace, his worship seems to have been chiefly celebrated. He was born of a virgin on the 25th of December, and was always called the Saviour. In his Mysteries, he was shown to the people, as an infant is by the Christians at this day, on Christmas-day morning, in Rome."
The birthday of Adonis was celebrated on the 25th of December. This celebration is spoken of by Tertullian, Jerome, and other Fathers of the Church, who inform us that the ceremonies took place in a cave, and that the cave in which they celebrated his mysteries in Bethlehem, was that in which Christ Jesus was born.
This was also a great holy day in ancient Rome. The Rev. Mr. Gross says:
"In Rome, before the time of Christ, a festival was observed on the 25th of December, under the name of 'Natalis Solis Invicti' (Birthday of Sol the Invincible). It was a day of universal rejoicings, illustrated by illuminations and public games."
"All public business was suspended, declarations of war and criminal executions were postponed, friends made presents to one another, and the slaves were indulged with great liberties."
A few weeks before the winter solstice, the Calabrian shepherds came into Rome to play on the pipes. Ovid alludes to this when he says: "Ante Deûm matrem cornu tibicen adunco Cum canit, exiguæ quis stipis aera neget."
—(Epist. i. l. ii.)
"When to the mighty mother pipes the swain, Grudge not a trifle for his pious strain."
This practice is kept up to the present day. The ancient Germans, for centuries before "the true Sun of Justice" was ever heard of, celebrated annually, at the time of the Winter solstice, what they called their Yule-feast. At this feast agreements were renewed, the gods were consulted as to the future, sacrifices were made to them, and the time was spent in jovial hospitality. Many features of this festival, such as burning the yule-log on Christmas-eve, still survive among us.
Yule was the old name for Christmas. In French it is called Noel, which is the Hebrew or Chaldee word Nule.
The greatest festival of the year celebrated among the ancient Scandinavians, was at the Winter solstice. They called the night upon which it was observed, the "Mother-night." This feast was named Jul—hence is derived the word Yule—and was celebrated in honor of Freyr (son of the Supreme God Odin, and the goddess Frigga), who was born on that day. Feasting, nocturnal assemblies, and all the demonstrations of a most dissolute joy, were then authorized by the general usage. At this festival the principal guests received presents—generally horses, swords, battle-axes, and gold rings—at their departure.
The festival of the 25th of December was celebrated by the ancient Druids, in Great Britain and Ireland, with great fires lighted on the tops of hills.
Godfrey Higgins says:
"Stuckley observes that the worship of Mithra was spread all over Gaul and Britain. The Druids kept this night as a great festival, and called the day following it Nolagh or Noel, or the day of regeneration, and celebrated it with great fires on the tops of their mountains, which they repeated on the day of the Epiphany or twelfth night. The Mithraic monuments, which are common in Britain, have been attributed to the Romans, but this festival proves that the Mithraic worship was there prior to their arrival."
This was also a time of rejoicing in Ancient Mexico. Acosta says:
"In the first month, which in Peru they call Rayme, and answering to our December, they made a solemn feast called Capacrayme (the Winter Solstice), wherein they made many sacrifices and ceremonies, which continued many days."
The evergreens, and particularly the mistletoe, which are used all over the Christian world at Christmas time, betray its heathen origin. Tertullian, a Father of the Church, who flourished about A. D. 200, writing to his brethren, affirms it to be "rank idolatry" to deck their doors
"with garlands or flowers, on festival days, according to the custom of the heathen."
This shows that the heathen in those days, did as the Christians do now. What have evergreens, and garlands, and Christmas trees, to do with Christianity? Simply nothing. It is the old Yule-feast which was held by all the northern nations, from time immemorial, handed down to, and observed at the present day. In the greenery with which Christians deck their houses and temples of worship, and in the Christmas-trees laden with gifts, we unquestionably see a relic of the symbols by which our heathen forefathers signified their faith in the powers of the returning sun to clothe the earth again with green, and hang new fruit on the trees. Foliage, such as the laurel, myrtle, ivy, or oak, and in general, all evergreens, were Dionysiac plants, that is, symbols of the generative power, signifying perpetuity of youth and vigor.
Among the causes, then, that co-operated in fixing this period— December 25th—as the birthday of Christ Jesus, was, as we have seen, that almost every ancient nation of the earth held a festival on this day in commemoration of the birth of their virgin-born god. On this account the Christians adopted it as the time of the birth of their God. Mr. Gibbon, speaking of this in his "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," says:
"The Roman Christians, ignorant of the real date of his (Christ's) birth, fixed the solemn festival to the 25th of December, the Brumalia, or Winter Solstice, when the Pagans annually celebrated the birth of Sol."
And Mr. King, in his "Gnostics and their Remains," says:
"The ancient festival held on the 25th of December in honor of the 'Birthday of the Invincible One,' and celebrated by the 'great games' at the circus, was afterwards transferred to the commemoration of the birth of Christ, the precise day of which many of the Fathers confess was then unknown."
St. Chrysostom, who flourished about A. D. 390, referring to this Pagan festival, says:
"On this day, also, the birth of Christ was lately fixed at Rome, in order that whilst the heathen were busy with their profane ceremonies, the Christians might perform their holy rites undisturbed."
Add to this the fact that St. Gregory, a Christian Father of the third century, was instrumental in, and commended by other Fathers for, changing Pagan festivals into Christian holidays, for the purpose, as they said, of drawing the heathen to the religion of Christ.
As Dr. Hooykaas remarks, the church was always anxious to meet the heathen half way, by allowing them to retain the feasts they were accustomed to, only giving them a Christian dress, or attaching a new or Christian signification to them.
In doing these, and many other such things, the Christian Fathers, instead of drawing the heathen to their religion, drew themselves into Paganism.