The Origins of our Christmas Traditions
Each year at Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. After the New Year, we struggle to remember to add a year as we date our checks, which should remind us that the entire Western World reckons its calendar from the birth of the One who changed the world more than any other before or since.
Yet, it is disturbing to discover that much of what we have been taught about the Christmas season seems to be more tradition than truth.
When Was Jesus Born?
Most serious Bible students realize that Jesus was probably not born on December 25th. The shepherds had their flocks in open fields,1 which implies a date prior to October. Furthermore, no competent Roman administrator would require registration involving travel during the season when Judea was generally impassable.2
If Jesus wasn't born on December 25, just when was he born? Although the Bible doesn't explicitly identify the birthday of our Lord, many scholars have developed diverse opinions as to the likely birthday of Jesus. (It reminds one of the rabbinical observation: with two Jews, you have three opinions!) See our briefing, The Christmas Story: What Really Happened for more information.
Then Why December 25th?
The early Christian church did not celebrate Jesus' birth, and therefore the exact date was not preserved in festivals. The first recorded mention of December 25th is in the Calendar of Philocalus (A.D. 354), which assumed Jesus' birth to be Friday, December 25th, A.D. 1. This was subsequent to Constantine's Edict of Toleration in A.D. 313, which enabled the persecuted Christians to exchange the rags of hiding for the silks of the court. But the predictable expediency to adopt the inevitable cultural changes caused many of the former pagan rituals to be adapted to their new "Christian" trappings.
The date of December 25th, which was officially proclaimed by the church fathers in A.D. 440, was actually a vestige of the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, observed near the winter solstice, which itself was among the many pagan traditions inherited from the earlier Babylonian priesthood.3
All forms of occultic practices have their origins in the original city of Babylon. Isaiah Chapter 47 clearly brings this out. Most of what we associate with pagan Rome had its origins in ancient Babylon. Babylon is mentioned in over 300 references in the Bible; it is even alluded to three times in Christ's own genealogy.
The Tammuz Legend
Tammuz, the son of Nimrod and his queen, Semiramis, was identified with the Babylonian Sun God and worshipped following the winter solstice. As the days became shorter and shorter through the winter, they become the shortest at the winter solstice, about December 22-23. Tammuz was thought to have died during the winter solstice, and was memorialized by burning a log in the fireplace. (The Chaldean word for infant is yule. This is the origin of the "yule log.") His "rebirth" was celebrated by replacing the log with a trimmed tree the next morning. Sound familiar? (Jeremiah 10 contains an interesting verse which talks about trimming trees, etc.)
There are numerous other examples. The wassail bowl, the mistletoe (a fertility rite), and others are documented in such works as Alexander Hislop's, The Two Babylons. When Babylon was conquered by subsequent empires, this entire religious system was transplanted, first to Pergamos under the Persians, and then to Rome. As the pagan Roman (Babylonian) religious system was integrated with Christian ceremonial observances, many of our current traditions surrounding Christmas emerged. And it appears that an "ecumenical" integration of all the world's religions, including the ancient Babylonian occult forms that presently masquerade as the "New Age," is destined to be the final religious climax.
The Throne of David
There is another aspect to keep in mind this Christmas season. As we recall the prophecy in Micah that prescribes that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, notice the entire verse:
But thou, Bethlehem ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
Also, as we recall that other familiar prophecy in Isaiah, note again the whole verse:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the Throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.
The "Throne of David" is not just an Old Testament concept. Remember the Angel Gabriel's promise to Mary:
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
But did Jesus ever actually sit on David's throne? He couldn't have. It didn't exist at that time. Jeconaiah was the last of David's line to sit on the throne. (Remember, the blood curse on his line.4) Herod, appointed by the Romans, was an Edomite ("Idumean"). He wasn't even Jewish.
At the moment, Jesus is sitting on His Father's Throne. The question is, will He ever sit on David's throne? Will the promise that Gabriel announced to Mary also be fulfilled? Of course. (And it may be sooner than we think.)
Keeping Christ in Christmas
Christians today tend to fight the ongoing secularization of their holidays. Some have rejected anything to do with them, saying they are not Biblically ordained. Others have tried to go back to keeping the Jewish feasts instead. It should be pointed out that the New Testament doesn't really ordain anything other than the Lord's Supper. But it does not prohibit it either, and under grace Christians are free to honor different days if they wish.
Those families who want to keep Christ as the center of Christmas may find it easier to do by understanding the various symbols that have been used to celebrate Christ's birth through the ages and using them to retain the uniqueness inherent in the mystery of the incarnation: the birth of the Son of God. For instance, at Christmas we remember the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh presented by the Magi.5 These prophetic gifts celebrated his deity, priesthood, and death. When He returns to establish His kingdom, He will be presented only with gold and frankincense.6 There will be no myrrh: His death is now behind Him.
Let's make this season a real celebration. What are you giving Him this Christmas? Is there something in your life He would like to see you part with?
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