Origin of Christmas - The Biblical Account
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 2:1-11).
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 pagan tradition into the "Christian" holiday of Christmas.
Origin of Christmas - What Really Matters?
The true origin of Christmas is filled with controversy and compromise. A quick study will reveal a number of disturbing roots that we haven't been able to cover in this brief article. 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.