Where Does Christmas Come From?
Most of my work experience was in offices populated predominantly or entirely by women. While this has its advantages, there was always an active rumor mill churning. And you knew which were the rumors and which were the true stories because the rumors were never told exactly the same way twice.
The same goes with what most people "know" when it comes to the origins of Christmas, or the celebration of the Messiah's birthday. Ask three people, and you'll get three different stories, usually about the "pagan origins" of Christmas.
Most people would say that Christmas came from one of three sources: Roman Emperor Aurelian's holiday of the Birth of the Unconquered Son; Julius Caesar's Saturnalia festival (which actually was not a religious holiday, it was really similar in significance to our Memorial Day or Labor Day, which we use to "celebrate" the beginning and ending of summer); or Emperor Constantine's attempt to create a purely "Christian" holiday to counter these existing pagan holidays.
But did you know that there is evidence that the practice of commemorating Jesus's birth predates all of these?
It was a common belief among ancient Jews that a prophet of God died on the same day of the year that they were conceived. I know, that sounds silly to us now. (Consider the people who make news by dying on their birthday - that's a LONG pregnancy!) But it was widely believed, even among early Christians who had no medical reason to believe otherwise. And as Jesus was not only a prophet of God, but God incarnate, the Messiah - it is understandable why they would apply this same belief to Him.
Early Christians took John's account of Jesus's crucifixion as being on the eve of Passover, which we today call Good Friday. However, as Christianity spread throughout the world, different culture's calendars were in conflict over the exact dates. It would take too long to go into here, but the most common dates that came forth for Jesus's death/conception were March 25th, and April 6th.
No one is really sure why the March 25th date won, but it did, and if you are a member of an orthodox liturgical church, you celebrate that time as the Annunciation, or the commemoration of the Angel Gabriel informing Mary she would be the mother of the Messiah. (The Good Friday/Easter celebration was moved to the April date.) We understand Scripture to mean that at that very moment the Holy Spirit fell on Mary and caused her to conceive. So, that would make Jesus's date of conception March 25th. What is nine months after March 25th?
And those pagan festivals? The Birth of the Unconquered Son came about in the late 3rd century to commemorate the winter solstice, the same way Julius Caesar did with Saturnalia in the 1st century BC. As far as
is concerned, it's far more likely that he wanted to codify a uniquely Christian holiday that already was practiced, than that he randomly decided to create a holiday that had no historical significance among already believing Christians, who would likely have been skeptical of such a government institution anyway. Constantine
So where did the idea that Christmas came from pagan origins become widely believed? Actually, it was much later, during the Reformation era. Paul Ernst Jablonski, a Protestant, wished to show that the celebration of the Messiah's birth on December 25th was one of the many “paganizations” of Christianity that the Catholic Church promoted. Dom Jean Hardouin, a Benedictine monk, tried to show that the Catholic Church adopted pagan festivals for Christian purposes without paganizing the gospel. Funny, isn't it? Just like today, the idea that Christmas was pagan in origin was spread by those wanting to divide, not unify, believers.
Now, when most people point to a lack of historical evidence of early Church fathers "celebrating" Christmas, that's most likely because early Christians didn't celebrate Jesus's birth in any way resembling the way we do, which has changed over the years. Can you imagine what they would think of our modern celebrations of the Messiah's arrival? And there are definitely aspects of our modern "Christmas" festivities that have nothing to do with Jesus. *cough*Black Friday*cough*
But, it is what it is, and rather than letting these "secular" or "commercial" aspects mislead us into shunning the Christmas season, it should provoke us into an even more devoted effort to use this time to really celebrate and worship Jesus, the Messiah! After all, the date isn't what's really important; what's important is the real Reason for the Season:
Emmanuel! God is with us!!
"She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins."
~ Matthew 1:21