Christmas Misconceptions - Is Christmas Pagan?
Here are some things that you might hear said about Christmas - but ARE NOT true. I get emails every year asking questions about the roots of some customs (and also telling me I'm 'wrong').
So I hope the below will help answer some questions, without having to email me to get the answers!
*Everything* to do with Christmas is really 'pagan' (and so 'bad')
Some Christmas traditions do have pre-Christian connections to them, from the past; but so do many things in 'western' culture! (The names for the days of the week and most months of year have 'pagan' roots...)
Where any Christmas traditions have pagan/pre-Christian backgrounds, I make it clear on the site. But where they don't, I also make that clear. Also, in the emails I get, I often find that the term 'pagan' is used to mean "anything I don't like or don't agree with..."!
We shouldn't celebrate Christmas because the Early Church didn't celebrate it
The first followers of Jesus didn't 'celebrate' Christmas or Easter as such. But they certainly 'remembered' them. The birth of Jesus is recorded in two of the four gospels (the four books at the start of the New Testament in the Christian Bible which tell the story of the life of Jesus); and Jesus's death and resurrection is in all four gospels. Jesus himself (and then later Paul who wrote much of the New Testament in the Bible) told us to commemorate and celebrate that.
We know from early records that the early Church formally remembered (celebrated?) the birth of Jesus as early as 125AD - and probably earlier. (Although not on the 25th December at this time, they just remembered that Jesus was born!)
The early Christians got the date of December 25th from the date of Easter, when Christians remember the death [and resurrection] of Jesus! You can find out more about the date of Christmas on this page...
John 5:23 states "that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him."
So in celebrating Christmas, I'm honoring God. I want to honour God all year round, but Christmas is a time when we can especially remember the birth of Jesus.
December 25th was the 'Birthday' of Mithras
Mithraism was a Roman cult/mystery religion based around a god called Mithras (who was originally an Angelic being from the earlier Zoroastrian religion) in the 1st to the 4th century. The cult was popular among the Roman military.
No one really knows how Mithraism started. It seems to have been a mix of Greek and Persian myths. It was also complex with followers of the cult having access to different levels through initiation ceremonies.
There was also a Roman Festival called Sol Invictus to worship the Sun god 'Sol'. There was a connection between Mithraism and Sol Invictus.
The Roman Emperor dedicated a temple to Sol on December 25th 274. In the 'Calendar of Philocalus' in 354, there's a festival of 'Natalis Invicti' (the birth of Invictus) on the 25th December. (There were also races/games held to honour Sol ever four years from the 19th to 22nd October.)
Over time people then said that Christmas had been 'moved' to the 25th December to 'take over' this 'pagan' date.
However, the main evidence for this seems to have some from a scribbled note in the margin of a 12th century manuscript which mis-understood some very basic facts (goes to another site). There's also evidence that many of the 'Sol Invictus' celebrations happened in October and not December!
There's no evidence that Mithras had a 'birthday' until the 4th century - at least 100-150 years after the birth of Jesus had been celebrated on December 25th.
December 25th was the 'Birthday' of Tammuz
This 'theory' comes from a pamphlet called 'The Two Babylons - Romanism and its Origins' published in 1853 by a Scottish minister called Alexander Hislop.
Hislop was a fanatical anti-Catholic (and conspiracy theorist) who wanted to prove that the Catholic Church was really a new version of an ancient Babylonian religion. In his writings (and especially that pamphlet) he tried to pull together his theories with 'new' archeology of the day. He made several claims about the origin of the Catholic church and its 'connection' to Babylonian religions and this included lots of things to do with Christmas and Easter.
The problem is - he seems to have either accidentally mis-understood basically all of the archeology and translations (he made lots of 'connections' because some words sound vaguely similar, although they had no connection at all) AND/OR he just made lots of it up.
One of the claims in The Two Babylons is that Tammuz (also known as Dumuzid who was an ancient Mesopotamian god) was connected with Nimrod (who's a rather mysterious figure described as a great-grandson of Noah in the Torah/Bible).
Hislop said that Nimrod married his own mother (Semiramis) and they had a child called Tammuz. But he also said that Nimrod and Tammuz were the same person (confusing!).
But the connection between Nimrod (or another god called Ninus) and Semiramis seems to come from Greek legends that were then re-reported by Roman historians. There's no direct evidence from Mesopotamia between Nimrod and Semiramis!
Hislop also claimed that the birth of Tammuz/Nimrod was celebrated on the 25th December.
However, apart from The Two Babylons, THERE IS NO HISTORICAL EVIDENCE that any of this is true!
December 25th was the 'Birthday' of Horus
This 'theory' comes from another Victorian 'historian' called Gerald Massey. Like Hislop, Massey wrote some books attempting to link modern western religions to older ones, in his case ones from Egypt. And just like Hislop, Massey got lots of things very wrong!
He somehow came to the conclusion that lots of things about Jesus had really been copied from the stories about the Egyptian sun god Horus.
Massey claimed that Horus was born to a virgin. But he wasn't! Horus's mother was the goddess Isis. She was married to the god Osiris. How Horus was conceived isn't suitable reading on a family friendly site like this one. Let's just say that Isis very much wasn't a virgin...
Massey also claimed that Horus was born on December 25th, but that's just not possible! The ancient Egyptian calendar didn't work like modern calendars. If you look at the date that's 'given' to Horus in that calendar, it would be sometime in the middle of our July - but would move about as the ancient Egyptian calendar didn't have leap years! The ancient Egyptian calendar simply couldn't and didn't have a date that would correspond with December 25th.
Claims like this have been made more recently in a couple of films and books. But in all of these cases, any 'evidence' has been cherry picked [and edited from within larger works] and none stand up to any real historical standards of evidence. Massey isn't even mentioned in books like the 'Oxford Encyclopaedia of Ancient Egypt'!
Christmas Trees (and Yule Logs) started as Persian/Mesopotamian Idols
This is another one that started with Alexander Hislop...
He connected the word 'Yule' (an old Northern European term for the time around the Winter Solstice) and the Iranian/Persian word 'Yalda' (a name in Iran/Persia for the winter solstice) because they sounded bit like each other.
However, there is NO EVIDENCE (either historical or etymological) that Yule are Yalda are connected in any way - but this was one of Hislop's main arguments 'against' Christmas.
Also, the name 'Yalda' (which means 'birth') itself seems to have COME FROM early Christians who were by then celebrating Christmas around this time - NOT the other way around!!!
In The Two Babylons, Hislop claims that the Yule Log and then a tree sprouted from it were used as symbols of the death and reincarnation of Nimrod/Tammuz.
But again, there's NO HISTORICAL EVIDENCE for this!
NONE of the claims made in 'The Two Babylons' have ever been confirmed by any later historians or theologians.
Even just a few years after its publication it was thought to be rubbish by most scholars as the review in the 'Saturday Review' in 1858 said about the work "...we never before quite knew the folly of which ignorant or half-learned bigotry is capable."
However, it's still treated by some religious groups and also some 'out there' conspiracy theorists as 'historical fact', whereas it's nothing of the sort! (For instance David Icke, a big UK based conspiracy theorist, has used one of Hislop's main claims as a very important 'fact' in one of his books claiming that Reptilian lizards really secretly rule the earth...)
You can read more about The Two Babylons here... (goes to another site)
Jeremiah 10 proves that Christmas Trees are Idols
Jeremiah is a book in the Jewish scriptures and the Christian Old Testament. Jeremiah 10:1-5 says:
Hear what the Lord says to you, people of Israel. This is what the Lord says: Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the heavens, though the nations are terrified by them. For the practices of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter. Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good.
This text is sometimes used, together with the 'theory' from Hislop about Yule/Yalda. However, Jeremiah 10 clearly refers to trees which were being cut down and then carved and decorated, turning them into idols used in homes - not actual 'tree worship' or the decoration of trees like we have in Christmas Trees today!
Decorating trees first represented the Garden of Eden in 'Paradise Plays'. How we have trees now, might well have been popularised by Martin Luther and developed from there. Baubles on Christmas Trees started out as apples. Originally they were real apples - sometimes covered in gold. Then when glass decorations started being made, some of the first were glass apples!
And in Hosea 14:8 God even likens Himself to as an 'ever green tree' who all our 'fruit' comes from. So in this regard, you could even say that having a Christmas Tree can reminds us of God's provision in our lives!
Santa is an anagram for Satan so it's a 'hidden' way of worshipping the devil
Well, yes Santa and Satan do have the same letter in them. However, Santa is also 'Saint' in Spanish.
The name Santa Claus comes from 'Saint' Nicholas, via 'Sinterklaas', so that's all there is to it - no hiddenness!
(An anagram of Saint Nicholas is 'In Action Slash' so I guess that makes it even worse...!)
The Star of Bethlehem was created by Satan/The Devil
Some religious groups, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, believe that the Star of Bethlehem was created by Satan/The Devil and they even refer to it as "Satan's Star". (Jehovah's Witnesses also don't celebrate Christmas now, although they did when they were first founded.)
Having the star being created by Satan has a few big problems with it.
- Christians believe that God has ultimate power. If God didn't want the Star to be seen, he simply could have stopped any star from being created by Satan!
- If Satan's purpose for the star was to have Jesus killed, why didn't Satan send the star directly to Herod or contact Herod by another means? Herod used many kinds of mediums and fortune telling. It would have been much easier to go directly to him, via occult methods, rather than via visitors (and the most educated people at the time) from several hundred miles away!
- Several Old Testament prophecies talk about the Messiah being called 'out of Egypt' and children being killed. The gifts the Magi brought with them paid for the family's escape and time spent in Egypt. Thus fulfilling the prophecies and God's will. If Satan just wanted Jesus dead, using the Magi was a really bad idea and seriously back-fired!
Going straight to Herod, and telling him where Jesus was, would have been much simpler and would have avoided any outside influences from causes problems!