Q – What do you think about Christmas? Is it okay to have a Christmas tree? And, what about Santa Claus? I heard that he was connected with Baal worship. Is that right?
Jim – I purposely tabled these questions until after the holidays so I would not be introducing any crisis of conscience into your household just as you were preparing to celebrate.
Briefly, Christmas is not a Christian holiday (read: holy day), or time of observance. Jesus was clearly not born on Dec. 25, as is widely known and admitted. Even the details of His birth make that obvious. There are no shepherds in the Middle East who watch their flocks by night in the mid-winter. That alone ought to tell us something’s amiss.
Anyway, we can get a pretty good sense of Christ’s actual birth date by using Luke’s gospel. John the Baptist is said to be six months older than Christ (Luke 1:26 and Luke 1:36). So, if we can determine John’s conception date, we simply add 15 months and we’re in the right territory. John’s father was a priest who served in the temple during the course of Abijah, or Abia (Luke 1:5). King David established the courses of the priests. There are of 24 courses and Abijah is the eighth (1 Chron. 24:10). By comparing those courses to the Hebrew religious calendar, we can easily deduce the period when Zacharias, John’s father, served his course and heard that his wife was about to conceive.
So, let’s do the math. The Hebrew calendar was lunar, not solar. It was divided into 12 months of 30 days. So, the eight course would fall during the last two weeks of the fourth month of the Sacred calendar. That month was called Tammuz, the tenth month of the Civil Calendar. It fell between mid-June and mid-July on our western Calendars. Add fifteen months (or, just three months to make it easy) and you arrive at the month of Tishri, which is mid-September to mid-October. So, Jesus was born near the time of the Autumn equinox, in the early Fall.
By the way, that period is also the time of the Feast of Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles, when every Jewish family capable of travel was required to appear before the Lord in Jerusalem. So, even the smaller towns that bordered Jerusalem would be overflowing with people. That would help explain why there was “no room at the inn” in Bethlehem.
Meanwhile, the early Christian Church failed to record the date of Jesus’ birth with any certainty because it simply wasn’t important to them. The death of Christ is attested to in great detail in all four gospel records. But, His birthday was of little consequence. It wasn’t until the time of Emperor Constantine’s efforts to “Christianize” Rome that we find any real attention paid to His birth.
The Romans were steeped in Helenized culture, which they “borrowed” from the Greeks. The Greek pantheon of gods was inculcated into Roman mythology and simply given new names. And, the vast majority of Greco/Roman mythological worship finds its roots in Babylonish mystery religion, which all revolves around “sun worship.” So, one of the primary festivals (read: holy days) that the Romans observed each year was the Saturnalia Feast (which came to be known as the Feast of Fools in the Nordic and Gaelic cultures). It happened on the shortest day of the calendar year as a tribute to the sun, in order to entice the sun to return and keep their agricultural society going. So, every year, during the winter solstice, there was a drunken, wild, gift-giving festival that had its roots in ancient sun worship.
Meanwhile, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine (306 to 337 AD) there had been 150 years of unbridled torture of Christians. However, Christianity, far from being disposed of by the Roman persecution, continued to grow and thrive. So, when he rose to the throne of Rome, he had a huge social dilemma. Although his personal devotions prove that he worshipped the Roman gods Mars and Apollos, Constantine unilaterally forbid Christian persecution throughout his realm.
The next significant event in Constantine’s religious development occurred in 312. Lactantius – who tutored his son, Crispus – and who therefore must have been close to the imperial family, reports that during the night before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge Constantine was commanded in a dream to place the sign of Christ on the shields of his soldiers. Constantine was victorious and he attributed his victory to “the god of the Christians.” Consequently, he began the effort to “christianize” Rome, making it the State religion. Since every Roman citizen was required to embrace some form of Christianity – though it was a severely watered-down and superficial form of Christianity – Constantine effectively established the Roman universal (the meaning of “catholic”) church and the Holy Roman Empire. And, of course, Roman Catholicism went on to dominate Western Religion for the next 1200 years.
So, what doest that have to do with Christmas? Well, in his efforts to “Christianize” Rome, Constantine encountered considerable resistance from the heathen Roman populace. Realizing that he could not utterly remove all of their various feasts, orgies, bacchanalias and observances, he simply stamped Christian names and observances onto the festivities that already existed. For instance, the Feast of Ishtar, a Spring Fertility Feast replete with rabbits, eggs and other symbols of fertility, occurred close to the time of the Passover, when Christ rose from the dead. The two were effectively mashed together, and the early-risers who went to celebrate the rising of the sun, the rebirth of Tammuz, and his mother Semirimus, called Ishtar, was simply “Christianized” to celebrate the resurrection of Christ from the dead. In fact, it’s pretty spooky that the most significant religious observance of the calendar year still bears her name – Easter! And, people in the Christian church still run out to greet the sun as it rises – a form of Babylonish Baal (sun god) worship.
Anyway (you can see this coming), rather than try to stop the mid-winter Saturnalia feast, called “birthday of the unconquered sun,” Constantine simply imposed the birth of Christ onto that date in order to give it significance for every citizen of Rome, regardless of their personal depth of Christian commitment. It was a small matter to change “the sun” to “the Son.” And, in keeping with their penchant for mixing and matching heathen and Christian names and concepts, that holiday came to be known as the Christ-mass. The English word “mass” is derived from the Latin “masse,” which is derived from the Greek “maza,” which were small, round barley cakes baked to honor Semirimus as the “queen of heaven.” That name was carried into the Catholic worship service, with its veneration of Mary as “queen of Heaven.” So, when the Mass was performed to honor her child, it was designated the yearly “Christ-mass.” We just call it Christmas.
And, Christmas doesn’t have the sort of illustrious American history that modern folk assume. It was understood to be a pagan practice by the earliest pilgrims and settlers. In fact, Christmas was generally outlawed in America until the end of the last century. Up until 1870, the city of Boston proclaimed that anyone missing work on Christmas Day would be fired. Factory owners required employees to come to work at 5 a.m. on Christmas in order to insure they would not go to church that day. And any student who failed to go to school on December 25 was summarily expelled. Alabama was the first state of the union to recognize Christmas as a legal holiday, but that was late in the nineteenth century. It’s amazing how times have changed; now that Christmas is a staple in our national economy.
While there’s some debate as to where the various traditions and observances of Christmas started, it’s clear that most of them pre-date Christ Himself. They were simply carried over from their heathen roots into the “christian” culture. And, Santa Claus is one of those traditions. If you do a simple search on the Internet on the History of Christmas, or the history of Santa Claus – remember that “Santa” comes from the Latin word for “saint” – you’ll find a wealth of debate and information. But, it’s clear that a fat man in red coming down the chimney to give gifts to children has nothing to do with the birth of Christ.
The reason I referred to him as Baal, is because of the ancient mid-east and European wood carving that depict Baal as an old man with a long white beard, usually holding a fir, or evergreen, tree as a sign of eternal life. That exact imagery, by the way, appeared on this year’s Christmas stamps from the US postal service. Spooky.
It’s funny how inculcated this essentially heathen custom has become in our society, though. I once told a woman that I didn’t care for Christmas and she accused me of being an atheist! But, it’s just the opposite. I don’t like Christmas because I am a committed Christian! Certainly, Jesus was right when He said, “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” (Mat. 15:6)
However, I am not a complete killjoy where Christmas is concerned. We give our kids gifts and we enjoy the time the family. But, we have never taught our children Santa Claus. I mean, they know who he is, but they know he is fictitious, on the level of Bugs Bunny and Ronald McDonald. We never wanted to ascribe God-like attributes to anyone but God. Only God “sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake.” And, only God rewards and judges people, not some mythological fat man from the North Pole. Libbie and I agreed early in our marriage that we would not lie to our kids. That way, they would always know that whatever we told them was true. And, they would trust us to guide them in the pathways of truth and honesty.
When my parents – who really played the Santa Claus thing to the hilt – told me that he was not real, I was crushed. And, the very next question I asked (according to my mom) was, “Then is there really a God?” Of course, they instantly went into recovery mode and did their best to convince me that the God I had never seen, never felt, seldom talked to and who never seemed to actually do anything for me, was really, genuinely alive and significant. But, the man who had entered my home every year, brought me gifts, ate our cookies, drank our milk, who I wrote letters to and who loved me for being good, was fake. I hated it. So, as a parent, I will never take my children through that crisis. When I tell them about God – whom they have heard about from their earliest years – they know I’m telling the truth and that I will never recant.
A couple of years ago we even stopped putting up a tree. The tree had bothered me, but my wife did not share my conviction, originally. But, after a while it even bothered her. Like I’ve said, revelation of God is progressive and we are responsible to the truth we know. So, we asked the kids if they would prefer a tree each holiday, or if we spent that extra fifty bucks on gifts. You can imagine their reply. Bingo – no tree.
Thanks for your question. I know plenty of Christians struggle with the holidays and how to properly observe them. My opinion is that we all react in accordance with our level of understanding, in keeping with the truth revealed to us as individuals. Some folk with less knowledge of Christmas history and traditions may celebrate the holidays in all their detail without a pang of conscience. And, I would never condemn them. They are a perfect example of Paul’s “weaker brethren.” I will continually strive to teach God’s word until we all come to the knowledge of the Lord and worship Him in Spirit and in truth. Then, each Christian must work out the details between them and God. My job, and our job as a church, is to expose the truth and promote the worship of Christ and Him only.
Yours for His sake,