Thursday, December 24, 2009

Fast Facts About Christmas

  • Not in the Bible:
    Christmas is never mentioned in the Bible, and there is no suggestion as to the season, much less the date, of Jesus' birth.

  • Not Celebrated in Early Christianity:
    In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated.

  • The Date Was Chosen by a Politician:
    The actual date of Christ's birth was chosen by Constantine I, after his conversion to Christianity, and appears to have been a political act designed to have a holiday in his new religion line up with several holidays celebrated by older competing sun-god-worshiping religions, including Elah-Gabal, a Syrian sun god; Sol, the god of Emperor Aurelian, and Mithras, a soldiers' god that originated in Persia. After Constantine's death, Pope Julius I codified the date of Christ's birth as December 25th. The term Cristes m├Žsse or "Mass of Christ" is an early English phrase first recorded in 1038, 1,000 years after Jesus' death.

  • Poetic License with the Nativity Scene:
    Despite all the depictions of the nativity scene, the Bible mentions no "stable” nor does it mention animals. A "manger" is mentioned, but a manger is a feeding trough, not a stable.

  • The Pagan Christmas Garland:
    Across Europe, Pagans of every stripe have always celebrated the Winter Solstice by draping doorways and mantels with evergreens (holly, pine, fir, spruce, mistletoe), a tradition embraced by the Romans during Saturnalia and the feast of Sol Invictus. After the conversion of Anglo-Saxon (i.e. Norse) Britain in the very early 7th century, Christmas was referred to as Geol, or Yule, the name of the pre-Christian solstice festival which honored the god Thor.

  • A Drunken Street Festival:
    By the Middle Ages, Christianity had more-or-less replaced paganism with believers attending church and then decamping to drunken, carnival-like parties in the street generally accompanied by caroling and, in some locations, re-enactment of the nativity scene. Partying and excessive eating was not illogical for this time of year: December was the only real season for fresh meat, as the weather was cold enough that slaughtered animals did not spoil, nor did they have to be salted to preserve them. Late December was also the when the year’s supply of beer or wine (made from grapes, apples, and grain) was now ready to drink. As Stephen Nissenbaum notes in his book The Battle for Christmas (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1996), "From the beginning, the Church’s hold over Christmas was (and remains still) rather tenuous. There were always people for whom Christmas was a time of pious devotion rather than carnival, but such people were always in the minority. It may not be going too far to say that Christmas has always been an extremely difficult holiday to 'Christianize.'"

  • Banned in England and Scotland:
    In Scotland, John Knox tossed out the "multitude of the monuments of idolatry" in 1562 as part of the Protestant Reformation. These included not only the celebration of Mass, but also Romish liturgical ceremonies, Roman bishops, and many Ecclesiastical holidays, including Christmas. When the Puritans took over England in 1645, they sought to rid the Church of England of all qualities for which they could find no biblical source or authorization. Among the holidays tossed out was Christmas, which was derided as a Pagan holiday adopted by Catholics from the Romans and the pagans of earlier times. Christmas was banned until Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, at which point the Puritans were persecuted and fled to America.

  • The Return of "Misrule":
    For the next 150 years or so, Christmas in England was a time of "misrule" i.e., socially permitted drunkenness, promiscuity, and gambling, with direct ties back to the Roman tradition of Saturnalia.

  • The German Christmas Tree:
    Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition in the 16th century when devout Christians began to bring entire evergreen trees indoors -- a kind of one-upmanship on the ancient pagans.

  • Banned in America:
    The Puritans that came to America in 1620 did not celebrate Christmas, and from 1659 to 1681 anyone celebrating Christmas in Boston was fined five shillings.

  • Christmas Was a Weakness of our Enemies:
    On December 25th, 1776, George Washington attacked the Hessian troops outside of Trenton, giving his demoralized forces their first real victory of the war. Washington could be reasonably sure his plan of attack would succeed, as American troops did not celebrate the "German" holiday of Christmas.

  • Not Celebrated by our Founding Fathers:
    Christmas remained out of favor in the U.S., and on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America's new constitution, Congress sat in session. In fact, Congress sat in session on Christmas until 1870, when Christmas was finally declared a federal holiday.

  • A Turkish Elf:
    St. Nicholas was actually born in modern day Turkey -- an early Christian saint famous for giving away all of his inherited wealth and traveling the countryside helping the poor, the sick and small children. His traditional feast day was December 6th, but it was celebrated on Christmas eve by early Dutch settlers in New York who called him Sinter Klaas.

  • Christmas is Introduced to America:
    The idea of Christmas was introduced to the U.S. by writer Washington Irving who wrote Knickerbocker History, a satire on the transplanted customs of New York's Dutch population, which contained several references to the legendary "Sinter Klaas," who delivered gifts to children on Christmas Eve. Later, in 1921, Irving wrote a Christmas poem called "The Children's Friend," in which the first reference to a sleigh pulled by reindeer is made. Sleigh, reindeer and elves are a cross-over from Scandinavia, where Christmas is celebrated with a jolly elf named Jultomten who is said to deliver gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats. In Finland, of course, they had much the same story, only there the sleigh was drawn by reindeer.

  • Expanding on Washington Irving:
    In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister, wrote a long Christmas poem for his three daughters. This poem, later retitled, "The Night Before Christmas," was a huge hit and helped establish a picture of "Santa Claus" in people's minds. This picture was crystallized in 1881, when political cartoonist Thomas Nast used Moore's poem as the basis for an illustration showing Santa Claus as a rotund, cheerful man with a big white beard, a red suit trimmed in white, and carrying a sack of toys, and whose base of operations was a North Pole workshop populated by elves.

  • The German Christmas Tree Comes to England:
    Charles' Dickens' book A Christmas Carol was published in 1843 and it played a major role in reinventing Christmas as a holiday emphasizing family and compassion over self-centered excess. In 1846, just a few years after A Christmas Carol was published, Queen Victoria (who was of German descent) put up a Christmas tree. This was an entirely foreign tradition to England and came about because of Queen Victoria's marriage to the German Prince Albert of Coberg. As Queen Victoria was a hugely popular figure, and Christmas was already in the process of being reinvented, everyone quickly rushed out to get a copy the Queen and get their own Christmas tree decorated with glass ornaments made in Germany.

  • An Ad Man Invents a New Icon:
    In 1938, a copywriter at the Montgomery Ward department store invented the story of "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" as part of an advertising campaign. The story that would sell several million copies, before it was turned into a song (1949) which propelled it into permanent orbit.

  • There Is No Public Ban on Celebrations or Public Displays:
    In 1984, the Supreme Court ruled in Lynch v. Donnelly that religious themes in government-funded winter holiday displays were permitted under the First Amendment. In 2001, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling in Ganulin v. United States which said that observing a day off on December 25th served a legitimate secular interest. .
    • And now, for a little musical interlude: the incomperable Nat King Cole.

      This is a repost from 2008.



      Matthew said...

      Hey Pat. You said, "Not in the Bible: Christmas is never mentioned in the Bible, and there is no suggestion as to the season, much less the date, of Jesus' birth."

      This is not entirely accurate. Some clarifications.

      To say that Christmas is not in the bible is a bit disingenuous. The bulk of the bible (including the new testament) was written by Jewish authors. This is made poignantly clear by Jesus himself when he said, "I came first for the Jew" and even compared non-Jews to dogs. Jesus, most of the apostles, and much of the earliest 'Christian' church did not see themselves as 'christians'... they were ethnic and religious Jews. Because of this, Christmas, as a religious holiday, simply could not be in the bible. The same is true for Easter... there was no biblical mandate to observe easter either, only instructions to observe Communion (perhaps in conjunction with exiting Passover dinner protocols).

      But Christmas, as a nativity, is certainly a biblical reality.

      With regards to the day/month/year, there are actually two dominant theories on the actual timing of the nativity based on biblical information and our best understandings of ancient Palestinian culture.

      The first (and more widely accepted) theory is that the nativity took place in the spring (likely late March). see -

      The second theory is that it took place in fall. see -

      Either way, a winter Christmas has little or no biblical basis.

      Your glossing coverage is correct in general terms though, as there is very little about Christmas that is biblical or Christian. It is a pagan holiday. Attempts over the years to dress it up have been lip stick on the proverbial pig (or as the case might be in Alaska... a pit bull).

      PBurns said...

      Yes there is certainly a nativity event in at least one one book of the Gospel. Nativity simply meaning "birth," of course.

      What is interesting is that even though most of the possible books of the New Testament were excluded (which is why we have no stories of Jesus as a teenager) even the four Gospels that were agreed to cannot agree on what that Navitiy looked like. The Book of Mark (believed to be the earliest Gospel) says nothing about the nativity, and Mark says very little, while Luke and Mathew differ on a lot of the key elements including the location of the birth (only Luke mentions a manger scene; Matthew says Jesus was found in a regular house and suggests that Jesus may not have been new-born).


      Anonymous said...

      Wikipedia, Names and titles of Jesus in the New Testament_________

      At the time of Jesus the Christ was the Messiah sent by God expected the Jewish people, which was expected especially in the social and political ransom by the Roman domination.



      Herod the Great, who reigned on Palestine from 37 to 4 BC, is known for being accused of having made the alleged massacre of the innocents. Single accuser: the evangelist Matthew (2,1-18).

      Even ignoring the objections of the year and place of birth of Jesus, we can say that:

      - Herod had no authority to issue a death sentence without the approval of the Sanhedrin and in some important cases without the explicit approval of the Romans.

      - If Herod had issued an order that Rome would have stopped if not for humanity, surely to avoid disturbances to public order.

      Herod was a great king, enemy of religious Jewish, continue the work of Alexander the Great: a common culture for the West and East without ethnic or religious distinctions. That is his vision and his Arab origin was slandered by the Jewish tradition that turned it into a monster thirsting for blood. The early Christians, Jews culturally, continued this tradition.

      The real story:


      The Suburban Bushwacker said...

      Well i thought it was excellent LOL
      Have a good one

      HTTrainer said...

      Louis Armstrong give a great rendition of "The Night Before Christmas"
      And ere's a link about who really may have written it:

      Sean said...

      Mithras: He's the reason for the season.