Tue | May 3, 2016

Take Christ out of Christmas

Published:Sunday | December 23, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Ian Boyne, Contributor

With the increasing commercialisation and secularisation of Christmas, we often hear the plea to 'put Christ back into Christmas', to remember 'the real meaning of the Christmas', and 'the reason for the season'. But I am saying we should take Christ totally out of Christmas and make it an entirely secular festival!

Why would I make such an outrageous claim, especially since I myself profess Christianity? Because Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with biblical Christianity and is a pagan-derived festival adopted for strategic and political reasons, when there is a legitimate biblical festival that could commemorate the birth of Jesus. Follow me carefully as I outline my case.

First, the raw, incontestable historical facts: Christians up to nearly 200 years after Jesus' birth exhibited absolutely no interest in celebrating His birth, and there is no record whatsoever of any Christians observing His birthday. It was only about AD 200 that a Christian teacher in Egypt made reference to a date when Christ was born. Clement of Alexandria mentions several dates proposed by various Christians - incidentally, not one being December 25.

Some suggested May 20; others, March 21; others, April 21; also, April 15; as well as April 20 or 21. Only in the fourth century do we see December 25 emerging as the date for celebrating Jesus' birth - and that date was not alone, as January 6 was observed in the East, particularly in Egypt and Asia Minor. The highly reputable Biblical Archaeology Review on December 7 published an article 'How December 25 Became Christmas'.

I quote: "On December 25, Christians around the world will gather to celebrate Jesus' birth. Joyful carols, special liturgies, brightly wrapped gifts, festive foods - these characterise the feast today ... . But just how did the Christmas festival originate? How did December 25 come to be associated with Jesus' birthday?"

Interesting question. Let's continue: "The Bible offers few clues: Celebrations of Jesus' Nativity are not mentioned in the Gospels or Acts; the date is not given, not even the time of year. The biblical reference (is) to shepherds tending their flocks at night when they hear the news of Jesus' birth (Luke 2:8); in the cold month of December ... sheep might well have been corralled ... . The extrabiblical evidence from the first and second century is equally sparse: There is no mention of birth celebrations in the writings of early Christian writers such as Irenaeus (c 130-200) or Tertullian (c 160-225). Origen of Alexandria (c 165-264) goes so far as to mock celebrations of birth anniversaries, dismissing them as pagan practices - a strong indication that Jesus' birth was not marked with similar festivities at that time and place. As far as we can tell, Christmas was not celebrated at all at this point."


If Christians for the first 200 years saw no need to create a festival to celebrate Jesus' birth; if the people closest to Jesus and his earlier followers, including the Twelve, did not see it fit to institute a festival for His birth, I can't be dismissed as a Christian heretic for not observing Christmas personally and calling for Christ to be dissociated from this festival.

Roman Catholic deacon and apologist Peter Espeut will claim the Catholic Church's right to institute such a festival. After all, Peter and other orthodox Catholics believe that the Catholic Church is the original church, the church that stands in the tradition of Peter (of the Gospels) and the other apostles. They have church authority to establish days and festivals and even theological dogmas. They have demonstrated that authority by instituting Sunday worship, Christmas and Easter and promulgating the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Catholics have a stronger apologetic case for celebrating Christmas than Protestants who claim sola scriptura - scripture alone. The Protestants claim to stand on the Bible as the final guide to faith and practice. Now if they hold to the Bible alone, in contradistinction to Catholics who hold to Bible and sacred
tradition, and they know Christmas did not come out of the Bible, how
can they continue to howl at any suggestion to de-Christianise

It was not a Christian celebration in the
first place - Christ was never in Christmas. Indeed, the origins of
Christmas have long been established to have roots in ancient paganism.
Everybody knows this - but many Christians, particularly Protestants,
don't understand its implications. Christmas came out of the Roman
Saturnalia festival and was adopted by the Roman Church because of its
popularity and invincibility in Rome, where Christianity was spreading.
If the people did not want to give up their prized and highly
anticipated pagan festival of Saturnalia, why not baptise it and call it
Christian, drawing attention to the Son of Righteousness rather than
the sun god, Saturn, from which Saturnalia was

In A Book for Christmas,
William Sansom writes that in pagan mythology, Saturn was an "ancient
agricultural god-king who ate his own children presumably to avoid
regicide (being murdered while king). And Saturn was parallel with a
Carthaginian Baal whose horned effigy contained a furnace into which
children were sacrificially fed." This is grotesque - but it's part of
the sordid history of what has become known as

Let's read more about this Saturnalia
festival: "All businesses were closed except those that provided food or
revelry. Slaves were made equal to masters or even set over them.
Gambling, drinking and feasting were encouraged. People exchanged gifts
from the vegetation goddess Strenia, whom it was important to honour at
midwinter. Men dressed as women or in hides of animals and caroused in
the streets. Candles and lamps were used to frighten the spirits of
darkness which were considered powerful at this time of the year," says
Patricia Del Re in The Christmas

The Roman Emperor Aurelian
established December 25 as the feast of the birth of Sol Invictus (the
Unconquered Sun) from as early as 274 AD (or CE). Andrew McGowan, who is
president of Trinity College at the University of Melbourne and a
scholar of early Christianity, writes in the previously quoted
Biblical Archaeology Review

"From the mid-fourth century on, we do find
Christians deliberately adapting and Christianising pagan festivals. A
famous proponent of this practice was Pope Gregory the Great who, in a
letter written in 601 CE to a Christian missionary in Britain,
recommended that local pagan temples not be destroyed, but be converted
to churches and that pagan festivals be celebrated as feasts of
Christian martyrs."

While McGowan raises questions
about what some see as the settled position of Christmas evolving from
pagan roots, he makes it clear that "more recent studies have shown that
many of the holiday's trappings do reflect pagan customs borrowed much
later, as Christianity expanded into Northern and Western


why would Christians, especially Protestant Christians with an avowed
reliance on scripture alone as a basis for their teachings and
traditions, have to celebrate a festival whose date, trappings and
historical associations are pagan? Is there nothing in scripture which
could legitimately be used to celebrate Christ's birth? I believe there
is, but that there is a reason why the Roman church would not have
sought to use that festival. The Old Testament - or Jewish - Feast of
Tabernacles could appropriately be used to celebrate Christ's birth,
among its several meanings and its primary eschatological

But the early Gentile Christians were fiercely
anti-Semitic, and especially among Roman Christians, there was a deep
antipathy towards the Jews and a concerted attempt - which was
successful - to eradicate every strain of Jewish influence on
Christianity. The Roman church has done a thorough job of de-Judaising
the Church and pulling it from its Hebraic roots. That's why you have
Christmas and Easter - the latter of which was a substitute for the
Passover, which continued to be kept by Eastern Christians at the same
date as the Jews (Nisan 14) for 400 years after Christ. That was so
until the Roman church stamped it out and imposed its ecclesiastical
authority to enforce that ban. I could quote you chilling passages from
church fathers which demonstrated such raw hate and antagonism towards
the Jewish people and their religious practices.

Feast of Tabernacles, recorded in Leviticus 23, is the appropriate
festival to celebrate the Incarnation - which is an important event,

John 1:14 says, "And the Word became flesh and
Tabernacles (or dwelt) among us". The word for 'dwelt' or 'tabernacle'
is 'skenoo'. In fact, some scholars believe that Christ was born in the
September/October period when the Feast of Tabernacles is generally
celebrated. Among them is the distinguished Adventist scholar, the late
Samuelle Bacchiocchi. (Incidentally, people continue to say erroneously
that Adventists don't celebrate Christmas. They do. They even have
Christmas trees in their churchyards. Watch their networks 3ABN and Hope
and you will see the Christmas trees, other Christmas trappings, and
hear Christmas carols. They have bowed to the Christmas influence,
despite their attacks on Catholicism.

Bacchiocchi says
in his book God's Festivals in Scripture and
: "It is generally agreed that Christ's ministry began
when He was about 30 years of age (Luke 3:23) and lasted three and a
half years until his death at Passover (March/April). Then backtracking,
we arrive much closer to the Feast of Tabernacles (September/October)
dating of Christ's birth than to December 25. Indirect support for a
September/October dating of Christ's birth is provided by the fact that
from November to February, shepherds did not watch their flock by night
in the fields."

In fact, even some early church
fathers recognised that the Feast of Tabernacles related to Christ's
birth. Gregory of Nazianzus (AD 329-389), in his Sermon on the Nativity,
says, "The subject of today's feast (December 25) is the true Feast of

Anti-Semitism, the intense desire to
ingratiate with the pagan Romans to spread Christianity, foisted
Christmas on us and led to the rejection of the biblical feasts.
Bacchiocchi asks a poignant question: "Why celebrate the birth of Christ
at the wrong time of December 25 - a date derived from pagan sun
worship - when the Feast of Tabernacles provides us with biblical timing
and typology for commemorating such an important

It's time to take Christ out of

Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist. Email
feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and