Where Did We Get Christmas?

Although Scripture provides a clear record of Jesus’ birth, it is completely silent on the whole concept of setting aside a certain day to commemorate the birth of Jesus. So if the Bible doesn’t coordinate the Christmas celebration, and the early church didn’t recognize any particular celebration of Jesus’ birth then...

Where in the world did we get Christmas?

First, we must understand the fact that the actual date of Jesus’ birth is speculated and ultimately unknown. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when and why Christians eventually decided to commemorate December 25th as the day in which we should celebrate the birth of Jesus.

However, one popular and perhaps the strongest theory is that this date was chosen by the church around the 4th century in order to replace a major pagan festival that celebrated the worship of the sun during this time. As one fourth century theologian wrote, “We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of Him who made it [the Son of God].”

So why call it Christmas?

Actually, the original celebration was most widely known as the 'Nativity Feast' and would not begin to take on the name of Christmas until around the 11th century. The church began to gather every year on the traditional date that had been set (December 25th) and participated in Communion (Mass) to celebrate the birth of Jesus (Christ). Therefore, Christmas is actually a compound word derived from the term “Christ’s Mass.” This name was established by the Christian church to disconnect the holiday and its customs from its pagan origins.

So what do we do with Christmas? Is Christmas a Biblically instituted holiday?

Not really.

Is the birth of Jesus worth celebrating?

Absolutely.

Should this holiday’s pagan origins alarm us?

That depends.

Contrary to what some may believe, the concept of giving gifts on December 25th didn’t originate with the Magi or Saint Nicholas. The giving of gifts was a large part of various pagan festivals celebrated during this time of year. So while we as Christians are free to celebrate the birth of our Savior through the giving of gifts, we ought to be alarmed when this season’s purpose becomes lost among the pursuit of possessions and presents.

Some seem to think the meaning of the season is “What to get or what I got.” Many others would argue that “No, Christmas is a time of giving.” I’d argue that both miss the mark.

The meaning of the season is not in the getting or the giving but in what has been given. The Gift. The Gift from God that was God Himself. An infinite God wrapped up as the Incarnated Infant.

So amid this season of celebration lets stop and consider what it is we are actually celebrating. Are we participating in a popular pagan festival for a false god – mammon, merchandise, and materialism – or are we commemorating our Savior who took on a cradle in His route to the cross?

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:11-14)