The Bible gives no certain answer to the date of Jesus' birth, but it does give clues. Luke 2:8-14 speaks of shepherds living outdoor and tending to a flock of sheep. The text reads, "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night." Scholars of the Bible have concluded that this would be highly unlikely in the month of December, for the weather conditions would be too cold to live outside or tend to a flock of sheep. In addition, it is also unlikely that Augustus would force Jews to trek to their home cities under the cold and rainy seasons.
Why do people celebrate Jesus' birth on December 25?
It is uncertain why December 25th was chosen. One theory is that it was influenced by pagan ( ancient polytheistic religions) holidays. Before the Romans converted to Christianity, they celebrated the popular holiday Saturnalia, a festival of feasting and revelry held in December in celebration of Saturn, the god of agriculture, and the winter solstice.
Kelly Wittmann wrote, "In 350, Pope Julius I declared that Christ's birth would be celebrated on December 25. There is wide acceptance of the belief that Pope Julius I was trying to make it as painless as possible for pagan Romans, who remained a majority at that time, to convert to Christianity. The new religion went down a bit easier, knowing that their feasts would not be taken away from them." Moreover, in ancient Babylon, December 25th was the feast of the Son of Isis, Goddess of Nature, was celebrated with, "Raucous partying, gluttonous eating and drinking, and gift-giving were traditions of this feast.
Kissing under mistletoe
Another aspect of Christmas that receives much criticism is its traditions. Traditions such as kissing under mistletoe are very popular, but have no Biblical reference at all. Once more, this tradition has its roots entwined in pagan beliefs. Bill McLain wrote in his book, “There are many legends about mistletoe. One Scandinavian legend states that Loki, the god of mischief, killed Baldur, the god of peace, by shooting him with an arrow made from mistletoe. Other gods and goddesses were saddened by Baldur’s death and asked that his life be restored, which it was. In appreciation, his mother Frigga hung up the mistletoe and promised to kiss all who passed under it. Because of this, mistletoe became the symbol of both forgiveness and love.” There are also few other beliefs of mistletoe from around the world. During the Middle Ages, people would hang mistletoe over doors and on their ceilings to scare off evil spirits and prevent witches from entering. In addition, there is an old superstition that if you place a twig of mistletoe under your pillow you will not have any nightmares and it sometimes believed that it was once used as a way to announce your love interest, if two kissed under a mistletoe it was a way of publicly stating that he wished to wed the lady.
The Christmas tree
It is safe to say that the Christmas tree is one of the most recognized symbols of Christmas, yet the origins of the Christmas tree are not clear. There is a legend that Saint Boniface started the custom of the Christmas tree in Germany around the eighth century. It is said that Saint Boniface found a group of pagan worshipping an oak tree and became angry; consequently, he proceeded to cut down the Oak tree. Immediately a small fir tree is said to sprout from the middle of the oak stump and reached to the sky. Thus Saint Boniface told the onlookers that this would be their holy tree because it was evergreen, a symbol of everlasting life. Although many versions of this story exist, many authorities believe that the true origins come from ancient Egypt. Bill McLain writes, “On December 21, the shortest day of the year, ancient Egyptians decorated their homes with green palm branches to symbolize life’s triumph over death.” Before Christianity, plants and trees that remained green through out the year were believed to have special meaning for people in winter. Bill McLain continues explaining, “Romans used evergreens to decorate their homes during the winter festival of Saturnalia, which honored Saturn, the god of farming.” In addition, Ancient Druids, a member of an order of priests in ancient Gaul and Britain who appear in Welsh and Irish legend as prophets and sorcerers, were known to place evergreen branches over doors to frighten away evil spirits.
The origin of the Christmas tree is started in Germany where it was worshiped by German pagans believing in Thor, the Norwegian God of thunder. In order to convert these pagans a Christian missionary told them that his God is more powerful than theirs. To prove this fact he said that he can cut Thors' tree down without being punished by the Gods. Henceforth after that the Christmas tree was the evergreen.
- McLain, Bill. Do Fish Drink Water?. Quill, 1999.
- Brain, Marshall. "Is December 25 really the day Jesus was born?" in "How Christmas Works" . October 10, 2003.
- Christmas Tree Farmers of Ontario. [email@example.com]. The History of Christmas Trees, Part One in Christmas Tree Farmers of Ontario Virtual Christmas Tree Farm . October 10, 2003