Make your own free website on

The Origins of Christmas

Chistmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Born nearly two thousand years ago, Christians believe Him to be the Son of God. Whether Jesus was really born on December 25th, no one can say for certain. It was chosen because it already was a holiday in ancient times -a pagan feast. But pagans did not believe in Jesus. Around the third century there was an attempt to fix the day of His birth by tying it to a festival of the Nativity kept in Rome in the time of Bishop Telesphorus (between A.D. 127 and 139). Some Christmas observances of the Roman Church are said to be of Bishop Telesphorus' appointment. There was also a story of Christians being massacred in the catacombs on the day of the Nativity between A.D. 161 and 180 but the exact year, again is not known. In A.D. 300, a similar event is said to have taken place at Nicomedia in the reign of Diocletian. Neither of these stories seem reliable as a measure of the day Christ was born.

It was believed the Nativity took place, indeed, on the 25th of the month; but which month was uncertain and every month at one time or another has been assigned. During the time of Clement of Alexandria (before 220) five dates in three different months of the Egyptian year were said to be the Nativity. One of those corresponds to the December 25th date. During the third century, it was a common belief that Christ was born on the winter solstice based on an interpetation of some prophetic scriptures and an idea that the Annunciation and the Crucifixion both occured on the same day - March 25th. Another third century set of writings, The Apostolic Constitutions, indicate the Apostles ordained that the feast be kept on the 25th day of the ninth month which, at that time meant December. The works of John Selden, published in 1661, suggested that in the early Christian ages the winter solstice fell on the 8th of the Kalends of January, that is, December 25th, though not accepted universally by modern day students who put the day between the end of July and the end of October.

The Roman Church finally fixed December 25th as the birthday of Jesus Christ after the great persecution that took place around A.D. 310; which connects the visitation of the wise men from the East, being celebrated twelve days later. Though questioned for several generations by the Eastern Church, the Roman day became universal in the fifth century.

The fifth century acceptance coincided with a decline in heathen worship and the adaptation of harmless activities into rich Christian symbolism. These included Saturnalia,the great Roman holiday in remembrance of the supposed "Golden Age"; sigillaria, the Feast of Dolls, in which dolls and other toys, mostly earthenware, were given to children; and Brumalia, otherwise Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, The Birthday of the Unconquered Sun, when the days became longer after the solstice. Finally, there was Kalende Januarii, the New Year's Day, when everyone exchanged gifts and also tied in Juvenilia, the special festival of Childhood and Youth.

All of these days seemed to easily come together into one big Christian celebration and their ancient significance crossed over into the light of the Gospel.

But the year of Christ's birth raises question just as does the day. It, too, is not a definite. The 753rd year A.U.C. ( Anno Urbis Condita- -from the building of the city, i.e. Rome) is agreed upon as the traditional date. But, that is too late if we look at the Gospel of Matthew which distinctly affirms that "Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king". Herod died in A.U.C. 750. It suggests that some time must have elapsed between the birth of Christ and the death of Herod for there to have been a visit from the wise men, the retreat to Egypt, and the Slaughter of the Innocents. The Gospel of Luke raises still another matter. It is not clear whether Tiberius Caesar's fifteenth year is counted from A.U.C. 765, when he was connected with Augustus in the Empire, or from the death of Augustus in A.U.C. 767. The real meaning of his remark about the census is not known (Luke 3:1). His information about the Nativity places it around A.U.C. 749 to 753. Matthew's account of the "Star in the East" and then over Bethlehem has been called an atmospheric meteor and at best suggested to astronomers that someone born in Judea at that time was destined for greatness.

We are nowhere told that Christ was born exactly at the time when the "star" appeared; but it is safe to say that His birth took place some time between the middle of A.U.C. 747 and the end of A.U.C. 749, i.e. 7 B.C. and 5 B.C.

The previously mentioned March 25th day was the pagan festival of spring. The church adopted this date as that of Mary's visit by the angel Gabriel, and added nine months to it to come of with December 25th as the day of Jesus' birth. Christ Mass, later called Christmas, was first celebrated in the year 354, December 25th, according to several sources.

The King James Bible records the first Christmas and events surrounding it in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew:

"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, 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, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hathmade known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

And all they that heard it, wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

(Luke 2:1-19)

Records of the first Christmas in the Book of Matthew:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.

Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east and are come to worship him.

When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet.

And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said , Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star. which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
(Matthew 2:1-11)



A version of this webset can be found on Lynn's graphics site:
Lynn's DreamScape Designs