By Douglas Anele
That Christmas as celebrated in 25 December of every year is not only unbiblical but also an indicator of the profound influence of paganism (that is, religious beliefs, observances or practices that do not belong to Judaism, Christianity or Islam) is a well-known fact among New Testament scholars and Christologists. But an overwhelming number of Christians in Africa, particularly Nigeria, are ignorant and gullible: they stress themselves unnecessary – physically, financially, and emotionally – to please their pastors, general overseers, family members and friends because of Christmas, without realising that it is theologically unwarranted from the biblical point of view. Of course, members of the clergy and business people see Christmas as a period to make money from worshippers, which is at odds with the purported spiritual backbone of the celebration. As I have always maintained, Christmas has lost almost completely whatever spiritual content it might have had previously because the God of Mammon now dominate the mental infrastructure of Christians, especially the clergy.
Let us now go into more historical details to unmask the unchristian origin of Christmas. We have already presented Hans J. Hillerbrand’s introductory remarks on the subject. In an essay with the provocative title “The Shocking Pagan Origin of Christmas,” Hoim Staff quotes Werner Keller’s book, The Bible as History, which affirms that “December 25 is referred to in documents as Christmas Day in A.D. 324 for the first time. Under the Roman Emperor Justinian [A.D. 527-565] it was recognised as an official holiday. An old Roman festival played a major part in the choice of this particular day. December 25 in ancient Rome was the ‘Dies Natali Invictus,’ ‘the birthday of the unconquered,’ the day of the winter solstice and at the same time, in Rome, the last day of the Saturnalia, which had long since degenerated into a week of unbridled carnival.”
Keller goes on to state that “Meteorologists as well as historians and astronomers have something of importance to contribute to this question of fixing the date of birth of Jesus.” Luke 2:8 reports that around the period and geographical location Jesus was born shepherds were actually looking after their flock at night. Experts in climatic conditions have recorded precisely the temperature at Hebron in the southern highlands of Judah which has the same weather conditions as Bethlehem nearby, the purported birthplace of Jesus. As it turns out, “The temperature readings show over a period of three months that the incidence of frost is as follows: December -2.8 degrees; January -1.6 degrees; February 0.1 degrees. The first two months also have the greatest rainfall in the year: approximately 6 inches in December, and nearly 8 inches in January.”
Available information indicate that the climatic condition in Palestine has not changed substantially in the last two thousand years, which implies that modern meteorological observations can be reliably used to infer what the weather situation was in the area and at the time Jesus was born. Keller continues: “At Christmas time Bethlehem is in the grip pf frost, and in the Promised Land no cattle would have been in the fields in that temperature. This fact is borne out by a remark in the Talmud to the effect that in that neighbourhood the flocks were put out to grass in March and brought in again at the beginning of November. They remained out in the open for almost eight months. Around Christmas time nowadays both animals and shepherds are under cover in Palestine. What St. Luke tells us points therefore to the birth of Jesus having taken place before the onset of winter.”
Hoim Staff also cites Michael Grant’s book, History of Rome, to buttress the point that Christmas originated from unchristian practices: “Yet there was also another pagan belief during this same epoch that much more nearly competed with Christ for the control of the Western world. This was the cult of the Sun, which was revered by millions of the inhabitants of the Roman Empire, and its religion for a time became the state worship…In Rome the divinity of the Sun came very early on; and then, centuries afterwards, in the superb dome of Hadrian’s Pantheon, the central opening, surrounded by star-like rosettes, represented the solar orb…Before long the emperor Aurelian established a massive temple of the Unconquerable Sun as the central and focal point of the entire religious system of the state.
The birthday of the God was to be December 25. And this, transformed into Christmas day, was one of the heritages that Christianity owed to his cult.” This account is corroborated by jack Finegan in Myth and Mystery: An Introduction to the Pagan Religions of the Biblical World. Finegan claims that “the worship of the Sun-God continued widely throughout the empire, and under Aurelian (A.D. 270-275) the cult was restored to its former high estate.
In the year 274, Aurelian declared the god – now called Deus Sol Invictus – the official deity of the Roman Empire; he built a splendid temple of the sun in Rome…and set the sun’s birthday celebration (naturalis solis invicti) on December 25, the date then accepted for the winter solstice (also in his solar character the birthday of Mithras). In the time of Constantine, the cult of Deus Sol Invictus was still at its height, and the portrait of the sun-god was on the coins of Constantine…Likewise it must have been in this time and with the intent to transform the significance of an existing sacred date that the birthday of Jesus, which had been celebrated in the East on January 6…was placed in Rome on December 25, the date of the birthday celebration of Sol Invictus. This date appears in a list of dates probably compiled in A.D. 336 and published in the Roman city calendar edited by Filocalus, for the year 354.”
There is universal agreement among historians that Christianity would have remained an obscure cult had it not been for the singular role played by Constantine. When Constantine emerged as the Emperor of Rome, after a bizarre series of events in a dream, he became a Christian. But his conversion, questioned by some scholars, was, in truth, nominal, because he acted as the chief-priest (Pontifex Maximus) in the cult of sun-worship throughout his life, as attested to by Michael Biagent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln in their detailed historical reconstruction of Christianity entitled The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail.
As the ruler of a huge empire, Constantine was preoccupied with the unity, harmony and stability of his domain: a cult or state religion that included all other cults within the Roman empire suited his purposes very well. Consequently, he worked really hard to blend and reconcile pagan beliefs and practices with the Roman church. Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, in The Story of the Christian Church, writes that Constantine promulgated the “Edict of Toleration” in 313 A.D., before he became Emperor ten years later. Although Constantine retained his priestly duties in the cult of Sol Invictus till he was baptised in A.D. 337 on his deathbed, he declared Christianity the state religion of Rome. As a result, Hurlbut affirms, the sword of persecution against Christians was “not merely sheathed; it was buried.”
Virtually everything about Christmas is of pagan origin. Consider, for instance, the idea and practice of installing Christmas tree. To some extent, it is a vestige of Teutonic veneration or worship of plants. Nevertheless, the custom of using pine and other evergreen vegetation ceremonially was already well established in ancient Egypt and in ancient Rome as well. This fact is corroborated by Alexander Hislop who avers, in The Two Babylons, that “the Christmas tree, now so common among us, was equally common in pagan Rome and pagan Egypt. In Egypt, that tree was the palm tree; in Rome it was the fir; the palm tree denoting the pagan messiah as the Baal-Tamar, the fir referring to him as Baal-Berith.