Question 4    Christmas. Was it really Jesus' birthday?

There is no absolute date given in the Bible for the day of Jesus' birth.  We can, however, make a number of observations which would give us a clue to an approximate date.

We have to, first, consider the enormity of the occasion.  Jesus pre-existed His appearance as a baby in the stable at Bethlehem..  The Bible says he was begotten not created.  He lived before Bethlehem without a human body.  At Bethlehem God was incarnate in a human body, developing as all human babies in the womb of His mother and entering the world through human childbirth. It is clear from many scriptures that Jesus' divinity was submerged beneath His humanity and that while remaining completely God, He lived a life as a human being on earth for 33 years.  The Bible uses the word "tabernacled". God was tabernacled in a human body.  This gives us our greatest clue.

Moses was instructed in  minute detail by God to build a place where God could dwell on earth, with His people.  It was an elaborate tent and enclosure and was called 'The Tabernacle' and God met with the High Priest once a year at the mercy seat in the Most Holy Place.  The evidence of the presence of God at all other times was over the Tabernacle as a cloud in the day and as fire at night.

Subsequently, God gave instructions to David for a permanent Tabernacle, a Temple, to be built by David's son, Solomon.  It was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  Gloriously encrusted in gold but with the same design and symbolism as the original Tabernacle.  Solomon waited to dedicate this Temple on the Feast of Tabernacles.  Solomon described this Temple as a place for God to dwell with His people, forever.

But God subsequently became tabernacled continuously for 33 years in a human body and was 'born' in a stable in Bethlehem.  Consistency would decree that His birth would have to be during the feast of Tabernacles that year. All the major events God foreshadowed in the Jewish Feasts.  Jesus died at Passover, as the Passover lamb. He was the first fruits of resurrection and presented Himself before His father on the Feast of First fruits.  The birth of the church was at the Feast of Pentecost, the early harvest festival, etc. if Jesus was born during the Feast of Tabernacles, this would give Jesus a birthday at the end of September/beginning of October.


How then did Christ mass (Christ's birthday) come to be celebrated on December 25th?


In the years before Jesus, The Romans celebrated the winter solstice as the Festival of Saturnalia, in honour of the god Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture. These celebrations involved drinking, sexual indulgence, singing, running naked through the streets. The people were encouraged to bring offerings and gifts at the feast and then to give gifts to each other.  Throughout Northern Europe, pagans held similar celebrations at the winter solstice, called Yule, in celebration of the birth of the sun god, Mithras.  Yule logs were burnt and evergreen trees brought into the homes as symbols of life renewing after the death of winter. Evergreens were also religious symbols of the Druids.

In an attempt to bring the pagan masses into Christianity, in 350 AD Pope Julius 1 declared that December 25th would be the date for the church to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  The pagans were won over by importing the celebrations of Saturnalia into Christmas, including the practices of drinking, sexual indulgence and singing naked through the streets. in the C15th, C18th and C19th there were instances of Jews being forced to run through Rome either naked or dressed in clown's costumes, while the crowds jeered.

The introduction of Father Christmas or Santa Claus also had a chequered history.  In the C4th the Bishop of Myra, called Nicholas died in Turkey on December 6th.  A celebration grew up on the anniversary of his death.  In 1087, a group of sailors who idolized Nicholas moved his bones from Turkey to Italy.  He replaced a deity called The Grandmother who was said to fill children's stockings with gifts.  This idolatry spread to German and Celtic pagans.  Here Nicholas became combined with their chief God, called Woden who had a long white beard and was said to  ride a flying horse. The Catholic Church adopted the Nicholas cult and taught that he did give gifts but rescheduled the celebrations for December 25th instead of December 6th. Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus became popular in the USA.  In 1822 Dr Clement Moore published the poem which starts, "'Twas the night before Christmas......The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hope that Saint Nicholas would soon be there..."  Moore portrayed Santa with eight reindeer. From 1862 to 1886 a man named Nast drew 2200 cartoons images of Santa for Harper's Weekly, based on Moore's poem.  Nast gave Santa a home at the North Pole, his workshop filled with elves and a list of good and bad children.  only the red cloak was missing.  This was added in 1931 when the Coca Cola Corporation asked the Swedish commercial artist Haddon Sundblom to create a coke-drinking Santa.  The Corporation insisted that Santa's fur trimmed coat be bright Coca Cola red. Santa was complete, like the Christmas Festival itself, a mixture of pagan god, Christian crusader and a commercial symbol. The world still seems to be concentrating on the celebration of the winter solstice or Saturnalia, not CHRISTMAS (Christ's birth).


How should we react to Christmas?


We are unlikely to get a consensus to reschedule the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  It has been on 25th December for hundreds of years.  We as Christians want to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  As we do not know the actual date of His birth, it is acceptable to have an official birthday. Our Queen has an official birthday as well as her actual birthday.  But it must be a Christian Festival, celebrating the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in praise and worship, in joy and gladness, and singing the beautiful carols proclaiming the miracle of His birth and the reason for His coming, namely to die to save us.  In other words we, as Christians, must celebrate Christ's Mass (birth) and not the Festival of Saturnalia. God's will and peace on earth at Christmas, whenever and however you celebrate it.