WHAT IS CHRISTMASS? - Should Christians celebrate Christmass?


It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.

May our celebration of Christ’s birth incorporate these essential elements: WORSHIP, GIVING, and PRAISE.

The term “Christmas” is not found in the Bible. It is derived from two words “Christ  + Mass,”. Surprisingly,  there is no mention in the New  Testament of any celebration of the anniversary of  the birth of Christ.  The Gospels’  accounts of Jesus’  birth are very  brief, consisting  only  of  few  verses.  By  contrast,  the  accounts  of  what  is  known  as  “The Passion Week,” are lengthier, taking several chapters. 

It is well known that the term “Christmas” is derived from the old English word “Christmesse,” which means “Christ’s Mass.” The term originated during the Middle Ages from the practice of having a midnight Mass on the eve of December 25 to celebrate the birth of Christ. In other languages it is called “Nativity” (Latin, natalis) or “Holy Nights” (German, Weihnachten).

The date of Christ’s birth did not become an issue until sometimes in the fourth  century. At that time the  dispute  centered primarily over  two  dates for Christ’s  birth: December 25 promoted by the Church of Rome and January 6, known  as  the  Epiphany,  observed  by the Eastern churches. “Both  these days,”  as  Oscar  Cullmann points  out,  “  were  pagan festivals whose meaning provided a starting point for the specifically  Christian  conception of Christmas.”

Historians have indicated that the nativity feast began to be observed by Christians during the fourth century. Some Christians calculated it based on the death of Christ taking place on March 25. It was then speculated that He must have been born nine months before on December 25. Others placed the birth of Jesus on March 25.
But the most common explanation is that Christmas is somehow connected with the Roman worship of the Invincible Sun (Latin, Sol Invictus), the rebirth of the sun, which was celebrated on December 25. This could explain the importance of lights during the celebration of the Nativity, although “light” is also associated with Christ in the Scriptures (e.g., Luke 1:78, 79). It is therefore common to hear it alleged that Christians adapted a pagan feast.

The Date of Christ’s Birth

It  is  a  recognized  fact  that  the  adoption  of  the  date  of  December  25th  by  the Western Church to commemorate Christ’s  birth was  influenced by  the pagan  celebration of the return of the sun  after the winter solstice. The date of December 25 is totally devoid  of  Biblical  meaning  and is grossly  inaccurate as  far as the actual time of Christ’s birth.

If,  as  it  is  generally  agreed,  Christ’s  ministry  began  when  He  was  about  thirty years of age (Luke 3:23) and lasted three and one-half years  until  His  death at Passover (March/April), then by backtracking we arrive at the  months of September/October,  rather than to December 25.   Indirect support for a September/October dating of  Christ’s  birth is provided also by the fact  that from November  to February shepherds  did not watch  their flocks at night in the fields. They brought them into a protective corral  called a “sheepfold.” Hence, December 25 is a most unlikely to be the date for the birth of Christ.
It  is  a  recognized  fact  that  the  adoption  of  the  date  of  December  25th  by  the Western Church to commemorate Christ’s  birth was  influenced by  the pagan  celebration of the return of the sun  after the winter solstice. The date of December 25 is totally devoid  of  Biblical  meaning  and is grossly  inaccurate as  far as the actual time of Christ’s birth.

The most likely date of Christ’s birth in the latter part of September or the beginning of October. This date corresponds to the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, known  also  as the Feast of Booths. This feast was the last and most important pilgrimage of the year  for the Jews.  The  overcrowded conditions at the time of Christ’s  birth (“there was  no place for  them  in  the  inn” - Luke  2:7)  could  be  related  not  only  to  the  census  taken  by  the Romans at that time, but also to the many pilgrims that  overrun the  area  especially  during the Feast of Tabernacles.

Christ’s Birth at the Time of the Feast of Tabernacles

Support for the belief that Christ was born at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, which occurs in late September or early October,  is  provided  not  only  by  chronological considerations  of  Christ’s  life  mentioned  above,  but  also  by  Messianic  themes  of  the Feast  of  Tabernacles.  Being  the  Feast  that  celebrated  in  one  sense  God’s  past tabernacling or dwelling  among  His people  with  the cloud by  day  and the flaming fire b y night, it served  to foreshadow the day  when  the  Son  of  God  would  become  flesh  and tabernacle among us (John 1:14).

It is vital to note that  important  events  of  the  plan  of  salvation  are  consistently fulfilled on the Holy Days that prefigured them. Christ died on the Cross  at the time when the Passover lamb was sacrificed (John 19:14). Christ arose at the  time of the waving  of the sheaf of barley as the first fruits of the coming harvest  (1 Cor  15:23). The outpouring of the first fruits of God’s  Holy  Spirit  took  place  “when  the  day  of  Passover  was  fully come” (Acts 2:1, KJV). By the same token, Christ could well have been born at the time of the Feast of  Tabernacles,  since  the  feast typifies  God’s  First Coming to dwell among us through the incarnation of His Son and His Second Coming to dwell with  His people  (Rev 21:3) throughout eternity.

The Pagan Origin of Date of Christmas (December 25th)

The adoption of the 25th of  December for the celebration of Christmas is perhaps the most explicit example of Sun-worship’s influence on the Christian liturgical calendar. It is a known  fact that the pagan  feast of the dies natalis Solis Invicti - the birthday  of  the Invincible Sun, was held on that date (25th of  December).  Do Christian sources openly  admit the borrowing of  the  date  of  such  a  pagan  festivity?  Generally    not.    To  admit  borrowing  a  pagan festival,  even  after due reinterpretation of its meaning, would  be  tantamount  to  an  open betrayal of the faith. This the Fathers were anxious to avoid.

It is important to  note that the Church of Rome (as  in the case of Easter-Sunday  so  in  the question of the celebration of Christmas) pioneered and promoted the adoption of the  new date.  In fact the first explicit indication that on the  25th  of  December Christians  celebrated Christ’s  birthday,  is  found  in  a  Roman  document  known  as  Chronograph  of  354  (a calendar attributed to Fuzious Dionysius  Philocalus), where it says:  “VIII Kal. Jan.  natus Christus  in Betleem  Judaeae - On  the  eighth  calends  of  January  [i.e.,  December  25th] Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea.”

That the Church of Rome introduced and championed this new  date,  is  accepted by  most scholars. For instance, Mario  Righetti,  a  renowned  Catholic  liturgist  who  is  the author of a four volumes set  on STORIA  LITURGICA  (A  HISTORY  OF  LITURGY), writes: “After the peace the Church of Rome, to facilitate the acceptance of the faith by  the pagan  masses, found it convenient to institute the 25th of December as  the feast of  the temporal birth of Christ, to divert  them  from  the  pagan  feast, celebrated on the same day in honor of the “Invincible Sun” Mithras, the conqueror of darkness.”


The birth of Jesus is of incomparable importance to  the  Christian faith. Without the birth of Christ  there would  be  no baptism,  death, resurrection, ascension,   outpouring  of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s intercession in the heavenly sanctuary, and Second Advent.

The date of Christ’s  birth most likely coincided with  the Feast of Tabernacles that falls  late  in  September  or  early  in  October.  Being  the  feast  of  thanksgiving  for  God’s willingness  to  protect  His  people  with  the  tabernacle  of  His  presence  during  the wilderness sojourning, it could serve fittingly to celebrate Christ’s  willingness to  become a human being and pitch His tent among us in order to become our Savior.

The  time  of  the  Feast  of  Tabernacles  provides  Christians  today  with  a  more accurate Biblical timing and typology for celebrating Christ’s birth, than the pagan dating of December 25th.  The latter date not only  is removed from the actual time of Christ’s  birth, but is also derived from the pagan celebration of the birth of the Sun-god.   Why  celebrate Christ’s  birth at the wrong time of the year  because  of a  pagan  tradition,  when  we  can observe it at the right season on the basis of sound biblical reasons?


From a biblical perspective the birth of Jesus is connected with three major themes:(1) adoration and worship (Luke 2:8-12); (2)  the giving  of gifts to God  (Matt 2:1-11); and proclamation of peace and goodwill (Luke 2:13-14). May  our celebration of Christ’s  birth, at any  time of the year, incorporate these essential elements: worship, giving, and praise.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with selecting any particular time to meditate and reflect on the incarnation of our Savior. I would suggest that during Christmass we could spend time thinking about the mystery of the Incarnation. It is a mystery in that it testifies to the fact that the Son of God became “flesh” (John 1:14). The Creator became a creature in order to save us from the power of sin and death.


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