Christmas & Herbert Armstrong
Around November of 2003 I ran across Herbert Armstrong’s teaching opposing Christmas as a pagan holiday and was convinced this teaching had legitimacy. Herbert Armstrong’s teaching led me to examine the supposed pagan roots of Christmas and through a number of other witnesses I became convinced Christmas was evil. For over ten years I held to this conviction until the Lord began to reveal to me the errors in Armstrong’s teaching.
Following are a couple of excellent articles by those who were members of the Armstrong church but came to see the problems in Herbert Armstrong’s teachings.
“This is the sum of the entire matter —
(ROM. 14: 5-6) 5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.
If Christmas disturbs you so much, then don’t observe it, but don’t judge those who do observe it. And if Christmas is fine with you, then do observe it, but don’t judge those who don’t observe it. Stop the judgment and condemnation and start loving each other as Jesus said to do. Either way, observe or no, do that in honor of the Lord in the peace and unity of the Holy Spirit.”
The Plain Truth About December 25th (Herbert Armstrong) – As Bereans Did
Have you ever wondered about the dating of Christmas? What on earth is December 25th all about and how did we come up with that? Was it adopted from the pagans in Rome? Does your very salvation rest on rejecting or accepting the date? Do we even know what the history is? I’ve wondered about it quite a bit.
Let me guess, you don’t need to study it because you already know that it’s pagan, right? I understand. That’s precisely what I thought …until I studied it. Well, there are so many theories floating around out there, so many claims, so much information, so many people saying so many things. Who has time to in this busy age to study history?
When I was a teenager, I joined the Worldwide Church of God, where we taught the keeping of holidays such as Easter and Christmas was evil. One fine day, while speaking out against Easter, a question was posed to me that made me desire to look into its origins. After decades of speaking out against celebrating Easter based on what I was told, I studied Easter for myself, and what I found didn’t match what I was preaching. I was forced, at great pain and internal turmoil, to change my entire outlook. The next logical step was to a study into Christmas. I wanted to test the spirits, so to speak. Shaken by my Easter experience, I had to know if what I had been preaching was really the truth. I wanted to know for certain how Christmas came about. “Just the facts.” The truth can handle itself. If something is true, then it’s true. If not, then not. So I set out to study Christmas as objectively as I could.
Certainly the people who are familiar with this topic should also already know a little about what is being asserted on the subject. The Wiccans, the Puritans, Protestant fundamentalist groups, certain religious historians – they all say Christmas was co-opted from the pagans. It is a staple feature of certain groups that annually as the stores start stocking their shelves for Christmas sales they start rolling out a barrage of material protesting Christmas. While the Christians are saying, “Put Christ back into Christmas,” the Wiccans are saying, “Put Wicca back into Christmas.” Fifty thousand Elvis fans can’t be wrong, as they say. Christmas must be pagan. Case closed.
Is any of that correct? Did Christians really co-opt Christmas from the pagans? Where does Sol Invictus fit in? Or how about Saturnalia, or Brumalia, or Yule? Well, in this writing I hope to straighten out the claims and separate truth from tale.
What this study is about is the dating of December 25th for Christmas. I will not be getting into customs added to Christmas long after it was set to December 25th, such as evergreen swags and wreaths, bobbing for apples, caroling, and etc. This study is not intended to answer every question or touch on every issue. This study is about dates and timing.
For sake of space, I cannot possibly give all details on what was claimed regarding the pagan festival of Brumalia over the years and in various places. I hear people say the wildest things! Suffice it to say that I’ve heard it claimed that the festival honored Bacchus or Dionysus and Chronos, was celebrated anywhere from November 24th to December 25th, was anywhere from one day to thirty days long, and that during Brumalia the pagans decorated their houses with greenery and there were raucous celebrations.
People are confusing many distinct things here.
A man named John Raymond Crawford wrote what has been called “not only the latest, but by far the most careful and searching investigation ever made of two festivals which are little known.” Problem is, the writing is in Latin and there are no English translations readily available. Roger Pearse was sent a review of Crawford’s book – in English.
According to this review which Roger Pearse generously presents to us in his online article “A Review of Crawford on the Bruma and Brumalia”, (I will summarize here) true bruma is the Roman name for the winter solstice, which is also called “solstitium et initium hiberni” (or “solstice at the start of winter”). Roman tradition placed this solstice on December 25th. Meanwhile, Bruma is the name of a completely separate ancient celebration, which was celebrated on November 24th.
Notice the capitalization there. I have inserted this capitalization on my own to help you the reader distinguish the two brumas.
The word bruma (lower case b) comes from the superlative form of the Latin word for “brief”. The days grow shorter in winter so “bruma” came to mean the shortest day of the year; the winter solstice.
Bruma (capital b) was also the name of a festival on November 24th that marked a kind of unofficial start of winter, and this led up to the winter solstice.
It is important to keep in mind that bruma was the name of the winter solstice (or to be specific it was the name of the day when the sun began to grow stronger, which is usually after the solstice), and Bruma was the name of a winter festival, but they were not the same thing. The festival of Bruma was celebrated a month earlier than the solstice, on November 24th, lasted only one day, and was not observed on December 25th at any time.
Now we move forward in time, and far to the east. From the sixth century through the tenth century AD, in the Byzantine Empire, there was a festival called Brumalia. Notice the location here. We are talking Constantinople, not Rome. Also notice the dating here. The sixth century is centuries after Christmas became popular in Rome and the Roman Empire ceased to exist. Brumalia was a twenty four day festival lasting from November 24th through December 17th. It was not celebrated for twenty four straight days, rather it was divided up alphabetically – one day for each letter of the Greek alphabet – and each person celebrated on the day that matched the first letter of their name.
Roger Pearse wrote to me and informs us that it would appear that in the course of time Bruma was combined with Saturnalia to become Brumalia. This matches what was written in his review of Crawford. Thanks for the excellent research, hard work, and timely help, Roger!
Keep in mind this was centuries after Christmas became popular, and far to the east of Rome. If Bruma on November 24th was eventually combined with Saturnalia on December 17th by the sixth century, then Saturnalia was not replaced by Christmas at all. It lived on and was merged, in the opposite direction in the month, with Bruma and other holidays.
As Bruma became Brumalia it did come to honor Dionysus, Cronos/Saturn, and Demeter. There were dinner parties, games, and the slaughtering of a pigs and goats. From the ancient Roman mind, these things were what one would expect in the winter. They weren’t given to farming or going to war in the winter, so they would plant some seeds then slaughter some pigs and goats and throw a party. The parties were at night since Cronos was a god of time and harvest, and was pictured as being in darkness, just as seeds were in darkness. The pigs were symbolic, as were the goats. This wasn’t some random choice of animal for a generic feast. None of these symbols carried over into Christmas.
If we are looking at Bruma and Brumalia for sources of Christmas traditions, there is little resemblance here.
You can read more about this in Roger Pearse’s review of “De Mensibus”.
John the Lydian wrote De Mensibus (or “On the Months”) in the late 400’s AD. He points out that these things were opposed by the Christians of that time and the church turned away from them. I repeat for emphasis – opposed by Christians a century after they were supposedly adopted by Christians!
It appears that this distaste for such celebrations came to a head in the Quinisext Ecumenical Council (aka “Council in Trullo”) in 692. The Canon 62 begins this way:
“The so-called Calends, and what are called Bota and Brumalia, and the full assembly which takes place on the first of March, we wish to be abolished from the life of the faithful.”
It would appear that all of this business about the Church’s eagerness to adopt paganism after Constantine the Great’s reign is not necessarily as accurate as we would be led to believe. Were there converts still holding on to pagan practices? Yes. But was the church rushing to “cleanse” and adopt pagan practices? No!
In ancient Rome, “bruma” was the winter solstice while “Bruma” was the winter festival. Bruma wasn’t celebrated in the same month as Christmas. Bruma eventually merged with Saturnalia and became Brumalia. As lengthy as the Byzantine celebration became, it was popular in the East long after Christmas caught on in the West and was never observed on the 25th. Neither had any bearing on the dating of Christmas.
Plus it has the distinction of being opposed by the Church a century and a half after it was supposedly adopted by the Church.
The wildest and most inane claims are reserved for Saturnalia. Mainly, I have heard claims that Saturnalia was on December 17th and December 25th, that it was celebrated for one day, three days, eight days, nine days, twelve days, and as long as a month, that it was in honor of Bacchus and Saturn, and that it was the most vile celebration imaginable. I have heard that from Saturnalia comes the tradition of the “twelve days of Christmas.” I have probably heard more claims about Saturnalia than any other ancient festival. If you believe the stories, every last portion of Christmas (with the exception of mistletoe and the Yule log) came from Saturnalia.
Macrobius claims Saturnalia was originally celebrated on the 14th day before the Kalends of January (“Kalends of January” is the first day of January).
Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar in 45 BC and added two days to December (he took Rome from a lunar calendar to a solar calendar which is called the “Julian calendar”, and took December from 29 days to 31 days). The original date of Saturnalia now fell on the 16th day before the Kalends of January (and that’s how we see it in the Philocalian Calendar), while the new date remained on the 14th day before the Kalends of January.
Filocalus, writing in 336 AD, agrees that Saturnalia was the 16th day before the Kalends of January.
Confused? Let me explain.
The Romans had a very messy calendar system; the details of which are still under much debate. But they never dated their days. They wouldn’t ever say, “December 25.” Instead, they divided each month into three parts, called the Kalends, Nones, and Ides, then counted their days from that. For example, Saturnalia was 16 days before the Kalends of January, and Christmas was 8 days before the Kalends of January.
The calendar was a general mess. I quote Wikipedia again to show that this information is readily available to anyone who is interested:
“Nevertheless, we do know that the pre-Julian calendar could be substantially out of alignment with the Julian calendar. Two precise astronomical synchronisms given by Livy show that in 168 BC the two calendars were misaligned by more than two months, and in 190 BC they were four months out of alignment.“
Isn’t it obvious why Julius Caesar had to reform it? But reforming a calendar would necessarily create some issues.
I’ll just put this in plain language for you:
Saturnalia was on December 17th. Julius Caesar comes along, adds two days to December, and now it’s on the 19th.
Most people kept it on the old date, some on the new date, with the result becoming a multi-day festival.
I have heard much about the shouting of “Io, Saturnalia!” but Macrobius says this was on the 17th only.
Macrubius also mentioned a decree by Augustus Caesar officially making the Saturnalia a three-day festival from 17th to the 19th. He mentions it was eventually blended together with other festivals (eg. “Ops” and “Sigillaria”) and then became treated as a seven day celebration, between the 17th and the 23rd.
We know from history that Caligula limited it to five days, from the 17th to 21st.
As mentioned above, Roger Pearse suspects Bruma and Saturnalia eventually joined to become Brumalia. Notice how we’re moving away from the dating of Christmas, however, not towards.
As for the twelve days of Christmas, there aren’t 12 days between Saturnalia and Christmas. Fact is, those are the twelve days after Christmas, between Christmas and the feast of Epiphany. This was set officially in the second Council of Tours.
Epiphany was the original celebration of the major events in Jesus’ life (mainly His baptism). Until very recently, most people who celebrated Christmas didn’t start festivities until Christmas Eve, then they would celebrate for 12 days until Epiphany.
Saturnalia was never celebrated on December 25th, ever. The official day of the Saturnalia was on the 17th. It has no bearing on the dating of Christmas.
I have heard this day called many things. Mostly, some variant of “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti”. I have heard people state with absolute conviction that Christmas is the Sol festival (but if it is, then it can’t be Bruma, Saturnalia, or Brumalia). I have heard that the birthday of the sun was celebrated on December 25th, and in August and October.
“The Dec. 25 festival of natalis solis invicti, the birth of the unconquered sun, was ordered by the emperor Aurelian in A.D. 274 as a Winter Solstice celebration…”
A definite claim stated adamantly. Is it true?
Steven Ernst Hijmans is currently a faculty member at the University of Alberta’s History and Classics department. He wrote a book titled “Sol – the Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome”. In Volume I, chapter 9, page 588, he has this to say:
“The contention that December 25th was an especially popular festival for Sol in late antiquity is equally unfounded, as is as the notion that this festival was established by Aurelian when he supposedly instituted a new cult of the sun. Aurelian did of course build the sun a magnificent new temple and he raised the priests of Sol to the level of pontifices. A new festival on December 25th would not have been out-of-place in this context, but it must be stressed, pace Usener, that there is no evidence that Aurelian instituted a celebration of Sol on that day. A feast day for Sol on December 25th is not mentioned until eighty years later, in the Calendar of 354 and, subsequently, in 362 by Julian in his Oration to King Helios.”
Well, isn’t that interesting!
Back in December 2010, Museumstuff.com had an article about this entitled “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti: Aurelian.” They listed some of the most common errors about what Aurelian did. WikiPedia still has the quote on their article about Sol Invictus. Look under the section “Aurelian”. The third error is:
“Aurelian inaugurated his new temple dedicated to Sol Invictus and held the first games for Sol on December 25, 274, on the supposed day of the winter solstice and day of rebirth of the Sun.”
Please carefully read, and re-read if necessary, what they say in correction of the error:
“This is not only pure conjecture, but goes against the best evidence available. There is no record of celebrating Sol on December 25 prior to CE 354/362. Hijmans lists the known festivals of Sol as August 8 and/or 9, August 28, and December 11. There are no sources that indicate on which day Aurelian inaugurated his temple and held the first games for Sol, but we do know that these games were held every four years from CE 274 onwards. This means that they were presumably held in CE 354, a year for which perchance a Roman calendar, the Chronography of 354 or calendar of Filocalus, has survived. This calendar lists a festival for Sol and Luna on August 28, Ludi Solis games for Sol for October 19–22, and a Natalis Invicti birthday of the invincible one on December 25. While it is widely assumed that the invictus of December 25 is Sol, the calendar does not state this explicitly. The only explicit reference to a celebration of Sol in late December is made by Julian the Apostate in his hymn to King Helios written immediately afterwards in early CE 363. Julian explicitly differentiates between the one-day, annual celebration of late December 362 and the multi-day quadrennial games of Sol which, of course, had also been held in 362, but clearly at a different time. Taken together, the evidence of the Calendar of Filocalus and Julian’s hymn to Helios clearly shows, according to Hijmans and others, that the ludi of October 19–22 were the Solar Games instituted by Aurelian. They presumably coincided with the dedication of his new temple for Sol.”
If Aurelian didn’t create a Sol festival on December 25th but on another date entirely, then there is no reason to insist he did, is there? No. There is not. And if we don’t beg that question, then there is no claim regarding Sol worship on December 25th prior to Christ being honored on that date, is there? No. There is not.
To help you get a better picture, here is the timeline of events:
· 202-211 AD – Hippolytus calculates Jesus’ birth as December 25.
· 218 AD – Elagabalus becomes Emperor at age 14. Introduces Sol to Rome. Attempts to force Sol as the only god. Fails.
· 274 AD – Aurelian elevates Sol worship. Dedicates a temple and institutes games to Sol – but not on December 25th. Dies the next year.
· 336 AD – The first mention of “Natalis Invicti” on December 25th (notice Sol is not mentioned). Same document mentions Jesus as born on December 25.
· 363 AD – Emperor Julian “the Apostate”, who despised Christianity and tried to replace Christianity with paganism, gives us the first explicit reference to a celebration of Sol in December.
Well, isn’t that interesting! Time for Dave Pack to review his information, no?
I need to introduce something to you at this point to help explain a few things.
The above mention of Natalis Invicti comes from a document known as the “Chronography of 354” (that’s 354 AD; well after Aurelian). The Chronography was compiled by Furious Dionysus Filocalus, a renowned calligrapher… and Christian.
Edwin Yamauchi, in his “Persia and the Bible” p. 521, says the calendar was actually composed in 336 AD, but that it was written for the year 354. That is why you see me placing the year 336 on some things.
Also, bear in mind that Filocalus didn’t invent any of these things. We can safely assume that what he recorded was already well known by 336. I would give an earlier date but I simply have no definite fact telling me what to give, so I’ll go with 336.
The Chronography is not just a calendar; there are several other parts to it, sixteen in all.
Part six of the Chronography is called the Philocalian Calendar and it lists only the words “Natalis Invicti” on December 25th. But if it doesn’t say “Dies Natalis Sol Invicti” then we have no reason to inser that phrase here, do we? No. We do not. One might say Sol is implied. Problem is the evidence gives us no reason to imply that. If the evidence doesn’t imply that, then it’s improper for us to insist upon it, isn’t it? Yes. It is.
It also lists Bruma on November 25th and Saturnalia on December 17th. Thus ends any possibility that either were on December 25th.
Here is exactly what it says for December 25th:
“N INVICTI CM XXX”
The “N” is short for “Natalis”. This is a term that can mean birthday, or it can refer to the dedication of a temple. Hence the conflict between people who wonder if some emperor [they assume Aurelian] initiated a new holiday or if he dedicated a temple. Invicti means “invincible”. There is no mention of Sol here. The “CM” is short for “Circenssus Misses” and it means “Games Ordered”. Generally this refers to horse races run on that day. There were usually 24 games on the ancient holidays. The odd thing about this date is there are “XXX” or 30 games ordered. This means the day was very recently added and not an ancient day, like December 17th.
Part twelve of the Cronography is called the “Commemoration of the Martyrs” which lists the important dates of prominent Christian martyrs. Who do you suppose is the first martyr listed? That would be Jesus Christ – listed as being born on December 25th.
Here is exactly what it says:
“VIII kal. Ian. natus Christus in Betleem Iudeae”
“VIII” is the roman numeral 8. “Kal” is short for kalends, which is the first day of any month. “Ian” is January. So now we know what month we’re referring to – January. When we put this section together we get, “eight days before the first day of January.” The rest is “birthday of Christ in Bethlehem, Judea.”
So now we have a very important problem! Same document, two mentions of December 25th, neither associated with Sol at all, one clearly associated with Christ. Does “Natalis Invicti” refer to Christ or to Sol?
This is heavily debated.
Many assert that “Natalis Invicti” refers to Sol because the rest of the calendar’s dates are all pagan or secular. Games were ordered on that day. That would not have been done for Christ. That’s a valid point, but how do we get Sol specifically from this? We can’t. Sol festivals are clearly listed on other dates but not here. There is no evidence of any Sol celebration on this date nor any other solstice or equinox.
Others assert that it refers to Christ because the author was a Christian during the time of Constantine, and he clearly states Christ was born on this date. But this doesn’t explain the 30 games ordered on this day.
These facts lead a third group to believe that it does not refer to Christ or Sol, but to the sun specifically, in an astronomical way rather than a religious way. Sol is a sun god, but Sol is a specific sun god, not a generic sun god. Nor is Sol the sun itself. Helios was a sun god, but he pulled the sun in a chariot. With December 25 being the traditional date of the solstice, this mention in the Calendar could be purely astronomical. (Oh, how I wish it was definite!)
As a side note, I want to mention that I have heard many people blame Constantine for changing the December 25th festival from Sol to Christ. We do not know that is what happened! We have no proof that Constantine did this. But let’s think about this for a second.
The claim is that all of Rome so loved the Sol festival that Constantine and the Catholic Church had little choice but to adopt it and paste Christ over Sol. (The claim confuses Sol with Saturnalia, but let’s overlook this for now.)
If Aurelian in the last months of his life declared a Sol festival in December 274 as some claim, and if Constantine converted at the Milvian Bridge in 312 AD, then that leaves 38 years of Sol’s prominence in Rome. But let’s just say we count from the Edict of Milan where Christianity was officially legalized. This Edict was written in 313 AD. That leaves 39 years. The last coins depicting Sol were minted in 313 AD, so Sol most definitely fell out of prominence around this time.
So what did we see? If December 25th did honor Sol, it only did so for less than 50 years. That’s not very long.
It has honored Christ for 1,675+ years!
Be aware of this fact – it wasn’t until decades later, in a poem by Julian the Apostate, that the first solid connection between Sol and December 25th arrives. So, was it Constantine changing the Sol festival to a Christ festival? Or was it Julian the Apostate changing the Christ festival to a Sol festival?
Is there anything we can know or sure? Yes. And that is that speculation is the name of the game. People claim with fervency that December 25th is a pagan day. Not so fast! That is not only not proven, it isn’t even the most compelling explanation for the facts. It is only speculation. We don’t know for absolutely certain either way.
Are we willing to be so bold in accusing billions of Christians of paganism when we simply do not know that?
There is no compelling evidence that there was a Sol festival on December 25th. If not, then Sol specifically has nothing to do with it. So we have no “Dies Natalis Sol Invicti” at all during the proper time period. So why put it there? The better to lead you on with, my dear! Something apparently non-Christian called “Natalis Invicti” happened on that date, but a Sol festival doesn’t appear to be it. And we’ll get to that later.
Christ is clearly listed in association with December 25th well before Sol is.
Yule was a pagan winter solstice celebration from which Christmas borrowed heavily. Christmas is just a continuation of Yule, and a pagan holiday that should be returned to the pagans.
Our first records of Yule come from around 700 AD by our old friend the Venerable Bede in his work “De Temporum Ratione.” [See page 54 of that link.]
“Nor is it irrelevant if we take the trouble to translate the names of the other months. The months of Guili derive their name from the day when the Sun turns back [and begins] to increase, because of one of [these months] precedes [this day] and the other follows.”
Roughly, Bede records that Yule was the name of the months of December and January. Yes, two months with the same name. Bede is speaking in rough terms, since he is trying to translate the German lunar calendar into the standard Julian calendar.
In searching for other things I happened across this quote from “Christmas in Ritual and Tradition” by Clement A. Miles:
“One more name yet remains to be considered, Yule (Danish Jul), the ordinary word for Christmas in the Scandinavian languages, and not extinct among ourselves. Its derivation has been widely discussed, but so far no satisfactory explanation of it has been found. Professor Skeat in the last edition of his Etymological Dictionary (1910) has to admit that its origin is unknown. Whatever its source may be, it is clearly the name of a Germanic season—probably a two-month tide covering the second half of November, the whole of December, and the first half of January. 1-26 It may well suggest to us the element added to Christmas by the barbarian peoples who began to learn Christianity about the time when the festival was founded. Modern research has tended to disprove the idea that the old Germans held a Yule feast at the winter solstice, and it is probable, as we shall see, that the specifically Teutonic Christmas customs come from a New Year and beginning-of-winter festival kept about the middle of November. These customs transferred to Christmas are to a great extent religious or magical rites intended to secure prosperity during the coming year, and there is also the familiar Christmas feasting, apparently derived in part from the sacrificial banquets that marked the beginning of winter.”
So historians have known for decades that Yule was not a solstice celebration falling on 25 December, as many people are to this day led to believe. I have just recently received email urging me to heed this very false information. Perhaps we all need to blow the dust off of our history books, eh?
It was only much later, when Christianity was widely accepted throughout Germania, that a certain tradition from Yule was associated with Christmas. The tradition we generally are referring to is the Yule Log. But that tradition has gone the way of the wood-burning fireplace. It was oddity anyway; never central to Christmas at any time or place.
That the now practically defunct Yule Log tradition was adopted for a time in in some places in no way indicates the entire Christmas day is associated with paganism. Any way you slice it, there is no way a Germanic festival from the 600’s AD influenced the Romans of the 200-300’s AD.
I have heard a little about an ancient Mesopotamian new year festival called “Zagmuk” (which is blended with a longer Babylonian festival called “Akita”). Some pretty inane claims are made about this festival, so I figured I would address it.
Christmas comes from Saturnalia which comes from Zagmuk. Zagmuk was an ancient winter solstice festival nearly identical to Saturnalia. It started on the winter solstice and was celebrated for twelve days. Thus the origin of the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Most people have never heard of Zagmuk/Akita. Details are utterly confused when you go looking for them. Here is a direct quote from an Encyclo.com article on Zagmuk to illustrate my point (underlining mine):
“Zagmuk is a Mesopotamian festival celebrated around the winter solstice, which literally means ‘beginning of the year’. The feast fell in March or April and lasted about 12 days.“
Around the winter solstice in March or April, huh? OK. If you insist!
Zagmuk was the first day of the 12-day Akitu celebration, so it seems. So the 12-days similarity claim appears accurate, albeit superficial.
However, Zagmuk/Akita was not a winter solstice festival (neither is Christmas, nor was Saturnalia for that matter). In fact, it wasn’t in the winter at all. I know Encyclo.com would like us to believe the winter solstice is in March, but that’s obviously bad editing, and I’m just having some fun with it.
Truth is the exacting details of course are unknown since so much information has been lost these past 4,000 years, but we know more than enough to say that Zagmuk/Akita appears to have two main components: harvest and New Years.
It was a harvest-oriented festival.
Akita is derived the Sumerian word for barley. The base idea of Akita was to celebrate the crop-cycle; more specifically the sewing of barley in the fall and the cutting of barley in the spring. As we see in many other ancient cultures, the notions of life, death, and rebirth (in other words, the crop-cycle) appear in the symbolism of the day. Take the Isis & Osiris myths for example.
Christmas in contrast is about birth, not death and rebirth.
It was also a calendar-oriented festival.
Zagmuk is the Sumerian word for “beginning of the year”. When was the beginning of the Mesopotamian/Babylonian year? Why, check your Hebrew calendar and find out for yourself. Since the Babylonian captivity, the Babylonian calendar and the Hebrew calendar are pretty much the same thing! And we should see that the beginning of the year for the Mesopotamians and Hebrews falls in the month of Nissan/Abib, which is usually March or April. Ancientworlds.net tells us that Zagmuk was the first new moon after the spring equinox.
Toss in a few traditions about Enlil/Marduk vs. Tiamat, and order vs. chaos, and you have a regular religious festival. Opa!
I can’t tell you how many websites I’ve checked that assert something like “Zagmuk was a new year festival celebrated around the winter solstice.” It is not wise to see “new year” and automatically assume January 1. The Mesopotamian/Hebrew New Year was not in winter it was in the spring! Anciently, even the Romans began their year in March when they used a lunar calendar.
It was also a harvest festival. Guess what’s not going to be happening in late December at the start of the rainy season. That’s right.. harvesting!
It is even less wise to see a holiday and simply assign it as a winter solstice festival. As we’ve seen so many, many times in this study most holidays that are commonly called winter solstice festivals were no such thing. Are people really that desperate to smear Christmas?
It has been speculated that the festival is 12 days long because they used a lunar calendar, and certain intercalations had to be made. These days are added days that help reconcile the lunar and solar calendars. It takes 11 extra days to reconcile the calendars. The twelfth day of Akitu was one where order had defeated chaos and life returned to normal, so it would seem incredibly logical that the “twelve days of Akitu” were eleven “leap days” plus one.
The idea isn’t unreasonable. The Jews anciently added “leap months” every so often to reconcile their calendar. And the Egyptians had the 5 “heriu renpet” days to reconcile their 360-day year with a 365-day solar year. This is that same idea.
So far as Zagmuk/Akita being identical to Saturnalia, I cannot find any credible evidence that this is true. All such claims that Saturnalia is Zagmuk come from websites that insist Zagmuk was a winter solstice festival, therefore I give them very little weight. The twelve days of Zagmuk/Akita have defined meanings and ceremonies. They definitely do not match the symbolism of Saturnalia. As you recall, Macrobius recorded that the origin of Saturnalia was secular, and it was originally a one-day festival until Julius Caesar changed the calendar.
Zagmuk wasn’t a winter solstice festival after all. It was a spring festival, recalling New Years and the barley harvest. There is no good reason to believe it is the precursor to Saturnalia. It would seem that the only similarity that Zagmuk has with Christmas is the notion of twelve days. Unfortunately for this claim, we have seen where the 12 days of Christmas come from, and they aren’t intercalary days. The similarity is a false cognate at best. As if anything with 12 days couldn’t possibly be anything other than Zagmuk.
Touching again on the solstice, I feel it would be irresponsible to omit mentioning that the solstice is not on December 25th. People might even wonder how the solstice could have been celebrated on the 25th and not the 21st where we usually find it today (it varies somewhat). Well, it has to do with three separate calendars.
Prior to the Julian calendar, the Romans used a lunar calendar. Its accuracy was not the best. Julius Caesar reformed the calendar in 44-45 BC. He made a solar calendar with years of 365.25 days, and leap-years every four years. It wasn’t perfect because years aren’t exactly 365.25 days long, so it still lost around 11 minutes of time each year. You might wonder why that matters, but over time those eleven or so minutes add up to one day lost roughly every 128 years.
So, in 1582 AD, Pope Gregory XIII reformed the calendar again. He made the calendar more accurate, but the Gregorian calendar still loses 27 seconds each year, or one day every three thousand years. This latest calendar took centuries to catch on across the globe and for a while people in various places had all sorts of dating issues.
As the story goes, by the time Gregory XIII reformed the calendar in 1582, the solstice was on December 11th. He accounted for the 10 lost days between the Council of Nicea in 325 AD and his own time, and he corrected that loss. He did not account for the 3 days lost from Julius Caesar’s time and the Council of Nicea. Oops! Therefore today we see the solstice on December 21st or December 22nd, which is where it would have been in 325 AD.
The first indisputable mention of Jesus’ birth on December 25th was in 336. December 25th was not on the solstice in that century.
Splitting hairs? Perhaps. But this fact becomes important whenever someone argues that December 25th was a solstice day for other cultures, for example the Teutons, and they try to find the origin of Christmas in Yule. December 25th wasn’t the literal solstice at all. It was merely Roman tradition that it was the day the sun starts its return. Other cultures that watched for a solstice would have no reason to arrive at the same date of December 25th. The name “December 25th” is purely a construct of the Roman calendar which other cultures didn’t use, and the date was a matter of Roman tradition which other cultures didn’t follow. Therefore I find it important to point out how December 25th was not the literal solstice.
Now I feel I would be remiss to omit that the Romans certainly did see December 25th as being the date that the sun begins to increase in strength. In other words, December 25th had traditional and astronomical significance to the Romans.
The first reference we have to this comes from Pliny the Elder in his work “Natural History”. Pliny says this:
“the bruma begins at the eighth degree of Capricorn, the eighth day before the calends of January”
This “bruma” is not in reference to the festival Bruma, but merely the shortest day of the year. Take note that Pliny is not referring to this in a religious way at all, but merely astronomical. So we know the Romans saw this as a form of a solstice.
Just because the Romans thought anything of the day does not mean the Christians did.
In 243 AD a work was written that is claimed to have been authored by Cyprian. That claim is most likely false. The work is known as “The Pseudo-Cyprianic De Pascha Computus” (or “The Calculation of Passover”). I quote this selection from Tom Schmidt at Chronicon.net in his article “Cyprian, Christmas, and the Birth of the Sun”:
“O! The splendid and divine Providence of the Lord, that on that day, even at the very day, on which the Sun was made, 28 March, a Wednesday, Christ should be born. For this reason Malachi the prophet, speaking about him to the people, fittingly said: ‘Unto you shall the sun of righteousness arise, and healing is in his wings.’”
Many people have used a shortened version of this quote to demonstrate that the birth of the sun was on December 25th. Problem is when we see the entire quote that becomes impossible. But one thing it does in spades is demonstrate that in the mid-200’s the Christians could care less about the Roman view of the solstice. They were more interested in the Jewish tradition of the creation of the Sun in late March.
Christians in the mid 200’s didn’t seem to care what the Romans felt about the sun. Nor either did the Romans, for that matter. The evidence is that there really was nothing of great note happening on December 25th in Rome at this time. Why is it that 100 years later we see the Christians celebrating the birth of Christ on the same date that the Romans began honoring the return of the sun? Did the Christians adopt the solstice festival after all?
We are left with a hole in history.
If we stopped here, the evidence would be pretty damning. But even after all of this we still have to view one more bit of critical material that will muddy up the waters even more: Hippolytus. We’ll get to that in the next section.
Calculating December 25th
For those who wish to paint Christmas as a pagan celebration, the section on the solstice may come as welcome news. For others, that section may dismay you. However, I assure you, just because Christmas is on the Roman traditional date of the solstice is not prima facie evidence that Christmas is therefore a copy of the Roman solstice celebration. That would be hasty conclusion to come to without proving it out. We have not established that Christmas was taken from the solstice celebration, just that they are both on the same day.
I promised you muddier waters, and so I shall deliver. We have some crucial testimony to consider that might yet vindicate December 25th.
In the mid second century and early third century AD many Christians were trying to deduce the dates of Christ’s birth and death. We have records from such names as Tertullian, Sextus Julianus Africanus, and others. All of these were using date calculation methods to determine when Christ lived and died.
“From the birth of Christ, therefore, to the death of Commodus are, in all, 194 years, 1 month, 13 days. And there are those who have determined not only the year of our Savior’s genesis, but even the day, which they say took place in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus on the 25th of Pachon…” ~Stromata 1.21.145-146 [my translation]”
Clement says, “there are those”. I take this to mean he was building on other works completed perhaps by the late second century. What this means is that in the 100’s AD, perhaps even the mid 100’s AD, Christians were calculating the timing of Jesus’ life and death.
What Clement is saying is that Jesus was conceived (Clement uses the word ‘genesis’) on the 25th day of the Egyptian month of Pachon. Now, we don’t know what Egyptian calendar Clement was using. This throws a huge monkey-wrench into correctly translating that date into the Gregorian calendar that we use today. Most people think Clement means to say that Pachon is in late April and into May, therefore Jesus was conceived in mid-to-late May.
Notice how the 25th does seem to keep reemerging.
To put a second point on Clement, he also gives the time between Christ’s birth and the death of Emperor Commodus.
Any basic check will show that Commodus died on December 31st 192 AD. Subtract 1 month and 13 days from December 31st (we aren’t interested in the year) and we see that Clement believed Jesus was born on or around November 28th.
Why do we care what this old man thought? Simple. It establishes that from perhaps even the mid-to-late 100’s AD there were Christians believing that Jesus was born late in the year. And we know from what we learned earlier that in this time and decades afterwards Christians didn’t care about Roman solstice traditions. Right or wrong, it tends to take the legs out from under the claim that Christians only got December 25 by co-opting a pagan date. Not only that, but going through this information sets up a precedence for our next bit of information.
Here’s the real kicker – around 202-211 AD, Clement’s student, a man by the name of Hippolytus of Rome, in his work “Commentary on Daniel,” calculated the date of Jesus’ birth to be December 25th. This is well before Aurelian, and well before the Chronography of 354.
There are many people who doubt that this manuscript is genuine, but if one takes all of Hippolutys’ works together, along with the works of other writers of that period who appear to draw from Hippolytus, and along with the work of Clement his teacher, there becomes very good reason to believe that the December 25th date is exactly what Hippolytus believed. Tom Schmidt at Chronicon.net explains this in far greater detail in his article “Hippolytus and the Original Date of Christmas”.
People will no doubt be curious to know how people like Hippolytus came up with the December 25th date.
The date of the birth of Christ is not known. Speculation on when He was born started very early on. The Bible does not tell us on what day or year Jesus was born. Oh, how I wish it did!
But what most people overlook is that the Bible also leaves out the year of Jesus’ death. We may know that Passover is on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Abib/Nissan, but how that translates to the Roman calendar varies greatly depending on what year it is. In one year it could be a Thursday in March. In another year it could be on a Saturday in April. In fact, in 33 AD Passover began Friday night at sundown, which means Jesus could very well have been crucified on Friday in that year.
Apparently following in the footsteps of his teacher, Hippolytus determined a year for the crucifixion, then a day. He figured that since Christ was crucified on this day, he must also have been conceived on it. Then he counted forward 9 months from conception and arrived at December 25th.
All of this in the early 200’s AD.
You might ask yourself why on earth would any sane person believe you died on the date of your conception.
To understand a little more about why Hippolytus thought as he did, we can draw an example from modern claims about Jesus’ birth.
I can’t tell how very many times I have heard people speculate that Jesus was born in the Fall. “We can prove it from the Bible!”, they exclaim. During the Feast of Tabernacles or Trumpets is their favorite target. (If you can prove it from the Bible you would know exactly when it was, and not give a choice of dates.) The people who claim He was born during the Jewish holy days have no more fact to draw upon than anyone else who comes to a different conclusion, but at least they are on to something.
You see, the people who claim He was born during the Jewish holidays believe that important things happen over and over on certain days of the year. Turns out this belief comes from the Jews.
For example, the Jews hold the 9th day of the month of Av (Tisha b’Av) to be a day on which repeated calamities have fallen on the Jewish people. Or again, the Jews believed the date on which a person was conceived or born is tied to the date on which they will die. Tradition states that King David was born and died on Pentecost.
Well, turns out that at this time Christian’s didn’t care about Roman traditions but they were enamored with Jewish ones. It seems reasonable that the Jewish belief that things happen repeatedly on certain days of the year influenced the early Christians’ speculation on the birth of Christ, too. They speculated that since Jesus died on a certain day in a certain year, then He must also have been conceived on that same day. Hippolytus calculated the date of His conception/death to be March 25th. From conception to birth is 9 months, normally. So, 9 months from March 25th is…. December 25th!
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) in his book “The Spirit of the Liturgy” argues this exact same thing. Even WikiPedia recognizes this phenomenon in their article on Christmas. In the very first paragraph (as of 12/20/2010) it says this:
“The date is not known to be the actual birthday of Jesus, and may have initially been chosen to correspond with either the day exactly nine months after Christians believe Jesus to have been conceived…”
I quote WikiPedia here only to demonstrate that there are valid alternatives to the dating of Christmas, and that this information is readily available to anyone who is interested.
Know this – these people didn’t set out to find December 25th at all. There is no way that anyone can accuse Hippolytus or Clement or any of these people of trying to co-opt a pagan December holiday that according to record probably didn’t exist for another several decades to come. Finding Jesus’ birth date was secondary. They primarily cared about finding the date of His death. They were after March 25th. Add 9 months to that and you get December 25th as a bonus prize. If they weren’t trying to adopt paganism, then the roots of Christmas on December 25th are not pagan.
Apparently Hippolytus’ dating lasted. Augustine wrote his work “On the Trinity” between 400 and 412 AD. Pay attention to the dating here; this is now well after Filocalus and well after December 25th was established. In chapter V of book IV, Augusting writes this:
“For He is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also He suffered…”
Hippolytus apparently started this, and two centuries later Augustine confirms the notion was widely accepted. I would also have you know that to this very day March 25th is the Feast of the Annunciation in the Catholic Church, where the Catholics celebrate the conception of Jesus Christ. We now have book-ended evidence that the Christians calculated Jesus’ birth from a date given for His death, that date was March 25th. Nine months later is December 25th. Here is the story of how Christmas got its date.
Many people treat it as if the Christians stole the date from pagans, and that is that, case closed. This is simply not so. If you still must reject the holiday, please do. Just leave the grossly speculative story of pagan origins behind.
In addition, some people have theorized that December 25th was borrowed from the Jews in another way. Some people think it was influenced by the Jews keeping Hanukkah on the 25th of the month of Kislev, and Kislev usually falls in December. So when the Gentiles moved towards December as the date of Christ’s birth, the 25th as a date may have been a natural choice as it already held significance. (Notice my use of words like “may”. I’m only speculating here.)
I disagree with this assertion. Just mentioning it to tie up loose ends.
At the start of this section I mentioned that Hippolytus would muddy up the claim that December 25th was adopted because of a solstice festival. Hopefully you do see that there is ample evidence that Christians were calculating the date of Jesus’ birth to be late in the year and even on December 25th long before Diocletian. Should the 30 games ordered on December 25th truly indicate a late date of that festival, or even if indeed it does have something to do with Aurelian, we can see that the Christians beat him to it by half a century or more.
I conclude that it is impossible to say with conviction that December 25th was only adopted because of the Natalis Invicti celebration. That claim appears to be anachronistic.
Miscalculating December 25th
The more I learned about Christmas, the more I was astounded that it seems to be a genuinely Christian phenomenon – at least where the dating is concerned. People mention that “Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church”, then they leave out any mention of Epiphany. Most Armstrongists wouldn’t even know what Epiphany is.
Yet people who aren’t quite as interested in finding what is actually true persist in finding what they wanted to find and ignoring what they don’t like.
Within the past week someone has told me how they saw this or that television program on the Discovery Channel or some such place that reinforced what Herbert Armstrong taught. Did they search as long and as hard for the other side of the story?
If you start watching at 2:00 though 2:07, you will hear Mr. Wallace say this, “How did December 25th win out? Well, we don’t know exactly, but most likely what’s going on is…”
If you watch at 2:33 though 2:36, you will hear Mr. Wallace say this, “What we think happened, though we have no direct evidence…“
Those are some incredibly speculative statements for a video with such a definite title.
Though they have “no direct evidence”, they proclaim “most likely what’s going on is” Christmas definitely has pagan origins. This should illustrate how ingrained the idea is that Christians took December 25th from the pagans.
And I am supposed to take “no direct evidence” as an excuse for condemning over a billion people, especially when we have direct evidence that things are not so definite as we were led to believe? But they saw it on the Discovery Channel, and that’s good enough for them. Funny how when the Discovery Channel is airing a program on Evolution, the Armstrongists aren’t nearly as convinced about their authority, but when they air a program that goes against Christmas, “It’s the truth!!”
One might say, “I am not condemning anyone” to which I would reply, very good!
However, I know from experience that there are many who condemn others over this. I mean condemn in a very literal sense. People are called “worldly”, “non-Christian”, “pagan”, “Nimrod worshipers”, “rebellious”, “cursed by God”, “anti-Christ”, “Satanic” and etc. Good for you that you aren’t condemning anyone over this. But keep in mind some people take this quite seriously (and not in a good way). And I know from first-hand experience that many of these both do not know the truth, nor do they care when they are presented with it.
In case you are interested in more, here is a fine article on this subject from William Tighe at Touchstone Archives, called “Calculating Christmas“.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
How did this happen? How did we come to this state? Why didn’t we know about these things earlier? Were we lied to? Did Herbert Armstrong et al bury this information and feed us only what they wanted to believe? I believe the answer is yes and no.
Here’s a quote from Ronald Nash’s book “The Gospel and the Greeks” page 1:
“During the period of time running roughly from 1890 to 1940, scholars often alleged that primitive Christianity had been heavily influenced by Platonism, Stoicism, the pagan mystery religions, or other movements in the Helenistic world [by this he means the entire Roman Empire]. … Today most Bible scholars regard the question as a dead issue.“
Nash wasn’t talking about Christmas in that quote; he was talking about Christianity itself. But it goes to demonstrate something about evidence and how false information tends to persist.
Nash and most other modern historians have patently rejected the once widely accepted scholarship by groups such as the Religionsgeschichtliche schule (which in English is “History of Religions School”) and people like Richard Reitzenstein, Sir James Frazer, Franz Cumont, and Albert Schweitzer. And it was these people who influenced Herbert Armstrong.
In Lee Strobel’s book, “The Case for the Real Jesus” Mr. Strobel interviews Edwin Yamauchi, professor at Miami University of Ohio and recognized authority on Persian religions. On page 168, Mr. Yamauchi has this to say,
“Much of what has been circulated on Mithraism has been based on the theories of a Belgium scholar named Franz Cumont. He was the leading scholar on Mithraism in his day, and he published his famous work “Mysteries of Mithras”, in 1903. His work led to speculation by the History of Religion School that Mithraism influenced nascent Christianity. Much of what Cumont suggested, however, turned out to be quite unfounded.”
“Dead issue”? “Unfounded”? Well, that’s rather important to know, wouldn’t you think?
Yet these unfounded dead issues are continuously promoted as “God’s truth” in Armstrongist literature. This is exactly the same as when Ralph Woodrow wrote the Babylon Connection and proved Alexander Hislop to be a dead issue, yet to this day we still hear Hislop’s garbage from all quarters of Protestant fundamentalism. Hislop is still quoted throughout the Living Church of God’s booklet on how to tell a false church from a true one. How can one use false information to find a true church? I’ll guarantee you, someone out there is going to read this post and call me a Nimrod worshipper. Why? Because they still hold as true something that was long ago proven beyond a doubt to be false!
Then where does Mithra fit in to all of this? When I hear over and over again, including in the aforementioned Discovery Channel video, that December 25th was chosen as the birthday of Christ because that was the birthday of Mithra, based on no direct evidence mind you, I simply think of another quote from Edwin Yamauchi on page 171 of “The Case for the Real Jesus” where he said,
“[December 25th] was the date chosen by the emperor Aurelian for the dedication of his temple to Sol Invictus, the god called the ‘Unconquerable Sun.’ Mithras was closely associated with Sol Invictus; sometimes they’re depicted shaking hands. This is apparently how Mithras became associated with December 25.”
So, in other words, Mithras became associated with Sol post facto, after Aurelian recreated his Sol Invictus. From this we can also conclude that Mithra could not be associated with December 25th before Sol was, and our first record of Sol being associated with December 25th comes two decades after Christ was shown to be associated with it (and if Hippolytus can be believed, more than a century after).
Here is a fine link to KingDavid8.com for more information on any Christ/Mithra similarities: “Jesus & Mithra Parallels – A Christian Response”
Such mistaken information was widely accepted during HWA’s formative years. This is why when we read Armstrongist literature even to this day we see so many references to works over 100 years old. How many times have you seen reference to the Catholic Encyclopedia 1911 edition? Well, now you know why.
In HWA’s defense (yes, we defend HWA when we the situation warrants it), not everything that HWA said was an outright lie, even if it was incorrect. He did what he thought was right with the information available at the time. We simply have far better information 100 years later. What a difference a day makes!
This doesn’t excuse the modern purveyors of what has been long known to be false. People like Dave Pack and Gerald Flurry simply have no desire to let go of the errors of the past. Too much of their reputation and income rides on tickling the itching ear with their self-serving lies. They teach people to judge and condemn based on false information for their own gain.
So, in my opinion, no, HWA was not necessarily lying when he was telling the world the only information available at the time, he was simply in error – but today people really should know better, and often do, so yes they are lying to us now.
So what have we seen about December 25th? We have “no direct evidence” that Christians co-opted December 25th from the pagans.
· Bruma has no bearing on the dating of Christmas; it wasn’t even celebrated in the same month. Christians opposed it. Brumalia has no bearing on the dating of Christmas; it is a Byzantine celebration from after the time of Christmas.
· Saturnalia has no bearing on the dating of Christmas; it was a week before Christmas and was never observed on December 25th.
· Yule has no bearing on the dating of Christmas. Yule was apparently not a merely a solstice celebration, as is often claimed. Our first records come too late and too far away to influence the beginning of Christmas.
· Zagmuk Akita has no bearing on the dating since this was a spring festival.
· The literal winter solstice has no bearing on the dating. Christmas has never once been on the literal winter solstice. The date is a Roman tradition, so there is no reason to tie December 25th to solstice celebrations of non-Roman cultures.
· And what of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti? What “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti”?? People can’t even decide what the real name is. Why call it so many different things if that’s its name? Properly it should be called “Natalis Invicti”. And Natalis Invicti appears to be a late addition. We have good reason to believe Sol was added to the day in 363 AD. The calculation of the December 25th predates this and was not dependent upon it.
It boils down to this – speculation. And here’s mine:
We have ample evidence to believe that Christians were calculating and celebrating the birth of Christ since before 200 AD, perhaps even the mid 100’s. There are good reasons to believe that Hippolytus of Rome, following the example of his teacher Clement, calculated Christ’s birth to be December 25th between 202-211 AD. Multiple Christians at that time were trying to determine the timing of Christ’s conception/death. They were not borrowing from paganism. They ignored Roman mythology. They preferred these dates because they meshed with Jewish (and in their minds this meant Biblical) traditions. It would appear that March 25th as the date of Jesus’ conception caught on in the West. Augustine was still writing about it in the 400’s. To this day it is the Feast of the Annunciation. Calculation from March 25th seems to be the way the Latin Church came to December 25th. When you count forward 9 months from March 25, you get December 25. It appears to be purely coincidental that December 25th was the Roman traditional date of the solstice. The church universally agreed on a winter birth at that time. Even in the East their celebration of the birth of Christ was a mere 12 days later.
In the late 200’s or early 300’s, the festival of Natalis Invicti was created to commemorate the Roman traditional solstice. We have no reason whatsoever to believe this festival was so popular the Christians had little option but to adopt it; the popular festival was Saturnalia which was over a week earlier. Moving forward in time again – in 363 Julian the Apostate appears to have applied Sol worship to the festival. Christmas was already well-established in the Latin West by this point. Julian the Apostate was trying to undo Constantine’s reforms and return Rome away Christianity. I believe he applied Sol to this date specifically to co-opt it from Christ.
After this point, it appears the Christians began to use the sun imagery to explain how Jesus was greater than the Roman gods. Using imagery to explain Jesus to pagans is not the same as adopting pagan festivals. The Church leadership at that time, and for the next two centuries after, was in no mood to “adopt” anything. In 381-394, Emperor Theodosius I declared paganism illegal and took steps to eliminate all pagan worship.
Important things to ponder!
The fine people at Biblical Archaeology Review have posted an article titled “How December 25 Became Christmas” that agrees with what I’ve told you here. Thanks to Teresa Beem for this gem!
Is the information in today’s post news to you? Do we really suppose that the self-proclaimed apostles and leaders of their own church movements would tell you about information that exonerates the dating of Christmas and proves them wrong? Do we really suppose that they forgot to tell us these things?
You want the truth, right? Any group who still at this late date would reference Alexander Hislop’s “Two Babylons” and his nonsense ideas about Nimrod obviously have no interest in genuine truth. How much more ridiculous are childish anagrams like “SANTA = SATAN”, or blatantly misleading comparisons of Saint Nicholas, whose history is known, with recent English nicknames for Satan like “Old Nick”. Have we not considered that Santa means “saint”? They proclaim how they only want “the truth” and “proven fact” yet they give us anything but. They teach as truth that Jeremiah 10 is speaking of Christmas trees, when it is speaking of no such thing!
It is far past time to demand better.
Look, I’m not telling you that you have to run out and start celebrating Christmas. Perhaps if we can clear the old misinformation we might even see that the birth of Christ is in every way Biblical. Maybe if you don’t like the idea of decorations, you could still see that Jesus couldn’t have died for our sins if He wasn’t first born into this world. Maybe that will spark some acts of charity in your heart.
I would like everyone to stop the judging and condemning each other over something that clearly isn’t as simple as they had been led to believe. At the very least, consider giving people the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t pagans for celebrating Christmas. Then go do the research for yourself. Ask the tough questions. The attaining to truth is apparently going to have to start with you.
The Quotes Before Christmas (Herbert Armstrong) – As Bereans Did
The Armstrongist Church of God splinter groups quote, or perhaps I should say ‘strategically quote-mine’, from about any source which even so much as appears to undermine Christmas. For example, in his definitive booklet on the topic of Christmas, “The Plain Truth about Christmas” Herbert Armstrong quotes a section of the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge article on Christmas. He quotes just enough of it to smear the day, and then proceeds to leave us, the readers of his booklet, to conclude that history itself has soundly denounced the day as pagan.
“How much the date of the festival depended upon the pagan Brumalia (Dec. 25) following the Saturnalia (Dec. 17-24), and celebrating the shortest day in the year and the ‘new sun,’ . . . cannot be accurately determined.”
-Herbert Armstrong, “The Plain Truth about Christmas” 1957, p.5 Our complaint is not that they argue against Christmas. A healthy, well-formed argument is a good thing. We all improve from the challenge. The truth can take care of itself. Our complaint is the unhealthy and poorly-formed arguments, the shifting standards, the ideologically driven shoddy research, the pseudo-history, the unwillingness to consider evidence to the contrary, and the manipulative quote-mining that come close to outright deception. Just as they do with British-Israelism, so they do with Christmas. They expose us to the oldest, least reliable sources and call it “truth.” If they do accidentally quote a quality source, they are not above only quoting just enough to get what they want from it, even if they alter the entire meaning of the quote. This is the plain truth? I find their lack of integrity disturbing.
This is fairly typical of the way the modern COGs treat their source material each year when they trot out their litany of hand-crafted quotes before Christmas. It has become so dogmatically important to them to oppose Christmas that any means justifies this end. It is the great white whale. Back in 2009, ABD began looking into Easter and Christmas to see if what the COGs claim is true. We were surprised to learn the claims were not true, but shocked to learn how very badly we had been lied to. The discoveries continue uninterrupted to this day. Let’s see just a few examples.
I would like to show you how the quote above actually started because there is a very important part that Armstrong skipped over.
“How much the calculation of Hippolytus had to do with the festival on Dec. 25, and how much the date of the festival depended upon the pagan Brumalia (Dec. 25), following the Saturnalia (Dec. 17-24) and celebrating the shortest day in the year and the ‘new sun’ or the beginning of the lengthening of days, cannot be accurately determined.”
-“Christmas”, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Volume III, Grand Rapids, 1952, p.48, [bold mine] from Christian Classics Ethereal Library.org, p.67, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/encyc03.pdf See there? I’ve bolded the key portion that the COGs leave out. The COGs fundamentally transform the entire quote. I want to explain what that quote says, because it is easy to misunderstand.
On page 47, the author of this New Schaff-Herzog article on Christmas spent a good number of words reviewing how the dates of Jesus’ death and birth were calculated by several second and third century theologians. Some theologians concluded a winter birth but one theologian in particular, Hippolytus, is credited with being the first to calculate December 25th as the birth date at some time near 211 AD. Well, there are several people who say Theophilus of Antioch should get the credit for the first mention of December 25 at some time around 185 AD, but until I see some better evidence I am going to give this a mention and then ignore it. Hippolytus arrived at this date by first calculating the date of Jesus’ conception at March 25th. December 25th is exactly 9 months after March 25th. The December date relied entirely upon the March date.
That’s where we come in with this quote. We can see that the article clearly points out that Hippolytus calculated the date. It is completely forthcoming about that point. Armstrong leaves that part completely out. All we get to see is the article wondering if Hippolytus’ calculations were influenced by Saturnalia or Brumalia. The author concludes it cannot be accurately determined.
We at ABD, not having read Schaff-Herzogg when we first started, came to the same conclusion that the date was calculated by Hippolytus and then caught on over time. It was a surprising find to us. Should it have been surprising, considering the material Armstrong quoted from states that Hippolytus calculated the date? No. I spend thirty years in Armstrongism, eating up their material on Christmas, but never once did I hear a whisper about calculations. All I heard was that it came from several varieties of paganism.
Now here is a detail you absolutely must know: Hippolytus wrote around 202-220 AD.
Why is that important? Because there was no Roman festival on December 25th at that time.
Granted, December 25th had been the traditional Roman date of the solstice since 45 BC, but there was no festival at all marking the solstice. Romans did not celebrate the solstice anciently. No known Roman festival falls on the solstices before 274 AD. (There is no evidence that one fell on the solstice in 274 either, this is complete speculation, but it’s a reasonable guess.) The fact remains that the Roman traditional date of the solstice was important for astronomy/astrology but unimportant for religion.
So let us return full circle again to the conjecture from earlier. How much the calculation of Hippolytus had to do with a solstice festival at least is in fact simple to determine: it wasn’t. There was no solstice festival to influence Hippolytus. We’ll deal with more the established festivals like Brumalia in a bit.
MIND YOUR SOURCE MATERIAL
So, am I saying that the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia is wrong? Well, to be fair, the author was simply offering some conjecture. They didn’t say it was and they didn’t say it wasn’t. An encyclopedia is an odd place for conjecture, but it is what it is. Armstrong took this conjecture as some solid evidence. Obviously he had no idea what makes for good evidence, but he sure knew what makes for good propaganda. This conjecture is easily determined now, in our time, by modern scholars who are far better informed than 100 years ago. So, no, the conjecture isn’t “wrong” per se, but we can definitively answer this conjecture.
Yet, in other places the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia’s article on Christmas is wrong.
The Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge was written in the 1800’s. It was revised and published in 1952 as the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religous Knowledge. This is a fairly old encyclopedia by today’s standards. When Herbert Armstrong was writing his Plain Truth about Christmas booklet, this information must have seemed new to him, definitive, and quite fascinating. And rightfully so. I cannot necessarily blame the man, he concluded as he did at least in part because of the information he had on hand. But we aren’t in the 1950’s anymore. We have learned much in 60+ years.
In the late 1800’s to mid 1900’s, the prevailing theory in religious history was that Christianity borrowed most every component that it has from pagans, including Jesus Himself. Which is why you get the kind of information that you do in books like The Golden Bough by James Frazer, a favored source of the Living Church of God. Yes, the LCG frequently references a book that believes Jesus Christ is a false god created from borrowed pagan material. So is the book authoritative or not? You decide.
For more on why Frazer’s claims are outmoded, see this article at Tektonics.org.
That kind of “Christians borrowed everything from pagans” conclusion has lasting appeal to some people. I have the COGs in mind in particular. This is no longer the prevailing theory among religious historians. The prevailing theory now is precisely the opposite – Christianity is uniquely a spin-off of Judaism, pagans primarily borrowed from Christianity, and other similarities are superficial. This effectively obsoletes a good deal of older material, like that which we find in this Christmas article from the New Schaff-Herzog. Undaunted, the COGs continue to use select quotes from obsolete and inaccurate material to this very moment for no other reason than it says what they want to hear.
One would think the Shaff-Herzogg Encyclopedia is wholly condemnatory against Christmas. It is not. To be completely forthcoming, this Christmas article is pretty damning. Some sections of the Christmas article which Armstrong left out are even worse towards Christmas than those he included! Yet, even in this, the reality is quite different than the picture painted for us. Christmas is not nearly the train wreck that the Christmas article makes it seem. As a witness for the defense, let us call … the Shaff-Herzog Encyclopedia.
I was able to find the Shaff-Herzog Encyclopedia from 1912. The original. Its article on Yuletide on p.491 once again goes into a great deal of detail regarding how December 25th was a calculated date. Afterwards, it says this:
“It has also been conjectured that the day was selected because of its significance in the Roman calendar, where it bore the name of deis invicti solis (“the day of the unconquered sun”), since on this day the sun began to regain its power and overcame the night. … It is, however, unlikely that the birth-day of Jesus was first determined by this heathen festival. Nor can Christmas be assumed to owe its origin to the Roman Saturnalia, since they lasted from Dec. 17 to Dec. 19, and even with the later prolongation to seven days, ended on Dec. 23. Still less can the origin be sought in the Germanic solar festival, since the Christmas festival arose long before the Christianizing of the Germans.”
-“Yuletide”, Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Volume XII, p.491, Funk and Wagnalls, New York and London, 1912. From Google Books
http://books.google.com/books?id=n2EhAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA491&lpg=PA491#v=onepage&q&f=false Can you believe that?
I want to reiterate, for clarity. The Yuletide article of the same brand of encyclopedia answers the conjecture put forward in the Christmas article. It went from “cannot be accurately determined” to “unlikely.”
Odd, it didn’t seem so impossible for them to determine.
Wouldn’t that have been nice to know before? I have a little conjecture of my own as to why Armstrong and the COGs leave this information out. I’ll give you a hint — it doesn’t fit the narrative.
But wait, there’s more.
The articles Christmas and Yuletide conflict regarding the dates of Saturnalia. Both articles claim Saturnalia started on December 17th, but whereas the Yuletide article correctly states that it was concluded on the 23rd at its longest point, the Christmas article errors by adding a day. Saturnalia did not conclude on the 24th.
A second notable error is that the Christmas article states the festival of Brumalia fell on December 25th. The festival of Brumalia was a month-long observance which began on November 24th and ended at Saturnalia which was December 17th. Brumalia was not on December 25th.
Anciently, the Bruma was an event where the Roman head of state fed the Senators in a meal symbolizing their importance to the nation during the quiet months of winter. It grew to be a longer festival over time. It eventually grew so long that it ended at Saturnalia. We speculate that is where the name Brumalia came from. The lengthy Brumalia was actually a later development. Neither Brumalia nor Saturnalia were on December 24th or 25th. Neither the correct dates nor the correct location could have had any influence on the calculations of Hippolytus. So the reference in the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia on Religious Knowledge article on Christmas is factually incorrect in regards to this point.
“Moreover, the Byzantine Brumalia was actually called a festival of Cronos, and December 17, the day on which it closed, was the opening day of the Saturnalia.
…Balzamon, Tzetzes, and Zonaras, twelfth century Byzantine writers, affirm that the Brumalia was a festival of Dionysus, inasmuch as βροῦμοςwas an epithet of that god. It is a fact that at this festival, in the eighth century, the Emperor Constantine Copronymus revered Dionysus and Broumos as creators of corn and wine.
-John Raymond Crawford, “De Bruma et Brumalibus Festis”, Byzantinischer Zeitschrift, pp.365-396. Am I saying the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia is wrong? Yes! Yes I am. Even WikiPedia manages to get the dates right. See what you can achieve when you do more than just quote-mine your source material?
So let us return full circle a second time to the conjecture that started this post. How much the calculation of Hippolytus had to do with the Brumalia is in fact simple to determine: it wasn’t. Brumalia wasn’t on December 25th at all, but had ended a week earlier.
It seems apparent to me that the COGs care a lot less about what actually happened in the past than they care about preserving the narrative. Do you honestly think that they want to hear that something might exonerate one of their favorite money-makers? Tell me truthfully, if you are from the anti-Christmas side of this debate, don’t you really want me to be wrong?
For more detail on these points, please see our article “The Plain Truth About December 25” especially the sections Bruma/Brumalia and Saturnalia.
A HELPFUL TIMELINE
Keeping all of these dates in line can be difficult. I want to put up a timeline for you.
||Mithras mystery cult begins in Rome. Distinct from Persian Mithra worship.
||Theologians in Egypt try to discern the birth date of Jesus. May and January are favorites.
||Clement of Alexandria believes Jesus born in winter. November or January. Also references a baptismal celebration which could be Epiphany.
||Clement’s student Hippolytus calculates Jesus’ death as March 25 and birth as December 25.
||Elagabalus becomes Emperor at age 14. Introduces Sol Invictus to Rome.
||Julius Africanus confirms Hippolytus’ March 25 date.
||Elagabalus is assassinated. Sol worship is suppressed.
||Cyprian confirms Hippolytus’ March 25 date.
||Aurelian reintroduces or recreates Sol Invictus. Dies the next year. Sol Invictus is a favorite of Roman rulers for the next 40 to 50 years until Constantine.
||Christianity legalized by Emperor Constantine I. Mithraism and Sol Invictus begin to decline. Mithraism gone by mid-century.
||The first mention of Natalis Invicti (notice Sol is not mentioned, but it likely is Sol Invictus). This is the first record of a pagan festival on December 25. Same document mentions Jesus born on December 25.
||Constantine the Great dies. His sons continue the spread of Christianity in Rome.
||Emperor Julian “the Apostate” tried to return Rome to paganism. Gives us the first explicit reference to sun festival on December 25th in his poem “An Ode to King Helios.”
||Gregory of Nazianzus gives the oldest extant Christmas Homily.
||Last inscription to Sol Invictus struck in this year, though Solar worshipers continue into the next century.
||Christianity is declared the official religion of the Empire.
||The Bruma festival on November 24th begins to grow into the Brumalia in the East
Some important points which can be gleaned from this:
1) Calculations of Jesus’ birth were very early, predating Sol Invictus’ introduction into Roman society.
2) At some time after 211 but before 336 is when the December 25 celebration of the birth of Jesus began.
3) At some time after 274 but before 336 is when the December 25 celebration of Natalis Invicti began.
4) The Bruma was on the 24th of November and grew into the Brumalia by the sixth century
This pattern of quote-mining is family tradition in Armstrongism. Just to demonstrate this point, I would like to show a couple other strategic quote-mines from the “Plain Truth about Christmas” booklet in order to demonstrate how manipulative and IMHO deceptive this can get:
“Let us examine the Catholic Encyclopedia, published by that Church. Under the caption ‘Christmas,’ you will find:
‘Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church …’”
-Herbert Armstrong, Plain Truth Magazine, “The Plain Truth about Christmas”, December 1957, p.6 Let’s pause here briefly here, mid-quote.
This is a favored entry from the COG quotes before Christmas. And the Catholic Encyclopedia was right; Christmas wasn’t among the earliest festivals. But there’s more to it than that. The celebration of the early events in Jesus’ human life on another day, namely Epiphany, goes back several decades before Christmas. Every major Christian center observed Epiphany. There is some reason to believe a generic observance of the Nativity goes back even before Epiphany. So celebrating the early events of Jesus’ life was not so unheard of as Hebert Armstrong would have us believe. Only celebrating His birth specifically as the feast of Christmas was.
Armstrong’s response to Epiphany was to have his court historian, Herman Hoeh, “the most accurately-informed historian in the world,” try to smear the day as the true birthday of Nimrod. The results are laughable.
Please see our article “Nimrod’s Birthday Was January 6?” for more details on this.
Let us not forget that the angels, shepherds, Magi, Anna the prophetess, John the Baptist, Zecharias and Elizabeth the parents of John the Baptist, and Mary and Joseph all rejoiced to see His first coming. All of the angels and heroes of old eagerly awaited that time. Abraham rejoiced and was glad to know He was coming. There is nothing wrong with being overjoyed that the Lord was born. It remains the second-greatest miracle in the history of mankind. He couldn’t die if He wasn’t born.
Continuing with Armstrong’s citation where we left off from above:
“’… The first evidence of the feast is from Egypt.’”
-Herbert Armstrong, Plain Truth Magazine, “The Plain Truth about Christmas”, December 1957, p.6 That’s Christians in Egypt, particularly. Christians! Not pagans in Egypt.
Armstrong only quotes a small snippet in order to lead his readers to conclude Egyptian pagans were being spoken about. The very next word he quotes is “Pagan,” just to make sure you get the point, but that is completely misleading. It is manipulative and bordering on outright dishonesty. Let’s look at the whole sentence. I will again bold the parts the left out.
“The first evidence of the feast is from Egypt. About A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria (Stromata I.21) says that certain Egyptian theologians “over curiously” assign, not the year alone, but the day of Christ’s birth, placing it on 25 Pachon (20 May) in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus.”
-Martindale, C.C. (1908). Christmas. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. [Bold mine] Retrieved November 25, 2014 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03724b.htm Where Armstrong attempts to leave us with the impression that Christmas comes from Egyptian pagans, the quote is clear that it came from theologians in Egypt. Don’t be surprised regarding Egypt. Alexandria was one of the largest Christian centers in those days.
Clement of Alexandria (Egypt), mentioned in the quote above, wrote in the 190’s AD. Since Clement was referring to theologians before himself, we can be confident that the attempt to locate Jesus’ birth goes back to the mid-second century.
So, you see, this pattern of ‘strategic quote-mining’ is something that is done quite often. A source will be strategically quoted as authoritative, so long as it appears to say what they want to hear. If it doesn’t say what they like, they just leave out the parts they don’t like, then conclude the opposite anyhow. This includes the Bible. Does “the truth” need to be supported by such incredible amounts of acrobatics and misdirection?
For more examples, please see our article “A Pattern of Dishonest Documentation.”
THE COGs STILL USE THIS MATERIAL
Speaking of documentation, I went searching on the COG websites to see if they still at this late date use the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia as a reference as Herbert Armstrong did. (Not that I’m against the entire book, mind you. I was just curious.) Here is what I found.
Philadelphia Church of God
The PCG does use the New Schaff-Herzog as a reference.
“The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge says that the pagan celebrations of Saturnalia and Brumalia were popularly held on that date. Further into antiquity, the Egyptians marked December 25 to celebrate the birth of the son of Isis.”
-Joel Hilliker, “Two Views of Jesus Christ Reflections on the Christmas Season”, Philadelphia Church of God, on PCOG.org, accessed 11-25-14, https://www.pcog.org/article/348/two-views-of-jesus-christ I don’t know about you, but I didn’t see anything saying Saturnalia celebrations were held on December 25. The Brumalia part we have already addressed. Seeing how poorly they read their already poor source material, everything in their Christmas article has suddenly become suspect to me.
One questionable reference can’t ruin the study though. Perhaps I’m being overly cautious. Perhaps it is best that I check out some other detail just to make sure. How about we check out the claim about the birthday of Isis.
December 25th was absolutely not the ancient birthday of Isis. This is an absolutely unfounded claim. The Egyptians didn’t use the Roman Calendar. They didn’t have a December. They would not ever tie anything to a calendar that they did not use. Nor did the Roman and Egyptian calendars match up so that we could say “such and such a date on the Egyptian calendar equated to such and such a date on the Roman calendar.” The Egyptian calendar had to be corrected annually. Meanwhile, the Roman calendar fared little better. Rome was founded in the 700’s BC. For the first few centuries they had no winter months at all. In the 500’s BC, February was in the place of December. Around 450 BC they moved December to the end of the year. After that, the calendar was regularly manipulated for political purposes. In 46 BC, Julius Caesar completely revamped the calendar. In 8 BC Augustus corrected the calendar. Attempts to match the calendar in Alexandria to that of Rome were still problematic. Then in 1582 the Gregorian calendar was introduced. So the claim about Isis’ birthday being on December 25th is farcical. Laughable! In reality, and depending on which version of Isis you look at, the birthday of Isis was in the summer.
For more on this, please see our article “On Nimrod and Christmas Trees – part 2.”
If the PCG can’t figure this out, perhaps they need to try using better source material. Perhaps, just perhaps, they might want to get that beam out of their own eye before they go falsely accusing billions of faithful Christians of not knowing history.
Church of the Great God
The CGG does not seem to cite the New Shaff-Herzog as a source in their articles. Good for them! But they do host the 1974 version of “The Plain Truth about Christmas” on their website.
United Church of God
The UCG does use the New Schaff-Herzog as a reference, but apparently not in any Christmas article. Even so, they continue the tradition of making incorrect claims about Saturnalia and Brumalia. For example,
“On the heels of the Saturnalia, the Romans marked December 25 with a celebration called the Brumalia. Bruma is thought to have been contracted from the Latin brevum or brevis, meaning brief or short, denoting the shortest day of the year.”
-“Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Observe?”, United Church of God, 2008, p.7
http://www.ucg.org/booklet/holidays-or-holy-days-does-it-matter-which-days-we-observe/christmas-untold-story/ Or how about this one:
“The church adopted Dec. 25—the date of the ending of the Roman Brumalia, immediately after Saturnalia—as the date of Christ’s birth”
-Gary Petty, “4,000 Years of Christmas”, United Church of God,
Now which do you suppose it was? A) Did the Romans mark December 25 with a celebration called the Brumalia? -OR- B) Was Dec. 25 the date of the ending of the Roman Brumalia?
Let’s ask a friend.
John Raymond Crawford, who we quoted earlier, wrote on the Brumalia. Let us look to him again.
“From the beginning of the sixth century A. D. to the middle of the tenth, a festival, known as the Brumalia, flourished at Constantinople. It began on November 24 and continued until December 17; each of the twenty-four days thus included was designated by a letter of the Greek alphabet.”
-Roger Pearse, “A Review of Crawford on the Bruma and Brumalia“, on Roger-Pearse.com, 12-2009.
http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/2009/12/19/a-review-of-crawford-on-the-bruma-and-brumalia The correct answer is C) None Of The Above. Brumalia was not after Saturnalia at all, it was before. It was two centuries after the start of Christmas. Plus it was primarily a Byzantine Roman celebration. Not something the UCG seems to be swift to have corrected on their website, though.
Let’s look at another quote. This time from John the Lydian, a Byzantine Roman Christian, who wrote in Greek a work called De Mensibus (or, “On the Months”) in the early 500’s AD.
“…and in November and December, until the “Waxing of the Light,” they bring [these] things to the priests. For the [custom] of greeting [people] by name at the Brumalia is rather recent; and, the truth [is], they call them “Cronian festivals” —and because of this the Church turns away from them.”
-Roger Pearse, “A translation of John the Lydian, “De Mensibus” 4.158 (on December)”, 2009, Roger-Pearse.com
http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/?p=3178 So the Brumalia was from November until the Saturnalia, and the church turned away from such practices. Well, isn’t that odd. In every way the opposite of what we were told.
You won’t see these among the COG quotes before Christmas!
And what does our friend Philocalus have to say? Well take a look at the Philocalian Calendar for yourself, in the month of November, on the 24th day (the eighth day before the calends of December) and you will see Bruma listed. So, what does that mean? It means that anyone who tells you that the Bruma/Brumalia festival was on December 25 is mistaken.
Read the rest of Roger Pearse’s articles. They are superb. Also, please see our article “The Plain Truth About December 25” especially the section Bruma/Brumalia.
Church of God – A Worldwide Association, Inc.
I was unable to find any reference to Schaff-Herzog on the COGWA, Inc. “Life, Hope, & Truth” website. Don’t count them out, though. Their articles claim to draw on past information which is not directly quoted, so there is a high degree of probability that they indirectly pull information from this source. From what they do write they were nevertheless able to open mouth and insert foot.
“It is a well-known historical fact that Dec. 25 had nothing to do with the actual birthday of Jesus Christ. Instead, it was chosen to coincide with a popular festival season in ancient Rome. Three popular pagan festivals were celebrated in late December in the pagan Roman Empire:
• Saturnalia was an annual seven-day festival to the god Saturn, celebrated from Dec. 17-23.
• Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (the birthday of the unconquered sun god) was celebrated on Dec. 25.
• The birthday of Mithra, a Persian god who was primarily worshipped by Roman soldiers throughout the Roman Empire, was also celebrated Dec. 25.”
-Erik Jones, “Jesus Christ vs. Christmas”, Church of God – A Worldwide Association, Lifehopenadtruth.com, http://lifehopeandtruth.com/discern/nov-dec-2014/jesus-christ-vs-christmas It is not a “well-known historical fact” that December 25 had nothing to do with the actual birthday of Jesus Christ. Even Garner Ted Armstrong, as opposed to Christmas as he was, counted nine months backwards from the Feast of Tabernacles and admitted that December 25th was either the date of birth or the date of conception of our Lord.
• Saturnalia at its longest ended on December 23rd. It was never on the 25th. Ergo it had nothing to do with December 25 as the date of Christmas.
• Deis Natalis is not actually named “Deis Natalis Solis Invicti” as they claim. Why is it every time I see a claim like this, the name is slightly different? Because that wasn’t the name. It was named Deis Natalis. And there is no proof it was celebrated at all before some uncertain point between 274-336 AD.
• The Persian Mithra and the Roman Mithras bear little resemblance one to the other. The Roman cult of Mithras was a secret society; a mystery cult. The soldiery did honor Mithras, but Mithras was not a god honored by the general populace. The cult of Sol Invictus was the more cosmopolitan cult. Sol Invictus was a separate god from Mithras, but Sol Invictus often appeared in Mithras imagery. The evidence appears to say that December 25th was made a festival somewhere between 274-336 AD, long after December 25th became associated with Jesus. Mithras worship died out in the mid-fourth century.
With excellent modern scholarship and primary source documents available to them, the COGWA is content to read the World Book Encyclopedia. This tells us that the COGWA desperately needs to update their source material and research techniques. An attempt to be fair and balanced on the topic wouldn’t hurt either.
For more detail on Mithras, we recommend you read the material on KingDavid8.com. We also recommend you read “The Roman Cult of Mithras” on Tertullian.org.
Living Church of God
The LCG manages not to use Schaff-Herzog as a reference, but somehow manages none the less to snatch failure from the jaws of victory by making claims with startling factual inaccuracy.
“But why do people celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25? Late December is the time of the winter solstice, one of the major festival periods in the ancient world.”
-Douglas S. Winnail, “What Is Hidden by the Holidays?”, Living Church of God, on Tomorrowsworld.org, accessed 11-25-14, http://www.tomorrowsworld.org/magazines/2000/november-december/what-is-hidden-by-the-holidays#sthash.cwcekP2V.dpuf As we stated earlier, there is no evidence whatsoever that the solstice was celebrated by Romans. There was no festival on that day at all when Christmas was being calculated, let alone a “major festival.”
The first evidence we have that Romans did anything festive on December 25th comes from a document written in 336 AD. That occasion couldn’t have started more than 62 years prior. The same document also lists the date as Jesus’ birthday. That can be traced back 130 years prior. Which came first? Hippolytus came first. So who borrowed from whom?
Restored Church of God
The RCG actually quotes Schaff-Herzog precisely as Armstrong did, starting where he started and stopping where he stopped. Could it be that they simply cut and paste Armstrong’s material into their own?
So you’ve read the COG literature and you’re certain Christmas is pagan?
The COGs will be unimpressed by any of this. As we have demonstrated, if the material doesn’t fit the narrative, simply massage the quote until it appears to. But if even that fails, deflect and move the goal posts. In other words, rationalize.
Perhaps the most popular deflection claim is that Christmas isn’t in the Bible. Well, that’s just asinine. If the birth of Jesus isn’t in the Bible then there is no reason to go to church, or be a Christian. What this claim really means to say is there is no explicit command in the Bible to celebrate “Christmas.” It’s true, there isn’t. And there’s no law that says you shouldn’t either. Jesus celebrated Hanukkah without a command, and that’s a festival marking a religious event which doesn’t even appear in the canonized Bible. No doubt He celebrated Purim, also without a command. People are more than willing to celebrate their own birthday, without a command – just not their Savior’s. Certain people celebrate Thanksgiving without a command. Paul could not have said, “he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it” in reference to the holy days if the holy days are mandatory. Either they are not mandatory or Paul is talking about some other, non-commanded day. Therefore we are free to celebrate or not celebrate additional days. But there is no command in the New Covenant to celebrate any day. Every day that the COGs observe is either made up or brought forward from the Old Covenant, and is done so through indirect circumstantial evidence. Assumption upon assumption. The Church of God (Seventh Day), who keeps the weekly Sabbath, teaches strongly against the holy days. This was one of the reasons why they fired Herbert Armstrong and revoked his ministerial credentials.
Another claim is if God wanted us to celebrate the birth of Jesus, then He wouldn’t have hidden the date. To that we reply that it is an assumption that God “hid” the date. We disagree that God “hid” the date at all. Matthew and Luke gave us several clues as to the timing. They tell us who was involved, who the political leaders were, who was serving at the Temple, what the conditions were like, and so forth. All of these were dating markers in their time. We simply have lost the ability to properly interpret the information. Not only that but Daniel left us the Seventy Weeks Prophecy. Since there are date cues we can affirm that God did not “hide” the date.
The same can be said for Jesus’ death. What year does the Bible say He died in? It doesn’t say. We may know the day of the week or even the date itself, but if we don’t know the year then we cannot tie it to our calendar. Using the Jewish calendar will not work. The modern calendar has changed so much over the centuries that it cannot help us. The ancient system fares no better. We have no idea when the Sanhedrin declared the New Moon which started the month of Abib/Nisan, so we cannot know exactly how the Passover falls. So God must have “hid” it and therefore doesn’t want us to observe His death? Hardly! So this is a line of reasoning that really doesn’t hold up. We need to try and figure these things out for ourselves, just as Daniel tried to figure out the 70 years mentioned in Jeremiah. We have no choice. Yet this is precisely what the early Christians were doing. They arrived at Jesus’ birth by first arriving at His death.
The next claim will be that if we can’t know the exact correct date, then it’s not worth the effort. So, if you don’t know the exact date then you’re not going to rejoice in the coming of the long-awaited Messiah? Your choice. The December 25th date might not be right. It has a 1/365 chance of being correct; same as any other day. Many claim Jesus was born at the Feast of Tabernacles. Based on what? Pure speculation. This is precisely the reason why Garner Ted Armstrong concluded Jesus was conceived on Christmas. This Tabernacles idea isn’t backed by any more evidence than any other day. Even as the COGs say this, they argue among each other on when Passover and Pentecost should fall. They are beginning to wonder if the Last Great Day is a proper Feast day. Seems they can’t even agree on the name. UCG has even changed its name to “The Eighth Day”. Not only that but the Night to be Much Observed/Remembered, another day whose name was changed, is completely made up from whole cloth. That doesn’t stop the COGs from observing it. Strangest of all is that some of them will have Winter Family Weekend events during Christmas, which wasn’t instituted by the Apostles either. They say they are just offering an alternative to Christmas …while they condemn the early Christians for offering any alternative to genuinely pagan celebrations of their day. Those goal posts sure do move! If Armstrongists held themselves to their own standard, they wouldn’t observe half of what they do. But most ominous of all things is, if the Lunar Sabbath theory is correct, the COGs aren’t even keeping the Sabbath itself on the right dates.
Today we have looked into a few of the COG’s favorite quotes before Christmas, especially the New Schaff-Herzog article on Christmas, and we have found them wanting. If the COGs want to make a case against Christmas, fine. Be our guest. Please at least be intellectually honest about it, though. To cite unreliable source material, to insist on things that are blatantly incorrect, and to alter the evidence presented to make it fit the narrative is not “the plain truth.” It is dishonest and it is supremely disappointing.
We can only conclude that the theory stated in the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, that “The pagan Saturnalia and Brumalia were too deeply entrenched in popular custom to be set aside by Christian influence,” should be dismissed, seeing as it depends on three specious things:
1) That there was a popular festival on December 25th in Hippolytus’ day. There wasn’t.
2) That Christmas depends on the dating of the Brumalia festival. It doesn’t. They get the Brumalia date wrong. Nor does it depend on the dating of Saturnalia, as that was never on the 25th either.
3) The assumption that the Christians could not set aside a festival that clearly they had set aside. They set it aside even farther than the UCG set aside Christmas to hold the Winter Family Weekend. Christmas isn’t on the dates of Brumalia or Saturnalia. If it isn’t on those dates, then it is inescapable that it isn’t from those dates.
And therefore, we can respond to the conjecture, “How much the calculation of Hippolytus had to do with the festival on Dec. 25, and how much the date of the festival depended upon the pagan Brumalia (Dec. 25), following the Saturnalia (Dec. 17-24) and celebrating the shortest day in the year and the ‘new sun’ or the beginning of the lengthening of days, cannot accurately be determined” with confidence that it can in fact be determined. Another article of the same encyclopedia say this scenario is “unlikely” but we say it is more than just that. It would appear that it is nigh impossible for these things to have affected Hippolytus and the theologians of his time, such as Clement of Alexandria and Julius Africanus. If by some odd chance there was any influence at all, it was indeed minimal at best. At worst it is an astronomical stretch of the imagination that Hippolytus was influenced by Saturnalia or Brumalia to choose March 25th as the date of Jesus’ death. But no COG quotes the Catholic Encylopedia when it says, “The origin of Christmas should not be sought in the Saturnalia” [ibid].
The fact is that Hippolytus et al were basing the date of the birth from the date of the conception and death. An old Jewish tradition stated that great men died on the day of their conception. Hippolytus concluded that March 25th was the conception and death of Jesus. He then counted up nine months to December 25th as the birth of Jesus. Accurate or not, that’s how it went. The March date had nothing to do with the winter solstice. It is improper to stand on the claim that Hippolytus worked in the opposite manner from how he actually worked.
This is the sum of the entire matter —
(ROM. 14: 5-6) 5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.
If Christmas disturbs you so much, then don’t observe it, but don’t judge those who do observe it. And if Christmas is fine with you, then do observe it, but don’t judge those who don’t observe it. Stop the judgment and condemnation and start loving each other as Jesus said to do. Either way, observe or no, do that in honor of the Lord in the peace and unity of the Holy Spirit.
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