Holidays and Observances

By S. Mortensen

If Christmas is truly Christian, then the Bible ought to instruct us not only about the date when Jesus was born, but it should also contain a plain command from the Father that we should celebrate it. Many will be surprised that, in a thorough search of the Scriptures, they will not be able to find either date or precept for the celebration of the birth of Christ; no, not even the example of a single man who celebrated it during the time of Christ or the apostles.

We will here notice some things that the Bible says concerning the birth of Christ: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Isa. 7:14. This was foretold over seven hundred years before his birth. In the garden of Eden it was foretold, about four thousand years in advance, that Jesus should be born of a woman (Gen. 3:15), and it was also foretold to Abraham over two thousand years before it took place. Gen. 22:18; Gal. 3:16. That Bethlehem should be his birthplace was foretold about seven hundred years before his birth occurred. Micah 5:2.

The fulfilment of these prophecies is plainly spoken of in the Gospels. Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary. Luke 1:26-38. Joseph was also informed about it in a dream. Matt. 1:18-25. Joseph and Mary came, in obedience to the decree of Augustus Caesar, to Bethlehem to be taxed, and there Jesus was born. Luke 2:1-7. The angels announced his birth to the shepherds (verses 8- 14), and both the shepherds and the wise men found Jesus in Bethlehem (verses 15-20), where the chief priests had said that he should be born. Matt. 2:1-12. All this is plainly revealed, but any date for his birth is not mentioned in the Bible.

A close investigation will make quite plain to us the time of year when this wonderful event occurred. It was when the shepherds were "abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night." Luke 2:8. According to the information we have about Palestine, the flocks were let out in the pastures in the month of March, and brought back in November, when the rainy season began. Concerning this, Adam Clarke makes the following remark in his commentary: "It was a custom among the Jews to send out their sheep to the desert about the Passover, and bring them home at the commencement of the first rain. During the time they were out, the shepherds watched them night and day. As the Passover occurred in the spring, and the first rain began early in the month of March- esvan, which answers to part of our October and November, we find that the sheep were kept out in the open country during the whole of the summer. And as these shepherds had not yet brought home their flocks, it is a presupposed argument that October had not yet commenced, and that consequently our Lord was not born on the twenty-fifth of December, when no flocks were out in the field by night. On this very ground the nativity should be given up. The feeding of the flocks by night in the field is a chronological fact, which casts considerable light upon the disputed point." See also the book, The Two Babylons, pages 91,92.

It is also noteworthy that different translations of Luke 2:8 make the thought very clear that the shepherds were at the time staying out in the fields by the flocks. "And shepherds were in the same country lodging in the fields and keeping watch by night over their flocks."-- Interlinear Greek-English New Testament.

Again: "And there were shepherds in the same country dwelling in the fields, and watching watches of the night over their flocks."-- Rotherham.

"This proves plainly that the flocks were not yet brought home from their pastures, when the angels visited the shepherds. Some have the idea that there is no winter in Palestine, but that is a mistake, because sometimes it is very cold there, so that the lives of both men and beasts are in danger of the cold rain and hail storms of the winter."-- Horne's Introduction, Vol.II, pp. 23,24.

Other ordinances which the Christians ought to practise are given to us by plain precepts or examples. In this way is given unto us the marriage institution (Gen. 2:24), the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11); Matt. 24:20), baptism (Matt. 28:19), the Lord's supper (Matt. 26:26-29; 1 Cor. 11:23-29), and the washing of feet (John 13:1-17). Therefore we can by divine right claim that these are Christian institutions, but as we can not find either precept or example in the Bible for Christmas, it can not be said to be a Christian institution.


Since there is no evidence for the observance of Christmas in the Bible, the questions arise, What is its origin? and when did its celebration begin? Lector P. Walsdenstrom says: "The custom to celebrate the birth of Christ in the last part of December began first in the fourth century. Before that the sixth of January was celebrated."-- Notes to Luke 2:8.

Another author says: "The third one of the great feasts of the church, Christmas, doesn't seem to be kept during the first three centuries. In contrast to it a memorial of Christ's baptism was celebrated in the Orient as a revelation of his Messiahship and glory of his divinity called Epiphania, the sixth of January. This festival was, in Egypt, also given the meaning as a memorial of Christ's birth, and in that way they had in a certain sense a substitute for Christmas, which had not yet begun."-- Ecclesiastical History, by C.A. Cornelius, part 1, page 139. Further on, the same author says, "It began first to be celebrated in the Roman Church about 360, and from there it spread to the Orient," After he has mentioned "Saturnalia," the Roman feast of joy, which began the seventeenth and ended the twenty-fourth of December with the "Sigillaria," he continues: "At last the so-called 'Brumalia,' or the winter solstice, was celebrated the twenty-fifth of December. It was also called 'deus natalis invicti solis' (the birth feast of the unconquered sun), because in that season when the short days are gone, the sun again comes forth victorious from the gloomy night to travel on its orbit like an unconquered hero."--Ibid, part 2, page 91.

This proves that the twenty-fifth of December was an annual feast celebrated in the honour of the sun. Frederick Neilsen, a Danish bishop, says, "During the first three centuries we find no trace of any feast for the birth of Christ."-- Ecclesiastical History, page 224.

The commentator, Adam Clarke, gives the following information: "The Latin church, supreme in power and infallible in judgement (?), placed it on the twenty-fifth of December, the very day in which the ancient Romans celebrated the feast of their goddess Bruma.... Pope Julius I was the person who made this alteration, and it appears to have been done for this reason: the sun now began his return toward the northern tropic, ending the winter, lengthening the days, and introducing the spring."-- Notes to Luke 2:8.

The valuable testimony of J. Murdock, D. D., is in harmony with the above: "It was Julius I (Bishop of Rome, A.D. 337-352) who first ascertained this to be the right day; and though his authority is not the best, yet it is generally admitted that the designation of the twenty-fifth of December for the festival was first made about the middle of the fourth century."-- Ecclesiastical History, by Mosheim, Vol. I, page 279.

From Johnson's Encyclopaedia and other sources we also learn that Julius I, Bishop of Rome, appointed the twenty-fifth of December for the celebration of Christ's birth. All this proves very plainly, (1)that the birth of Christ was not universally celebrated by the Christians during the first three centuries; (2) that it was the Latin church which first ordained it to be celebrated on the twenty-fifth of December; (3) that it was Julius I, Bishop of Rome, who made the appointment; (4) and this proves that Christmas is a genuine Roman Catholic institution.

When it is now generally known that this church has many ordinances of human origin, then it is indeed high time for the Protestants who wish to follow the Bible only to earnestly consider this subject, because when the festival is appointed on the same date as the heathen sun feast, it may be that idolatrous defilement under a Christian garb is threatening us right here.


"Little children, keep yourselves from idols." This admonition is given to us by John, the beloved disciple (1 John 5:21), and those who love Jesus truly are willing to obey the injunction. Now we will note more closely how this festival is related to paganism: "No other Christian festival penetrated so deeply into the household as Christmas, probably because its character is essentially joy, such as it appears in the household. However, many features indicate that there were more Christian elements present in its origin. The giving the presents was a Roman custom. The yuletide and the yule log are remnants of old Teutonic nature worship. In the household also, the festival gradually sank down to a mere revelry."-- Schaff-Hersog Encyclopaedia.

"From the first institution of this festival, the Western nations seem to have transferred to it many of the follies and censurable practises which prevailed in the pagan festivals of the same season such as adorning the churches fantastically, mingling puppet-shows and dramas with worship, universal feasting and merrymaking, Christmas visits and salutations, Christmas presents and jocularity, and Christmas revelry and drunkenness.... The Christmas holy days, which by a law of Tehodosius the Greek (emperor A.D. 383-395) were to comprise fourteen days, ...have borne so close a resemblance wherever they have been observed to the Roman Saturnalia, Sigillaria, etc., and to the yule feast of the ancient Goths, as to afford strong presumption of an unhappy alliance between them from the first."-- Ecclesiastical History, by Mosheim, Vol. 1, page 280.

"Upright men strove to stem the tide, but in spite of all their efforts the apostasy went on, till the church, with the exception of a small remnant, was submerged under pagan superstition. That Christmas was originally a pagan festival is beyond all doubt. The time of year, and the ceremonies with which it is still celebrated, prove its origin. In Egypt the son of Isis, the Egyptian title for the queen of heaven, was born at this very time, 'about the time of the winter solstice.' The very name by which Christmas is popularly known among ourselves-- yule day-- proves at once its pagan and Babylonian origin. 'Yule' is the Chaldee name for an 'infant' or 'little child;' and as the twenty-fifth of December was called by our pagan Anglo-Saxon ancestors 'yule day,' or the 'child's day,' and the night that preceded it 'mother night,' long before they came in contact with Christianity, that sufficiently proves its real character. Far and wide in the realms of paganism was this birthday observed."-- The Two Babylons, pages 93& 94. "Little children, keep yourselves from idols."

The author of The Two Babylons identifies also the child, whose birth was so universally celebrated, with Nimrod, who built the tower of Babel, and says that he was worshipped by the name Osiris in Egypt, and Tammuz (the same one as Adonis the famous hunter) in Phoenicia and Assyria. (See page 56.) This Tammuz is also mentioned by the holy prophet, Ezekiel, who in a vision saw the women of Judah weeping for him. He is there spoken of in company with sun-worship.

"It was an essential principle of the Babylonian system that the sun, or Baal, was the one only god. When, therefore, Tammuz was worshipped as God incarnate, that implied also that he was an incarnation of the sun."-- The Two Babylons, page 96.

In this way we trace sun-worship back to Nimrod, whose worship was universal in the old time. Again we have good reason to say: "Little children, keep yourselves from idols."

About the transferring of the pagan customs into Christendom the same author says: "The wassailing-bowl of Christmas had its precise counterpart in the 'Drunken Festival' of Babylon; and many of the other observances still kept up among ourselves at Christmas came from the same quarter. The candles, in some parts of England, lighted at Christmas eve and used so long as the festive season lasts, were equally lighted by the pagans on the eve of the festival of the Babylonian god, to do honour to him, for it was one of the distinguishing peculiarities of his worship to have lighted candles on his alters. The Christmas tree, now so common among us, was equally common in pagan Rome and pagan Egypt. In Egypt that tree was the palm tree; in Rome it was the fir; the palm tree denoted the pagan Messiah, as Baal-Tamar; the fir referring to him as Baal-Berith.... On Christmas day the continental Saxons offered a boar in sacrifice to the sun, to propitiate her. In Rome a similar observance had evidently existed; for a boar formed a great article of Saturn, as appears form the words form Martial, 'That boar will make you a good Saturnalia.' Hence the boar's head is still a standing dish in England at the Christmas dinner, when the reason of it is long since forgotten. Yea, the 'Christmas goose' and 'yule cake' were essential articles in the worship of the Babylonian Messiah, as that worship was practised both in Egypt and at Rome."-- Ibid., pages 97, 100, 101. What is here said about the yule boar in England is also true about it in Scandinavia; and all this proves, (1) that the Roman sun festival originated in Babylon and Egypt; (2) that it was celebrated in honour of a son who was worshipped as an idol, and who was born the last part of December; (3) that this idol can be traced back to the rebellious Nimrod, who was idolised; (4) and that the customs at this old pagan festival were transferred to Christmas. This is truly surprising. Here are indeed reasons for a solemn search of heart, fervent prayer, and firmness of character for those who wish to be pure in the sight of God.


The fabled Santa Claus also deserves our attention. The Library of Universal Knowledge says:--

"Nicholas Saint (St. Claus), a highly popular saint of the Roman Catholic Church, and reverenced with still greater devotion by the Russian Church, which regards him as a special patron, was one of the early bishops of Mysia, in Lysia. The precise date of his episcopate is a subject of much controversy. Of his personal history hardly anything is certainly known, and the great popularity of the devotion to him wrought through his intercession. He is regarded in Catholic countries as a special patron of the young, and particularly of scholars. On the vigil of his feast, which is held on December 6, a person in the appearance and costume of a bishop assembles the children of a family or a school and distributes among them, to the good, gilt nuts, sweetmeats, and other little presents as the rewards of good conduct; to the naughty ones, the redoubtable punishment klanbauf. The supposed relics of St. Nicholas were conveyed from the East to Bari, in the kingdom of Naples, toward the close of the eleventh century." Thus the fable is a part of the old relic-worshipping traditions of a corrupt church. The nearness of his feast, in December, to the Christmas festival, led to associating the saint and the present-giving idea with the feast of December 25. We must admit, in the light of the Bible, that it is very foolish and wrong to teach little children the tales of Santa Claus. "Little children, keep yourselves from idols."

It is plain that the extravagant follies, the Christmas candles, the Christmas boar, the Christmas goose, the Christmas decoration of the churches, gluttony and drunkenness, yes, even the date of the festival, the twenty-fifth of December, are not only of Roman Catholic, but also of a decidedly pagan origin. Is it not reasonable to demand that Protestants should protest against superstitions which have no foundation in the Bible? The Lord certainly demands it. "Well, they may be right," I hear some one say, "but you are too extreme; many good Christians before our time celebrated Christmas, and even the Reformers did so." But that is no reason why we should continue the practise. Those who began the Reformation could not in such a short time break away from all these traditions. The Lord demands more of us than of them, because we have come into existence in the age of wonderful research and discovery, when knowledge should increase (Dan. 12:4), and the Bible has been in our mother tongue several centuries. In the light of this situation, we would certainly deserve severe criticism for our ignorance if we should continue to honour old traditions or relic worship.

Many upright Christians in the past have taken part in the old festival to some extent, and such we will not criticise, because they did it in ignorance. But in this enlightened age it is indeed high time to inquire: "What concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?" 2 Cor. 6:15,16. But still many Christians, not only Catholics, but also Protestants, continue year by year at the Christmas festival to honour the old idol relics under a Christian garb. This is indeed very unfortunate, and it is going so far that entrance fee is demanded in many Protestant churches. O, what a dishonour to our dear Saviour, who has pointed out a distinct line between the holy and the profane!

In this age when the blessed gospel is to be preached to the whole world, according to the prophecy (Matt. 24:14), it is far better to donate our savings to that good work, so that the poor heathen, in dense darkness and untold suffering, may share the blessings of heaven, rather than to spend our means in celebrating an old festival that has no foundation in the Bible. There are also many other good purposes for which we can use the money is a sensible way. May the God of truth sanctify you wholly, and at last "present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy." Jude 24. "Little children, keep yourselves from idols."--Taken from Review & Herald-- Dec. 2, 1909, page 9; Dec. 9, 1909, pp. 8,9; Dec. 16, 1909, pp. 8&9; Dec. 30, 1909, p. 9.

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