msey church of Christ, England - Traces of the Kingdom

CHRISTMAS

In origin Christmas is pagan, it is not found in the Bible neither did the early pre-Catholic church celebrate it.  The name itself is from the Old English ‘Mass of Christ’ = Christmas.  

Pagan festivities, merrymaking, the giving of presents coupled with the worship of idols and pagan gods with human sacrifice is lost in the myths of time.  New Year was the time when pagans celebrated the return of the Sun and worshipped it.  It is these festivals that continue today in the form of Christmas.        

The early church father, Tertullian (died 220?) wrote a treatise ‘De Idololatria’ in which he chastises Christians for putting wreaths on their doors and other practices of idolatry practised at the new year.  At that time many Christians were found and persecuted who did not decorate their homes with lamps, laurels and other decorations, at the New Year.   Laurels were placed on doors to honour various door, home and hinge gods.

 It is clear that the custom of giving presents and celebration was well established at this time (c200) from Tertullian’s writing on Idolatry.   The customs of giving presents at New Year can be traced back to Babel prior to the dispersion of mankind and was very widespread at this time. 

The Romans celebrated the great holiday Saturnalia from 17 to 21 December in remembrance of the great golden age.  During this time slaves were given limited freedom and served by their masters.   On the 22 came Sigillaria, the feast of dolls when dolls were given to children amongst other toys.  On 25 December came Brumalia, otherwise known as ‘Dies Natalis Invicti Solis’ The Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.  This was to celebrate the time of year when the days began to lengthen after the solstice.  This date was quite recent being instituted by the Emperor Aurelian in honour of Mithras, the Persian Sun God of which he was a worshiper around 270-273.

The last date of the Roman holiday was Kalendae Januarri, New Year’s Day when everybody gave gifts to everyone else. 

In Britain the New Year was celebrated in the feast of Yule and in Norway the feast or festival of the god Thor.   

The Roman church when Christianity was legalised incorporated these feasts into the one feast ‘Christmas’.  Instead of ridding the church of idolatry they incorporated it into the church!   So from around 336 the church at Rome set the date of Christ’s birth at 25 December but this was not followed by other churches, the date finally being accepted in the fifth century.  The Arminian church still celebrates Christmas on 6 January.   

Many dates were ascribed for the date of Christ’s birth by the early church, 6 January, March 24 and 28, April 2, 19, May 20 and December 25 this last date being accepted by the church at Rome.

The ancients worshipped trees on all continents.  Even today some pagans still worship trees.  This practise was widespread in Europe before and after Christianity began.     Pope Gregory 1 wrote a letter to Augustine of Canterbury (c600) to encourage the continued pagan use of decorating buildings with evergreens.  Augustine had been concerned with paganism in what is now England, again the answer was to incorporate this into Catholicism.  Many Druid temples were converted to ‘churches’ sometimes even retaining the pagan priests!  Hence started the concept of the church being the building/temple (the house of a god) as opposed to the church being the people of God.      

Ivy was the badge of the wine god Bacchus and was banished to the outside of the house, Holly was allowed inside and hence we have the competition between ‘the Holly and the Ivy’. 

Mistletoe is of Celtic origin and was known as ‘all-heal’ and was believed  to have certain miraculous powers.  Mistletoe is found on the Oak tree which was highly venerated by the Oak Priests (Druids) of the many Celtic tribes across Europe and England.  Because of it’s association with the Druids many denominations have in times past refused it’s use in decorations in church buildings.   

Christmas hymns started in the eastern church from around 760.   Carols which are festive songs as opposed to devotional hymns started around 1100 but were not in regular use until the 1300s onwards.

In the 1640s in England, Christmas was dismissed as being pagan and outlawed.  During the early nineteenth century it was revived particularly by Albert the Husband of queen Victoria who re-introduced the fir-tree into the celebrations.   

Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen (Jer. 10:2).

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