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Was Christmas a Pagan Holiday and Is It Again?

Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?  Should Christians celebrate Christmas? As always, the heart of the matter is the heart. Why do you celebrate it? Is it to celebrate with fellow Christians the birth of our Savior? If so, what does it matter why other people do it or what other peoples and cultures might have – or did have- a celebration on that date?

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Why talk about it? Not Biblical history but just an interesting thought to this author.  What is being said is that Christmas is not a legitimate Christian holiday because
(a)there  was a pagan holiday on that date, in fact, multiple pagan holidays around the world on that date, so it wasn’t about Christ and
(b) non-Christians also celebrate the holiday today so that today it still isn’t about Christ.

What’s a Christian to do?  Should a Christian celebrate Christmas?  Let’s look at some history now.
While Christmas has become a major celebration, for most Christians in the beginning it was only one of a number of masses celebrated for Christ and not necessarily the most important.  It was a mass for Christ’s birth or Christ-mass.  It is the recognition of God becoming as a man in all ways except sin.  It is not a birth date but a birth that is celebrated.  (There is no month or day date given in the Bible but enough clues are given to place it to within a year or two on the Bible timeline.) The date was chosen for symbolic reasons.

The December 25 date may have been selected by the church in Rome in the early 4th century. At this time, a church calendar was created and other holidays were also placed on solar dates:

“It is cosmic symbolism…which inspired the Church leadership in Rome to elect the winter solstice, December 25, as the birthday of Christ, and the summer solstice as that of John the Baptist, supplemented by the equinoxes as their respective dates of conception. While they were aware that pagans called this day the ‘birthday’ of Sol Invictus, this did not concern them and it did not play any role in their choice of date for Christmas,”

S.E. Hijmans author of Sol, the sun in the art and religions of Rome, 2009, pp. 587–588

Was it to convert pagans to Christianity, to allow them to keep celebrating pagan holidays if they would convert?

There are many theories surrounding Christmas, such as the belief that it was created simply to convert pagans and/or replace the pagan celebrations around the winter solstice. The problem with these theories is two-fold. First, there is a lack of evidence. There was no big push in the early church to create a birthday celebration for Christ. Of course, the church was and is “in the business” of spreading Christianity, so there is no doubt that the early church fathers wanted pagans to convert and wanted celebrations to honor God.

Second, pagan worship practices were seasonal and on-going. That is, almost any date or time frame could be said to be a pagan “Holy day. That Christian Holy Days would clash with and even replace pagan days was inevitable.2

Christmas today.  Christmas is being celebrated around the world by people and cultures with no belief in Christ, people who retain the gift-giving and family get-together traditions but do not bring Christ into it.  The US federal government closes for a paid holiday on both Thanksgiving and Christmas holding that to do so is not necessarily an endorsement of the Christian religion.

Should Christians celebrate Christmas?  As always, the heart of the matter is the heart.  Why do you celebrate it? Is it to celebrate a birth rather than a birthday?  If so, what does it matter why other people do it or what other peoples and cultures might have – or did have- a celebration on that date?

Christmas article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas accessed 12/22/2010
Where and how did Christmas start? Accessed 12/22/2010

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Why Talk About Good Friday At Christmas?

Why Talk About Good Friday At Christmas? What is Good Friday? Was it really on Friday? Can we pinpoint a day and year? Why do we celebrate the birth of Christ?  Because of his death and resurrection.  Without the death and resurrection, the birth is meaningless.  That’s why it makes sense to talk about Good Friday at Christmas.

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What is Good Friday?

Good Friday recognizes the sacred day when Christ began the completion of the mission He came to fulfill – to die for us and to pay for our sins.  It is observed, in the spring during the Easter season or Holy Week.  It coincides with the Jewish Passover, the symbol of the promised Messiah and saving by blood.

Was it really on a Friday?

Traditional Christian denominations honor Friday as the day of Christ’s death. Some Baptist, Pentecostal, many Sabbatarian and non-denominational churches observe the Crucifixion on Wednesday to coincide with the Jewish sacrifice of the Passover Lamb. A Wednesday Crucifixion of Jesus Christ allows for Christ to be in the tomb (“heart of the earth”). For three days and three nights as he told the Pharisees he would be (Matthew 12:40), rather than two nights and a day if he had died on a Friday. There is some basis in this idea in the Gospel of John, which has Jesus crucified on a Thursday evening (14 Nisan on the Hebrew calendar) instead of the Friday morning found in the Synoptic Gospels. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Friday) More detailed calculations are found here http://www.xenos.org/classes/chronc.htm

Can we pinpoint a day and year?

According to Ussher’s chronology, the basis for the Amazing Bible Timeline, Christ was born in 4 BC.  If his ministry began when he was “about 30” as Luke states rather than at exactly 30 he would have been 32 in 29 AD and died in 33 AD after his 3 year ministry. Paul mentions a moon of blood suggesting a lunar eclipse.  According to astronomers, such an event occurred on Friday 3 April 33 AD.

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Herod the Great: How He Died and Where He Was Buried

What do we know about King Herod historically? Herod the Great known in the Bible as the monster who ordered the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem, is a well-known figure in ancient historical records.

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According to the Amazing Bible Timeline Herod was born in 74 BC, 24 years after Julius Caesar and during the same decade that Buddhism was introduced to China. “The Gospels tell us that Christ’s birth was shortly before Herod the Great died. Herod’s death can be fixed with certainty. Josephus records an eclipse of the moon just before Herod passed on. This occurred on March 12th or 13th in 4 B.C. Josephus also tells us that Herod expired just before Passover. This feast took place on April 11th, in the same year, 4 B.C. From other details supplied by Josephus, we can pinpoint Herod the Great’s demise as occurring between March 29th and April 4th in 4 B.C. It might sound strange to suggest that Jesus Christ was born no later than 4 B.C. since B.C. means ‘before Christ.’ But our modern calendar that splits time between B.C. and A.D. was not invented until A.D. 525. At that time, Pope John the First asked a monk named Dionysius to prepare a standardized calendar for the Western Church. Unfortunately, poor Dionysius missed the real B.C./A.D. division by at least four years! Now Matthew tells us that Herod killed Bethlehem’s babies two years old and under. The earliest Jesus could have been born, therefore, is 6 B.C. Through a variety of other time indicators, we can be relatively confident that the one called Messiah was born in either late 5 or early 4 B.C.” (from http://bible.org/article/birth-jesus-christ). In 2007, two different groups of scientists added information to the facts about his life. Where he was buried.  How he died.

Where Herod the Great Was Buried

In May 2007, Ehud Netzer (of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem) announced to the world that after a lifetime’s search, he had uncovered the remains of Herod the Great’s tomb (BBC coverage; London Times story). The likely site of the tomb – Herodium – is a man-made fortress of immense scale with many buildings, monuments, trackways and open spaces. Herodium is located in the West Bank some eight miles from Jerusalem.

How Herod The Great Died

“Herod the Great expired from chronic kidney disease probably complicated by Fournier’s gangrene,” according to the medical investigative work of Jan Hirschmann, M.D., staff physician at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System and professor of medicine at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. The texts that we depend on for a close description of Herod’s last days list several major features of the disease that caused his death—among them, intense itching, painful intestinal problems, breathlessness, convulsions in every limb, and gangrene of the genitalia,” says Hirschmann.  (from a news release by the Veterans Administration at http://www.newswise.com/articles/what-killed-king-herod in January 2002)

 

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As always Wikipedia has a wealth of information on Herod the Great all in one entry

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Saint Nicholas: The Real Saint Behind the Fake Santa Claus

Who is Santa Claus?

Saint Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra (the city now known as Demre, Turkey) born during the third century AD and died in 350 AD.  According to the Amazing Bible Timeline during his lifetime the Goths first invaded Rome, the Transubstantiation mass was practiced, Constantine converted to Christianity, and the council of Nicea was held resulting in the Nicean creed.

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Nicholas lived his life as a faithful follower of Christ.  Following in his footsteps, he constantly cared for the needy and worked for justice for his people in spite of persecution of Christians prior to Constantine’s conversion. He had a reputation for doing his good works secretly told in multiple stories.   The most famous of these is the story of Saint Nicholas giving money to a poor man with three daughters who had no money for a dowry for them.  In order to save them from spinsterhood or perhaps prostitution, Saint Nicholas secretly provided the money by either tossing a purse through an open window, or in one version,  by dropping it down the chimney.
After his death, the local people revered his memory and began to tell of miracles.  Sailors he had cared for began to spread stories of the miracles attributed to him.  He became known as a saint long before canonization procedures were formalized by the Church in the tenth century AD.

 

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As always Wikipedia has a wealth of information on Saint Nicholas all in one entry

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How Many Wise Men

What do we know about the three wise men in the Bible? The wise men from the east are mentioned in Matthew chapter 2.

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It only says, “wise men from the east.”  No number is given. Nor are they named.  The idea of three came from the fact that three gifts are mentioned.  There could have been more or less, but the Bible gives no number. Another fact:  the wise men did not come at Jesus’ birth but came later, perhaps as much as two years later since Herod ordered the slaughter of all Jewish male babies age two or younger. Bible fiction (popular stories or songs) lead people to believe the fiction rather than the Bible.  Think of the song “we three kings of orient are” or popular books, opera or made for television movies such as “The Fourth Wise Man” or “Amahl and the Night Visitors.”  All show three or four wise men.  Stories such as these go back as far as writings of the sixth century AD.

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Bible Timeline: The Census When Jesus Was Born

Was there a census at the time of Christ’s birth?
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Yes, there is a reference to a census at about the time of Christ’s birth that we show as 4BC on our Bible Timeline based on Ussher’s Chronology.  Justin Martyr and Tertullian say that this census can be verified in the archives in Rome. Even though these archives no longer exist, the fact that these contemporaries appealed to them suggests that they did exist at the time. In the l00’s AD, these men and others had access to this information, and their writings could easily have been refuted if it were not so.  ( http://www.xenos.org/classes/chronc.htm )In addition, there is actual mention of Jesus Christ from contemporary historians:  The Roman historian Tacitus writing between 115-117 A.D. had this to say:
“They got their name from Christ, who was executed by sentence of the procurator Pontius the reign of Tiberius. That checked the pernicious superstition for a short time, but it broke out afresh-not only in Judea, where the plague first arose. But in Rome itself, where all the horrible and shameful things in the world collect and find a home.” From his Annals, xv. 44.
Here is a pagan historian, hostile to Christianity, who had access to records about what happened to Jesus Christ. The mention of Jesus can also be found in Jewish Rabbinical writings from what is known as the Tannaitic period, between 70-200 A.D. In Sanhedrin 43a it says:
“Jesus was hanged on Passover Eve. Forty days previously the Herald had cried, ‘He is being led out for stoning, because he has practiced sorcery and led Israel astray and enticed them into apostasy. Whoever has anything to say in his defence, let him come and declare it.’ As nothing was brought forward in his defence, he was hanged on Passover Eve.”That there is any mention of Jesus at all is unusual.  As far as the Roman world was concerned, Jesus was a nobody who lived in an insignificant province, sentenced to death by a minor procurator.

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Herod the Great – Dates for His Life, How He Died, Where He’s Buried