Where Did Christmas Come From?
So, who started the celebration of Christmas? Where did it come from?
It started with the Roman church around 1038 AD. People cite two problems with this:
1. The date of our Christmas celebration is on December 25, which used to be the date of the Winter Solstice celebration; the last day of Saturnalia, a pagan holiday.
2. Many claim that the church’s decision to celebrate His birth, as well as the reason for the December date was to purposefully mix with the pagans, so that they would ‘accept’ Christianity more readily.
To dispel the myths and find the truth, you need to go directly to the source…the Catholic Church. Read the following, from Catholic Online, and note that they did not initially institute a celebration of Christ’s birth simply to compete with a pagan festival, but rather because they were, at the time, instituting several feasts and celebrations, many of which involved special days to commemorate certain ‘saints’, and Christ’s birth was simply one of the celebrations added. Also, all the churches at the time did not celebrate His birth on the December 25 date, but rather other dates as they thought fit for differing reasons (some believing He was actually born on the dates they celebrated it on). Some of the churches actually went back and forth about what date to pick, as they did not want to compete with their other feasts. The reason for the December 25 date, was not merely to convert or mix with the pagans. Read for yourself, both the positive and negative…
From Catholic Online:
The word for ‘Christmas’ in late Old English is ‘Cristes Maesse’, the Mass of Christ, first found in 1038, and Cristes-messe, in 1131. Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. De paschæ computus", written in 243, places Christ's birth on 28 March. But Lupi has shown (Zaccaria, Dissertazioni ecc. del p. A.M. Lupi, Faenza, 1785, p. 219) that there is no month in the year to which respectable authorities have not assigned Christ's birth. Clement, however, also tells us that the Basilidians celebrated the Epiphany, and with it, probably, the Nativity, on 15 or 11 Tybi (10 or 6 January). At any rate this double commemoration became popular, partly because the apparition to the shepherds was considered as one manifestation of Christ's glory, and was added to the greater manifestations celebrated on 6 January; partly because at the baptism-manifestation many codices (e.g. Codex Bezæ) . 1 January, 433, Paul of Emesa preached before Cyril of Alexandria, and his sermons (see Mansi, IV, 293; appendix to Act. Conc. Eph.) show that the December celebration was then firmly established there, and calendars prove its permanence. The December feast therefore reached Egypt between 427 and 433. In Cyprus, at the end of the fourth century, Epiphanius asserts against the Alogi that Christ was born on 6 January. Ephraem Syrus (whose hymns belong to Epiphany, not to Christmas) proves that Mesopotamia still put the birth feast thirteen days after the winter solstice; i.e. 6 January. Nyssa’s sermons on St. Basil (who died before 1 January, 379) and the two following, preached on St. Stephen’s feast prove that in 380 the 25th of December was already celebrated there.
Silvia of Bordeaux (or Etheria) mentions as high festivals Easter and Epiphany alone. In 385, therefore, 25 December was not observed at Jerusalem. This checks the so-called correspondence between Cyril of Jerusalem. Pope Julius I (337-352), quoted by John of Nikiû (c. 900) to convert Armenia to 25 December. Cyril declares that his clergy cannot, on the single feast of Birth and Baptism, make a double procession to Bethlehem and Jordan. He asks Julius to assign the true date of the nativity "from census documents brought by Titus to Rome"; Julius assigns 25 December. Another document (Cotelier, Patr. Apost., I, 316, ed. 1724) makes Julius write thus to Juvenal of Jerusalem (c. 425-458), adding that Gregory Nazianzen at Constantinople was being criticized for "halving" the festival. But Julius died in 352, and by 385 Cyril had made no change; indeed, Jerome, writing about 411 (Ezech., P.L., XXV, 18), reproves Palestine for keeping Christ's birthday (when He hid Himself) on the Manifestation feast. The commemoration, however, of David and James the Apostle on 25 December at Jerusalem accounts for the deferred feast. In view of a reaction to certain Jewish rites and feasts, Chrysostom tries to unite Antioch in celebrating Christ's birth on 25 December, part of the community having already kept it on that day for at least ten years. Besides, Zachary, who, as high-priest, entered the Temple on the Day of Atonement, received therefore announcement of John's conception in September; six months later Christ was conceived, i.e. in March, and born accordingly in December. From the fourth century every Western calendar assigns it to 25 December. At Rome, then, the Nativity was celebrated on 25 December before 354; in the East, at Constantinople, not before 379, unless with Erbes, and against Gregory, we recognize it there in 330. Hence, almost universally has it been concluded that the new date reached the East from Rome by way of the Bosphorus during the great anti-Arian revival, and by means of the orthodox champions. De Santi. The well-known solar feast, however, of Natalis Invicti, celebrated on 25 December, has a strong claim on the responsibility for our December date.
The well-known solar feast, however, of Natalis Invicti, celebrated on 25 December, has a strong claim on the responsibility for our December date. The earliest rapprochement of the births of Christ and the sun is in Cyprian: O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born . . . Christ should be born." In the fourth century, Chrysostom says: "But Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December . . . the eight before the calends of January [25 December] . . ., But they call it the 'Birthday of the Unconquered'. Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord . . .? Or, if they say that it is the birthday of the Sun, He is the Sun of Justice." Already Tertullian (Apol., 16; cf. Ad. Nat., I, 13; Orig. c. Cels., VIII, 67, etc) had to assert that Sol was not the Christians' God; Augustine (Tract xxxiv, in Joan. In P.L., XXXV, 1652) denounces the heretical identification of Christ with Sol.
But even should a deliberate and legitimate "baptism" of a pagan feast be seen here no more than the transference of the date need be supposed. The "mountain-birth" of Mithra and Christ's in the "grotto" have nothing in common: Mithra's adoring shepherds (Cumont, op. cit., I, ii, 4, p. 304 sqq.) are rather borrowed from Christian sources than vice versa. The origin of Christmas should not be sought in the Saturnalia (1-23 December) nor even in the midnight holy birth at Eleusis (see J.E. Harrison, Prolegom., p. 549) with its probable connection through Phrygia with the Naasene heretics, or even with the Alexandrian ceremony quoted above; nor yet in rites analogous to the midwinter cult at Delphi of the cradled Dionysus, with his revocation from the sea to a new birth (Harrison, op. cit., 402 sqq.). The present writer in inclined to think that, be the origin of the feast in East or West, and though the abundance of analogous midwinter festivals may indefinitely have helped the choice of the December date, the same instinct which set Natalis Invicti at the winter solstice will have sufficed, apart from deliberate adaptation or curious calculation, to set the Christian feast there too.
One cannot, based on the historical evidence of the beginnings of the celebration of Christ's birth, claim that the reason was pagan or sinful. Nor can one say that making up a celebration to honor God is sinful or wrong (See ‘Feast of Esther’ on page ‘Does God's Word Forbid us to Celebrate Christ’s Birth’). God's word says:
Romans 14:5-6, 10
One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 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. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
Consider the above verse, and consider that God’s word says that He looks at the heart. There are many Believers who are truly worshiping and praising and preaching the gospel boldly at Christmastime. Also, keep in mind that Christ’s birth was a celebratory event in the Bible to begin with, regardless of who started an ‘official’ celebration later on.