What Is Christmas?
To find the answer to this basic question, I dusted off my copy of The New Lexicon Webster's Dictionary of the English Language. Christmas, is defined there as "the annual festival observed by Christians on Dec. 25, commemorating the birth of Christ" ("Christmas" The New Lexicon).
The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Christmas as "a Christian holiday that is celebrated on December 25 in honor of the birth of Jesus Christ or the period of time that comes before and after this holiday" ("Christmas" Merriam-Webster).
Dictionary.com defines Christmas as "the annual festival of the Christian church commemorating the birth of Jesus: celebrated on December 25 and now generally observed as a legal holiday and an occasion for exchanging gifts" ("Christmas" Dictionary).
All of those definitions tell us this holiday or festival is celebrated by Christians, and it commemorates the birth of Christ. The word of God is the foundation upon which Christianity is built. The Bible is the inspired word of God. The Bible is our school master when it comes to Christian principles and behavior. Does the Bible support the definitions for Christmas given in these dictionaries? Let us turn to the scriptures to find the answer to this question.
Does the Bible Instruct Us to Celebrate the Birth of Christ Jesus?
We sometimes hear Christians say "If it isn't in the Bible, it isn't for me." Perhaps this should be the test for all we do in this life. If we use this saying as a rule of life, we will come to the following realizations.
1. We must either find Christmas in our Bibles, or we must not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday.
2. We must find instructions in the Bible telling us to celebrate the birth of Christ, or we must not celebrate the birth of Christ as a religious holiday.
Many people will view those two statements as repetitive because of the way we are conditioned by popular culture. Take a close look at those statements. They are conveying two separate ideas. The first statement is in reference to a holiday called Christmas. This one is simple enough to check in this modern age of computers; we can do a quick word search of the Bible to see if the word Christmas is contained within its pages. The word Christmas is not found in the Bible and for good reason. The "mas" in Christmas comes from the word "mass" which is the English form of the Late Latin "missa" meaning dismissal ("Mass (n.2)").
Therefore, the term Christmas literally means "Christ dismissal." This is obviously not something which would have been printed in the Bible.
The second statement is a little harder to determine. We need to actually read the entire Bible to see if there are any verses which instruct us to celebrate the birth of Christ. There are no such verses as everyone who has ever read the Bible can attest. There is nothing in the Bible which instructs us to celebrate either Christmas, or the birth of Christ. The Bible is perfect. Everything God expects of us is in the Bible. If God had commanded us to celebrate the birth of Christ Jesus, the date of celebration and the method of celebration would be in the Bible. God did want us to remember Christ Jesus, and he gave very clear instructions on how to do this in Luke 22:19 and again in 1st Corinthians 11:23-11:25.
Luk 22:19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.
1Co 11:23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:
1Co 11:24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
1Co 11:25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
The Bible does not instruct us to celebrate Christmas or the birth of Christ as a religious holiday. If the Bible is our only guide, we will not celebrate Christmas or the birth of Christ as a religious holiday. This principle is simple enough. However, we often do things which are not specifically commanded in the Bible, although they are in complete harmony with Christian values and Biblical teachings. Can celebrating Christmas fall within these parameters? We are not commanded to keep this holiday, but what could be the harm in celebrating Christmas? The remainder of this writing is dedicated to determining if the celebration of Christmas is forbidden or if it is an acceptable practice for Christians.
Is Christmas True?
The celebration of Christmas takes place on December 25th. We have already seen Christmas is defined as either commemorating or honoring the birth of Christ. Was Christ Jesus born on December 25th? I was unable to find any Biblically based resource claiming the 25th of December was actually our Savior's birth date. In fact, every Christian source I checked appeared to be in agreement — Jesus was most likely not born on Christmas.
I found many arguments proposing various times throughout the year for Christ's birthday. The Bible does not say exactly when Christ was born, but it does give us some clues. Nathaniel Lardner pointed to one of the more commonly cited clues in his 1730 book The Credibility of the Gospel History. In this book, he referenced Luke 2:8 (Lardner 465-66). Does this verse really discount December 25th as the birth date of our Savior?
Luk 2:7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
Luk 2:8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
This verse may be significant in our quest for the truth because the sheep near Bethlehem are not normally let out at night during the winter time. The following quotes are from an article for National Geographic Magazine which was written by John D. Whiting (Whiting 736-50). Mr. Whiting was born June 10, 1882 in Jerusalem, Palestine (Ottoman Empire). Mr. Whiting was intimately acquainted with life in our area of interest; with the exception of a few periods abroad, he resided at the American Colony at Jerusalem until his death in 1951. In this quote, he makes clear the sheep are kept in a portion of the shepherd's home during the winter.
Mr. Whiting goes on to describe the manner in which the sheep are housed during the remainder of the year. The following quote tells us the sheep are kept in a sheepfold at night and are watched by the shepherd from the roof of his home during springtime.
The next quote again confirms the sheep are kept pastured close to the shepherd's home during the spring.
This next quote tells us late summer and autumn is when the shepherd may stay out with his flock at night.
There is a picture on page 750 of the National Geographic article showing shepherds on the night watch. This demonstrates Mr. Whiting's writings are based upon a first-hand account. At first glance, the article seems to leave open only the summer and autumn as possibilities for the shepherds to be in the fields with their sheep at night. But, there may be one more possibility. On page 745, Mr. Whiting describes how the sheep are allowed to graze the wheat fields after the grain has been harvested and gleaned in the spring. The Bible verse Luke 2:8 uses the word field. Consequently, the possibility exists the field mentioned in this verse was a wheat field. Nonetheless, there appears to be no other evidence in support of this theory. I want to be as fair as possible when writing this. Therefore, I will present some additional information at this point.
I feel somewhat qualified to speak on the subject of the sheep being in the field at night because I raise goats and can offer first-hand information based upon my own experience. The common perception seems to be the sheep in Israel are kept penned up during the winter because the sheep cannot handle the cold. I am not convinced this is accurate. Generally speaking, sheep are more weather resistant than goats, yet my goats fair very well in temperatures which are significantly lower than the average minimum of 7C/45F which Bethlehem, Israel experiences in the winter time. My goats fair very well in the cold, but I still pen them up at night, not only in the winter, but year round. I let them out every morning, and I pen them up each night to protect them from predators. This is likely the same reason they are penned up in Israel. Predators and thieves around first century Bethlehem would have been more desperate and would have posed a greater threat during the winter, especially after long dry summers. There are times throughout the year, but especially during the winter, when I keep my goats penned up day and night. I do this during severe weather, during kidding, and also if the goats begin over grazing a pasture. I can pen them up and feed hay and grain during these times to maintain a more productive farming operation. These are the same types of issues the shepherds would have faced at about the time Christ was born. On the other hand, shepherds also have one additional issue to deal with which I do not have to worry about. They must take thought for themselves. The shepherds at the time of Christ stayed with their animals day and night. As we have seen, when the shepherds grazed their sheep away from populated areas, they sometimes used temporary sheepfolds to house their sheep at night. The shepherd might build the sheepfold at the entrance to a cave or other shelter. They would stay in the sheltered area while the sheep would normally remain in the sheepfold, also known as a sheepcote. This setup is described in 1 Samuel 24:3. We know sheepfolds were in use at the time of Christ because Jesus spoke about them in Joh 10:1. In all likelihood, the shepherds, rather than the sheep, were the ones in need of a more substantial shelter during winter. This is when they brought their sheep closer to home. Even if the sheep were not always brought into the home as described in the National Geographic article, the shepherds would likely have spent their nights in a room of their home which overlooked the permanent pens housing the sheep. The sheep would have normally been let out during the day and pent up at night. Late in the spring, all summer, and autumn might be the only times of year the shepherds would have kept their sheep in the open fields at night, rather than in a sheepfold. Late spring is a time of plenty when predators are better fed on small prey and are less likely to attack a shepherd's flock. Notice I have refrained from definitive statements; I have chosen words such as normally, might, and likely. This is because there may not be any hard and fast rules when it comes to this subject. The times when the sheep were penned up at night would likely vary from year to year, because of differences in the weather, and also from shepherd to shepherd, depending on the particular shepherd's preference. I do not believe we can draw any definitive conclusions about when Christ was born by using Luke 2:8. However, this verse does cast significant doubt on the idea of a December date for the birth of our Savior.
The issue is further complicated around Bethlehem because, according to many sources, there was an important watch tower called Migdal Eder located nearby (W. Smith 354). Migdal Eder is also known as the Tower of Edar or Tower of the Flock (see Gen 35:21 and Mic 4:8). This tower is said to have been used by the shepherds who watched over the sheep destined to be sacrificed at the temple. If this is the case, these sheep would have been treated differently than normal flocks — one could guess any number of reasons why they would, or would not, have been left in the field on a December night. On a side note, the symbolism of having our Savior placed in the manger (see Luke 2:12) at a place reserved for sheep being sacrificed at the temple is profound and fitting. This is a very real possibility if Migdol-Eder was in fact used in this manner and was this close to Bethlehem.
Here are some sources of information about the practices of shepherds for those who want to investigate this further:
1. Among the Bethlehem Shepherds by John D. Whiting December 1926 National Geographic Magazine p. 729-753.
2. A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller.
3. The Arab in the Desert by H. R. P. Dickson.
Nathaniel Lardner also points out a practical fact in the quote from 1730 referenced above — December is an unlikely time to require people to travel to their home-towns to be taxed. His comment pertains to Luke 2:3 through Luke 2:5 which tell us Joseph and Mary were traveling to Bethlehem to be taxed. This is a valid point which cast additional doubt on the possibility of a December date of birth for our Savior.
The following link is an interesting read which appears to logically come up with a narrow timeframe for the birth of Christ. http://cgg.
Please note there are many such claims which arrive at differing dates. Some are more convincing than others.
There are no specific Bible verses which tell us exactly when Christ was born; there are only small clues throughout the scriptures. All of these clues seem to point us away from December as a possible birth month for Christ. There is no evidence Christ was born on the 25th of December. In fact, most Christians understand the 25th of December is most likely not the birth date of Christ, yet Christmas is called the celebration of the birth of Christ. In this single respect, Christmas is a lie. We cannot know for certain the 25th of December is the birth date of Christ. In truth, all evidence leads us to conclude it is highly unlikely the day called Christmas is the day our Savior was born. Therefore, if we say Christmas is the birth date of Christ, we are lying.
If we know December 25th is not the birth date of Christ but still celebrate this day as His birth date, are we worshiping in truth? The Bible does not instruct us to celebrate the birth of Christ, but the Bible does instruct us to worship in truth.
Joh 4:23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.
Joh 4:24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
Are we really worshiping in truth if the main holiday of our faith (Christianity) is based upon a lie? Is Christmas really a Christian holiday? We will examine this topic in detail throughout this writing.
Is the Bible Our Only Guide?
If the Bible is our only guide, then what have we learned?
1. The Bible does not tell us clearly when Christ was born.
2. The Bible does not tell us to celebrate the birth of Christ.
3. The Bible does not instruct us to celebrate a holiday called Christmas.
4. The Bible does not give any indication of how such a celebration should take place, if it were to be observed.
5. We are not worshiping in truth if we celebrate this day as the birth of Christ because, by all accounts, He was not born on the 25th of December.
There is nothing in the Bible which instructs us to celebrate either Christmas, or the birth of Christ.
For Biblically based Christians, the issue of whether or not to partake in the festivities of Christmas should be permanently settled upon the basis of its exclusion from our Holy Bible. Therefore, there is no need to continue reading for those who trust only in their Bible. Those who truly live by the motto "if it isn't in the Bible it isn't for me" will need no further study on the subject of Christmas to make a decision to leave it behind. They can purge everything Christmas from their life knowing they have made a positive and Biblical change. My sincere hope is everyone reading this will do just that because many of the details relayed in the remainder of this writing are quite disturbing. During the course of my research, I have often been consumed by an overwhelming sadness because of the subject matter. It is truly pathetic how we treat our Savior. There were many times when I wondered if I should really be studying this topic. After all, the Word of God tells us not to learn to do after the abominations of the heathen (see Deu 18:9). However, it also says to reprove the "unfruitful works of darkness" in Ephesians 5:11. I came to a glaring realization as my research revealed the origins of the traditions and customs associated with the Christmas season — Christianity has indeed already learned to do after the abominations of the heathen. However, some may not realize what they have been doing. I urge all who are content with what they have already read to simply set aside Christmas and not read any further.
Those who are seeking something more than the Bible for justification for, or against, this so-called Christian holiday must educate themselves from more worldly sources. We will now take an in-depth look at the history of this holiday and the customs associated with it. This quest for understanding will lead us to witness the very depths of moral depredation and pagan indulgence.