It’s nearly Christmas. This time of year always brings a bit of angst for me—to celebrate or not to celebrate? That is the question. Many people claim that Christmas has pagan origins, and they are correct, as we will see. But many Christians have their Christmas story confused, like why do we celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25? Was Jesus born in December? No. The Bible says that the shepherds were watching their sheep by night. The average low temperature in Bethlehem in December is 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This is way too cold for star gazing, sheep watching or any other all night outdoor activity. (I’m from California where we bundle up when the thermometer dips below 60 degrees.) Anyway, sheep outside in that cold would nearly freeze, even with their wooly coats and mufflers. So no December birth for Jesus. Of that I am sure.
What about Christmas trees? What do they have to do with Jesus? The origin of Christmas trees is definitely pagan stemming all the way back to when the Israelites decided to trade the God of their fathers for the queen of heaven, Semiramis, and her son, Tammuz. Part of worshiping this duo involved cutting down a tree, bringing it inside the house and decorating it. (Jeremiah 10) This may seem an innocuous practice, but worshiping these false gods eventually led Israel to worship Tammuz at sunrise, weep for him for 40 days annually and eventually sacrifice their children to him. But I have digressed. Back to the Christmas tree—it actually predates Christ by hundreds of years and has nothing to do with Jesus.
Then there is the song “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” Where in the Bible does it say that there were three kings who visited the Christ child? The truth becomes evident when we realize that Israel was a buffer state between the two world empires of the time, the Romans in the west and the Parthians in the east. That meant if the Romans were going to invade Parthia, they would go through Israel. If Parthia was going to invade the Roman Empire, they went through Israel. Around the time of the visit of the Magi, the Roman garrison had left Jerusalem, leaving the town and region very vulnerable to invasion. Enter the Magi. Although they did travel from afar, the Magi were not three, old tottering men. The Magi, short for Magistanes, were the priestly, monotheistic tribe from Media who believed that God spoke through dreams. They also believed that there was an evil spirit, called the prince of lies, who was a murderer from the beginning. In addition, the Magi were responsible for making kings kings, which is why they had come to Israel. Hundreds of years before, during the time of Nebuchadnezzar, their revered Rab-Mab, a man we know as Daniel, had taught them the prophecy of a king who would be born in Israel and bring everlasting righteousness. (See Daniel 9.) From generation to generation, the House of Magistanes held onto the truth of this prophecy until one day an angel[i] appeared to them and said, “She’s in labor now. Better pack your bags.” (Ok, so I took a little literary license there. We really don’t know what that angel said but he had to say something to get the boys moving...) So the Magi packed up their entire regiment, cavalry, arms, supplies and all their gifts, and traveled up the Euphrates River, then south and west into Israel, and made a grand and intimidating entrance into the now vulnerable town of Jerusalem. According to the Bible, their arrival greatly disturbed Herod and all Jerusalem. Why? Because Herod and Jerusalem were unprotected. (How could three wobbling aged men cause Herod and all Jerusalem to tremble?) The Magi entered Herod’s court and said, “Where is he born king of the Jews?” Their intimation about a legitimate king sliced Herod to the core. The Magi knew Herod was a phony, puppet king, and not even Jewish. Blood boiling, Herod summoned the rabbis and demanded to know what the prophets had said about the birthplace of the Messiah. The answer: the Messiah would be born in the nowhere, out of the way town of Bethlehem. And so the entire regiment, probably at least 30 men in total, left the palace of a puppet king in search of the legitimate heir to God’s eternal throne. “We Three Kings”? Not even close.
So, if December 25 isn’t Jesus birthday, why is it called Christmas? In the 4th century, after Constantine’s supposed conversion, the priests who promoted the worship of Tammuz and Semiramis evidently convinced him that there was room in the church for the worship of their false gods. So the celebration of Tammuz, called Saturnalia, was renamed “Christmas” and continued on as usual. Semiramis was renamed Mary; Tammuz was renamed Jesus and this centuries old practice of worshiping mother and child continued without a glitch. Maybe Constantine was trying to be politically correct or even a bit ecumenical by capitulating to the false priests requests, but the result was a blending of false with true that has left us now, 1700 years later, with a holiday where we celebrate the birth of Christ on the birthday of the false god, Tammuz.
Learning the truth about Christmas is enough to cause many a Christian to dump Christmas altogether. And yet, if we make Christmas a time to slow down and reflect on the birth of the Savior, to make room for Him in the inn of our hearts, to spread love and good cheer to our neighbors, then Christmas can be a good thing. There is much about this season worth avoiding—greed, consumerism, and sugar, but there are gems worth keeping. I think I will keep the good of Christmas and ponder how the God who created the world invaded our humanity, humbled Himself to seek and save what He loved so much, that is, you and me. He did it in order to bring us back into the arms of a loving Father who loves us more than we can imagine.
That is the Christmas I will keep.
[i] The word translated as star can also be translated angel.
GENEVA CHINNOCK is a writer and author of Becoming His Beloved: Journey into the Father’s Affection. Geneva has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Master in Business Administration. In her spare time, Geneva loves reading, eating bacon and attending live theater. She lives in Southern California with her husband and blogs about matters of faith at TreasuredbyGod.com.