In the First Century, the Romans were worshipping many gods but particularly Mithra, Isis and Saturn, Cernunnos and Horus, as well as many other Egyptian deities. The highlight of the Roman calendar was the festival of Saturnalia, which was popular throughout Italy.
Saturnalia was a time of general relaxation, feasting and merry-making. It included the making and giving of small presents, usually small dolls for children and candles for adults. There was drinking, gambling, singing, and even public nudity. It was the “best of days,” according to the poet Catullus.
Saturnalia honored the god Saturn and began on December 17.
The Romans also held a festival on December 25 called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, “the birthday of the unconquered sun.” The use of the title ‘Sol Invictus’ allowed several solar deities to be worshipped collectively, including Elah Gabal, a Syrian sun god, Mithra and Cernunnos. December 25 was also considered to be the date of the winter solstice which the Romans called bruma . It was therefore the day the sun proved itself “unconquered” despite the shortening of daylight hours.
When Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar in 45 BC, December 25 was the date of the solstice. (In modern times, the solstice falls on December 21 or 22.)
Constantine, whose father was pagan and whose mother was Christian, brought Christianity, Mithraism and Isis worship together in an effort to unite the Empire. He made this possible by using the Bishops to make a religious decree, (Nicea, 325 AD) supported by both the Church and the state.
Pagan dates were therefore used in substitution of dates from the Hebrew scriptures and pagan practices overtook the practices taught by Jesus, Paul and the apostles.
Today, Christians who find it hard to give up the traditions they imbibed from childhood, say that the pagan origin of festivals like Christmas has been long forgotten with the passing of centuries. Today Christmas is the day to remember the birth of Jesus and to worship Him.
First of all, is this valid? Think of it in concrete modern terms. In India today, birth of the god Ram, of the god Krishna, of the god Shiva, of the birth of Shiva’s son Ganesh, are celebrated with great gusto. They are major feasts in the Indian calendar. How would an Indian pastor like to have Christmas transferred to one of these days in order better to be able to reach the Indian masses.
Ah, you say, how can we use the birth feast of Krishna to celebrate the birth of Jesus?
Why not? Isn’t that what the church did in the first place by turning the pagan feast of Sol Invictus into the feast of the Nativity?
There is plenty of evidence in the New Testament that Jesus’ birth could not have occurred in the winter. (We’ll go into that in its proper place.)
Rather, there is clear evidence that the birth of Jesus coincided with the autumn Feast of Tabernacles, when the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us.
Let us keep the Feasts the way the Lord commanded us to observe them, and not think they are Jewish ethnic feasts.