“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
Many Christians around the world have set up their Christmas trees, bought their presents to give family and friends, and depending on which denomination they belong to, are celebrating the prophetic fulfillment of the birth of the Jewish Messiah in Bethlehem in just nine days. (Micah 5:2)
Armenian Apostolic and Eastern Orthodox Christians, unlike Protestants, do not celebrate the birth of Yeshua HaMashiach on December 25th, due to differences between the Armenian, Julian and Gregorian calendars.
The Tanakh (Jewish Scripture), however, doesn’t identify the month in which the Messiah would be born, nor does the Brit Chadashah (New Testament) identify the exact date of His birth.
Scripture does give us an indication of the time of year.
“I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10–11)
When Was the Messiah Born?
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” (Luke 2:8)
Although Christmas in December is a well-established Christian tradition, Bible scholars agree that December 25th is not the true date of Yeshua’s birth.
Winter in Israel is generally too cold at night to be out shepherding flocks, and yet at the time of Yeshua’s birth, the shepherds were in the fields watching over their flocks at night.
Another point to consider when determining the time of year when Yeshua (Jesus) was born is that winter in Israel is not a logical time to take a census because of the cold and rain.
Although the weather can be mild in December, snow in the Jerusalem area is a semi-frequent occurrence. Just days ago, for instance, Jerusalem even saw more than a foot of snow, causing major disruptions to transportation and power. Flooding in southern Israel also resulted in two men dying when their car was washed away.
So the fact that Yosef (Joseph) and Miriam (Mary) had gone to Beit Lechem (Bethlehem) to register for a census is a good indication that they were traveling in a warmer, drier season. (Luke 2:1–5).
When they arrived, Jerusalem and Bethlehem were so crowded that no accommodations were available at the inn.
Such crowding would have been more typical during one of the three pilgrimage feasts: Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost) or Sukkot (Tabernacles/Booths).
“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:6–7)
With that in mind, it is likely that Yeshua was born at the end of the harvest, during the Biblical holiday of Sukkot,in fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy that one day the Lord would “tabernacle” with His people.
“My dwelling place [mishkan—tabernacle] will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be My people.” (Ezekiel 37:27)
When the New Jerusalem is established, Yeshua will tabernacle with us forever:
“Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God.” (Revelation 21:3)
Birthdays and the Culture of the Time
“The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8)
Yeshua was born into a completely Jewish, Hebraic culture where the date of one’s death was remembered and observed rather than the date of one’s birth. This could explain why we are certain of the date of His death (Passover), but not clear on the date of His birth.
How, then, did December 25th come to be celebrated as the day of Yeshua’s birth, and what is the origin of the festival of Christmas?
It was certainly not included in the early celebrations of the Christian church.
The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that “Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Irenaeus and Tertullian [early Church fathers] do not show it on their list of feasts.”
Later, when churches in different parts of the world began celebrating the birthday of Yeshua, they had various opinions as to the correct date. It was not until the latter part of the fourth century that the Roman Church began observing December 25th.
By the fifth century, it was decreed that the birth of Yeshua would be forever observed on this date, even though this was the day of the old Roman feast of the birth of Sol, one of the names of the sun-god.
Mithraism—a large, pagan, sun worship cult—fostered the celebration of December 25th as a holiday throughout the Roman and Greek worlds. This winter festival was called “the nativity” and “the Nativity of the sun.”
This type of cult even reached Israel.
Semiramis, the Queen of Babylon, (also called the Queen of Heaven and Ishtar) also contaminated the Israelites’ worship of God with Baal worship (Jeremiah 7:18, 44:17).
Her influence spread far and wide because she ordered the ancient world to celebrate the birth of her son Tammuz, who was apparently believed to be the reincarnation of her son (Nimrod). She then proclaimed Tammuz to be the sun god.
Semiramis set December 25th as the date of her son’s birth, who came to be associated with Baal, on the advice of her astrologers, since the sun is at its farthest point from the earth during the winter solstice.
“The children gather wood, the fathers light the fire and the women knead the dough and make cakes to offer to the Queen of Heaven. They pour out drink offerings to other gods to arouse my anger.” (Jeremiah 7:18)
Over time, the sun god came to be worshiped throughout the ancient world on December 25th. It was a time of orgies, drunkenness, and the sacrificing of infants to the pagan god, Baal.
Because this feast was so popular among the pagan population of Greece and Rome, the date was simply adopted as the time of the birth of Yeshua by the Roman Church.
Gift-Giving, Saturnalia, and Violence Against the Jews
Many customs associated with the season—the giving of gifts, house-to-house caroling, and the general rejoicing and festivity derived from this winter festival of Saturnalia—are a remnant of paganism that has remained attached to the Christian Church.
The Christians who first observed the birth of Yeshua on December 25th did not do so thinking that He was actually born on that day.
Because the pagan winter festival of Saturnalia was celebrated on that date in Rome, they were willing to have this pagan holiday metamorphosed into a Christian one.
Due to the pagan origin of Christmas and the violence and excess associated with it, the Puritans (Christians from the Church of England) actually banned Christmas altogether.
In the US State of Massachusetts, the observance of Christmas was illegal between 1659 and 1681. Louisiana was the first US state to institute Christmas as a holiday only as recently as 1830.
Despite its association with paganism, Christmas was, and still is, celebrated by most Christians.
Rabbis and Orthodox Jewish anti-missionaries often use this information to discredit Christianity as a pagan religion, saying that the story of the birth of Yeshua is inspired by the pagan festival celebrating the birth of the sun-god Sol.
According to this logic, the rabbis argue that Yeshua couldn’t be the Jewish Messiah!
Beside the ties to Saturnalia and Mithraism that discredit the celebration of Christmas, violence against the Jews on Christmas understandably blackened the holiday among the Jewish People.
According to David Kertzer, in his book The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Jewish rabbis of the ghetto in Rome were forced to wear clownish outfits and march through the city streets to the jeers of the crowd, pelted by a variety of projectile objects as part of the Saturnalia carnival (p. 74).
In 1836, the Jewish community of Rome sent a petition to Pope Gregory XVI pleading with him to stop the annual Saturnalia abuse of the Jewish community, to which the Pope responded, “It is not opportune to make any innovation.”
And on December 25, 1881, riots broke out across Poland when Christian leaders incited the Polish masses into an anti-Semitic frenzy.
On this Christmas Day, 12 Jews were brutally murdered in Warsaw, several others injured, and many Jewish women raped. As well, two million rubles worth of Jewish property was destroyed.
The Origins of Christmas Customs
Although many Christians and Messianic Jews do not celebrate Christmas because of its pagan origins, the season of Christmas is a joyous time with deep significance for many other Christians.
With the pagan origins of Christmas trees forgotten and / or dismissed as irrelevant today, many Christians consider the tree to be a symbolic reminder of how Yeshua became a curse for us by hanging on a tree.
“Yeshua redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” (Galatians 3:13)
They adorn their trees with beautiful lights reminding them of how Yeshua is the Light of Life who calls us to shine His light on a dark world.
“Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” (John 12:36)
They give gifts to each other honoring the fact that Yeshua became the ultimate gift for them.
“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15)
Although many consider modern-day Christmas customs helpful in sharing the joy of Yeshua and the glory of God among family, friends and neighbors, one should know the history of the traditions they keep.
While the custom of decorating a Christmas tree dates back only a few centuries, the principle behind it is ancient.
Pagans had a custom of worshiping trees in the forest (Jeremiah 7:18), or bringing them into their homes and decorating them (Jeremiah 10:3–4), and this observance was adopted by the Christian Church.
Furthermore, sacred trees as symbols of the life force were also associated with Canaanite cults.
Cylinder seals dating from the Late Bronze Age often show a worshiper standing in front of a tree.
Other seals dating from the 8th to the 10th centuries BC, which depict a tree flanked by worshipers, have been found at the Lachish, Beth Shemesh, Gibeon, Samaria, and Megiddo archaeological sites in Israel.
A drawing of a sacred tree with lily flowers being eaten by two ibex was discovered on a jar at the religious center of Kuntillet Ajrud. Gold pendants of the Late Bronze Age from Tel al-Ajjul (near Gaza) and from Ugarit show stylized trees growing out of a formalized goddess, according to The Harper Atlas of the Bible (pp.101–102).
Sexual intercourse under these so-called “holy” trees was thought to transmit the potency and vitality of the goddess. What was really being transmitted was infidelity, paganism, and prostitution:
“They sacrifice on the mountaintops and burn offerings on the hills, under oak, poplar and terebinth trees, where the shade is pleasant. Therefore your daughters turn to prostitution and your daughters-in-law to adultery.” (Hosea 4:13)
These female deities could well have been the Asherah or Astarte who are often mentioned in the Jewish Scriptures (Tanakh/ Old Testament) as the consort of the weather god Baal.
“The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.” (Judges 3:7)
In at least 10 Bible references, the “green tree” is associated with idolatry and false worship.
“They also set up for themselves high places, sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree.” (1 Kings 14:23)
As well, the use of holly and mistletoe comes from Druid ceremonies. Some historians think that the Druids used mistletoe to poison their human sacrificial victim.
Kissing under the mistletoe is a synthesis of Druid sacrificial rituals with Saturnalia sexual immorality.
“Look! The young maiden [also translated virgin] will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” (Matthew 1:23; see also Isaiah 7:14)
In light of these facts, many Messianic Jews and born-again Christians choose not to celebrate Christmas in any form whatsoever. Others continue to celebrate December 25th as Yeshua’s birthday while seeing Him in every light, tree, and gift.
It is important to refrain from condemning those who choose to celebrate Christmas, as well as those who choose not to, for God knows and judges the intentions of our hearts:
“The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
What is truly important during this season, as people are confronted with the birth of the Messiah, is the spreading of the good news that Yeshua came as the Light of the World, not to condemn the world, but to save it.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Redeeming the Time
“Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.” (Ephesians 5:16)
Although the date and customs of Christmas have pagan origins, this time can be redeemed by doing special mitzvot (good deeds) to help those who are feeling isolated, lost or alone while others are celebrating with friends and family.
It’s a fact that this time of the year is the hardest for many people who don’t have family or who are struggling.
We can be a “light” by bringing cheer, comfort, hope and support into the lives of friends, family, neighbors, and those less fortunate than ourselves.
This season is a good time to help single parents, widows, or anyone who has fallen upon hard times.
Regardless of the origins of the Christmas customs, our focus should be celebrating the Messiah’s birth and life everyday of the year because Yeshua was born in prophetic fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures to redeem the world.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
It is right to celebrate our Creator and His Scriptures (The Word) and the Messiah (The Word that became flesh).
“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'” (Luke 2:10–12)
God is love and so He gives us His very best. Shouldn’t we do the same?
You can choose to share the love of God during this festive season by giving of yourself so that others can also come to know salvation (Yeshua).