Greg J. Dixon

Words Eye View

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The Origins of Christmas

Words Eye View

By Greg Dixon

In this editorial we are including this excellent article by our dear friend Robert McCurry the former founder and Pastor of the Heritage Baptist Church of Sharpsburg, Georgia and Publisher of the Wake-Up Herald. 

The Origins of Christmas

by Robert McCurry

Christmas. Believe in Christmas or not, like it or not, prepared for it or not, participate in it or not -- Christmas is here -- again! It is the inevitable, unstoppable, and most popular celebration of the year that comes every December. I recall when I was a child that the Christmas season did not begin until after Thanksgiving and it seemed the mystical December 25th Christmas day would never arrive.  Now that I’m older, things have changed. The days, weeks, and months go by ever so quickly, and presto! — Christmas is here again.

    Why Christmas? The majority say, “Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus.” Why a Christmas season? Most will say, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Really? No, not really -- the manger scenes, Christmas carols, and religious activities notwithstanding. Interestingly, Christmas is not a Bible word or even a Bible subject.

        It is a historical fact that the season and day now known as Christmas preceded the birth of Christ by hundreds of years. Christmas was adopted from earlier heathen winter solstice celebrations celebrating the sun, including the Roman festival of Saturnalia celebrated from December the 17th to the 24th; Celtic Yuletide which was a twelve-day long festival of feasting around November/December; the Roman New Year celebrated on January the first when greenery was used to decorate houses in celebration of the birth of the undying sun, and presents were given to children and the poor. The Roman catholic church “Christianized” this pagan festival by substituting the birth of Christ for sun worship and named it Mass of Christ. The title was later shortened to Christ-mas. The traditions celebrated at Christmas today were invented by blending together customs from paganism and many different countries.

A brief look at “Christmas in America

In the early 17th century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe. When Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, they vowed to rid England of decadence and, as part of their effort, cancelled Christmas. By popular demand, Charles II was restored to the throne and, with him, came the return of the popular holiday. 

        The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident.

        After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America’s new constitution. Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.

Before the Civil War

The North and South were divided on the issue of Christmas, as well as on the question of slavery. Many Northerners saw sin in the celebration of Christmas; to these people the celebration of Thanksgiving was more appropriate. But in the South, Christmas was an important part of the social season. Not surprisingly, the first three states to make Christmas a legal holiday were in the South: Alabama in 1836, Louisiana and Arkansas in 1838.

        In the years after the Civil War, Christmas traditions spread across the country. Children’s books played an important role in spreading the customs of celebrating Christmas, especially the tradition of trimmed trees and gifts delivered by Santa Claus. Sunday school classes encouraged the celebration of Christmas. Women’s magazines were also very important in suggesting ways to decorate for the holidays, as well as how to make these decorations.

        By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, America eagerly decorated trees, caroled, baked, and shopped for the Christmas season. Since that time, materialism, media, advertising, and mass marketing has made Christmas what it is today. The traditions that we practice at Christmas today were invented by blending together religious and secular customs from paganism and many different countries.

        In 1997, Artist Robert Cenedella drew a painting of a crucified Santa Claus. It was displayed in the window of the New York’s Art Students League and received intense criticism from some religious groups. His drawing was a protest. He attempted to show how Santa Claus had replaced Jesus Christ as the most important personality at Christmas time. Obviously, he was correct.

Should Christians celebrate Christmas?

I like Charles Spurgeon on this subject because he does not fit easily into either of the simple pre-cut molds that tend to dominate those with strong opinions on whether Christians should even acknowledge, much less celebrate Christmas. In one corner you have those who give a resounding “NO” to this question. After all, the Bible does not even hint at celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ annually. Furthermore, Christmas is an adaptation of a pagan festival and “what hath light to do with darkness?” In the other corner are those who seem to think that anything less than an all-out celebration of Christmas—even by those who are not Christians—is an assault on Christianity and one more indication of how godless our culture has become.

        Spurgeon’s views are clear that Christmas is not a biblical holiday and so minces no words in criticizing the attempt to equate it with vital Christianity. He sometimes ridicules and chides the observance of Christmas as a “popish festival.” This point of view is what is most often quoted when Spurgeon and Christmas come up. For example:

        On Sunday morning, December 24, 1871, Spurgeon preached a sermon entitled, “Joy Born at Bethlehem.” He began his sermon with these words:


We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas. First, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be sung in Latin or in English; and secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Savior; and consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority. Superstition has fixed most positively the day of our Savior’s birth, although there is no possibility of discovering when it occurred. ... It was not till the middle of the third century that any part of the church celebrated the nativity of our Lord; and it was not till very long after the Western church had set the example, that the Eastern adopted it. ... Probably the fact is that the “holy” days were arranged to fit in with the heathen festivals. We venture to assert, that if there be any day in the year, of which we may be pretty sure that it was not the day on which the Savior was born, it is the twenty-fifth of December. Nevertheless since, the current of men’s thoughts is led this way just now, and I see no evil in the current itself, I shall launch the bark of our discourse upon that stream, and make use of the fact, which I shall neither justify nor condemn, by endeavoring to lead your thoughts in the same direction. Since it is lawful, and even laudable, to meditate upon the incarnation of the Lord upon any day in the year, it cannot be in the power of other men’s superstitions to render such a meditation improper for to-day. Regarding not the day, let us, nevertheless, give God thanks for the gift of His dear Son.

Spurgeon had little patience with his Protestant brethren who made much of the day out of religious devotion. Yet, Spurgeon did not think it some violation of Scripture to utilize the inevitable emphasis of the season to preach the incarnate Christ. So it is easy to find sermons on the birth of Christ that he preached around Christmas time.

        In December of 1855 Spurgeon preached on “The Incarnation and Birth of Christ” from Micah 5:2. His opening words were these:


This is the season of the year when, whether we wish it or not, we are compelled to think of the birth of Christ. I hold it to be one of the greatest absurdities under heaven to think that there is any religion in keeping Christmas-day. There are no probabilities whatever that our Savior Jesus Christ was born on that day and the observance of it is purely of Popish origin; doubtless those who are Catholics have a right to hallow it, but I do not see how consistent Protestants can account it in the least sacred. However, I wish there were ten or a dozen Christmas-days in the year; for there is work enough in the world, and a little more rest would not hurt laboring people. Christmas-day is really a boon to us, particularly as it enables us to assemble round the family hearth and meet our friends once more. Still, although we do not fall exactly in the track of other people, I see no harm in thinking of the incarnation and birth of the Lord Jesus. We do not wish to be classed with those

“Who with more care keep holiday

The wrong, than others the right way.”

        In the same vein Spurgeon preached a message on December 25, 1864, entitled, “Mary’s Song,” based on Luke 1:46-47. In it he says,

Observe, this morning, the sacred joy of Mary that you may imitate it. This is a season when all men expect us to be joyous. We compliment each other with the desire that we may have a “Merry Christmas.” Some Christians who are a little squeamish, do not like the word “merry.” It is a right good old Saxon word, having the joy of childhood and the mirth of manhood in it, it brings before one’s mind the old song of the waits, and the midnight peal of bells, the holly and the blazing log. I love it for its place in that most tender of all parables, where it is written, that, when the long-lost prodigal returned to his father safe and sound, “They began to be merry.” This is the season when we are expected to be happy; and my heart’s desire is, that in the highest and best sense, you who are believers may be “merry.” Mary’s heart was merry within her; but here was the mark of her joy, it was all holy merriment, it was every drop of it sacred mirth. It was not such merriment as worldlings will revel in to-day and to-morrow, but such merriment as the angels have around the throne, where they sing, “Glory to God in the highest,” while we sing “On earth peace, goodwill towards men.” Such merry hearts have a continual feast. I want you, ye children of the bride-chamber, to possess to-day and to-morrow, yea, all your days, the high and consecrated bliss of Mary, that you may not only read her words, but use them for yourselves, ever experiencing their meaning: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.”

It has been almost 150 years since Spurgeon preached these sermons and Christmas continues to be a controversial subject among many Christians -- “Should I or should I not observe Christmas?” Spurgeon was wise in concluding that since he could not cancel Christmas, he would avail himself of the opportunity of the season and the day to proclaim the incarnation of Christ. Review his words:

        Although not recorded, we can be assured that the building where Spurgeon preached was not decorated with a Christmas tree, holly, mistletoe, and wreaths during the Christmas season to create a “Christmas spirit” as now practiced by many churches.

Federal judge: “Christmas is both secular and religious”

Christmas has been a federal holiday in America since June 26, 1870. In August, 1998, Cincinnati attorney Richard Ganulin filed suit in U.S. District Court claiming that “Christmas is a religious holiday, and the Congress of the United States is not constitutionally permitted to endorse or aid any religion, purposefully or otherwise, or entanglement between our government and religious beliefs.”

        Congress granted Christmas this special status in 1870, following the lead of several state legislatures. It is now one of ten government-sanctioned holidays that include birthday celebrations for Martin Luther King and George Washington, and the recognition of Independence on July 4. Ganulin argued that the establishment of the December 25 date, though, “effectively endorses one set of Christian religious and Christian cultural beliefs...”

In dismissing the suit, U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott argued that the Christmas holiday did not violate Ganulin’s right to equal protection under the law. She added that

“The court has found legitimate secular purposes for establishing Christmas as a legal public holiday.” When the government decides to recognize Christmas Day as a public holiday, it does no more than accommodate the calendar of public activities to the plain fact that many Americans will expect on that day to spend time visiting with their families, attending religious services, and perhaps enjoying some respite from pre-holiday activities.

     “Ganulin and his family have the freedom to celebrate, or not celebrate, the religious and secular aspects of the holiday as they see fit,” Dlott added. “The court simply does not believe that declaring Christmas to be a legal public holiday impermissibly imposes Christian beliefs on non-adherents in a way that violates the right to freedom of association.”

        Dlott also gave her interpretation of the “Lemon” test from Lemon v. Kurtzman which is used widely in deciding if an action by the government violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment. She opined that Christmas “has a valid secular purpose, it does not have the effect of endorsing religion in general or Christianity in particular, and it does not impermissibly cause excessive entanglement between church and state.”

        Unwittingly or not, Judge Dlott trivialized both Mr. Ganulin’s case, and her own ruling by including a ditty with her official written decision. It read:

The court will address
Plaintiff’s seasonal confusion
Erroneously believing of Christmas
MERELY a religious intrusion

Whatever the reason
Constitutional or other
Christmas is NOT
An act of Big Brother!

Christmas is about joy
And giving and sharing
It is about the child within us
It is mostly about caring!

One is never jailed
For not having a tree
For not going to church
For not spreading glee!

The court will uphold
Seemingly contradictory causes
Decreeing “The establishment” AND “Santa”
both worthwhile “CLAUS(es)!”

We are all better for Santa
The Easter Bunny too
And maybe the great pumpkin
To name just a few!

An extra day off
Is hardly high treason
It may be spent as you wish
Regardless of reason

The court having read
The lessons of “Lynch”
refuses to play
The role of the Grinch!

There is room in this country
And in all our hearts too
For different convictions
And a day off too!

Christmas is here to stay

        Christmas is not only a federal holiday, it is an irreversible America tradition. Believe in it or not, agree with it or not, participate in it or not -- Christmas is here to stay. Many American families view the Christmas season as an important time of the year to come together whether they are Christians or not. Although in recent times Christmas has become highly commercialized, Christmas is a very special time of year and many families have their own ways of celebrating this holiday. May all who know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, rejoice and proclaim:


Jesus Christ Is God!

“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son,

and they shall call his name Emmanuel,

which being interpreted is, God with us.”

Matthew 1:23


Thou shalt call his name JESUS:

for he shall save his people from their sins.

Matthew 1:21

Grace be to you and peace from

God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ,

Who gave himself for our sins,

that he might deliver us from this present evil world,

according to the will of God and our Father:

To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Galatians 1:3-5

O come let us adore Him!

He is the mighty King, Master of everything,

Almighty God is He.

Bow down before Him,

Love and adore Him.

His Name is Wonderful, Jesus the Lord!

The Wake-Up Herald is published by Robert McCurry. The publication is designed to exalt the true God of the Bible, the Lord Jesus Christ, and inform, inspire, and challenge its readers regarding biblical truth and real-life issues. The contents are the sole responsibility of Robert McCurry and do not represent or speak for or on behalf of any other person or group. There is no subscription charge. The publication is a ministry of faith and dependent on the contributions of its readers. Send all correspondence to: Robert McCurry, c/o The Wake-Up Herald • 3613 Hwy 34 E • Sharpsburg, GA 30277.

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