Careful students of history reveal far more about how Christmas got its date and where Santa Claus, mistletoe, and other Christmas legends came from.

(If this chapter is a little deep, skip over to the next one.)

DATE OF CHRIST'S BIRTH NOT KNOWN "The supposed anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ, occurring on Dec. 25: No sufficient data . . exists, for the determination of the month or the day of the event. . There is no historical evidence that our Lord's birthday was celebrated during the apostolic or early post-apostolic times. "The uncertainty that existed at the beginning of the third century in the minds of Hippolytus and othersHippolytus earlier favored Jan. 2; Clement of Alexandria (Strom., i. 21), "the 25th of Pachon" [May 20]; while others, according to Clement, fixed upon Apr, 18 or 19 and Mar. 28-proves that no Christmas festival had been established much before the middle of the century. Jan. 6 was earlier fixed upon as the date of the baptism or spiritual birth of Christ, and the feast of Epiphany. . was celebrated by the Basilidian Gnostics in the second century. . and by Catholic Christians by about the beginning of the fourth century.

"The earliest record of the recognition of Dec. 25 as a church festival is in the Philocalian Calendar [although copied in 354, represented Roman practice in 336]." _A. H. Newman, "Christmas, " The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. 3, 47.  

THEY WERE NOT CERTAIN WHAT DATE TO SELECT-"Uncertainty about Jesus' birthday in the early third century is reflected in a disputed passage of the presbyter Hippolytus, who was banished to Sarinia by Maximinus in 235, and in an authentic statement of Clement of Alexandria. While the former favored January second, the learned Clement of Alexandria enumerates several dates given by the Alexandrian chronographers, notably the twenty-fifth of the Egyptian month, Pachon (May twentieth), in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus and the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth of Pharmuthi (April eighteenth or nineteenth) of the year AD. 1, although he favored May twentieth. This shows that no Church festival, in honor of the day, was established before the middle of the third century. Origen, at that time in a sermon, denounced the idea of keeping Jesus' birthday like that of Pharaoh and said that only sinners such as Herod were so honored. Arnobius later similarly ridiculed giving birthdays to 'gods.' A Latin treatise, De pascha computus (of ca. 243), placed Jesus' birth on March twenty-first since that was the supposed day on which God created the Sun (Gen. 1:14-19), thus typifying the 'Sun of righteousness' as Malachi 4:2 called the expected Messiah. A century before, Polycarp, martyred in Smyrna in 155, gave the same date for the birth and baptism placing it on a Wednesday because of the creation of the Sun on that day."Walter Woodburn Hyde, Paganism to Christianity in the Roman Empire, 249-250.

INITIALLY DIFFERENT DATES FOR MEMORIAL OF HIS BIRTH.-"The Oriental Christians kept the memorial of the Saviour's birth and of his baptism, on one and the same day, namely, the sixth day of January; and this day they called Epiphany. But the Occidental Christians always consecrated the 25th day of December to the memory of the Saviour's birth. For, what is reported of Julian I, the Roman bishop's transferring the memorial of Christ's birth from the 6th day of January to the 25th of December, appears to me very questionable."- "Institutes of Ecclesiastical History," John Laurence von Mosheim, D.D., book 2, cent. 4, part 2, chap. 4, sec. 5 (Vol. I, 372-373). London: Longman & Co., 1841.

WHEN CHRISTMAS WAS FIRST OBSERVED"The first footsteps we find of the observation of this day are in the second century, about the time of the emperor Commodus."-"A Theological Dictionary," Rev. Charles Buck, "Christmas," 71. Philadelphia: Crissy and Markley, copyright 1851.

CHRISTMAS NOT AN OFFICIALLY ACCEPTED CHURCH DAY UNTIL THE FOURTH CENTURY.-"It is now generally granted that the day of the nativity was not observed as a feast in any part of the church, east or west, till some time in the fourth century. If any day had been earlier fixed upon as the Lord's birthday, it was not commemorated by any religious rites, nor is it mentioned by any writers." -"The Life of Our Lord Upon the Earth, " Samuel J. Andrews, 17, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1891.

THE BIRTHDAY OF THE SUN WAS SELECTED- "The early Christians, who attributed to Christ not only the title (Kyrios) but also many other honors that the pagans paid to their 'divine' emperors, naturally felt inclined to honor the birth of the Saviour. In most places the commemoration of Christ's birth was included in the Feast of the Epiphany (Manifestations) on January 6, one of the oldest annual feasts.

"Soon after the end of the last great persecution, about the year 330, the Church of Rome definitely assigned December 25 for the celebration of the birth of Christ. For a while, many Eastern Churches continued to keep other dates, but toward the end of the fourth century the Roman custom became universal.

"No official reason has been handed down on ecclesiastical documents for the choice of this date. Consequently, various explanations have been given to justify the celebration of the Lord's nativity on this particular day. Some early Fathers and writers claimed that December 25 was the actual date of Christ's birth . .

"It was expressly stated in Rome that the actual date of the Saviour's birth was unknown and that different traditions prevailed in different parts of the world.

"A second explanation was of theological symbolic character. Since the Bible calls the Messiah the 'Sun of righteousness' (Malachi 4:2), it was argued that His birth had to coincide with the beginning of a new solar cycle, that is, He had to be born at the time of the winter solstice . . This explanation, though attractive in itself, depends on too many assumptions that cannot be proved and lacks any basis of historical certitude.

"There remains then this explanation, which is the most probable one, and held by most scholars in our time: the choice of December 25 is influenced by the fact that the Romans, from the time of Emperor Aurelian (275), had celebrated the feast of the sun god (Sol Invictus: the Unconquered Sun) on that day. December 25 was called the 'Birthday of the Sun,' and great pagan religious celebrations of the Mithras cult were held all through the empire. What was more natural than that the Christians celebrate the birth of Him Who was the 'Light of the World' and the true 'Sun of righteousness' on this very day? The popes seem to have chosen December 25 precisely for the purpose of inspiring the people to turn from the worship of a material sun to the adoration of Christ the Lord. This thought is indicated in various writings of contemporary authors.

"It has sometimes been said that the Nativity is only a 'Christianized pagan festival.' However, the Christians of those early centuries were keenly aware of the difference between the two festivals--one pagan and one Christian-on the same day. The coincidence in the date, even if intended, does not make the two [p. 62] celebrations identical. Some newly converted Christians who thoughtlessly retained external symbols of the sun worship on Christmas Day were immediately and sternly reproved." -Francis X. Weiser, Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1958), 60-62.

IT WAS THE BIRTHDAY OF THE SUN GOD- "One of the dominant religious ideas of the second and third centuries was the belief in the divinity of the Sun . .

"This divinity is of especial interest for our inquiry, for his annual festival fell on the twenty-fifth of December and its relation to Christmas [p. 151] has been a matter of protracted discussion. Obviously the season of the winter solstice, when the strength of the sun begins to increase, is appropriate for the celebration of the festival of a sun-god. The day in a sense marks the birth of a new sun. But the reason for its being chosen as the day for the commemoration of Christ's nativity is not so evident.

" . .The identity of date is more than a coincidence. To be sure the Church did not merely appropriate the festival of the popular sun-god. It was through a parallelism between Christ and the sun that the twenty-fifth of December came to be the date of the nativity. . [p. 153] Even Epiphanius, the fourth century metropolitan of Cyprus, though giving the sixth of January as the date of birth, connects the event with the solstice. Moreover, the diversion of the significance of a popular pagan holiday was wholly in accord with the policy of the Church. Of the actual celebration of a festival of the nativity, it should be' added, there is no satisfactory evidence earlier than the fourth century. Its first observance in Rome on December the twenty-fifth took place in 353 or 354 (Usener) or in 336 (Duchesne). In Constantinople it seems to have been introduced in 377 or 378."-Gordon J. Laing, Survivals of Roman Religion (New York: Longmans, 1931), 150-153.

THE PAGAN WORSHIPERS OF MITHRA CELEBRATED THE BIRTHDAY OF THE SUN ON DECEMBER 25 "Each day in the week, the Planet to which the day was sacred was a invoked in a fixed spot in the crypt; and Sunday, over which the Sun presided, was especially holy

"The rites which they [the Mithraists] practised offered numerous analogies. . They also held Sunday sacred, and celebrated the birth of the Sun [god] on the 25th of December. " -Franz Cumont, the Mysteries of Mithra, Trans. by T.J. McCormack, 167, 191.

WORSHIPERS OF MITHRAS, THE SUN GOD, WON BY MAKING DECEMBER 25 THE BIRTHDAY OF CHRIST "While Christianity won a comparatively easy victory over the Graeco-Roman religion, it had a hard struggle with the Mithras religion. The worshipers of Mithras were won by taking over the birthday of Mithras, December 25, as the birthday of Christ." -H. Lamer, "Mithras, " Worterbuch der Antike (2d ed.i Leipzig: A Kroner, 1933).

TWO MITHRAIC HOLY DAYS ADOPTED AS CHRISTIAN HOLY DAYS "Remains of the struggle are found in two institutions adopted from its rival by Christianity in the fourth century, the two Mithraic sacred days, December twenty-fifth, dies natalis solis [birthday of the sun], as the birthday of Jesus, and Sunday "the venerable day of the Sun," as Constantine called it in his edict of 321. "-Walter Woodburn Hyde, Paganism to Christianity in the Roman Empire, 60.

CHRISTMAS FALLS ON THE SUN'S BIRTHDAY, WHICH IS JUST AFTER DECEMBER 21, THE WINTER SOLSTICE "A very general observance required that on the 25th of December the birth of the 'new Sun' should be celebrated, when after the winter solstice the days began to lengthen and the 'invincible' star triumphed again over darkness. It is certain that the date of this Natalis Invicti was selected by the Church as the commemoration of the Nativity of Jesus, which was previously confused with the Epiphany. In appointing this day, universally marked by pious rejoicings, which were as far as possible retained, for instance the old chariot races were preserved, the ecclesiastical authorities purified in some degree the customs which they could not abolish. This substitution, which took place at Rome probably between 354 and 360, was adopted throughout the Empire, and that is why we still celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December.

"The pre-eminence assigned to the dies Solis also certainly [p. 90] contributed to the general recognition of Sunday as a holiday. This is connected with a more important fact, namely, the adoption of the week by all European nations." Franz Cumont, Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans (reprint New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1960), 89-90.

SUMMARY OF PAGAN ORIGIN OF CHRISTMAS It is admitted by the most learned and candid writers of all parties, that the day of our Lord's birth cannot be determined; and that, within the Christian church, no such festival as Christmas was ever heard of till the third century, and that not till the fourth century was far advanced did it gain much observance. How, then, did the Romanish Church fix on December the 25th as Christmas Day? Why, thus? Long before the fourth century, and long before the Christian era itself, a festival was celebrated among the heathen at that precise time of the year, in honor of the birth of the son of the Babylonian queen of heaven; and it may fairly be presumed that, in order to conciliate the heathen and to swell the number of the nominal adherents of Christianity, the same festival was adopted by the Roman Church, giving it only the name of Christ.

"This tendency on the part of Christians to meet paganism halfway was very early developed; and we find Tertullian, even in his day, about the year 230, bitterly lamenting the inconsistency of the disciples of Christ in this respect, and contrasting it with the strict fidelity of the pagans to their own superstition. . Upright men strove to stem the tide, but in spite of all their efforts, the apostasy went on, till the church, with the exception of a small remnant, was submerged under pagan superstition.

"That Christmas was originally a pagan festival, is beyond all doubt. The time of the year, and the ceremonies with which it is still celebrated, prove its origin. In Egypt, the son of Isis, the Egyptian title for the queen of heaven, was born at this very time, 'about the time of the winter solstice.' The very name by which Christmas is popularly known among ourselves-- Yule day-proves at once its pagan and Babylonian origin. 'Yule' is the Chaldee name for an 'infant or 'little child'; and, as the 25th day of December was called by our pagan Anglo-Saxon ancestors, 'Yule day,' or the 'Child's day,' and the night that preceded it, 'Mother night,' long before they came in contact with Christianity, that sufficiently proves its real character. Far and wide, in the realms of paganism, was this birthday observed. "This festival has been commonly believed to have had only an astronomical character, referring simply to the completion of the sun's yearly course and the commencement of a new cycle. But there is indubitable evidence that the festival in question had a much higher reference than this-that it commemorated not merely the figurative birthday of the sun in renewal of its course, but the birthday of the grand Deliverer.

"Among the Sabeans of Arabia, who regarded the moon, and not the sun, as the visible symbol of the favorite object of their idolatry, the same period was observed as the birth festival. Thus we read in Stanley's 'Sabean Philosophy': 'On the 24th of the tenth month,' that is December, according to our reckoning, 'the Arabians celebrated the birthday of the Lord, that is, the moon.' The Lord Moon was the great object of Arabian worship, and that Lord Moon, according to them, was born on the 24th of December, which clearly shows that the birth which they celebrated had no necessary connection with the course of the sun.

"It is worthy of special note, too, that if Christmas day among the ancient Saxons of this land was observed to celebrate the birth of any lord of the host of heaven, the case must have been precisely the same here as it was in Arabia. The Saxons, as is well-known, regarded the sun as a female divinity, and the moon as a male. It must have been the birthday of the Lord Moon, therefore, and not of the sun, that was celebrated by them on the 25th of December, even as the birthday of the same Lord Moon was observed by the Arabians on the 24th of December."- "The Two Babylons, Alexander Hislop, 92-94, 7th edition.

PAGAN PARALLELS TO THE SUN GOD BIRTH DATE- "Babylonian influence becomes particularly prominent in the great Nabataean kingdom whose principal capitals were Petra [p.16] and Damascus, and whose history can be traced from their first mention by Ashurbanipal in the middle of the seventh century B.C., to their absorption into the Roman Empire in A. D. 106. They were a North Arabic race who used the Aramaic script, and their principal male deity is Dusura, rendered into Greek as Doundares, and identified by the Greeks with Dionysus. The name means 'he of Shara' (dhu Sara), I.e., 'he of the mountain range esh-shara,' at Petra, and he is a Sun-god according to Strabo. Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, writing in the fourth century, preserves the only illuminating information about the mythology of this great cult of the Nabataeans. As he was born and educated in Palestine, and served in a monastic order there, his statement must be taken authoritatively. He says that the Nabataeans praised the virgin whose Arabic name is Chaabou. In Nabataean the Arabic nominative ending in u is regularly preserved in proper names, and Epiphanius undoubtedly heard the word ka'bu, 'square stone,' symbol in N abataean religion for both Dusares and the great Mother-goddess, Allat of the Nabataeans. An Arabic writer says that a foursided stone was worshipped as Allat, who in a Nabataean inscription was called 'Mother of the gods' . . Epiphanius states that Dusares was the offspring of the virgin Chaabou and only son of the 'lord' (Ka'bu). The Panegyrarchs of Nabataean cities came to Petra to assist in the festival of his birth, which was celebrated on the twenty-fifth of December.

"Worship of a dying god, son of the Earthmother, was the principal cult of this North Arabian people during the period immediately before and after the life of Jesus of Nazareth in Palestine. The title of the Mother-goddess, Allat, is 'Mother of the gods' here, and a translation of the title of the great Mother-goddess of Babylonia, belet ilani, 'queen of the gods,' whose title in Sumerian is also 'goddess Mother.' Dusares and Allat of the Nabataeans are an Arabian reflex of the great Babylonian myth of Tammuz and Ishtar; and if the god is identified with Dionysus, the original character common to both is that of a Sun-god and patron of fertility. Strabe describes the Nabataeans as a particularly abstemious people; the Greeks and Romans called Dusares the Arabian Dionysus or Bacchus; and a statue of him found in the Hauran portrays him as a deity of the vine. The cornucopia and patera are also characteristic ofDusares on coins of Nabataean cities as an Arabian. Bacchus Dusares is a Greek and Roman deity. The celebration of his birth in December at Petra and the northern cities of Bostra and Adraa in the Hauran with games and festivities is a replica of the spring festivities at Babylon, when the death, burial, and resurrection of Marduk were celebrated with weeping, which was exchanged for rejoicing. The meaning of the actia dusaria at Petra may be inferred from the similar festival at Alexandria in Egypt, there called after an unexplained Egyptian word Kikellia, or in Greek the Cronia, which also occurred by night on the twenty-fifth of December. In this festival an image of a babe was taken from the temple sanctuary and greeted with loud acclamation by the worshippers, saying, 'the Virgin has begotten.' On the night of the fifth of December occurred a festival before the image of Core; it ended with bringing forth from beneath the earth the image of Aion, which was carried seven times around the inner sanctuary of Core's temple. The image was then returned to its place below the surface of the earth. Epiphanius, in whose writing this Egyptian cult is described, identifies the virgin mother of this myth with the Greek Underworld goddess Core, as he does the virgin mother of Dusares, Chaabou of the Nabataeans. There is a wide syncretism here in this Arabic religion, composed of Babylonian, Greek, and Egyptian elements; and beyond all doubt the N abataeans possessed an elaborate cult of Tammuz and Ishtar, of Osiris and Isis, of Dionysus and Basilinna, the equivalent of Proserpine-Core, in which this deity was represented as a youth, son of the Mother-goddess, who was reborn yearly in midwinter and who died in the summer.

" 'The Mother-goddess of the Nabataeans, Allat, identifled with Core by the Greeks, is essentially the North Semitic Astarte, and the Babylonian Ishtar.' "--Stephen H. Langdon, Semitic [Mythology] (Vol. 5 of The Mythology of All Races. Boston: Archaeological Institute of America, Marshall Jones Company, 1931), 1519.

HEATHEN ORIGIN OF CHRISTMAS- "The celebration of Christmas was not introduced in the church till after the middle of the fourth century. It originated in Rome, and was probably a Christian transformation of regeneration of a series of kindred heathen festivals, the Saturnalia, Sigillaria, Juvenalia, and Brumalia, which were celebrated in the month of December in commemoration of the golden age of universal freedom and equality, and in honor of the unconquered sun, and which were great holidays, especially for slaves and children. (See my [Lange's] Church History, N.Y., Vol. ii, 3951f.) In the primitive church there was no agreement as to the time of Christs birth. In the East the 6th of January was observed as the day of his baptism and birth. In the third century, as Clement of Alexandria relates, some regarded the 20th of May, others the 20th of April, as the birthday of our Saviour. Among modern chronologists and biographers of Jesus there are still greater differences of opinion; and every month, even June and July (when the fields are parched from want of rain), has been named as the time when the great event took place. Lightfoot assigns the nativity to September; Lardner and Newcome to October; Wieseler to February; Paulus to March; Greswell and Alford to the 5th of April, just after the spring rains, when there is an abundance of pasture. Luchtenstein places it in July or December, Strong in August; Robinson in autumn, Clinton in spring; Andrews between the middle of December, 749, to the middle of January, A. D. 750. On the other hand, Roman Catholic historians and biographers of Jesus, as SeppI Friedlieb, Bucher, Patritius, also some Protestant writers, defend the popular tradition, of the 25th of December." -'_ Commentary on the Holy Scriptures. II John Peter Lange. D.D.. on Luke 2. 36. New York: Charles Scribner & Co.. 1870.

CHRISTMAS WAS ORIGINALLY THE ROMAN FEAST OF SATURNALIA- "The festival of Saturn fell on December 17, but its popular celebration lasted for seven days. It began as a country festival in the time when agriculture was one of the chief activities of the Romans. But soon it produced licentiousness and gambling. During these seven days city officials condoned conduct that they would not have tolerated at any other season. One feature of the occasion was the license allowed to slaves, who were permitted to treat their masters as if they were their social equals. Frequently indeed masters and slaves changed places and the latter were waited on by the former. Another feature of the celebration was the exchange of gifts, such as candles (cerei) which are supposed to have symbolized the increasing power of the sunlight after the winter solstice, and little puppets of paste or earthenware (sigillaria), the exact significance of which is obscure. It was a season of hilarity and goodwill. .

"The extremists who have said that Christmas was intended to replace the Saturnalia have vastly overstated the case. Nor is it of any importance that Epiphanius, the bishop of Salamis in Cyprus in the fourth century, places the Saturnalia on the twenty-fifth of December. This is not the only error in the list of dates in which it occurs. Without doubt, however, many of the customs of the Saturnalia were transferred to Christmas. Although the dates did not exactly coincide, for the Saturnalia proper fell on the seventeenth of December, the time of year was practically the same, and it has already been pointed out how frequently festivals of the merrymaking type occur among various peoples at this season. Fowler, mentioning the goodwill that so generally characterizes these celebrations, raises the question whether this was one of the reasons why Christmas was put at the winter solstice. Possibly, as has also been suggested, the postponement of the festivities from the date of the Saturnalia to Christmas week was in part at least caused by the institution of the Advent fast covering the period of the four Sundays before Christmas.

"Certainly many of the customs of the Christmas season go back to the Roman festival. In it lies the origin of the excessive eating and drinking, the plethora of sweets, the playing of games, and the exchange of gifts. Nor can we fail to connect our custom of burning candles with the candles (ceret) that were so conspicuously a part of the Saturnalia. Moreover, our Christmas holidays, like the Roman festival, are approximately a week. .

"In mediaeval times there were still other survivals, and the king of the Saturnalia is obviously the prototype not only of the Abbot of Unreason who at one time presided over the Christmas revels in Scotland, but also of the Lord of Misrule in England and the Abbe de Liesse in Lille. This mock dignitary had other titles. .

"We hear also of the Boy-Bishop (Episcopus Puerorum), whose authority lasted from St. Nicholas' day (December 6) till Childermas (December 28) and whose tradition (as well as that of the Bishop of Unreason) still survives to a certain extent on Santa Claus. Apparently the compromise bade by the Church in adapting the customs of the Saturnalia to Christian practice had little or no effect on checking the license of the festival. This continued through the whole Christmas festival and sometimes lasted till the day of Epiphany (January 6). We find many criticisms by churchmen or councils. In England Henry VIII issued a proclamation in 1542, abolishing the revels, but Mary restored them in 1 554."-Gordon J. Laing, Survivals of Roman Religion (New York: Longmans. 1932),58,6265.