Christmas – Is it a spiritual occasion to you, or simply a festive time of family togetherness?
A new poll reported on by USA Today on Sunday shows that while nine out of 10 Americans plan to celebrate Christmas, a little over one-quarter regard Dec. 25 as simply a cultural holiday, not a religious holy day.
“This year more than ever, Americans prefer that stores and businesses welcome them with the more generic ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Season's Greetings’ than ‘Merry Christmas,’” says USA Today, reporting on a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) in partnership with Religion News Service.
According to the survey, 26 percent see no religious affiliation with Christmas, a growing trend.
“The trend is in that direction, for sure,” said Robert Jones, CEO of the PRRI.
Perhaps due to the overly-hyped, commercial and materialistic elements drowning out the religious aspects, or possibly because more and more are looking into the actual origins of the holiday, the study showed that the percentage of people who say the Bible's Christmas story is historically accurate has fallen more than 17 percent since 2004.
Consider some of the origins of the traditional Christmas celebration.
While many hail December 25 as the original birth date of Christ, the biblical cannon makes no mention of a month or date. There is no record that Jesus ever celebrated his birth or that the early Christians did so.
In contrast, Jesus did command his followers to memorialize his death and its significance. (Luke 22:19)
The New Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges: “The date of Christ’s birth is not known. The gospels indicate neither the day nor the month… the birth of Christ was assigned the date of the winter solstice (December 25 in the Julian Calendar), because on this day, as the sun began its return to northern skies, the pagan devotees of Mithra celebrated the dies natalis Solis Invicti (birthday of the invincible sun).”
“The establishment of December 25 evolved not from biblical precedent,” says The Christmas Encyclopedia, "but from pagan Roman festivals held at year’s end." Those pagan festivals began to be “Christianized” in the year 350, when Pope Julius I declared December 25 to be Christ’s birthday.
The Three Wise Men
Again, the Bible record clears the myths. The Bible makes no mention of the fact that “three” men came to see the young child; we often associate the number of men with their three gifts that are mentioned, although many other gifts were given to Mary and Joseph as well.
Matthew’s account says that “Magi from the East” came to Jerusalem. These men were not worshipers of God, but astrologers. They came in line with their knowledge of the stars to which they were devoted.
Although the term “wise men” is used in some Bible translations, the original-language word is magoi, which is translated “astrologer,” or “sorcerer,” and is a root word for words like magic and magician. While no one is saying that these men came in dark robes clutching strange orbs and tarot cards, they did observe an art of celestial interpretation that was “detestable to God” and prohibited by the Jews to practice. (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)
For starters, the Bible account shows that the star did not first lead the men to Bethlehem, but to Jerusalem. There they saw King Herod, who, being aware of the prophecy of an upcoming “King of the Jews,” went ahead and "secretly summoned the astrologers."
Herod then said: “Make a careful search for the young child, and when you have found it report back to me so that I too may go and do obeisance to him.” The star then “went ahead of them until it came to a stop above where the young child was.”
But Herod’s motives were never noble. He sought to kill Jesus. His true intentions became known later in Matthew’s account. The Magi were first “warned in a dream not to return to Herod.”
The King’s reaction?
“Then Herod, seeing that he had been outwitted by the astrologers, flew into a great rage, and he sent out and had all the boys in Bethlehem and in all its districts killed, from two years of age and under, according to the time that he had carefully ascertained from the astrologers.” (Matthew 2:7-18)
Clearly this was no ordinary star, and its movements make one wonder why God, who had used angels to inform humble shepherds of Jesus’ birth, would now employ a “star” to guide pagan astrologers, first to an enemy of Jesus and then to the child himself, knowing that revealing the location of Jesus could mean death to Joseph, Mary and Jesus.
One reasonable conclusion is that the star was a sinister device of God's enemy, Satan the Devil, who had good reason to destroy Jesus and is capable of such manifestations. (2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10) How ironic that we adorn the top of our Christmas trees with this "star."
A similar study of scripture and history show that other popular traditions – gift-giving, the myth of Santa Claus, kissing under mistletoe, hanging of holly, the use of wreaths, decorating a tree – all have origins that are rooted in pagan beliefs or have been skewed from the actual biblical record.
For this reason, many individuals and religions choose not to celebrate Christmas.