Ever wonder why many atheists celebrate Christmas, which is a holy holiday? I mean, doesn’t celebrating Christmas imply a tacit subscription to the religion that you claim is a fraud? How many Christians celebrate the Chinese New Year, or Hindu holidays? Not many, I’ll bet.
I can respect non-Christians for not celebrating Christmas, as they are being consistent. I can also respect some Christians who do not celebrate Christmas on Scriptural grounds (there is nothing in either the Old Testament or the New Testament that mandates a holiday for Christ’s birth or that it reside on December 25th). The point in claiming a specific religious doctrine is to adhere one’s self to a specific set of principles and practices. Atheists don’t believe in a divine creator, so they have no need to celebrate Christmas, right?
But, a lot of them do. Of course, they’ll deny their seeming approval of a religion to the bitter end that they recognize either Jesus Christ or the existence of God. Instead, they’ll ramble on about the “secularization” of Christmas. Then, they’ll go on to claim that many of the symbols of Christmas do not have Christian roots.
This is, of course, complete bull. Many of the recognizable symbols of Christmas have Christian origins going way back to the founding of the religion.
Myth #1: Jesus Christ was a fictional figure.
This one is fairly easy to shut down. First, there are the four Gospels. The oldest known fragment of the Gospel of John dates back to 125 AD, which is less than 100 years after the death of Jesus. Many scholars believe that the actual origin of the Gospels (when they were actually written) goes all the way back to only a decade or so after the Crucifixion.
However, there are non-Christian sources for the existence of Jesus. Mentions of Jesus Christ show up in the writings of Josephus (though the extent of these comments as being originally recorded by Josephus is in dispute, there is little dispute that he mentions Jesus). There are also mentions of Jesus in the works of other non-Christian scholars from Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Suetonius, Thallus, Lucian, Celsus, and even in the Jewish Talmud where Jesus is placed in a far less favorable light.
The fact is that there are a number of historical documents that either mention Jesus, reference documents that mentions a historical Jesus, or refer to the origin of Christianity well before 150 AD. Given the evidence that exists, there is more than enough out there to support Jesus as a historical figure. And I’m not even bothering to touch on the documentation for the historical Apostles like Paul, James, Peter, and so on.
Myth #2: Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th.
This is, in part, true. No one really knows on what date the historical Jesus was born. There is evidence in the Gospels that maybe it was in the spring or even fall. But, there is no specific recording of what day Jesus was born. So, in the absence of an actual date, one was picked from based on the information of the time.
In short, if you didn’t know what date you were born on (and this does happen to some people, even in this modern day and age), wouldn’t you pick a date to represent your birthday? Well, that’s what Christian scholars did.
Myth #3: The date December 25th for Christmas was stolen from pagan religions.
First, our calendar is basically a Roman invention – the months of the year being taken from the names of Roman emperors (August for Augustus, October for Octavian, and so on). What is known is that the Roman calendar designated that December 25th was the festival of the “Invincible Sun”, established by the Emperor Aurelian (around 222 AD). However, there is no known documentation in existence that details how this festival was then preempted by Christians, or who started the practice of celebrating Christmas around 375 AD. So, the relation between the old Roman celebration and the Christmas is implied. Furthermore, the eastern Orthodox religions celebrate Christmas on or around January 7th, as their traditional accounting uses the Julian calendar (created during the reign of Julias Ceasar around 46 BC) and not the Gregorian calendar (started in the late 16th Century). You see, there is a 13 day discrepancy between both calendars, which places January 7th (Gregorian) on December 25th (Julian).
Thus, the present December 25th is NOT the old Roman festival, which (allegedly) happened 13 days later. Either way you look at it – December 25th Julian or December 25th Gregorian, you’ve got a math problem somewhere.
Attempts to place the date of Christmas on the Winter Solstice are also incorrect. The Winter Solstice occurs on December 21st, not the 25th. So, they’re about 3 to 4 days off. The revisionist idea is, “well, ancient astronomers were not really all that accurate about when the Winter and Summer Solstice actually occurred, because they were looking at the sky with just their naked eyes.”
I mean, really – does anyone believe that crap? These are the same people praising the accuracies of a Stone Age Mayan calendar, and the technological marvels of the Greeks and the Romans. Do they expect us to now believe that the same people who initially invented indoor plumbing (Romans), created the precursor to the modern calendar, and who aligned their towns along the axis of sunrise and sunset couldn’t figure out the exact day on which the Winter Solstice fell?
Sorry, I don’t buy it.
And, I’m not even bothering to mention all of the stuff where the Romans consulted scholars from other societies – namely Egypt, Babylon, and Persia – who all had (what were at the time) hyper-accurate charts of the heavens. This is all just a load of bull.
In the end, there is no documentation, to my knowledge, that Christmas was set up to coincide with any astrological / heavenly event, or pagan holiday.
Myth #4: The figure of Santa Claus is a pagan god.
First, the name “Santa Claus” is derived from the title, “St. Nicholas”. St. Nicholas is a well-known figure in the early Christian Church. Eastern Orthodox icons of him show a slender man with a long, white beard and white hair. The legends surrounding St. Nicholas also coincide with the giving of gifts (one legend, in particular, regards tossing three bags of gold through the window of a poor man so that his daughters would have a dowry). He is also the patron saint of pawnbrokers, travelers, unwed people, sailors, and especially children.
While the claim exists that no direct documentation supports the existence of St. Nicholas (and none probably would exist outside of the Christian churches), there is no explanation as to how we know today that Nicholas was imprisoned by the Roman emperor Diocletian, and released under the rule of Constantine. Furthermore, older Greek lists of the attendees of the Council of Nicaea place Nicholas at the event, as well as an account of his saving of three innocents. At least three different accounts – one traditional, and two alternate sources – recall his election as Bishop of Myra.
So, again: bull. He existed.
The name Kris Kringle evolved from the Germanic “Christ Kindl”, which means “Christ Child.”
The origin of Father Christmas – who is the precursor to the modern-day American notion of Santa Claus – starts around the mid-1400s (so named “Sir Christmas”) in a French carol, and was revised in the Victorian era WELL after Christianity was the dominant religion in Europe.
The colors red, white, and green being attributed to Santa are all modern creations, spawned from the early 1800s on, and were initiated in Christian-dominated America. Things like his sleigh, the reindeer, elves, and whatnot are all modern attributes added by Christians to a whimsical caricature deeply rooted in historical and Christian traditions.
Myth #5: The Christmas Tree is a pagan symbol.
Evergreens are often used by numerous religions to symbolize long life or immortality (as they do not shed their leaves in the fall). The Romans supposedly used evergreens in their Festival of Saturni (coinciding with the date December 25th). So, there are lots of connections linking the use of a Christmas tree to ancient pagan rituals, right?
Wrong. The problem is that the Christmas tree came out of Germany with the legend of St. Boniface, around 722 AD. In order to prevent the sacrifice of a child by pagan worshippers at the base of an oak tree, St. Boniface cut down the venerated symbol, thus stopping the sacrifice. A fir tree then grew either in place of the oak, or at the base of the fallen tree, which Boniface declared as a holy tree that symbolized the promise of everlasting life offered by the Christ child.
Furthermore, Martin Luther expanded on the Christian tradition of the Christmas tree by decorating it with lights (candles) and ornaments. Martin Luther, as you probably may know, was once a devout Roman Catholic, and eventually founded the Christian protestant religion Lutheranism. The Christmas tree came to England with the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. However, outside of the Germanic nations as well as Anglican cultures (England, Canada, Australian, the United States of America), the Christmas tree is a bit of a rarity. In France, for example, Christmas trees are not part of the tradition.
A Yule Log, the term “Yuletide”, and mistletoe are all pagan trappings, as are things like holly and ivy. However, none of these are central to the Christmas festivities, nor are they universal across Christianized cultures. These are little more than cultural window dressing.
So, in all of its forms, the Christmas tree is based deeply in Christian tradition.
Myth #6: The practice of giving of gifts is a pagan ritual.
Yes, there are some pagan rituals that practiced gift-giving. The only problem with identifying gift-giving as a pagan ritual is the fact that, up until around the 19th Century, your average Christmas was celebrated with a feast – not with an exchange of presents. By then, all of Europe, Russia, and the Americas (which is where the modern-day Christmas traditions are practiced in their fullest extent) were all dominated by Christians.
Feasting was a common practice even in the early Christian church. St. Crispin has a feast, as does St. Nicholas. The Feast of All Saints, and the Feast of All Souls are both celebrated by the Roman Catholic church. In places like Greece, Bulgaria, and Malta gifts are still generally not exchanged on Christmas.
So, the practice of giving presents on Christmas was basically started by Christians LONG after Christmas was established, and not adopted from pagan practices. So, if you hear that the Christian tradition of exchanging presents was adopted from the Roman Festival of Saturni, you’ll have to explain to them that they’re off on their facts by about…oh…1400 years.
Myth #7: The Christmas Star is a pagan astrological symbol.
Ummm…nope. The Christmas star is actually mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew. The meaning of the star is still in dispute, as no one is sure what astronomical event it is derived from. Some claim it might have been the appearance of a comet, but most likely it was the three-part alignment of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces. According to ancient astrologers, Pisces was closely aligned to the Jewish people. Jupiter was associated with kingship, and Saturn was identified with the land of Palestine (as it was called by the Romans).
It should be also noted that, by all accounts, the Three Kings or Magi noted in the Nativity tale were not Jews. Instead, they were gentiles (non-Jews) with either authority and/or education. Jewish law specifically forbids reading the portents of the heavens, which is the basis for ancient and modern-day astrology. The Three Kings, being non-Jews, would not be subject to that restriction. Which is the reason why it was three rich gentiles that visited Jesus in Bethlehem, and not Jewish scribes or rabbis.
Given that places like Persia, Rome, Egypt, and Greece all had Jewish populations at the time of Christ, referencing astrological movements with Hebrew Scripture would have been a relatively simple task for the Magi.
One needs to remember that early Christians were often linked to Jewish practices, and the prohibition on astrology – which exists, to an extent, to this very day within Christian circles – would have been profoundly enforced. So, being ignorant of the various heavenly movements, the writer (or writers) of Matthew would have easily confused an astrological event with the appearance of an actual star. This confusion would have been aided by the fact that when the two planets reached their alignments, the “star” in the sky would have been brighter then when they were not aligned.
The mentioning of stars or recording the movement of stars and/or heavenly bodies is not expressly forbidden by jewish law – only using these things for prophecy. The Jewish calendar is based on the cycles of the moon, and specific heavenly bodies are mentioned in the Bible, though rarely. So, the mention of the Christmas star – in whatever form it may have occured – is also not a throwback to paganism. The interpretation of the meaning of the star (which was done by the pagans, and NOT by the writers of Matthew) is against Jewish and Christian principles.
So, there you have it: seven rebuttals for the most common lies spread about Christmas. Use them to annoy your know-it-all atheist friends who feel secure in the fact that that underpinnings to Christmas are a fraud. I’d also hammer home the point that by celebrating Christmas, they’re turning their back on their principles by celebrating a religious holiday.
And when you do so, be real obnoxious about it…in a nice way, of course.