ORIGIN OF CHRISTMAS
In Rome, Saturnalia—a holiday in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture—was celebrated. Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a time to party and live it up.
In the early years of Christianity, the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to bring in the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Unfortunately, the Bible does not mention a date for His birth (a fact Puritans later pointed out in order to deny the validity of the celebration). Although some evidence suggests that His birth may have occurred in the spring (why would shepherds be herding in the middle of winter?), Pope Julius I chose December 25. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century. By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia. Today, in the Greek and Russian orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated 13 days after the 25th, which is also referred to as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. This is the day it is believed that the three wise men finally found Jesus in the manger.
By the Middle Ages, Christianity had, for the most part, replaced pagan religion. 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 its depravity and therefore cancelled Christmas. By popular demand, Charles II was restored to the throne and with him came the return of the popular holiday.
The pilgrims 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 celebrating Christmas was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all. After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. Christmas wasn't declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.
Some religious groups and individuals say that since the origin of Christmas is pagan, then a Christian should not celebrate this holiday. Others believe that the pagan roots are so far in the past that they have no influence on the celebration. But what does the Bible say? (Rom 14:5, 10) One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind . . . 10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother?.. . . . No matter what you believe, let us rejoice that the Lord has come to be the Savior of the world. And let’s go tell it on the mountain! (Christmas history partly adapted from history.com)