Have you ever wondered where our Christmas traditions come from? Why do we decorate trees, hang wreaths on our doors, illuminate our houses with colored lights, and place gifts under the Christmas tree? Christmas began with the birth of Jesus, right? Well, not exactly. Let’s do a little digging to see what we discover, but I want to warn you, what we will find might trigger flashbacks to the moment you discovered Santa wasn’t real.
Date of the Nativity
If you’re like me, you’ve spent most of your life believing that Jesus was born on December 25th. After all, we’ve been taught this “fact” since we were wee little ones. It would be so much easier if the Bible were clear on the date of the nativity, but I’m actually grateful it’s not. If we could point to one scripture that stated when Jesus was born, we would miss out on the thrill of the treasure hunt. Believe me, an investigative journey into the Bible never disappoints. I always walk away from deep dives with awe and wonder at the treasures contained within the Bible. So, while the Bible doesn’t give us a specific date, it does lay out clues that help us narrow down the date of the nativity. (I lay this out more in-depth in The Roots of the Federal Reserve)
Luke 2:8 (NIV) “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.”
Here’s our first clue, the sheep were out in the fields at night while the shepherds were watching over them. If we consider the weather patterns of Bethlehem and the cultural traditions of the shepherds, it will unveil some interesting findings. In the book Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, Henri Daniel-Rops notes:
“Palestine may well be a country where clothing and heating do not present very serious difficulties, but the daily and yearly variations are often great. Between midnight and noon, the difference is sometimes 74℉, and the nights often so cold that the Law required the creditor to give the debtor back his cloak, taken as a pledge, at dusk.
The flocks had to spend the greater part of the year in the open air: they were led out the week before the Passover, and they did not come back again until half-way through November, as the first rains of Hesvan. They passed the winter under cover, and from this alone it may be seen that the traditional date for Christmas, in the winter, is unlikely to be right, since the Gospel says that the shepherds were in the fields.”(1)
This is corroborated by Adam Clarke’s commentary:
“It was custom among the Jews to send out their sheep to the deserts [wilderness], about the Passover [sic], and bring them home at the commencement of the first rain: during the time they were out, the shepherds watched them night and day. As the Passover [sic] occurred in the spring, and the first rain began early in the month of Marchesvan, which answers to part of our October and November, we find that the sheep were kept out in the open country during the whole of the summer. And as these shepherds had not yet brought home their flocks, it is a presumptive argument that October had not yet commenced, and that, consequently, our Lord was not born on the 25th of December, when no flocks were out in the fields; nor could He have been born later than September, as the flocks were still in the fields by night. On this very ground the nativity in December should be given up. The feeding of the flocks by night in the fields is a chronological fact, which casts considerable light on this disputed point.”(2)
Given these clues, we can narrow the potential dates of Jesus’ birth to sometime between Passover and mid-November. Luke provides another clue for us as he meticulously describes when the angel appears to Zacharias.
Luke 1:5,8,11-13 (NASB) “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah, and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth… Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense... And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.”
The “division of Abijah” is a seemingly obscure detail in this passage, but it turns out to be very helpful in that it provides us with a clue regarding the time of the year Zacharias would have been serving his priestly duties. In order to start putting the puzzle pieces together, we need to reference I Chronicles 24 which describes the rotation of the priestly duties by weeks. In verse 10 it says, “the eighth for Abijah,” meaning the 8th week was the priestly duty for Abijah and subsequently, his descendants. It was customary for the priests to serve from Sabbath to Sabbath, which was eight days in total because they would overlap their duties on the Sabbath. Additionally, every priest was called to service during the week of the three feasts: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. Given that Abijah served the 8th week, it would have actually been the 9th week after taking into account the Passover week. The 9th week would have been Iyar 28 – Sivan 5 on the Hebrew calendar. Zacharias would have also stayed to minister during the 10th week because it was Pentecost. Given all this, Zacharias most likely would have been in the temple from Iyar 28 – Sivan 13.
It’s possible Elizabeth conceived the week Zacharias returned home, which would have been Sivan 14-19, of course, we cannot know for certain the date of her conception. But if she conceived during that timeframe, Elizabeth would have been six months pregnant in Kislev, around the time of Hanukkah.
Luke 1:36-38 (NIV) “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.’ ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ Then the angel left her.”
Elizabeth was about six months pregnant around the time of Hanukkah; when the angel Gabriel gave Mary the news that she will conceive a baby named Jesus. Therefore, it’s possible that Jesus was conceived during Hanukkah, also known as the Feast of Lights. Let’s take a moment to pause and appreciate the beautiful symbolism of this timing. Jesus, the Light of the World, may have been conceived during the Feast of Lights.
Furthermore, if we presume that Mary was nine months pregnant when she delivered baby Jesus, nine months from Kislev is the month of Tishri, the time of the Feast of Trumpets, also known as Rosh Hashanah. Once again, the symbolism is beautiful in the timing of Jesus’ birth. Immanuel, God with us, was most likely born at the start of the Jewish New Year. Michael Heiser quotes Greg Beale, a New Testament scholar from Westminster Theological Seminary, as he notes the significance of Tishri 1.
“[A] trumpet was to be blown on Tishri 1, which in the rabbinic period came to be viewed as the beginning of the New Year. God’s eschatological judgment of all people was expected to fall on this day… The New Year trumpet also proclaimed hope in the ongoing and ultimate kingship of God, in God’s judgment and reward according to people’s deeds, and in Israel’s final restoration.”(3)
The blast of the trumpet on Rosh Hashanah is meant to awaken people that a shift has occurred. In the natural, it’s a shift in the Hebrew calendar year, but in the spiritual, it’s a shift in perspective. Revelation is released at the sound of the trumpet blast. It also symbolizes the coronation of a king, in fact, many of the ancient kings were coronated on this day. It seems apropos then that the sound of the shofar on the Feast of Trumpets on Tishri 1 was an awakening for the people to the revelation that the King of all kings had just been born. The Feast of Trumpets in the year of Jesus’ birth was on September 11, 3 B.C. The birth of the promised Messiah brought the kingdom of God to earth, marking not just a new day, or a new month, or a new year but a NEW ERA! Blow the trumpets in Zion!
In Reversing Hermon, Michael Heiser presents convincing material that the astronomical events and the astral prophecy of Jesus’ birth confirm the date of September 11, 3 B.C. Psalm 19 proclaims that the heavens declare the glory of God and that day after day, the celestial bodies pour forth their speech revealing the knowledge of the Lord. In sync with this concept, we would expect that the birth of the Messiah would also be announced in the heavens. This is, in fact, what happened. If we look at astronomical events, we can pinpoint the day of Jesus’ birth. Most of us are familiar with the stories of the “star of Bethlehem” that the wise men followed to find baby Jesus. Well, let’s just say that is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to signs in the heavens pointing to the birth of Jesus.
The signs in the heavens are connected to what John wrote in Revelation 12 regarding a woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and 12 stars adorning a crown on her head, giving birth to a male child which the red dragon will try to devour. The symbolism in this passage speaks to the virgin Mary, the birth of Jesus, and Satan’s attempt to devour Jesus. Revelation 12 speaks to Jesus’ birth but also His second coming. During the time of Jesus’ birth, the constellations were aligned in such a way as to confirm the Messianic prophecies. This is what caught the attention of the Magi, not simply the brightness of the “star of Bethlehem,” but rather the significance of the alignment of the stars in their constellations. The only time of the year when the sun would be aligned in such a way within the Virgo (virgin) constellation for the woman to be “clothed” by the sun, is a 20-day window of time. But then adding the detail of the moon located under the feet of the woman narrows the window of time to a 90-minute period on September 11, 3 B.C. (4) Hmmm…. if Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th, why do we celebrate Christmas if “He’s the reason for the season”?
What I’m about to share with you is not easy for me. I come from a long line of Christmas enthusiasts in my family. I used to absolutely love decorating for Christmas. In fact, our first Christmas as a married couple, my husband and I joined my parents for a ski vacation in Utah (before we moved to the Salt Lake area). I brought Christmas lights to decorate our hotel room, that’s how much it meant to me.
Occasionally my children get frustrated with me because I research so many topics; in some matters, they would prefer to remain dumb and happy. Christmas is one of those matters. Researching the origins of Christmas is not something I set my mind to do because I suddenly wanted to play the role of the grinch. It was that familiar nudge from the Holy Spirit that led me down this trail. Will you follow me for a moment down the trail?
Many Christians credit Martin Luther as the originator of the Christmas tree tradition. Folklore describes that one evening as Luther was walking home, he was struck by the beauty of the stars glimmering through the evergreen trees. It brought him much joy, so he decided to cut down a tree and bring it into his home to brighten the countenance of his children as they faced a bleak winter. He attached spiritual significance to the tree by telling his children that the tree stays green in the winter like our faith in Christ. Our faith and the evergreen tree stay alive in the midst of harsh circumstances. Luther put candles on the tree to remind them of the star that led the wise men to baby Jesus.(5) While this is a beautiful story of Martin Luther encouraging his children in their faith, is this truly the origination of the Christmas tree? You probably know me by now and aren’t surprised that my inquisitive mind isn’t satisfied with recent history providing an explanation of the roots of the Christmas tree. It turns out, the origins of the Christmas tree extend all the way back to Nimrod.
Nimrod was Satan’s first attempt at a type of antichrist. Most scholars agree that Nimrod was the first world leader in human history. I discuss the impact Nimrod had on human history in The Roots of the Federal Reserve, but in a nutshell, all pagan roads lead back to Nimrod. His death marked the intensification of cult worship in Mesopotamia. His mother/wife, Semiramis, proclaimed that Nimrod’s blood fell upon the stump of a dead evergreen tree. The blood of Nimrod brought forth new life in this evergreen and it grew in fullness. Semiramis promulgated the belief that Nimrod came back to life, as symbolized by the birth of this evergreen tree.
Semiramis fueled the worship of Nimrod when she declared a few years after his death, that she had been visited by the spirit of Nimrod for an immaculate conception. She gave birth to Horus, also known as Tammuz/Gilgamesh. She proclaimed that Horus/Tammuz/Gilgamesh was Nimrod reincarnated. This, of course, is the counterfeit for the virgin birth of the Messiah. Horus and Semiramis were worshiped as the Madonna and Child.(6) Semiramis claimed that on the anniversary of Nimrod’s birth, December 25th, the spirit of Nimrod would visit the evergreen tree and leave gifts underneath. This is the origin of the Christmas tree and many of our Christmas traditions have roots in this pagan worship.
Can you see Satan’s strategy? If a day that is venerated by most Christians around the world as being the day that our Lord was born, is not actually rooted in the very nativity it is purposed to celebrate, but rather is rooted in the counterfeit nativity of Semiramis and Horus, then what we thought was a sacred celebration of our Lord’s birth is actually a defiled pagan celebration. We must ask ourselves, should we continue to participate in a celebration that has been defiled?
The pagan festival of Nimrod’s birth morphed into adaptive deceptions across history. During the Roman era, it was known as Saturnalia, a pagan winter solstice festival in honor of Saturn. Emperor Domitian (AD 51-96) declared that Saturnalia would be celebrated on December 25th. It was a “time for feasting, goodwill, generosity to the poor, the exchange of gifts and the decoration of trees.”(7) These festivities have become our time-honored Christmas traditions. Constantine declared that Jesus’ birth was on December 25th, coinciding with Sol Invictus, another variation of Saturnalia.
The Early Church fathers admonished Christians to abstain from participating in Saturnalia. Tertullian was forthright with the early Christians that celebrating this pagan holiday was idolatry.
“The Nativity is not mentioned among the "certain days" (Preparation Day, Passover, and Pentecost) that should be observed (Against Celsus, VIII.22). Nor is it included in the feasts recognized by Tertullian (On Baptism, XIX), who, writing in the last years of the second century AD, admonished Christians not to partake in the Saturnalia, or gift-giving at the New Year or midwinter, or "an idol's birthday" when "every pomp of the devil is frequented" (On Idolatry, X). "The Saturnalia and New-year's and Midwinter's festivals and Matronalia are frequented—presents come and go—New-year's gifts—games join their noise—banquets join their din!" (XIV). Just as the heathen does not celebrate the Lord's Day (Sunday) or Pentecost, so Christians should not partake in their festivals; rather, they have a festive day every week whereas pagans celebrate only once a year. "When the world rejoices, let us grieve; and when the world afterward grieves, we shall rejoice" (XIII). (8)
“On your day of gladness, we (Christians) neither cover our doorposts with wreaths, nor intrude upon the day with lamps. At the call of public festivity, you consider it a proper thing to decorate your house like some new brothel. We are accused of a lower sacrilege because we do not celebrate along with you the holidays.” (Tertullian AD 155-200). (9)
“The pagan Romans clad their doorposts with green and branching laurels… in the Saturnalia...presents come and go...there are gifts...and banquets… yet Christians should have no acquaintance with the festivals of the pagans.” (Tertullian AD 155-200). (10)
“However, the majority [of Christians] have by this time convinced themselves in their minds that it is pardonable when they do what the pagan does at anytime, for fear that [otherwise] “The Name might be blasphemed”. Nowadays, you will find more doors of heathens without lamps and laurel wreaths than of Christians…if it is for an idol’s honor, without doubt an idol’s honor is idolatry. Yet even if it is for a man’s sake…let us again consider that all idolatry is worship done to man. ” (Terullian AD 200). (11)
In the 10th chapter of Jeremiah, the prophet delivers the word of the Lord regarding idols. Jeremiah 10:3-4 “For the customs of the peoples are futile. For one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold, they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple over.”
Thank you for following me the down this trail of discovery, I know it’s challenging to consider the origins of our Christmas traditions. We all grew up with the warm memories of families gathered together around the Christmas tree exchanging gifts, laughing, enjoying one another’s company. But what shall our response be now that we know the roots of Christmas? Do we still celebrate Christmas? I recognize these questions pose an uncomfortable quandary on so many levels. Believe me, it’s hard to walk away. In our family, we are still transitioning away from the cultural traditions of Christmas. For some of our children, it’s difficult to discontinue some of these time-honored traditions. So, we have incorporated celebrating Hanukkah as we gradually reduce our focus on Christmas. It has become a beautiful time of quiet reflection as our family gathers around the menorah. We each take turns lighting the candles and sharing about the miraculous ways Jesus has moved in our lives. It’s simple, peaceful, and beautiful. I love it!
I want to encourage you to engage in an experiment (yes the researcher in me is surfacing again). In order to test whether Christmas trees are an idol in your life, try going without them in your home for one or two years and observe the effect it has on you. If you find yourself really missing the Christmas tree and the holiday doesn’t feel right without one, it likely has become an idol.
May this month be filled with the abundant joy that only comes from being in the Presence of Jesus!
Written by Laura Sanger, Ph.D.
- Daniel-Rops, H. (1981). Daily Life in the Time of Jesus. Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications.
- Clarke, A. (2015). Adam Clarke's Bible Commentary in 8 Volumes: Volume 5, The Gospel According to St. Mark, Vol 5, p. 370. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
- Heiser, M. S. (2017). Reversing Hermon: Enoch, The Watchers& The Forgotten Mission of Jesus Christ. Crane, MO: Defender Publishing.
- Dunker, M. (2013). The Origins of Decorating the Christmas Tree. World Vision. Retrieved from https://www.worldvision.org/christian-faith-news-stories/origins-decorating-christmas-tree
- Armstrong, H. W. (1974). The Plain Truth about Christmas. Retrieved from https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Library.sr/CT/HWA/k/464/Plain-Truth-About-Christmas.htm
- Salusbury, M. (2009). Did the Romans Invent Christmas? History Today. Retrieved from https://www.historytoday.com/archive/did-romans-invent-christmas
- Sol Invictus and Christmas. Encyclopaedia Romana. Retrieved from http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/calendar/invictus.html
- Bercot, D. (2013). A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC.