And when they had come into the
house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and
worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented
gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The first people
who brought gifts in honor of Christ’s birth were the wise men from the
East who visited the Savior and His parents in Bethlehem two thousand
years ago. They worshipped the new-born King, gave their hearts and
lives to Him, and presented Him with the most valuable offerings their
homeland could provide, gifts worthy of His exalted station. But a lot
of history has intervened since that day in the Judean village, and
things have changed considerably. Today gifts are given to each other
rather than to Jesus, and in most of the celebrations in our country the
central figure is not Christ at all, but a fat, jolly little fellow
known as Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus.
Where did St.
Nick come from, and how did he get associated with the day of our
Savior’s birth? He doesn’t enter the biblical story at all—in fact, he
seems almost in opposition to it. He’s become a sort of deity to
millions of children who seek to be good and please him instead of
Jesus, the Son of God.
Actually he is a
god, a Greek myth from centuries before Christ. You see, according to
the old tales the Greek god Cronus had three sons: Zeus, Hades, and
Poseidon. Each was given a domain to rule over. Zeus was given the
world, Hades the underworld, and Poseidon the sea. Poseidon—or Neptune,
as the Romans called him—became the patron god of sailors, among others.
If they were good and pleased him, he would give them safe travel, and
also bless them with his bountiful gifts. Temples were built to honor
him, especially in prominent seaports.
One of them was
in a city called Myra. Hundreds of years later, when
was established as the state religion of the Roman Empire, a beautiful
church was built on the ruins of the old temple of Poseidon. Soon
afterwards, the bishop who presided there was rumored to have inherited
the powers of the ancient god of the sea. He was said to be able to
manipulate nature and do all sorts of miracles because the spirit of
Poseidon was with him. He was also a benevolent man who would go out
secretly at night on his white horse and leave gifts in people’s homes. His name
was Nicholas, and he dressed, of course, in the traditional red bishop’s
outfit, trimmed in white ermine, the pointed bishop’s hat atop his head.
Over the years
the legend spread, and in time the Roman Catholic church canonized him
as St. Nicholas. The legend made its way throughout most of the European
nations—“Santa Claus” is a variation of his Dutch name, Sintaklaas—and
a few new twists were added over the years. Somewhere along the way his
white horse was traded in for a team of reindeer, and in Twentieth
Century America his hat was made a little more fashionable, but there is
little doubt that Santa Claus is Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.
footnote is that the Catholic church found itself unable to prove the
existence of St. Nicholas, and so in 1969 he was dropped from the
official calendar—he had been honored on December 6th, the
day formerly dedicated to Poseidon by the ancient Greeks and Romans. His
association with Christmas is probably due to the proximity of the two
holidays... over the years they became celebrated as one. Santa Claus
also provides a very convenient way for the more secular-minded people
in our culture to direct the attention of the holiday season away from
Jesus Christ and onto something less controversial.
The Winter Solstice
Just when was
Jesus born? Nobody knows. The Bible doesn’t tell us the day or month,
and it’s impossible to really determine it by any other means. Experts
now believe that He was actually born four to six years B.C. It seems
the church of the Middle Ages, when computing the year of His birth,
failed to take some variables into consideration and ended up
miscalculating a bit!
How then did we
come up with December 25th? Well, it was the climax of the
five-day celebration of the Winter Solstice, the greatest holiday on the
Roman calendar. The solstice is the shortest day of the year, and there
have always been various pagan festivals associated with it... the sun
god is defeated, but starts making his come-back at this time, etc. The
Roman holiday was known as Saturnalia, and since it was already a
holiday, and since all the slaves and servants had the day off, as the
empire became slowly Christianized so did Saturnalia—until it was
declared Christ’s Mass, or the day of the year dedicated to Christ above
all others. In many traditions this day was also connected with a
madonna and child myth, as well—Egyptian, Babylonian, and ancient Roman
legends all have references to a “queen of heaven” giving birth to a son
at the time of the winter solstice, so the shift to a more Christian
theme was a natural development.
originally Saturn’s day. Saturn was the Roman name for Cronus—yes,
Cronus the father of Poseidon, Zeus, and Hades. In Rome it was
celebrated by a huge city-wide party. Slaves were freed for a few days
and there was dancing and drinking in the streets. Cronus was held to be
a good natured god, so it seemed appropriate to engage in unbridled
Cronus had a wife
named Rhea, by the way, and the roots of these parents of the gods can
be traced, not just from Rome to Greece, but actually back to Babylonian
legends. (It is astonishing, but the mythology of nearly every major
culture in the world—from the Celts to the Hindus, the Romans to the
Egyptians—all seem to spring forth from the same place, ancient
Babylon.) Cronus and Rhea were known to the ancient Babylonians as
Nimrod and Semiramis. Nimrod is mentioned in the Bible as the
great-grandson of Noah, and the builder of the first city, Babel or
Babylon... “Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth.
He was a mighty hunter before the Lord...And the beginning of his
kingdom was Babel...” (Gen.10:8-10).
Nimrod & Semiramis
Semiramis, according to the Bible and other ancient records, built
several cities and an entire civilization based in the land of Shinar or
Chaldea, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flowed. They
started their own religion, the first known departure from
the worship of the true God (that’s what the tower of Babel was all
about, by the way—a rebellious move away from the God who had judged the
earth with a flood). In time the husband and wife team were themselves
regarded as gods, and ultimately, the father and mother of all the gods.
Their religion and the dark arts practiced in connection with it became
called the Babylonian Mysteries—or, in the language of the Apocalypse,
“Mystery Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of
the Earth,” (Rev.17:5). Semiramis became Ishtar (or in Canaan’s land
Astarte, or Ashtoreth); and Nimrod was known simply as Bel, “the Lord” —
or translated into the language of the Canaanites, Baal.
And so, dear
friend, today we find ourselves honoring the birth of Christ on
Saturnalia, the high holy day of Saturn, or Cronus, or Nimrod, or Baal,
whichever you prefer. It almost makes you think there’s a conspiracy
afoot—especially when you see what has happened to other holidays—like
the resurrection of Jesus being known as Easter, the Gaelic form
of Astarte or Ashtoreth, and Mary being called the Queen of Heaven and
the Mother of God, titles once reserved for the consort of Baal. I
believe it is a conspiracy. Not a Romish or a New Age plot, as some
would suggest, but one hatched by the same clever individual that has
been resisting the kingdom of the Living God since the Garden of Eden,
There’s Still More...
Let’s go on and
upset a few more cherished traditions, too. The Christmas tree, for
example, did not originate with Martin Luther, as many Protestants have
been taught. The practice was around in Medieval times, when folks used
to hang red apples on them in honor of Adam and Eve Day, December 24th.
But it goes back even further than that, I’m afraid. Evergreens were
also a big part of the Saturnalia celebration—they were paraded down the
streets decorated with lit candles. The Egyptians used a date palm in
their celebrations of the winter solstice, which commemorated Isis, the
“queen of heaven” giving birth to Osiris. Early Scandinavians worshipped
the oak tree as their god Woden, but were persuaded by Catholic
missionaries to transfer their homage to the evergreen.
If this is the
first you’ve heard about these things, your mind is probably reeling by
now. Christmas Day is really Baal-day, Santa Claus is none other than
Poseidon, and even the Christmas tree has dark origins. Mistletoe,
incidentally, was a sacred plant to the Druids, who ruled pre-Christian
Britain, and worshipped Bel and Eastre, among others. With the exception
of the manger in Bethlehem and the biblical account, all of our
traditions date back to the days before our ancestors embraced
Christianity and the truth of the Gospel.
The early Puritan
fathers of our country refused to observe Christmas at all. They
reasoned that they had a chance to start all over in a new world, and to
establish a truly Christian country for the first time ever, and they
didn’t want to start introducing the old pagan practices and personages
into it at all. But their dreams of a commonwealth of God were lost as
more and more people from all sorts of backgrounds moved into the
What’s A Saint To Do?
Today, for the
born-again Christian, it’s not as clear a call as the Puritans were able
to make. Christmas is well established, and the traditions—both
Christian and pagan—are dear to the hearts of our families and friends.
To refuse to be involved at all in the festivities would be to risk
permanently offending the very people we’re trying to reach.
And there are
good things about the season, too. I think Christmas cards, for example,
are wonderful. They allow you to reaffirm your love and friendship for
those who you may not have seen for a long time due to the busy-ness of
life. Presents aren’t such a bad idea either—our tradition of exchanging
gifts makes us stop to consider and appreciate our loved ones. (I do
think, however, that we should get back to the precedent set by the wise
men as well, and give our best gifts to Jesus during the Christmas
So perhaps the
Christian can rejoice during the holiday season, knowing that he or she
is not honoring some false god, but rather giving thanks to the true God
and His only begotten Son who died for us. And we can take the
opportunity to engage those around us in deeper, more meaningful
conversations about life and Jesus Christ during this season when their
hearts are already turned towards things like peace and goodwill. But it
might be best to stay clear of Santa Claus, Christmas trees, mistletoe,
and the other purely pagan practices. These actually should have been
discontinued long ago by those who claim to be believers in Christ.
Let’s glorify the Lord instead of the competition.
If you have not
yet taken the time to seriously reflect about God and Jesus and eternal
life, there’s no time like the present to sit down and do so. You may
never be as close to making the right decision, or as sensitive to the
things of the Spirit, as you are right now after reading this article.
Anything might happen before you get around to thinking about your
spiritual life again. You may not even be here next Christmas. So why
not give your heart and life to Jesus Christ today? Confess your sins,
and ask Him into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior. Give Him
the best gift you possibly can—the gift of yourself. Then get into the
Bible, and join a church that really preaches what it says. You’ll never
Have a blessed
Christmas in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Copyright © 1998 Kim
Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved.