By Jeff Westover
Which came first: the chicken or the egg?
That is the seeming dilemma when discussing how Christmas began. Most define Christmas as the celebration of the birth of Christ. Historians tie the tradition of a December holiday around ancient celebrations of the Winter Solstice that pre-dates Christ. Theologians claim Christ was celebrated and predicted long before he was born into the world.
Which came first then? Christ….or Christmas?
In the study of Christmas there are few indisputable facts. The most indisputable fact of all is that for all recorded history it seems than not many agree about what it is all about or when it actually started.
The purpose of this article is to tell the story of Christmas in a timeline-like fashion and to present a theory of Christmas’ evolution over time using the study of both historians and theologians. This theory may challenge the faith, knowledge and beliefs of many. We invite you to consider this material and study the historical and scriptural references we provide.
Christmas as we know it today is a complex thing. For some, it remains a sacred observance tied to deep religious belief. For others, it is a strictly secular if not universally cultural celebration of good will and good cheer. Wrapped within these two ends is a mixture of both, where nostalgia and tradition blend more and more as time passes.
I believe that to really answer the question of Christmas we must first address the difficult questions of life: where did we come from and what is it — LIFE — all about. We have simply stated in our article about the definition of Christmas just what the namesake of Christmas — Jesus Christ — means.
We have likewise already shared a footnoted article about the real first Christmas — that is not the story of Bethlehem. This story of the real first Christmas addresses pre-mortal life not only for Christ but also for all mankind through all generations of time.
And in one additional follow-up article we explain the clearly predicted coming of Christ and the celebration of Christmas before Christ.
Our purpose here is not to repeat or cover ground already explored in earlier articles. Our purpose is to explain the divide between the sacred and the secular. In short, here is our theory:
1. Christmas was established “before the world was” as described in the Bible and ancient holy writ. The first recorded humans upon the face of the earth — in this context, Adam and Eve — had knowledge of these events and celebrated the coming of Christ.
2. The Bible clearly relates the ongoing struggle for the posterity of Adam to stay in communication with and compliant to the wishes of God. Over time they clearly demonstrate an inability to live God’s will.
3. As they reject God they distort, corrupt, change and exploit the teachings of their fathers to build political empires. This process, or falling away from God’s truth, is called apostasy.
4. God attempts to reconcile with man repeatedly by raising up prophets to warn, teach and exhort to the people. Once such prophet is Abraham, to whom he promises a posterity that would be numbered as the “sands of the seas”.
5. The immediate generations after Abraham literally see God’s promise fulfilled — followed by yet another apostasy. Abraham’s grandchildren are scattered across the earth, taking with them teachings that over time become lost, corrupted, changed, and molded after the manner of men.
6. Generations pass as the world falls further into wickedness and darkness. Religious orders fraction as they mix with political establishments. To those prophets to whom God communicates, the coming of Jesus is foretold, as is his ultimate rejection.
7. The cycle of revelation, apostasy and restoration continues as “Christian” churches set up after the time of Christ fracture, blend, and likewise distort doctrine to fit their own political, social and economic needs.
Christmas as we know it today is the byproduct of what has been a continual cycle throughout the history of mankind. In fact, Christmas will continue to be redefined over time and traditions continue to develop or die based upon cultural, religious or political need.
~ How can we know that the teachings of ancient generations were corrupted or changed? ~
This entire theory hinges on the idea of apostasy. Plenty of evidence abounds of apostasy from one generation to the next. Moses, for example, was on Mount Sinai talking with God and even though the nation of Israel saw a continual string of miracles on their behalf in gaining their freedom they were quickly tricked into rejecting the teachings they had been given.
But it couldn’t happen to us, could it?
Consider Genesis 1:1 — we know it today to read: “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.”
If we could each read the original text we would actually read: “In the beginning, the Gods created the heaven and the earth.”
Wait — what happened? Who changed it? How does that change what you know or think you know about your faith?
The point here is not to change anyone’s faith. It is to expand upon knowledge you already have. If it spurs further study, it is a good thing.
~ Abraham: An Unlikely Christmas Hero ~
Before Christmas 2010 a professor of ancient languages and Biblical literature, Dr. Brent Landau, published a book titled Revelation of the Magi. The book is a first century manuscript purporting to be a first person account of the journey of the Magi.
This is not a work of fiction or imagination. It is an ancient text written in Syriac that has lain dormant in the Vatican Library for centuries. In other words, it is as old or older than some of the texts that make up the New Testament.
The story contained within its thin pages states that the Magi were not men of neighboring Persia or members of a non-Christian-related sect. According to the manuscript the Magi were part of an ancient order dating back to the time of Seth, the third son of Adam, who was called and set apart to escort the Christ to Bethlehem.
This text is yet another ancient tie to Christ — and thus, Christmas — before the time of Christ.
This is a concept many modern Christmas historians have a hard time putting their heads around. After all, if Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ how can you have that celebration before it actually occurred?
History is usually drawn in neat lines, columns and rows, where answers are brought sequentially. But when you mix in the sacred, as we must do when talking Christmas history, things invariably become muddled.
Christmas before Christ was an anticipated and celebrated event. Though known to the ancients — prophets, as scripture calls them — can we be sure that the knowledge of Christ was widespread before the time of Christ?
Yes, we can.
There are three elements of Christmas before Christ that a scholar of Christmas history must know and understand in sacred terms in order to understand. Those elements are: Christ, Abraham and Apostasy.
Christ, in the sense of this discussion, is not a name. It is a title. It means “Anointed One”. We have explored in length the pre-mortal Christ, His mission, calling and anointed status. That He was known before his coming can be no doubt.
Strange as it seems, there are some Christians who don’t realize that Jesus was a Jew. He was a Jew for good reason — Jews, up to that time, had what knowledge God had by tradition imparted on man. They taught (and still teach) the coming of a Messiah. That principle is the very backbone of their beliefs.
Abram is a key to understanding why.
Abram was a righteous man who rejected the idolatrous worship of his father and humbled himself before God. God responded to him and made a covenant with Abram. God showed Abram all his creations and promised that he would become the father of many nations, his seed as numerous as the “stars of heaven”. In making this convenant, Abram’s name was changed to Abraham.
Abraham’s existence is accounted for in the religious history and sacred scriptural texts of Christians, Jews and Muslims. This is an important fact to understand and stands as proof that God fulfilled His part of the covenant with Abraham.
Obviously, Abraham had a knowledge, if not a personal relationship with, Jesus Christ. This was centuries before Bethlehem but if the ancient prophets such as Moses, Job, Micah and Isaiah are to be believed the Gospel as they understood it passed down through the generations of time to them from Abraham taught them of the coming Messiah.
But if Christ existed and Abraham and his succeeding generations taught and knew of him why isn’t there evidence of a Christmas-like ritual of celebration from those times?
There is. And the world of modern historians wants to confuse it. They want to separate “pagan” seasonal celebrations from “sacred” acknowledgement of Christ before Bethlehem.
They point to seemingly unrelated elements of Christmas — things like wreaths and Christmas trees — to modern celebrations of Christmas adopted by the Catholic Church in the third century.
But instead of rehashing those tired old points of history, isn’t there a better way to explain how pagans got those seasonal celebrations in the first place?
There is. And it lies in the concept of apostasy.
“Apostasy” is a term meaning ” a falling away”. Like Christ, “apostasy” was prophesied from the time of Adam. In simplistic terms, God revealed to Adam what it was he needed to teach his children. Adam passed this on to his children who rebelled from what they were taught or, in other words, they apostasized or fell away from his teachings.
Anyone who has teenagers can relate to this idea.
But when you extrapolate the idea of apostasy over generations of time it is quite easy to see how pagans developed beliefs in sun worshipping, idol worship, multiple gods or seasonal acknowledgement of the harvest from teaching originally passed down from prophets — like Adam or Abraham — who actually conversed with God.
In Abraham’s case, the story of apostasy is well known. Abraham’s son was Isaac and his grandson was Jacob. Both were righteous men who talked with God. Like Abraham, Jacob made a covenant with God and his name was changed in that process to Israel.
Israel had 12 sons. Almost any student of the Old Testament is familiar with these sons who sold their brother Joseph into slavery in Egypt.
These men all had the priesthood and were instructed and blessed in the ways of God’s gospel. They were organized into families — called Tribes — and over time they too apostasized.
Two of the tribes went south and their history is fairly known. But the other ten fled north for parts all over the world. They are known as the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel because they had apostasized.
These lost tribes are the reason why modern Muslims, Jews and Christians all claim Abraham. All their ancient scriptures and history point straight back to him.
And yet their beliefs are all different, their celebrations somewhat unique.
Is it possible that off-shoots of off-shoots of each group could have actually defined the pagans who give us so many of the traditional elements of the modern Christmas?
In reality, the true God of pagan evolution was born in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — the very God Jesus Christ of the New Testament claimed to be.
This makes Abraham as central a player in the history of Christmas as the Magi and as Mary and Joseph.
And it gives many of the world’s modern religions — Jew, Christian and Islam — reason to celebrate Christmas.