Why Do We Celebrate Christmas?

So, here we are again, almost December 25th when many people celebrate the birth of Jesus – even though history shows no such date for his birth. Why December and why the 25th? What, really are we celebrating?

Christianity is relatively new, as far as religions go. Paganism has been around for a lot longer. The Druids of ancient times, celebrated the winter’s solstice with a twelve-day festival, the centre-piece of which was a battle between death, which may have been represented by Hel who ruled over her ice domain in a place called Niflheim, and the sun god, representing the prospect of continued life. The Celts and Druids, and paganism generally, believed in many gods who protected all aspects of life and places, from the protection of life and lovers, youth and magic, to fertility and healing. All aspects of these ancient deities were meant to give their worshipers, those necessities for life. It was vitally important to ensure fertility for the survival of the species. As human kind grew and evolved, the necessity for food became a top priority and so gods were invented in order to ensure that the crops of these first farmers, succeeded.

Human kind has always sought assistance from without, rather than looking within for their solace.

Week Of Pleasure

The ancient Roman week of lawlessness was celebrated in the week ending on December 25th. This was a time when the authorities declared that no-one could be brought before the courts for public crimes. People could be attacked and injured, property damaged and no person was held to account. Indeed, a single person, from each village was selected by the authorities as an enemy of the people, to feast and indulge in physical pleasures during the week long festival. There was wide spread intoxication and sexual licence, including rape, during this period. At the festival’s conclusion, this ‘enemy of the state’ was sacrificially murdered.


This festival was called Saturnalia. It was a time when the Roman authorities demanded offerings from the public. Early Christian leaders, converted large numbers of pagans to their ideology, by offering them the continued observance of Saturnalia, and declared also that Jesus’ birthday was to be celebrated on the 25th. The Christian church, cultivated the custom of gift giving among the general populace, based on the stories associated with Nikolaos of Myra, later known as Saint Nicholas. Meanwhile, the earliest celebrations of Christian Saturnalia, continued the way that it had always been celebrated, by large scale intoxication, sexual indulgence and singing naked in the streets, which is the precursor to the modern practice of carolling.

Anti Semetic

Not all branches of Christianity celebrate Christmas, because of these pagan origins, however, the season gradually became the celebration we recognise in modern society, but such civilised celebration has been relatively short lived, for as recently as the late nineteenth century, Saturnalia was distinctly anti Semitic and in 1466, actively encouraged by the Catholic Church, and certainly not discouraged by that organisation in later years.
‘In 1466, Pope Paul II revived the customs of Saturnalia, by forcing Jews to run through the city streets naked, for the amusement of his Roman citizens (1). As part of the Saturnalia carnival throughout the 18th and 19th centuries CE, rabbis of the ghetto in Rome were forced to wear clownish outfits and march through the city streets to the jeers of the crowd, pelted by a variety of missiles. When the Jewish community of Rome sent a petition in1836 to Pope Gregory XVI begging him to stop the annual Saturnalia abuse of the Jewish community, he responded, “It is not opportune to make any innovation.” (2)
On December 25, 1881, Christian leaders whipped the Polish masses into Anti-Semitic frenzies that led to riots across the country. In Warsaw 12 Jews were brutally murdered, huge numbers maimed, and many Jewish women were raped. Two million roubles worth of property was destroyed.’ (3)

Saint Nicholas

The man who became known as Saint Nicholas, was born to wealthy Greek parents in what is now known as Turkey. He was ordained by his uncle, who raised him after his parents died, while Nicholas was still, relatively young. Nicholas was one of the Bishops who answered the call of Constantine and attended the Council of Nicaea, in 325. It was this council that laid out the early Christian Church’s creed. Nicholas died on December 6th and was buried at his birth-place. Several hundred years later, most of his skeleton was taken to Bari, in Italy, where the deity, Pasqua Epiphania, had been credited with gift giving to the children of the area, a story that was common in Naples also. The gift giving deity was soon replaced by stories of Saint Nicholas (who was not ordained until the nineteenth century), and merged with the god, Woden, the father of Thor and who rode through the heavens on his white steed, one night in every autumn. When the church adopted the story of Nicholas’s gift giving, the date changed from the 6th. December to the 25th. Woden’s white charger eventually became Santa’s reindeer and sleigh, but not until Clement Moore’s poem ‘Nast’ was published in 1822, “Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring….”


The picture was completed, of course, by Coca Cola who contracted Haddon Sundblom to create a coke drinking Santa, dressed in their corporate colours.
So, here we are again, almost December 25th. When many people celebrate the birth of Jesus, the dates for which vary from September1st, March 28th. November 18th. And even good old September 11th. The birth date of another modern myth.

I am John Allan. Happy Christmas & may your god go with you.

(1) David I. Kertzer, The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001, p. 74.
(2)Kertzer, p33, 74-75
(3) simpleToRemeber.com – Judaism Online

Author's Bio: 

John A Allan is an author, blogger, counsellor and certified life coach. His recent book, Spirit & The Theory Of Radiant Consciousness, available on Amazon Kindle, is the basis for his new series of workshops, dealing with consciousness, reality and the formation of our belief system. He has been involved in the support of cancer patients since the early nineties and has blogs at www.cancercauseandeffect.com and his counselling and life coaching blog at www.mindimage.com.au