12 Secrets You Never Knew About Christmas

November 21, 2019

12 Secrets You Never Knew About Christmas

Is Christmas a pagan holiday?

A lot of the information we are going to be talking about comes from an incredible book by William J. Federer (pictured below), called There Really Is a Santa Claus, that I highly recommend you check out if you want more information.

William J. Federer - Is Christmas Pagan?  What is Christmas?

William J. Federer - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

A former U.S. Congressional Candidate, Federer has appeared on: CSPAN, FOX, Hannity & Colmes, O'Reilly Factor, NPR, MSNBC, ABC-Time Warner Affiliates, CBN, TBN, INSP, etc.

You can find more books and resources by Federer at:

AmericanMinute.com

 

Here is a Table of Contents of the Christmas traditions and secrets we will be revealing in this post:

  • Who Was Saint Nicholas?
  • St. Nicholas Invited to Council of Nicea
  • Why is Christmas on December 25th?
  • Why is It Called Christmas?
  • The First Christmas Sermon
  • What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
  • Gift Giving
  • The Nativity Scene
  • Reindeer, Elves and the North Pole
  • Kris Kringle
  • Father Christmas
  • Names For Santa Claus
  • Santa in a Sleigh Pulled By Reindeer
  • The Legend of the Christmas Tree
  • Captain John Smith
  • Joy to the World
  • Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
  • O Come, All Ye Faithful
  • The First Noel
  • O Little Town of Bethlehem
  • O Holy Night
  • White Christmas
  • Do You Hear What I Hear?
  • Who Was Saint Nicholas?

    Saint Nicholas - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    Nicholas was born in AD 280

    Saint Nicholas - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    The bishop of the town of Patara was Nicholas’ uncle, whom Nicholas was named after. 

    Nicholas is most notably remembered for helping the family of a nobleman of Patara who had gone bankrupt. 

    Federer recounts the story on pg. 15 of his book:

    Nicholas and the Bags of Gold - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    For more information on the life of Saint Nicholas, you can check out this GREAT article by Biography.com on his life:

    https://www.biography.com/religious-figure/saint-nicholas

    St. Nicholas Invited to Council of Nicea

    Santa Claus at Council of Nicea - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    Constantine (statued below) (Roman emperor from 306 to 337 AD) commanded, in the year AD 325, that an ecumenical council be convened in Nicea, a city just 300 miles from Myra.

    Constantine - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    There were 318 church leaders attending from all over the Roman world, and among them was Bishop Nicholas

    Council of Nicea - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    The council ended the Arian heresy, which demoted Jesus to “less than” God, and in its place affirmed the divinity of Christ, the three persons of the Trinity, and that the Son of God was of equal honor, essence, and co-everlasting with the Father. 

    If you would like some fascinating details on St. Nicholas actually losing his cool during the Council meeting, check out this great article that goes into very interesting detail on the matter:

    https://www.stnicholascenter.org/who-is-st-nicholas/stories-legends/traditional-stories/life-of-nicholas/bishop-nicholas-loses-his-cool

    Bishop Nicholas died on Dec. 6, 343 AD (keep this date in mind, it will come up very significantly later on).

    Why is Christmas on December 25th?

    Here's Why Christmas Falls on December 25th - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    This question takes us all the way back 2,000 years to the time of Christ.

    The tradition was that the Angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, telling him his wife would become pregnant while he was in the temple for the Day of Atonement, which would have been in September

    This is found in Luke 1:11-13.

    Gabriel Appears to Zechariah - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    His wife, Elizabeth, was 6 months pregnant with John the Baptist when Mary visited her, which would make the date of the Annunciation, when Gabriel appeared to Mary and she conceived by the Holy Spirit, around March 25th.

    9 months later would therefore (according to tradition) be the day of Jesus’ birth, Dec. 25th

    For more information on the dating of Christmas as December 25th, check out:

    https://www.whychristmas.com/customs/25th.shtml

    Why is It Called Christmas?

    What the Word Christmas Means - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    In 354, just 40 years after Constantine ended the persecution of Christians, Pope Liberius (pictured below on right) led a successful effort to end the worship of the Roman god, Saturn (pictured below on left).

    Pope Liberius and Roman god Saturn - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    In order to celebrate the superiority of Christianity over paganism, Pope Liberius replaced the pagan day with the worship of the true Unconquered Son of God, Jesus Christ. 

    The word “Christmas” comes from “Christ’s Mass” or the “Mass of Christ”, which means the celebration of Christ.

    The First Christmas Sermon

    On Dec. 20, 386, St. John Chrysostom (347-407) preached the first known Christmas sermon in the city of Antioch.

    St. John Chrysostom - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    It was titled “Homily on Christmas morning”. 

    Here is the full version of the sermon, from a blog post by the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese:

    http://ww1.antiochian.org/node/21955

    What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?

    Here is the history behind the 12 Days of Christmas - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    The Council of Tours, in the year 567, tried to reconcile the controversy between the Eastern church and the Western church, Christmas Day, Dec. 25th.

    Recognizing Christ’s birth was remembered in Western Europe as the holiest day of the season.   

    However, January 6th is known as Epiphany, recognizing the visit of the wise men (and Jesus’ baptism) and was seen as the holiest day in Eastern Europe.

    Since no agreement could be reached as to which day was holier, the decision was made to have all 12 days between Dec. 25th and Jan. 6th “holy days”, or as it was later pronounced “holidays”.

    These became known as the 12 days of Christmas. 

    Here is an interesting article on the 12 Days of Christmas that goes into more detail by Vox.

    https://www.vox.com/2015/12/25/10661878/12-days-of-christmas-explained

    Gift Giving

    Gift-Giving - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    The tomb of St. Nicholas became (around 11th century and on) a famous location for pilgrimages.

    Italy, then France, and finally all W. Europe grew in their admiration of the life of St. Nicholas. 

    His feast day, Dec. 6th, the anniversary of his death, was celebrated with the custom of “secret gift giving” and many other imaginative traditions. 

    SHAMELESS GIFT GIVING PLUG - If you are looking for a GREAT Christian gift, I recommend our Christian Apologetics Board Game that teaches you to defend your Christian Faith:

    Welcome to Truth Game - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    The Nativity Scene

    The Nativity Scene - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    The earliest discussion of the date of the nativity is in the writings of Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215). 

    Clement of Alexandria - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    By 1223, so much attention was being given to gifts and gift-giving during the Christmas season, that Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) (pictured below) was concerned it was overshadowing the true meaning of Christmas and he created the 1st nativity scene

    St. Francis of Assisi - Is God a Pagan Holiday?

    Here is an interesting article that is called 8 Things You Should Know About the Nativity Scenes for more information:

    https://www.guideposts.org/inspiration/inspiring-stories/stories-of-faith/8-things-you-should-know-about-the-history-of

    Reindeer, Elves and the North Pole

    Here's where REINDEER, ELVES, and the NORTH Pole Came from - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    Eventually themes from the Bible began to be transitioned into legends and traditions of St. Nicholas. 

    The saints and angels (as well as Jesus) would be riding white horses.

    As Federer recounts, the legend gradually transitioned into St. Nicholas coming back once a year as sort of a mini pre-judgment day, to check up on whether children were being bad or good. 

    Santa Claus on a White Horse - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and northern Russia had few horses, so the legend gradually transitioned into St. Nicholas riding a reindeer.

    The angels, who were assumed to help keep the “Book of Works” (Rev. 21:27; Rev. 3:5; Rev. 20:12; Matt. 16:27) gradually transitioned into elves helping to keep the book of the naughty and the nice. 

    Elves - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    Jesus and the saints coming from heaven, the celestial city, the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2-4), gradually transitioned into the North pole

    Kris Kringle

    Kris Kringle - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    Kris Kringle - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    OK, here's a simple yet very interesting one. 

    "Christ Child”, in old German was pronounced “Kris Kindl”, later pronounced “Kris Kringle.” 

    Did you know that? 

    Let's look at another one.

    Father Christmas

    Father Christmas - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    Federer mentions how in 1534, King Henry VIII (pictured below) (1491-1547) (King of England from 1509-1547) was frustrated because he was unable to produce a male heir to the throne through his first wife, Catherine of Aragon (daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain). 

    Henry VIII - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    He wanted a divorce so he could marry another, but this was against the church.

    King Henry VIII then broke the English church away from Rome, along with all the honoring of saints, including St. Nicholas.

    King Henry VIII, recognized the importance people placed on Christmas traditions, but instead of bringing the focus back to the “Christ Child”, Henry VIII introduced a character known as “Father Christmas,” which was a throwback to “Saturn” the Roman god of Plenty (amongst other things).

    He was pictured as a large man clothed in deep green or scarlet robes lined with fur, bringing peace, joy, good food, wine and revelry.

    Saturn - Father Time - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    At this time of year, the ancient Romans celebrated “Saturnalia”, honoring the pagan deity with a season of merriment, feasting, gift-giving and mending of relationship.

    Since England no longer kept St. Nicholas’ feast day on Dec. 6th, they moved their “Father Christmas” celebration to Dec. 25th to coincide with Christmas Day. 

    Names For Santa Claus

    Sinter Klass - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    In 1623, Dutch immigrants settled New Amsterdam, which existed as a Dutch colony until 1664, when the British took control and turned the settlement into New York.

    Dutch settlers brought to the New World their Christmas traditions.

    They considered St. Nicholas as the “Patron Saint” of New Amsterdam.

    Sinterklass - Saint Nicholas - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    The Dutch pronunciation of St. Nicholas was “Sinter Klaas”, which became Santa Claus. 

    If you say, to yourself, the name, "Saint Nicholas" slowly, you can pretty quickly hear how the name "Santa Claus" could have come from that.

    Santa in a Sleigh Pulled By Reindeer

    Santa's Sleigh - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    Washington Irving’s (1783-1859) book, Diedrich Knickerbocker’s a History of New York from the Beginning of the New World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, wrote many details about St. Nicholas which became our fairy tales of Santa Claus. 

    Diedrich Knockerbocker’s a History of New York from the Beginning of the Hew World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty

    Federer recounts some of Irving's story on pg. 131 of his book (keep in mind as you are reading this that many of these ideas of Santa Claus (that we still use today) were being first created in THIS TEXT in the author's mind):

    Washington Irving Story - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    Again, keep in mind, today we have an idea of a lot of these Santa attributes because of all the movies we have seen, advertisements, etc., but at this time, Washington Irving was creating some of these attributes as an author himself, and then others were of course passed down.

    Another person who made a significant impact on the whole Santa epic was Rev. Clement Moore (1779-1863).

    Being the first identifiable author to mention Saint Nicholas in a sled being pulled by reindeer, Rev. Moore gave his amusing description (in 1823) of the saintly Bishop of Myra (in his poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas”). 

    Without quoting the entire poem, this is the famous poem (that we still hear today) that begins (1823):

    Twas the night before Christmas,
    when all through the house
    Not a Creature was stirring,
    not even a mouse
     
    The stockings were hung
    by the chimney with care,
    In hopes that St. Nicholas 
    soon would be there...

     

    You can find the rest of the poem on a standard Google search or the link below.

    This is a very interesting poem to read, especially when you consider that this was BEFORE worldwide movie theaters, cartoons and advertising campaigns.

    These writers were penning the words that we took hold of and (for at least a few months of every year) built a whole culture around.

    For the whole poem by Rev. Moore, check out:

    https://poets.org/poem/visit-st-nicholas

    The Legend of the Christmas Tree

    The Christmas Tree - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    The Christmas tree origins actually trace back (at least vaguely) to the AD 200s, with the early church father, Tertullian (pictured below).

    Tertullian - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    "You are the light of the world, a tree ever green, if you have renounced the heathen temple."

    More specifically, in 716 AD, St. Boniface (lived 680-755), then a missionary to heathen Germany, confronted the Chieftan Gundhar, who was about to offer the little Prince Asulf as a "bloody sacrifice" to Thor.

    Thor was their pagan god who supposedly lived in the huge "donor" oak tree at Geismar.

    Federer tells the story that St. Boniface boldly took an axe and after a few swings at the mighty "blood" oak, an enormous wind blew the tree over.

    The people then all converted to Christianity and Boniface, pointing to an evergreen tree that was next to it, said (AD 716):

    Christmas Tree - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    Federer explains further, that in 1520, Martin Luther (pictured below) (1483-1546) was walking on Christmas Eve under the cold December sky and noticed the countless stars illuminating the night.

    Martin Luther - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    He returned home, and to the delight of his wife and children, set up an evergreen tree placing a great number of small candles on its branches.

    He used to tell his children the true meaning of the Christ Child, the Light of the world, whose birth had so gloriously brightened the sky on that first Christmas Eve.

    He set up a nativity scene under the tree so that the lights would appear as the stars above Bethlehem.

    For more content on the history of the Christmas tree, check out this post:

    https://www.allaboutjesuschrist.org/origin-of-the-christmas-tree-faq.htm

    Captain John Smith

    One of the interesting Christmas stories comes to us in 1607.

    Captain John Smith (pictured below) (that's right, the one from Pocahontas) recorded (in 1607) that the 40 survivors of the original 100 Virginia settlers gathered in their small chapel Christmas to salute the birth of Christ. 

    Captain John Smith - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    For a more in-depth telling of the story of Captain John Smith's first Christmas, check out this interesting article:

    https://www.history.org/Foundation/journal/Christmas04/smith.cfm

    Christmas Songs

    For this final section, we will go over some of the great Christmas songs, and look at when they were first written and performed.

    Joy to the World

    Joy to the World - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    Isaac Watts - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    The song "Joy to the World” was written in 1707 by Isaac Watts (1674-1748).  Watts is credited with around 750 hymns.

    The song was published in 1719. 

    For the lyrics to the song, and a bit more insight, check out Godtube's entry of the song:

    https://www.godtube.com/popular-hymns/joy-to-the-world/

    Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

    Hark! The Herald Angels Sing - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    Charles Wesley - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    The song, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” was written by Charles Wesley, in 1739.

    The Wesley’s preaching started the Great Awakening Revival.

    John Wesley (Charles' brother) founded the Methodist Church.

    Charles Wesley wrote over 6,000 hymns

    There IS debate, however, on this song, and a bit of a twist to its history. 

    As it turns out, there is apparently more to it.

    Check out this article below if you are interested in more information:

    https://blogs.loc.gov/music/2016/12/hark-the-herald-angels-sing-an-illustrated-history/

    O Come, All Ye Faithful

    O Come, All Ye Faithful - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    "O Come, All Ye Faithful" was originally written in Latin as Adeste Fideles in 1740.

    The song has been linked, inconclusively, to a few different writers.

    It was published in “Cantus Diversi” in 1751.

    The First Noel

    The First Noel - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    “The First Noel” was published in 1833

    It was published in William B. Sandys's collection, Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern.

    For the lyrics, as well as some more history of the song, check out this page:

    https://hymnary.org/text/the_first_noel_the_angel_did_say

    O Little Town of Bethlehem

    O Little Town of Bethlehem - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    “O Little Town of Bethlehem” was written by Phillips Brooks (pictured below), in 1866.

    Phillips Brooks - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    For the story behind "O Little Town of Bethlehem", check out this cool site:

    https://www.crosswalk.com/special-coverage/christmas-and-advent/o-little-town-of-bethlehem-1457973.html

    O Holy Night

    O Holy Night - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    “O Holy Night” was composed by Adolphe Adam (pictured below) in 1847, to the French poem, "Minuit, chretiens" (Midnight, Christians) by Placide Cappeau (1808-1877).

    Adolphe Adam - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    Placide Cappeau is pictured below.

    Placide Cappeau - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    White Christmas

    White Christmas - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    Irving Berlin wrote the words and music for “White Christmas” in 1942.

    Here is a picture of him below.

    Irving Berlin - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    Do You Hear What I Hear?

    Do You Hear What I Hear? - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    “Do you Hear What I Hear” was written in 1962 by Noel Regney (pictured below on left) and Gloria Shayne Baker (pictured below on right)

    Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker - Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

    This Christmas carol was written during the Cuban Missile Crises as a call for peace.

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    OK now let's turn it over to you: which Christmas tradition were you most surprised with?  Was it the stories of Saint Nicholas, how Santa's name evolved from Saint Nicholas to Sinter Klass to Santa Claus?

    Let me know in the comments section below.




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