The History of "Christmas"
                    Barry McLaughlin   
         Freedom Deliverance Ministry

    The history of Christmas dates back over 4000 years. Many of our Christmas traditions
were celebrated centuries before the Christ child was born. The 12 days of Christmas, the
bright fires, the Yule log, the giving of gifts, carnivals (parades) with floats, carolers who 
sing while going from house to house, the holiday feasts, and the church processions can
all be traced back to the early Mesopotamians.

    Many of these traditions began with the Mesopotamian celebration of New Years. The 
Mesopotamians believed in many gods, but Marduk was their chief god. Each year as 
winter arrived it was believed that Marduk would do battle with the monsters of chaos. To
assist Marduk in his struggle the Mesopotamians held a festival for the New Year. This
New Year festival was called Zagmuk, and it lasted for 12 days. The Mesopotamian king
would return to the temple of Marduk and swear his faithfulness to that god.

    The traditions called for the king to die at the end of the year and to return with 
Marduk to battle at his side. To spare their king, the Mesopotamians used the idea of a
"mock" king. A criminal was chosen and he dressed in royal clothes. He was given all the
respect and privileges of a real king. At the end of the celebration the "mock" king was
stripped of the royal clothes and slain, sparing the life of the real king.

    The Persians and the Babylonians celebrated a similar festival called the Sacaea. Part
of that celebration included the exchanging of places, the slaves would become the masters
and the masters were to obey. Early Europeans believed in evil spirits, witches, ghosts and 
trolls. As the winter Solstice approached, with its long cold nights and short days, many 
people feared the sun would not return. Special rituals and celebrations were held to
welcome back the sun. In Scandinavia during the winter months the sun would disappear
for many days. After thirty five days scouts would be sent to the mountaintops to look for
the return of the sun. When the first light was seen the scouts would return with the good
news. A great festival would be held, called the Yuletide, and a special feast would be
served around a fire burning with the Yule log. Great bonfires would also be lit to celebrate
the return of the sun.

    In some areas people would tie apples to branches of trees to remind themselves that
spring and summer would return. The ancient Greeks held a festival similar to that of the
Zagmuk/Sacaea festivals to assist their god Kronos who would battle the god Zeus and
his Titans. The Roman's celebrated their god Saturn and their festival was called
Saturnalia, which began the middle of December and ended January 1st. With cries of
"Jo Saturnalia!" the celebration would include masquerades in the streets, big festive meals,
visiting friends, and the exchange of good-luck gifts called Strenae (lucky fruits). The
Romans decked their halls with garlands of laurel and green trees were lit with candles.
Again the masters and slaves would exchange places.

    Saturnalia!" was a fun and festive time for the Romans, but the Christians thought it was
an abomination to honor the pagan god. The early Christians wanted to keep the birthday
of their Christ child a solemn and religious holiday, not one of cheer and merriment like the
pagan festival Saturnalia was. But as Christianity spread they were alarmed by the 
continuing celebration of pagan customs and the celebrating of Saturnalia among their
converts. At first the Church forbid this kind of celebration. But it as to no avail. Eventually
it was decided that the celebration would be tamed and made into a celebration fit for the
Christian Son of God. Some legends claim that the Christian "Christmas" celebration was
invented to compete against the pagan celebrations of December. The 25th was not only
sacred to the Romans but also to the Persians whose religion Mithraism was one of
Christianity's main rivals at that time. The Church eventually was successful in taking
the merriment, lights, and gifts from the Saturanilia festival and bringing them to the 
celebration of Christmas.

    The exact day of the Christ child's birth has never been pinpointed. Traditions say that it 
has been celebrated since the year 98 AD. In 137 AD the Bishop of Rome ordered the 
birthday of the Christ "child" celebrated as a solemn feast. In 350 AD another Bishop of 
Rome, Julius I, chose December 25th as the observance of Christmas.