THE PLAIN TRUTH ABOUT CHRISTMAS
by Herbert W. Armstrong
1952, 1972, 1974 edition
Where did the world get Christmas? ... from the Bible, or paganism?
Here are the astonishing facts which may shock you! Test
yourself. How much do you know of the origin of the Christmas
tree -- of "Santa Claus" -- of the mistletoe -- of the holly wreath --
of the custom of exchanging gifts?
WHEN I was a very little boy, I was taught to hang up my
stockings on Christmas eve. When I awakened the next morning,
they were filled with small toys and sacks or little boxes of
candy and nuts. And beside the mantle, from which my stockings
hung, a Christmas tree had suddenly appeared, decorated with
shiny tinsel. And on it hung presents. Other presents for us
children were piled on the floor underneath. I was told Santa
Claus had come down the chimney during the night and left all
But did I question what my parents had told me? Of course
not. I accepted it -- took it all for granted. Didn't you?
Stop and think a moment! Very few have ever reflected on why
they believe what they do -- why they follow the customs they do,
or from where those customs came. We were born into a world
filled with customs. We grew up accepting them without question.
Why? Sheep instinct? Well, not exactly.
But by nature we do tend to follow the crowd, whether right
or wrong. Sheep follow others to the slaughter. Humans ought to
check up where they are going.
How -- when did Christmas originate?
Does Christmas really celebrate the birthday of Christ? Was
Jesus born on December 25th?
Did the original apostles, who knew Jesus personally and
were taught by Him, celebrate His birthday on December 25th? Did
they celebrate it at all?
If Christmas is the chief of the Christian holidays, why do
so many non-Christians observe it? Do you know?
Why do people exchange presents with family members,
friends, relatives, at Christmas time? Was it because the wise
men presented gifts to the Christ-child? The answer may surprise
Most people have "supposed" a lot of things about Christmas
that are not true. But let's quit "supposing" and get the facts!
What Encyclopedias Say
The word "Christmas" means "Mass of Christ," or, as it came to be
shortened, "Christ-Mass." It came to non-Christians and
Protestants from the Roman Catholic Church. And where did they
get it? NOT from the New Testament -- NOT from the Bible -- NOT from
the original apostles who were personally instructed by Christ --
but it gravitated in the fourth century into the Roman Church
Since the celebration of Christmas has come to the world
from the Roman Catholic Church, and has no authority but that of
the Roman Catholic Church, let us examine the Catholic
Encyclopedia, 1911 edition, published by that church. Under the
heading "Christmas," you will find:
"Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the
Church ... the first evidence of the feast is from Egypt." "Pagan
customs centering around the January calends gravitated to
And in the same encyclopedia, under the heading "Natal Day,"
we find that the early Catholic father, Origen, acknowledged this
truth: "... In the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a
feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners
[like Pharaoh and Herod] who make great rejoicings over the day
in which they were born into this world" (emphasis ours).
Encyclopedia Britannica, 1946 edition, has this: "Christmas
(i.e., the Mass of Christ) .... Christmas was not among the
earliest festivals of the church ...."It was not instituted by
Christ or the apostles, or by Bible authority. It was picked up
afterward from paganism. The Encyclopedia Americana, 1944
edition, says: "Christmas .... It was, according to many
authorities, not celebrated in the first centuries of the
Christian church, as the Christian usage in general was to
celebrate the death of remarkable persons rather than their
birth ...." (The "Communion," which is instituted by New Testament
Bible authority, is a memorial of the death of Christ.) "... A
feast was established in memory of this event [Christ's birth] in
the fourth century. In the fifth century the Western Church
ordered it to be celebrated forever on the day of the old Roman
feast of the birth of Sol, as no certain knowledge of the day of
Christ's birth existed."
Now notice! These recognized historical authorities show
Christmas was not observed by Christians for the first two or
three hundred years -- a period longer than the entire history of
the United States as a nation! It got into the Western, or Roman,
Church, by the fourth century A.D. It was not until the fifth
century that the Roman Church ordered it to be celebrated as an
official Christian festival!
Jesus Not Born December 25th
Jesus was not even born in the winter season! When the Christ-
child was born "there were in the same country shepherds abiding
in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night" (Luke
2:8). This never could have occurred in Judaea in the month of
December. The shepherds always brought their flocks from the
mountainsides and fields and corralled them not later than
October 15, to protect them from the cold, rainy season that
followed that date. Notice that the Bible itself proves, in Song
of Solomon 2:11 and Ezra 10:9, 13, that winter was a rainy season
not permitting shepherds to abide in open fields at night.
"It was an ancient custom among Jews of those days to send
out their sheep to the fields and deserts about the Passover
(early spring), and bring them home at commencement of the first
rain," says the Adam Clarke Commentary (Vol. 5, page 370, New
Continuing, this authority states: "During the time they
were out, the shepherds watched them night and day. As ... the
first rain began early in the month of Marchesvan, which answers
to part of our October and November [begins sometime in October],
we find that the sheep were kept out in the open country during
the whole summer. And, as these shepherds had not yet brought
home their flocks, it is a presumptive argument that October had
not yet commenced, and that, consequently, our Lord was not born
on the 25th of December, when no flocks were out in the fields;
nor could He have been born later than September, as the flocks
were still in the fields by night. On this very ground, the
nativity in December should be given up. The feeding of the
flocks by night in the fields is a chronological fact ... See the
quotations from the Talmudists in Lightfoot."
Any encyclopedia, or any other authority, will tell you that
Christ was not born on December 25. The Catholic Encyclopedia
frankly states this fact.
The exact date of Jesus' birth is entirely unknown, as all
authorities acknowledge -- though if I had space in this booklet I
could show you scriptures which at least strongly indicate it was
in the early fall -- probably September approximately six months
If God had wished us to observe and celebrate Christ's
birthday, He would not have so completely hidden the exact date.
How This Pagan Custom Got into the Church
Then how did this pagan custom creep into the Western Christian
The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge
explains it clearly, in its article on "Christmas": "How much the
date of the festival depended upon the pagan Brumalia (Dec. 25)
following the Saturnalia (Dec. 17-24), and celebrating the
shortest day of the year and the 'new sun' ... cannot be accurately
determined. The pagan Saturnalia and Brumalia were too deeply
entrenched in popular custom to be set aside by Christian
influence .... The pagan festival with its riot and merrymaking was
so popular that Christians were glad of an excuse to continue its
celebration with little change in spirit and in manner. Christian
preachers of the West and the Near East protested against the
unseemly frivolity with which Christ's birthday was celebrated,
while Christians of Mesopotamia accused their Western brethren of
idolatry and sun worship for adopting as Christian this pagan
Remember, the Roman world had been pagan. Prior to the
fourth century, Christians were few in number, though increasing,
and were persecuted by the government and by pagans. But, with
the advent of Constantine as emperor, who made his profession of
Christianity in the fourth century, placing Christianity on an
equal footing with paganism, people of the Roman world began to
accept this now-popular Christianity by the hundreds of
But remember, these people had grown up in pagan customs,
chief of which was this idolatrous festival of December 25th. It
was a festival of merrymaking, with its special spirit. They
enjoyed it! They didn't want to give it up! Now this same article
in the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge
explains how the recognition by Constantine of Sunday, which had
been the day of pagan sun worship, and how the influence of the
pagan Manichaeism, which identified the SON of God with the
physical SUN, gave these pagans of the fourth century, now
turning over wholesale to "Christianity," their excuse for
calling their pagan-festival date of December 25th (birthday of
the SUN-god), the birthday of the SON of God.
And that is how "Christmas" became fastened on our Western
world! We may call it by another name, but it's the same old
pagan sun-worshipping festival still! The only change is in what
we call it! You can call a rabbit a "lion," but it's still a
rabbit, just the same.
Again from the Encyclopaedia Britannica: "Certain Latins, as
early as 354, may have transferred the birthday from January 6th
to December 25, which was then a Mithraic feast ... or birthday of
the unconquered SUN ... The Syrians and Armenians, who clung to
January 6th, accused the Romans of sun worship and idolatry,
contending ... that the feast of December 25th, had been invented
by disciples of Cerinthus ...."
The Real Origin of Christmas
But if we got Christmas from the Roman Catholics, and they got it
from paganism, where did the pagans get it? Where, when, and what
was its real origin?
It is a chief custom of the corrupt system denounced all
through Bible prophecies and teachings under the name of Babylon.
And it started and originated in the original Babylon of ancient
Nimrod! Yes, it stems from roots whose beginning was shortly this
side of the Flood!
Nimrod, grandson of Ham, son of Noah, was the real founder
of the Babylonish system that has gripped the world ever since --
the system of organized competition -- of man -- ruled governments
and empires, based upon the competitive and profit-making
economic system. Nimrod built the tower of Babel, the original
Babylon, ancient Nineveh, and many other cities. He organized
this world's first kingdom. The name Nimrod, in Hebrew, is
derived from "Marad," meaning "he rebelled."
From many ancient writings, considerable is learned of this
man, who started the great organized worldly apostasy from God
that has dominated this world until now. Nimrod was so evil, it
is said he married his own mother, whose name was Semiramis.
After Nimrod's untimely death, his so-called mother-wife,
Semiramis, propagated the evil doctrine of the survival of Nimrod
as a spirit being. She claimed a full-grown evergreen tree sprang
overnight from a dead tree stump, which symbolized the springing
forth unto new life of the dead Nimrod. On each anniversary of
his birth, she claimed, Nimrod would visit the evergreen tree and
leave gifts upon it. December 25th was the birthday of Nimrod.
This is the real origin of the Christmas tree.
Through her scheming and designing, Semiramis became the
Babylonian "Queen of Heaven," and Nimrod, under various names,
became the "divine son of heaven." Through the generations, in
this idolatrous worship, Nimrod also became the false Messiah,
son of Baal the Sun-god. In this false Babylonish system, the
"Mother and Child" (Semiramis and Nimrod reborn) became chief
objects of worship. This worship of "Mother and Child" spread
over the world. The names varied in different countries and
languages. In Egypt it was Isis and Osiris. In Asia, Cybele and
Deoius. In pagan Rome, Fortuna and Jupiterpuer. Even in Greece,
China, Japan, Tibet is to be found the counterpart of the
Madonna, long before the birth of Christ!
Thus, during the fourth and fifth centuries, when the pagans
of the Roman world were "accepting" the new popular
"Christianity" by the hundreds of thousands, carrying their old
pagan customs and beliefs along with them, merely cloaking them
with Christian-sounding names, the Madonna and "Mother and Child"
idea also became popularized, especially at Christmas time. Every
Christmas season you'll hear sung and chanted dozens of times the
hymn "Silent Night, Holy Night," with its familiar "Mother and
Child" theme. We, who have been born in such a babylonish world,
reared and steeped in these things all our lives, have been
taught to revere these things as holy and sacred. We never
questioned to see where they came from -- whether they came from
the Bible, or from pagan idolatry!
We are shocked to learn the truth -- some, unfortunately, take
offense at the plain truth! But God commands His faithful
ministers, "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a
trumpet, and show my people their transgression!" Shocking as
these facts are, they are the plain facts of history and the
The real origin of Christmas goes back to ancient Babylon.
It is bound up in the organized apostasy which has gripped a
deceived world these many centuries! In Egypt, it was always
believed that the son of Isis (Egyptian name for "Queen of
Heaven") was born December 25th. Paganism celebrated this famous
birthday over most of the known world for centuries before the
birth of Christ.
December 25th is not the birthday of Jesus the true Christ!
The apostles and early true Church never celebrated Christ's
birthday at any time. There is no command or instruction to
celebrate it in the Bible -- rather, the celebrating of birthdays
is a pagan, not a Christian custom, believe it or not!
Thus the ancient idolatrous "Chaldean Mysteries," founded by
this wife of Nimrod, have been handed down through the pagan
religions under new Christian-sounding names.
Origin of Holly Wreath, Mistletoe, Yule Log
Now where did we get this mistletoe custom? Among the ancient
pagans the mistletoe was used at this festival of the winter
solstice because it was considered sacred to the sun, because of
its supposed miraculous healing power. The pagan custom of
kissing under the mistletoe was an early step in the night of
revelry and drunken debauchery -- celebrating the death of the "old
sun" and the birth of the new at the winter solstice. Mistletoe,
sacred in pagan festivals, is a parasite!
Holly berries were also considered sacred to the sun-god.
The yule log is in reality the "sun log." "Yule" means "wheel," a
pagan symbol of the sun. Yet today professing Christians speak of
the "sacred yule-tide season"!
Even the lighting of fires and candles as a Christian
ceremony is merely a continuation of the pagan custom,
encouraging the waning sun-god as he reached the lowest place in
the southern skies!
The Encyclopedia Americana says: "The holly, the mistletoe,
the Yule log ... are relics of pre-Christian times." Of paganism!
The book "Answers to Questions", compiled by Frederick J.
Haskins, found in public libraries, says: "The use of Christmas
wreaths is believed by authorities to be traceable to the pagan
customs of decorating buildings and places of worship at the
feast which took place at the same time as Christmas. The
Christmas tree is from Egypt, and its origin dates from a period
long anterior to the Christian Era."
Yes, and Even Santa Claus!
But surely dear old Santa Claus is not a creature of pagan birth?
But he is, and his real character is not so benevolent and holy
as many suppose!
The name "Santa Claus" is a corruption of the name "St.
Nicholas," a Roman Catholic bishop who lived in the 5th century.
Look in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, volume 19, pages 648-649,
11th edition, where you'll read: "St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra, a
saint honored by the Greeks and Latins on the 6th of December ....
A legend of his surreptitious bestowal of dowries on the three
daughters of an impoverished citizen ... is said to have originated
the old custom of giving presents in secret on the Eve of St.
Nicholas [Dec. 6], subsequently transferred to Christmas day.
Hence the association of Christmas with Santa Claus ...."
Through the year, parents punish their children for telling
falsehoods. Then, at Christmas time, they themselves tell their
little children this "Santa Claus" lie! Is it any wonder many of
them, when they grow up and learn the truth, begin to believe God
is a myth, too?
One little fellow, sadly disillusioned about "Santa Claus,"
said to a playmate, "Yes, and I'm going to look into this 'Jesus
Christ' business, too!" Is it Christian to teach children myths
and falsehoods? God says, "Thou shalt not bear false witness!" It
may seem right, and be justified by human reason, but God says,
"There is a way that seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof
are the ways of death!" "Old Nick" also is a term for the devil!
Is there a connection? Satan appears as an "angel of light," to
deceive! (II Cor. 11:14; Rev. 12:9.)
And so when we examine the facts, we are astonished to learn
that the practice of observing Christmas is not, after all, a
true Christian practice, but a pagan custom -- one of the ways of
Babylon our people have fallen into!
What the Bible Says About the Christmas Tree
But if the Bible is silent about telling us to observe Christmas,
or recording any such observance by the apostles or early true
Church, it does have something to say about the Christmas tree!
This will come as a real surprise to many. But here it is:
Jeremiah 10:2-6: "Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of
the heathen .... For the customs of the people are vain: for one
cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the
workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold;
they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not."
There is a perfect description of the Christmas tree, termed
by the Eternal as "the way of the heathen -- the customs of the
people." We are commanded not to learn that way or follow it! It
is also viewed in this passage as idolatry. The fifth verse shows
that these trees cannot speak -- cannot walk -- must be carried. "Be
not afraid of them; for they [the trees] cannot do evil, neither
also is it in them to do good." They are not gods to be feared.
Some people misread this to make it say there is no harm in
having a Christmas tree, but that is not what it says.
Isn't Exchanging Gifts Scriptural?
But when it comes to the most important part of all in this
Christmas observance -- the Christmas shopping season -- the buying
and exchanging of gifts -- many will exclaim triumphantly, "Well,
at least the Bible tells us to do that! Didn't the wise men give
gifts when Christ was born?"
Again, we are due for some surprises, when we learn the
plain truth. First, let's look at the historic origin of trading
gifts back and forth, then see exactly what the Bible does say
From the Bibliotheca Sacra, volume 12, pages 153-155, we
quote: "The interchange of presents between friends is alike
characteristic of Christmas and the Saturnalia, and must have
been adopted by Christians from the Pagans, as the admonition of
Tertullian plainly shows."
The fact is, this custom fastened upon people of exchanging
gifts with friends and relatives at the Christmas season has not
a single trace of Christianity about it, strange though that may
seem! This does not celebrate Christ's birthday nor honor it or
Him! Suppose someone you love has a birthday. You want to honor
that person on his or her birthday. Would you lavishly buy gifts
for everyone else, trading gifts back and forth with all your
other friends and loved ones, but ignore completely any gift for
the one whose birthday you are honoring? Rather absurd, when
viewed in that light, isn't it?
Yet this is exactly what people the world over are doing!
They honor a day that is not Christ's birthday by spending every
dime they can scrape together in buying presents to trade back
and forth among friends and relatives. But I can say by years of
experience, as I believe most pastors and ministers can say, that
when the month of December rolls around, nearly all professing
Christians forget to give gifts to Christ and His cause almost
altogether! December often is the most difficult month to keep
Christ's work from dying! People are too busy trading gifts back
and forth among themselves to think of Him and His Work, it
seems. Then, in January and even into February it seems they have
to catch up from what they spent for Christmas, so they seldom
get back to normal in supporting Christ and His Work before
Now consider what the Bible says about the wise men giving
gifts when Christ was born. It is in Matthew 2:1-11. "Now when
Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the
king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? ... And when
they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary
his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had
opened their treasures, they presented unto HIM gifts; gold, and
frankincense, and myrrh."
Why Gifts Presented to Christ
Notice, they inquired for the child Jesus, who was born KING of
the Jews! Now why did they present gifts to Him? Because it was
His birthday? Not at all, because they came several days or weeks
after the date of His birth! Was it to set an example for us,
today, to trade gifts back and forth among ourselves? No, notice
carefully! They did not exchange gifts among themselves, but
"they presented unto HIM gifts." They gave their gifts to Christ,
not to their friends, relatives, or one another!
Why? Let me quote from the Adam Clarke Commentary, volume 5,
page 46: "Verse 11. (They presented unto him gifts.) The people
of the east never approach the presence of kings and great
personages, without a present in their hands. The custom is often
noticed in the Old Testament, and still prevails in the east, and
in some of the newly discovered South Sea Islands."
There it is! They were not instituting a new Christian
custom of exchanging gifts with friends to honor Christ's
birthday. They were following an old and ancient eastern custom
of presenting gifts to a king when they came into his presence.
They were approaching Him, born KING of the Jews, in person.
Therefore custom required they present gifts even as the Queen of
Sheba brought gifts to Solomon -- even as many people today take a
gift along when they visit the White House for an appointment
with the President.
No, the custom of trading gifts back and forth does not stem
from this scriptural incident at all, but rather, as quoted from
history above, it is the continuance of an ancient pagan custom.
Instead of honoring Christ, it invariably retards His Work, often
sets it back, at the Christmas season every year.
Does It Really Honor Christ?
Now come two arguments often used to justify Christmas
1) Many will reason this way: "But, even though the exact
date of Jesus' birth is unknown, should we not select some date
to celebrate as His birthday?" The answer is positively no! Did
you not notice the statement quoted from the Catholic
Encyclopedia: "Sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their
birthdays." The celebration of birthdays is not a Christian, but
a pagan custom, observed by sinners!
2) But, many still reason, "Even so -- even though Christmas
was a pagan custom, honoring the false sun-god, we don't observe
it to honor the false god, we observe it to honor Christ."
But how does GOD answer in His Word? "Take heed to thyself
that thou be not snared by following them [the pagans in their
customs] ... that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How
did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.
Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination
to the Eternal, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods"
God says plainly in His Instruction Book to us, that He will
not accept that kind of worship, even though intended in His
honor. To Him, He says, it is offering what is abominable to Him,
and therefore it honors, not Him, but false pagan gods. GOD says
we must not worship Him according to the "dictates of our own
conscience" -- a term we often hear. But Jesus said plainly, "God
is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit
and in truth" (John 4:24). And what is truth? God's Word -- the
Holy Bible -- said Jesus, is truth (John 17:17); and the Bible says
God will not accept worship when people take a pagan custom or
manner of worship and try to honor Christ with it.
Again, Jesus said: "In vain they do worship me, teaching for
doctrines the commandments of men" (Matt. 15:9). Christmas
observance is a tradition of men, and the commandments of God, as
quoted, forbid it. Jesus said, further, "full well ye reject the
commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition."
That is precisely what the millions are doing today. They
ignore the commandment of God. He commands, regarding taking the
customs of the pagans and using them to honor or worship God:
"Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God." Still, most people
today take that command of God lightly, or as having no validity
whatsoever, and follow the tradition of men in observing
Make no mistake! God will allow you to defy and disobey Him.
He will allow you to follow the crowd and the traditions of men.
He will allow you to sin. But He also says there is a day of
reckoning coming. As you sow, so shall you reap! Jesus was the
living Word of God in Person, and the Bible is the written Word
of God. And we shall be judged, for eternity, by these words!
They should not be taken lightly or ignored.
We're in Babylon, and Haven't Known It
Christmas has become a commercial season. It's sponsored, kept
alive, by the heaviest retail advertising campaigns of the year.
You see a masqueraded "Santa Claus" in many stores. Ads keep us
deluded and deceived about the "beautiful Christmas spirit." The
newspapers, who sell the ads, print flowery editorials exalting
and eulogizing the pagan season, and its "spirit." A gullible
people has become so inoculated, many take offense when told the
truth. But the "Christmas spirit" is created each year, not to
honor Christ, but to sell merchandise! Like all Satan's
delusions, it appears as an "angel of light," is made to appear
good. Billions of dollars are spent in this merchandising spree
every year, while the cause of Christ must suffer! It's part of
the economic system of Babylon!
We have professed to be Christian nations, but we're in
Babylon, as Bible prophecy foretold, and we don't know it! "Come
out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and
that ye receive not of her plagues" -- now soon to fall -- is the
warning of Revelation 18:4.
This year, instead of gift trading, why not put that money
into God's Work?