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Lesson 1 Hope of Israel Ministries BIBLE Correspondence Course 13

Cappadocia the December Christmas was the dates do not coincide exactly. Originally the
definitely celebrated by Gregory of Nyssa in day of Saturnalia, in the strict religious sense,
A.D. 383. By A.D. 394 the feast on December 25 was December 17, and even though the popular
had become general in Europe and Asia Minor. holiday associated with this was extended
It arrived in Alexandria rather later, somewhere according to common usage by as much as seven
between A.D. 400 and 432. Juvenalis (A.D. days, it still did not coincide with December 25.
425-458) introduced the observance of the Feast Furthermore, there seems to be very little
of the Nativity in Jerusalem. In an interesting but evidence that the early Christian writers
probably unauthentic letter from Cyril of connected the two feasts. Nevertheless, we
Jerusalem to Julius the Bishop of Rome (A.D. cannot dismiss the possibility completely as
337-352), Cyril asks Julius to go through the there is evidence of other Christian feasts being
books brought from Jerusalem to Rome by the moved to replace Roman ones. For example, the
Jews at the time of Titus to see if he can find out procession with lights on the Feast of the
what the real date of the nativity was. The reason Purification on February 2 at Candlemas, forty
was simply that he was finding it very difficult to days after the nativity, marks the end of the
be in two places at the same time and, because of Christmas season and was possibly introduced to
the difficulties of travel, on the same day. These “Christianize” an obscure Roman procession
two places were Bethlehem for the celebration of known as the Amburbale.
the nativity and the banks of the Jordan near
Jericho for the celebration of the baptism.

In Armenia the observance of December
25 is still unknown and the nativity and baptism
are both celebrated on January 6.

The main point, however, is that
Christmas is a relatively new feast in the
Christian calendar and only started about 350
years after the birth of the Messiah. It is obvious
that the birth of Yeshua was a much less
important event for celebration in the early
church than for example his baptism, ministry,
Picture of a Candlemas celebration on February
crucifixion and resurrection. The seemingly
impenetrable uncertainty as to the actual date
and time of year of the nativity is ample evidence
As another example, the Litania major or
of this.
greater litany on St. Mark’s Day, April 25, took
the place of the Robigalia, a pagan Roman
Most of the Christmas customs which
festival in which puppies of a red or reddish
now prevail in the world are not genuine
color were sacrificed in a rite of sympathetic
Christian customs at all, but are relics of old
magic. Similarly the Litania minor or Rogation
heathen ones which have been absorbed or
day occurred on the three days before Ascension
tolerated by the Church. Saturnalia is a good
Day and so took the place of the Ambarvalia, a
starting-point here. Many people think that
rite with a procession of the sacrificial victims --
Christmas was moved to December 25 simply to
a bull, a sheep and a pig -- all around the fields,
replace the Roman feast of Saturnalia. There is
some doubt about this, however, especially since

The Pagan Origins of Christmas
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