What is Christmas

What Is Christmas?

From Creation to Bethlehem

by Ken Ham on November 27, 2013; last featured December 8, 2016

What is Christmas? This article shows the surprising connection between Christmas and the creation of the world.

Note: This article is featured in this booklet, which shows the surprising connection between Christmas and the creation of the world.

In December, many Christians celebrate a holiday called Christmas.1 What is Christmas? During this season, there is particular emphasis on an event that occurred around 2,000 years ago in the town of Bethlehem in Judea (today called Israel).

Christmas commemorates the birth of a baby—an event recorded in the Bible in such New Testament passages as Luke 2:1–20 and prophesied about in Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 7:14. The name given to this baby was Jesus.

During Christmas time, many churches display nativity scenes. These exhibits show the newborn Jesus in a stable surrounded by various animals, shepherds, and Mary and Joseph. Such nativity scenes traditionally have also been displayed in public places (shopping centers, public schools, parks, etc.) in much of our Western world.

Also at Christmas, people sing special songs known as “carols.” The words of many of these carols outline the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.

Because of the influence of Christianity and the birth of baby Jesus, history is divided into two basic divisions—AD (Anno Domini, Latin for “in the year of the Lord,” Jesus) and BC (“before Christ”). As evidenced by the fact that Western calendars and historians count the number of years from this time, this was a very significant event even apart from religious aspects.

Christmas Is Changing

Live Nativity

The Creation Museum features a Live Nativity at the annual Christmas Town.

In much of the Western world today, nativity scenes are no longer displayed in public places. Such displays are now banned from many public parks and schools.

Whereas Christmas carols used to be sung in public (i.e., government) schools, many times such songs have been replaced by ones that do not mention anything about Jesus and His birth.

Furthermore, more and more people are now calibrating their calendars with BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era), rather than “before Christ” and “in the year of our Lord (Jesus).” The year-counts are the same, but the name of Christ has been removed.

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–>In public schools in America, teachers and students are being urged or required by administrators and lawyers fearful of lawsuits to use phrases like “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Christmas.”

Many advertising pieces during the Christmas season now delete the “Christ” part of the word “Christmas.”

Why was the birth of the baby Jesus considered so significant in the first place? And why is Christmas being viewed differently today? What has happened to cause an event which has so influenced the modern world to be slowly erased from people’s thinking?

The History

Bible

To understand the significance of the birth of this baby, we need to understand the history that led up to this event. The only compilation of books in the world that gives a detailed history that enables us to fully comprehend the significance is the Bible.

Over three thousand times the Bible claims to be the revealed Word of the God who created the universe and all life, and who has made Himself known to man. If this book really is God’s Word, then it should explain the meaning of the universe and life—and it does. Not only that, but observational science continues to confirm the Bible’s history as true. (See our booklets on the accuracy and authority of the Bible: available as a free PDF or on our online store.)

Genesis (which basically means “origins”), the first book of the Bible, gives an account of the origin of life and the universe. It tells of the origin of matter, light, earth, plants, sun, moon, stars, animals, humans, marriage, clothing, death, languages, nations, and so on.

In Genesis 1:27 and 2:7, we read of the creation of the first man called “Adam.” Interestingly, in 1 Corinthians 15:45, the one born in Bethlehem is called “the last Adam.” To understand the reason for the “last Adam,” you have to understand what happened to the “first Adam.”

The First Adam

The Bible records that on the sixth day of Creation, God made the first man and woman:

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Adam and Eve

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So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27)

We read more of the details concerning the creation of the first man in Genesis 2:7:

And the Lord God formed man [Adam] of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

We are later told in Genesis 2:21–23 that God created the first woman from the first Adam’s side. From elsewhere in the Bible, we learn that all humans who have ever lived descended from these two people (Genesis 3:20; Acts 17:26; and so on). Therefore, all humans today are related because we have the same first ancestors.

God’s Instruction

When God created Adam, He didn’t make him to be a puppet; Adam had the ability to choose and make decisions. God gave Adam an instruction to obey in Genesis 2.

Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:15–17)

Adam’s Fall

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Hands and fruit.

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Adam and Eve and the generations.

Not long after this command to Adam, Satan, through a serpent, deceived Eve into eating the fruit. And Eve gave some to Adam, and he ate as well. Adam chose to disobey God by eating the fruit of the one tree God had told him not to eat from (Genesis 3:6).

Because Adam was the first or “head” of the human race and all humans ultimately have come from this first man, what Adam did affected all of humanity. When Adam disobeyed his Creator’s instruction (resulting in his “fall” from his state of perfection), that was the first sin. And just as God had warned, the punishment for Adam’s sin was death—not only for Adam, but for all his descendants (including you and me) as well:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned. (Romans 5:12)

Why are we punished for what Adam did? As the head of the human race, Adam represented each of us, and because we all come from Adam, we have his nature, inherited from him. He sinned (disobeyed God), so we sin (disobey God). If it had been any of us faced with the decision to eat or not eat from the forbidden tree instead of Adam, the result would have been the same.

Oh! The Nakedness

Fig leaf.

After Adam and Eve sinned, Genesis 3:7 states that “they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.

In sewing fig coverings, it wasn’t just that they recognized that they had no outer clothing—they also saw that they were destitute of righteousness. Their innocence was lost. Adam and Eve were no longer perfect but were now polluted creatures in their hearts and their flesh. They were naked before the justice of God’s law, and the fig leaves were attempts to cover what they had done.

However, no man or woman can hide their sinfulness from the sight of a holy God by their own doings. God sees us in all our nakedness and knows our impure, sinful, rebellious hearts.

The Bible says our attempts at covering ourselves (our “righteousness”) are but “filthy rags” to the Creator (Isaiah 64:6). No ceremonies, rites, or attempts at keeping the law can change this. Our works cannot take away our sin because our hearts are impure (Jeremiah 17:9). We cannot make ourselves acceptable before a holy, pure God because of the gross imperfection of our very nature—just as Adam and Eve’s fig leaf coverings could not help them.

How can we ever be reconciled with a holy God? This is an important question since we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and as such, even though our bodies die because of sin, our soul (the “real us” that inhabits our bodies) lives forever. As sinners, we cannot live with a holy and righteous God, nor can we make it to heaven by our own works—we would be separated from God forever and live in our evil, sinful states for eternity. What a horrible existence that would be. As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 7:24, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

The Promise of the “Last Adam”

In Genesis 3:15, God made a statement to the deceiving serpent that actually sums up the message of the entire Bible and provided hope to Adam and Eve and their descendants (us!) that there was a way to be saved from the effects of sin. So, what is Christmas? Well this declaration summarizes what the Babe of Bethlehem is all about; in fact, it is the whole meaning of “Christmas”:

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.

What does this mean?

Genesis 22:18 gives us further clues about the identity of the promised “seed” of the woman who will bruise the head of the serpent:

In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.(emphasis added)

And Paul clarifies things in Galatians 3:16:

Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. (emphasis added)

Paul builds upon the use of the singular “seed” in Genesis 22:18. Here we see the extent of the infallibility of Scripture, down to the use of singular and plural words.

The words “her seed” are actually a prophecy concerning the One who, conceived by God Himself, would be born of a woman (actually a “virgin”): the baby who was born in Bethlehem—the last Adam.

The “Head” and the “Heel” of Genesis 3:15

Serpent.

It is a great mystery to fallible, created human beings like us that the Creator God (Colossians 1:16) became flesh (John 1:14) so that as a perfect Man, He could become “sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21) by dying on a cross to suffer the penalty for sin (the meaning of “bruise his heel”). But, because He is the infinite Creator, He has ultimate power, and thus He rose from the dead, overcoming the Curse.

Bruising the serpent’s head” speaks the mortal wound Satan received through Christ’s victory over him at Calvary. He is a defeated foe. His operation now is like the pockets of Japanese soldiers of World War II fighting after the surrender in August 1945—they could still instill casualties and do much harm, but they could not win the war.

Jesus came to take away sin and conquer the power of the grave—death.

Clothed by God

God illustrated what needed to be done to Adam and Eve by a particular act. In Genesis 3:21 we read:

Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.

God killed at least one animal—the first blood sacrifice—to provide the garments as a covering for their sin. It was a picture of what was to come in Jesus, who is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

It is only the covering provided by God that can cover man’s “filthy rags.” The righteousness that enables a sinner to stand “just” in the sight of God is from God. No human being can put on the righteousness of Christ, for this can only be done by God (1 Corinthians 1:30). We can’t rely on our good works (our “coverings of fig leaves”) or on sacraments (e.g., communion, baptism) to stand just before God. It is only what God does for us that enables us to be clean before our Creator.

How Can We Be Clothed?

Now, if it is only God who is able to clothe us in righteousness, how can we obtain that clothing?

The Bible makes it very clear in Romans 10:9:

That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

When we acknowledge that we are sinners before God, repent of our sin, and confess the Lord Jesus, acknowledging that He died and rose from the dead, we receive the free gift of salvation from our Creator and will spend eternity with Him.

The Two Adams

Jesus Christ.

The first Adam gave life to all his descendants. The last Adam, Jesus Christ, communicates life and light to all men (John 1:4). He gives eternal life to those who receive Him—who believe in His name—giving them the “right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

The first Adam experienced the judgment of God. He eventually died and his body turned to dust. Because of his sin, death came upon all men, “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

The last Adam, Jesus Christ, also experienced the judgment of God—not for His own sins (He lived a perfect life), but for the sins of mankind. He died on the Cross to atone for sin (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 2:9). But He did not stay dead, nor did His body “see corruption” (Acts 2:27; 13:35–37). On the third day, He rose again, thereby overcoming the devil and the power of death for all people who believe in Him (Hebrews 2:14), and bringing resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:22–23).

This is the message of the Babe born in Bethlehem. It starts with the creation of a perfect world, and then, because of our sin in Adam, leads to our need of a Savior—which is why Jesus stepped into history to become flesh 2,000 years ago.

What Is Happening to Christmas?

Throughout the world, generations of young people are being educated in schools, colleges, and by the media with evolutionary ideas about our origins.

Sadly, they are being brainwashed into believing that the history in Genesis concerning the first Adam and the entrance of sin is not true. Logically then, they begin rejecting the truth of the last Adam, Jesus Christ.

If the history in Genesis concerning our origins is not true and therefore the birth of Jesus is insignificant, then why should nativity scenes be allowed in schools and public places? Why should students sing carols about a meaningless event?

Creation Wise.

The erosion of Christianity in society is directly linked to the attack on the history of Genesis and the increasing indoctrination in a false history that has permeated the culture: that man is a result of millions of years of evolutionary processes.

Whatever the month of the year, the event that Christians celebrate in a very special way at Christmas is a message of hope for all people.

The message of the two Adams is what life is all about. But if we want people to understand this message, we need to ensure that we show them clearly that the history in Genesis is true, for otherwise, they will not understand or listen to what is said about the Babe of Bethlehem.

Here’s the Good News

Answers in Genesis seeks to give glory and honor to God as Creator, and to affirm the truth of the biblical record of the real origin and history of the world and mankind.

Part of this real history is the bad news that the rebellion of the first man, Adam, against God’s command brought death, suffering and separation from God into this world. We see the results all around us. All of Adam’s descendants are sinful from conception (Psalm 51:5) and have themselves entered into this rebellion (sin). They therefore cannot live with a holy God, but are condemned to separation from God. The Bible says that “all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and that all are therefore subject to “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

But the good news is that God has done something about it. “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Jesus Christ the Creator, though totally sinless, suffered, on behalf of mankind, the penalty of mankind’s sin, which is death and separation from God. He did this to satisfy the righteous demands of the holiness and justice of God, His Father. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice; He died on a cross, but on the third day, He rose again, conquering death, so that all who truly believe in Him, repent of their sin, and trust in Him (rather than their own merit), are able to come back to God and live for eternity with their Creator.

Therefore: “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).

The Babe of Bethlehem . . . what a wonderful Savior . . . and what a wonderful salvation in Christ our Creator!

Please see our contact us page, or contact a Bible-believing church in your area, where the pastor accepts the accuracy and authority of the Bible from its very first verse in Genesis (including the Genesis accounts of a recent creation and a global Noah’s Flood).

25 Days of Christmas: Day 4 ~ Recognizing Christmas

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Recognizing Christmas

Many early Christians, including Gregory of Nazainzus, spoke out against combining pagan and Christian ways. This isn’t hard to understand: The celebrations, after all, could take on orgiastic proportions. After years of mostly futile attempts to abolish these pagan festivals and rituals, however, the church realized it would be better served by allowing them – revised so that their focus was to honor Christ.

Incorporating Mithraic or solstice rites into the celebration of Christmas was easy to justify: Christ represents life, triumph over death and darkness, and restored hope and light. Rather than celebrating the sun as before, people would be celebrating the Son of God. Simply put, the birth of Christ replaced the birth of the sun as a cause for celebration.

Both church and popular interests were thus satisfied: The people were able to keep their time of fun, while the church ensured that the birth of Christ would be celebrated with all due decorum and festivity. In this way, many parts of the old festivals remained, while others were reformed to honor Christ’s birth. Some of the retained elements that have remained popular to this day are greenery, candles, singing, tree decorating, Yule logs, and feasting.

RomanCatholicChristmasToday, Christmas is celebrated on December 25 by Roman Catholics and Protestants, by not by many Orthodox churches, which continue to combine Epiphany and Nativity celebrations on January 6. A small portion of English believers also observed the January 6 tradition until about 1950 – not because of any connection with the rite of Eastern churches, but because some of their own observances followed the old Julian calendar rather than the current Gregorian version.

The Yule Connection

The so-called “barbarian invasions” of the Roman Empire that began in the fifth century brought the Nordic and Germanic peoples into direct contact with Christianity, and therefore with Christians. In northern and western Europe, the Germanic and Celtic peoples had their own solstice rituals, which were later incorporated into Christmas.

The December Julmond festival, for example (Jul later became Yule), was a celebration of harvest and rebirth, with wheat representing life triumphing over death. Anything made of wheat, such as bread or liquor, was consumed heartily, and also given as gifts. Evergreens were used as a symbol of life, and what we would later cal the Yule log was lit to symbolize the eventual triumph of light over dark. The festive meal was boar’s head. These traditions have been presented in centries-old carols, including wassail songs, holly carols, and boar’s-head carols still sung today.

(Jeffrey, Yvonne, “Everything Family Christmas Book”)

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Christmas Spirit

Emperor Justinian declared Christmas a civic holiday in 529. Further legislation by the Council of Tours in 567 officially made the pre-Christmas Advent period a season of fasting and preparation. The time from Christmas to Epiphany (the twelve days of Christmas) was also declared part of the festive season. 

25 Days of Christmas: Day 3 ~ Setting a Date

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Setting A Date

Scholars don’t just disagree on the year of Jesus’ birth, they also disagree on the time of the year in when he was born. While there is one record of Christmas being celebrated in Antioch (Turkey) on December 25 in the middle of the second century, there is no record of it being observed on that date in Rome until the year 336. It wasn’t until 350 that Pope Julius I declared December 25 the official date.

The Winter Solstice

As Christianity established itself, church leaders wanted to move the general population away from their celebrations of other gods and religions, including the winter solstice festivals that were important to the cultures of pre-Christian Europe and Asia.

Ancient people believed that the days grew shorter in December because the sun was leaving them, perhaps even dying. Festivals held right before December 21, the winter solstice, featured rituals designed to appease the sun and make it return. After the solstice, the shortest day of the year, the days became longer again, and grand celebrations were held in honor of the sun’s return. Along with the idea of the physical presence of the sun were underlying themes of harvest, rebirth, and light.

December 25 was, in the Roman calendar, the day after the solstice, which was why the solar feast, also known as Natalis inviciti solis, or “birth of the unconquered sun,” was one of the celebrations associated with the winter solstice. In fact, in the third century (that is, in the century before Constantine began the Empire’s conversion to Christianity), Emperor Aurelian declared December 25 Dies Invicti Solis (the Day of the Invincible Sun).

The Roman Saturnalia

Although the basic concept of the solstice festival was common to all lands, each area had its unique variations. But the tradition that left its mark most indelibly of Christmas was the Roman Saturnalia. The Saturnalia was observed in December and was a nominal celebration of a number of different events, among them Saturn’s triumph over Jupiter. According to belief, Saturn’s reign had heralded the Golden Age of Rome. Although the god later lost out to Jupiter, during the Saturnalia he was believed to return, allowing Rome to relive the Golden Age for a brief time. It was not surprising that the Romans, who associated Saturn closely with the sun, would celebrate this festival near the solstice.

During the festivities, no one worked except those who provided food, drink, or entertainment. Masters and slaves became equals and there was much feasting, dancing, gambling, and general revelry. Candles were used as decoration to scare away the darkness and celebrate the sun and light.

Another recognizable ritual was the giving of gifts, which was done in honor of the goddess of vegetation, Strenia.  The people felt that in time of darkness and winter, it was important to honor someone who had a hand in the harvest. At first, produce and baked goods were exchanged, but as time went on, inedible gifts became fashionable.

The Saturnalia was followed by the calends of January (the calends marked the first day of the month). Observed on January 1-3, this period meant still more parties.

(Jeffrey, Yvonne, “Everything Family Christmas Book”)

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25 Days of Christmas: Day 2 ~ Early Christianity

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Early Christianity

Christmas has to wait more than 300 years after the birth of Jesus before it began to be popularized in a meaningful way. Instead, the first Christians were focused on spreading the word about Christianity while avoiding official persecution, which began as early as A.D. 64 under the Roman emperor Nero. For the next two centuries and more, Christians endured prison and death at the hands of the Roman Empire, while Egyptian, Greek, and Persian gods continued to be worshiped freely.

Things begin to change when Emperor Constantine, who came to power over the Roman Empire in 306, gradually converted to Christianity. As a result, Christianity became the state religion, and public funds were used to build churches. Constantine commissioned the building of the Church of the Nativity on a spot in Bethlehem that was believed to be the exact birthplace of Christ. By the end of the fourth century, the old forms of worship had been banned and Christianity began spreading.

(Jeffrey, Yvonne, “Everything Family Christmas Book”)

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Festive Fact

In the first centuries A.D., the Roman Empire extended around the Mediterranean Sea, encompassing areas we now know as norther Africa (including Egypt), the Middle East (including present-day Israel, Jordan, and Syria), Europe (including France, England, Italy, and Greece), and the region where Europe borders Asia (Turkey). 

25 Days of Christmas: Day 1 ~ The First Christmas

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The First Christmas

You might say that Christmas has been celebrated since the very night of Jesus’ birth, when, the Bible says, the angels announced his arrival on the plains of Bethlehem (in what is now Israel) in an event that was later celebrated in a special Christes Masse, or Christ’s Mass. The actual birth date is something that scholars still debate; however, a combination of Bible stories, historical records, and even astronomical events generally set the year between about 6 B.C. and A.D. 6.

Most of the elements of our traditional Christmas story have their origin in the Bible, in the Gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew. While the two gospels offer some historical contradictions, there’s no doubt that together, they have created a picture of the birth of Jesus that is loved around the world.

Luke’s gospel offers us not only a time and place for the birth of Jesus, but a real human and religious drama. Focusing on the trials of Joseph and Mary, Luke tells us a story of weary travelers forced to spend the night in a stable because there was “no room for them at the inn.” With its focus on the humble manger birth, the gathering of shepherds and angels, and the enduring message of peace on earth, this passage has given some of Christianity’s best loved Christmas songs and traditions.

(Jeffrey, Yvonne, “Everything Family Christmas Book”)

From the Gospel According to St. Luke

The Birth of Jesus

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

birth-baby-jesus-100So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

 (Holy Bible, NIV)

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