Origin of Jewish/Christian holy days: Old Testament, Christmas, Easter, Halloween

See also: Click to ViewMistakes commonly made in telling the story of birth of Christ

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I. Origin of Jewish Holy Days from Moses in the Old testament:

A. Jewish, Hebrew calendar of feast days & holy days: (Adapted from New Bible Dictionary, p 158)

Mth #

Pre-Exilic Name

Post-Exilic Name

Modern Calendar




Ex 13:4, 23:15, 34:18, Dt 16:1


Esth 3:7 Neh 2:1

March - April

Spring Latter rains
Barley & Flax harvest

Click to View14 Passover (Ex 12:18, Lev 23:5)
Click to View15 - 21 Unleavened bread ( Lev 23:6)
Click to View16 first fruits (Lev 23:15ff)


Ziv 1 Ki 6:1, 37


April - May

Dry season begins

Click to View14 Later Passover (Num 9:10-11)



Sivan Esth 6:9

May - June

Early figs ripen

Click to View6 Pentecost (Lev 23:15ff) Feast of weeks Harvest





Grape harvest





July - Aug

Olive harvest




Elul Neh 6:15

Aug - Sept

Dates & summer figs



Ethanim 1 Ki 8:2


Sept - Oct

Early rains

Click to View1 Trumpets (Num 29:1; Lev 23:24)
Click to View10 Day of atonement (Lev 16:29ff; 23:27ff)
Click to View15-21 Tabernacles (Lev 23:34ff; 23:27ff)
Click to View22 Solemn assembly (Lev 23:36)


Bul 1 Ki 6:38


Oct - Nov

Ploughing Winter figs




Chisley Neh 1:1

Nov - Dec


Click to View25 Dedication or Hanukkah 1 Macc 4:52f; Jn 10:22) Not instituted by God, but man made Jewish tradition.



Tebeth Esth 2:16

Dec - Jan

Rains with snow on high ground




Sebat Zech 1:7

Jan - Feb

Almond blossom




Adar Esth 3:7

Feb - March

Citrus fruit harvest


B. Observance of OT holy days not required today: Gal 4:10-11; Col 2:16-17



Bible verses



Lev 23:3; Ex 20:8-11; Deut 5:12-15



Lev 23:5; Num 28:16; Deut 16:1,2



Lev 23:6-8; Nun 28:17-25; Deut 16:3-8



Lev 23:9-14; Ex 23:16; Nun 28:26-31



Lev 23:15-22; Ex 34:22; Deut 16:9-12



Lev 23:23-25; Nun 29:1-6



Lev 23:26-32; Lev 16; Num 29:7-11



Lev 23:33-44; Num 29:12-40; Deut 16:13-15


7th yr

Lev 25:1-7; Ex 23:10-11


50th yr

Lev 25:8-55

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II. New Testament Holy Days:

A. Today we have four basic type* of holy days:

1. Those of divine origin:

a. every Sunday: 1 Cor 16:2; Acts 20:7

b. Sunday is not called a holy day but is the day Christians assemble

c. There are no other holy days revealed in the NT for us to keep.

2. Those whose origin in from the OT: Sabbath day, Pentecost

3. Origin is manmade but based upon NT meanings: Palm Sunday, Trinity Sunday

4. Origin is a combination of man-made Christian ideas & pagan sources:

a. Christmas, Easter, Halloween

B. So called "Christian" holy days fall into 2 categories: Immovable which always occur on the same date and movable which occur on different days each year. None of these "Christian" holy days are found in Bible but all are of human origin.

1. Immovable:

a. EPIPHANY: Jan 6. -Little Christmas- day Jesus revealed to wise men.

b. ALL SAINTS DAY: Nov 1, prayers offered for all souls in Purgatory -preceded by "Holy Evening- or Halloween Oct 31

c. CHRISTMAS DAY: Dec 25, Birthday of Christ

2. Movable:

a. EASTER: lst Sunday after lst full moon of spring. March 22 - April 25 (celebrates Jesus resurrection)

b. ASH WED: lst day of Lent, 7th Wed before Easter: ashes on head- repentance

c. PALM SUNDAY: Sunday before Easter: Jesus' entry into Jerusalem

d. MAUNDY THURSDAY: night Jesus broke bread with disciples before death

e. GOOD FRIDAY: Friday before Easter: Day Jesus died

f. ASCENSION DAY: Thursday, 40 days after Easter: Lord's ascension

g. WHITSUNDAY or PENTECOST: Sunday, 50 days after Easter: birthday of church

h. TRINITY SUNDAY: Sunday after Pentecost: dedicated to the "Trinity7

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III. Origin of Christmas:

A. The word "Christmas" comes from "Christ + Mass"

1. from the Catholic "mass"

2. term first used in 1038 AD

B. Date of Christ's birthday is unknown: best guess is spring of 6BC

1. year: between 4-7BC

a. Dionysius, a Roman monk, invented a calendar in 526AD

b. A year later it was discovered he made a mistake of several years

2. Month: during wars month (late spring-early fall), certainly not December

a. The shepherds were out in their fields at night

b. December too cold. Shepherds didn't leave flocks in field but corralled them

3. Day: We have absolutely no idea

a. Dec 25 was birthday of Mithra, Iranian "GOD OF LIGHT"

b. Liberius, Bishop of Rome, ordered adoption of Dec 25 in 354 AD

c. Jesus birthday was celebrated as the "LIGHT OF THE WORLD"

d. He felt this would turn the pagan feast into a "Christian" feast

4. In the year AD 274, when the winter solstice fell on December 25, the pagan Roman emperor Aurelian proclaimed December 25 as Natalis Solis Invicti, the festival of the birth of the invincible sun. In AD 354, Philocalus wrote a Christian martyrology that dates the nativity of Jesus Christ on December 25, and cites an earlier work as backup. From this we can deduce that Christmas was celebrated on the present date as early as AD 335 in Rome. It may be that Christmas was set on this day to supplant the pagan feast, or it may simply be a coincidence. Hippolytus and Tertullian, two early church fathers who lived before the Nicene Council set up our present method of determining the date of Easter, used March 25 as the date of Easter. If this is also the origin of considering March 25 to be the date of His conception, then it is possible that December 25 was calculated from March 25 (instead of the other way around) so that Christmas might be older than the Natilis Solis Invicti. However, there is no evidence dating earlier than AD 335 that Christmas was even celebrated, let alone on December 25.

5. Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol VI Pg 945; Vol 7 Pg 202: "The myth of Mithra formed the origin of the cult of Mithraism, which flourished in the Roman Empire and was for a time the chief rival of Christianity.... One of be most well known festivals of ancient Rome was the saturnalia, a winter festival celebrated from December 17-24. Because it was a time of wild merry making and domestic celebra6ons, businesses, schools, and law Courts were closed so that the public could feast, dance, gamble, and generally enjoy itself to the fullest. December 25, the birthday of Mithra, the Iranian god of light and the contract and the day devoted to the invincible sun, as well as the day after the Saturnalia, was adopted by the church as Christmas, the nativity of Christ, to counteract the effects of these festivals."

6. "the Jews sent out their flocks into the mountainous and desert regions during the summer months, and then took them up in the latter part of October or the first of November, when the cold weather commenced. While away in these deserts and mountainous regions, it was proper that there should be some one to attend them to keep them from straying, and from the ravages of wolves and other wild beasts. It is probable from this that our Savior was born before the 25th Of December, or before what we call Christmas. At that time it is cold, and especially in the high and mountainous regions about Bethlehem. But the exact time of his birth is unknown; there is no way to ascertain it. By different learned men it has been fixed at each month of the year. Nor is it of any consequence to know the time, if it were, God would have preserved the record of it. Matters of moment are clearly revealed; those which he regards as of no importance are concealed." (Barnes 2:1819)

7. "Hippolytus seems to have been the first to fix upon Dec. 25. He had reached the conviction that Jesus's life from conception to crucifixion was precisely thirty-three years and that both events occurred on Mar. 25. By calculating nine months from the annunciation or conception he arrived at Dec. 25 as the day Of Christ 's birth. The uncertainty of all the data discredits the computation. There is no historical evidence that our Lord's birthday was celebrated during the apostolic or postapostolic times. The uncertainty that existed at the beginning of the third century in the mind of Hippolytus and others . . proves that no Christmas festival had been established much before the middle of the century. Jan. 6 was earlier fixed upon as the date of the baptism or spiritual birth of Christ; and the feast of Epiphany (q.v.) was celebrated by the Basilidian Gnostics in the second century . . . and by catholic Christians by about the beginning of the fourth century. The earliest record of the recognition of Dec. 25 as a church festival is in the hilocalian Calendar (copied 354 but representing Roman practice in 336. . .). In the East the celebration of Jan. 6 as the physical as well as the spiritual birthday of the Lord prevailed generally as early as the first half of the fourth century. Chrysostom (in 386) states that the celebration of the birth of Christ 'according to the flesh' was not inaugurated at Antioch until ten years before that date. He intimates that this festival approved by himself, was opposed by many. An Armenian writer of the eleventh century states that the Christmas festival; invented in Rome by a heretic Artemon was first celebrated in Constantinople in 373. ... How much the calculation of Hippolytus had to do with the fixing of the festival on Dec. 25; and 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 in the year and the 'new sun' or the beginning of the lengthening of days can not be accurately determined. The pagan Saturnalia and Brumalia were too deeply entrenched in popular custom to be set aside by Christian influence. The recognition of Sunday (the day of Phoebus and Mithras as well as the Lord's Day) by the emperor Constantine as a legal holiday, along with the influence of Manicheism, which identified the Son of God with the physical sun, may have led Christians of the fourth century to feel the appropriateness of making the birthday of the Son of God coincide with that of the physical sun. 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 or in manner (Schaff-Herzog. 3:47-48).

C. Origin of various "Christmas" customs:

1. Mistletoe: The Druids considered it sacred, stand under ... right to kiss

2. Christmas tree: Jer 10:1-6; Scandinavians worshipped trees. When they became Christians, they introduced the practice to Christmas

3. Tree decorations: The Germans originated; candles represent stare

4. Yule log: The Norse burned huge log once year to Thor, god of thunder.

a. When they became Christians they burned it to Christ

b. Yule-time greetings means "Christmas-time"; Note mix of paganism

5. Exchanging gifts: Christ was given gifts because he was "King of Jews"

a. The people of the east never approach a king without a gift in hand

b. Gifts had nothing to do with His birthday, it was weeks after born.

6. Santa Claus: legend of St Nicolas, Bishop of Myra in Lycia; 300AD a. the belief that he enters house through chimney originated with Norse legend who believed the goddess, Hertha appeared in the fireplace and brought good luck to the house.

7. Nativity scene: In 1223AD, St. Frances of Assisi, filled a church chancel (front part behind railing) with hay, added an ox, an ass and a young mother to sit with her baby.

D. The birth of Jesus according to the Bible:

1. Jesus born: Mt 1:25; Lk 2:1-7

2. Visit of shepherd same night: Lk 2:8-20

3. Jesus' circumcision at 8 days old: Lk 2:21

4. Jesus presented in temple after days of purification (40 days): Lk 2:22-38

5. Visit of wise men: Mt 2:1-12

6. Flight to Egypt: Mt 2:13-15

7. Male children killed: Mt 2:16-18

8. Return to Nazareth: Lk 2:39; Mt 2:19-23

E. Mistakes commonly made in telling the story of birth of Christ: Click here for more details

1. 3 wise men? Bible says three gifts: gold, frankincense & myrrh: 2 or 10 man could give these gifts

2. Wise men came to Jesus in a house not a manger: Mt 2:11

3. Wise men came when Jesus was at last 40 days old, perhaps 2 years:

a. Jesus was circumcised the 8th day: Lk 2:21

b. Mary completed the 40 days of purification: Lk 2:22 + Lev 12:2-6

c. Jesus taken to Egypt when wise men departed: Nt 2:13

d. Herod questioned them when star first appeared then slaughtered all children 2 years and younger in Bethlehem: Xt 2:7,16

e. Wise men started 100-400 mile 3ourney when they saw star-Jesus born

4. The star first appeared when Jesus was born but didn't shine over house until wise son arrived

a. Mt 2:9 The star went on before then and stood over house

b. The star didn't shine over inn's manger as usually pictured

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IV. Origin of Easter:

A. Origin of word, "Easter": Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring: "Eostre"

1. In her honor sacrifices were offered at the vernal equinox or spring

2. By 8th century church leaders applied "Eostre" to Christ's resurrection

3. In Acts 12:4, "Passover" in mistranslated "Easter" is in some Bibles

B. Origin of symbols of Easter:

1. Easter Egg:

a. Eggs represented new life that returns to nature about Easter

b. Ancient Egyptians & Persians dyed eggs in spring colors & gave to friends

c. Eggs symbolize the now life found in the resurrected Christ

2. Easter bunny: In ancient Egypt, rabbits, like eggs symbolized new life

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IV. Origin of Halloween:

A. Halloween literally means, "Holy Evening"

1. Significance of Oct 31:

a. Autumn festival called, "Sanhain" marked the end of summer

b. It marked the now year for ancient Celtics & Anglo Saxons

2. Catholics named "Holy Evening" because it preceded "All Saints Day"

a. All Saints Day: prayers offered for all souls in Purgatory

3. Old pagan customs were combined with Catholic tradition to create Halloween.

B. The dead were believed to visit their homes on Oct 31:

1. Ghosts, witches, goblins, black cats roamed around all night.

2. Jack-o-lantern might be derived from -night watchman- (for spirits)

3. It was considered the best day to:

a. make deviations for marriage, health, luck, death etc.

b. pacify supernatural powers which controlled the processes of nature.

c. It was the only day the help of the devil was used for such purposes.

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V. Can Christians participate as individuals?

(Keith Sharp)

Is the observance of Christmas pleasing to God? Christmas is the most popular American holiday, and, along with several other holidays such as Easter, St. Valentine's Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving, has a religious background. So the principles which determine the scripturalness of Christmas apply to these other holidays as well.


To scripturally answer our inquiry, we must understand, accept, and apply two important biblical principles . We must have authority from Christ for all we do (Colossians 3:17) . The authority of Christ is expressed in His Word, not in the traditions of men (John 12:48-49; Matthew 15:1-9).

How, then, did the observance of December twenty-fifth as the, birthday of Christ arise?

Celebrate Christmas as a religious Holy Day?

  1. Thus, there are at least four powerful reasons we should not celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Christ.
  2. There is no scriptural authority for its observance. If we act without divine authority, we cut ourselves off from God (2 John 9).
  3. We are forbidden to keep special holy days. Religious festivals and holy days belonged to the law Of Moses by which we are not to judge (Colossians 2:14-17) . The observance of such religious holy days is evidence of apostasy (Galatians 4:9-11) .
  4. The only day special to Christians is the first day of the week. As Jesus rose from the dead on this day (Mark 16: 9), we remember His death each first day of the week by partaking of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Acts 20:7) . We also contribute to the church on that day (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
  5. The Lord's thoughts and ways are far different from ours ( Isaiah 55:8-9). We remember our great presidents by celebrating their birthdays and erecting seemingly imperishable monuments of stone. But the Son of God directed us to remember His death, not his birthday, not by erecting a monument, statue or cathedral of stone but by eating and drinking perishable elements - un1eavened bread and fruit of the vine (Luke 22:14-20).

Celebrate Christmas as a Customary Holiday?

But does this mean it is sinful to remember Christmas as a time of exchanging presents and greetings, visiting family engaging in innocent merrymaking, and decorating? Is it wrong to observe Christmas as a customary holiday? The apostle Paul dealt with this question in principle in his first epistle to the Corinthians. The Corinthians, primarily Gentiles, had questions about keeping customs left over from their pagan heritage. One question was in regard to eating meat that had been offered in sacrifice to an idol. (1 Corinthians 8:1). Some thought that by eating the meat, even though they were not worshiping the idol, they were defiled (1 Corinthians 8:7). Paul identified this as a liberty, a practice that is allowed but not required (1 Corinthians 8:8-9). But this did not mean they could engage in idolatrous worship (1 Corinthians 10:14). To do so would be to fellowship demons and sin (1 Corinthians 14:20-21).

Finally, sometimes they could not know whether the meat had been sacrificed to an idol or just slaughtered for sale in the meat market (1 Corinthians 11:25). Eating this meat socially was also a liberty (1 Corinthians 11:23,25,27) . These three passages (1 Corinthians 8; 10:14-22; and 10:23-33) apply important principles of the doctrine of Christ to three situations which we also face in principle. Should we observe socially customs that are rooted in false religion? (1 Corinthians 8). Should we participate in false religion? (1 Corinthians 10:14-22). Should we keep social customs if we do not know their background? (1 Corinthians 10:23-33) The answer to the first and third questions is This is a liberty. The answer to the second is This is sin.

Paul himself exemplified this principle. Although he refused to allow the Jewish Christians to bind the customs of the law, such as circumcision, on the Gentiles (Acts 15:1-2; Titus 2:3-5), yet he himself , a Jew (Acts 22:3; Philippians 3:5), observed the customs of the law when he was among the Jews (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

The historian Luke records a most striking example of Paul following this principle (Acts 21:18-26) . When the apostle came to Jerusalem upon completion of his third preaching tour, James and the other elders informed him that the "myriads of Jews" who had become Christians were "all zealous for law." (verse 20) They understood this was not a matter of salvation, since they did not bind it on the Gentiles (verse 25 ). The law of Moses was more than a religious system; it was their national, civil law and the basis of their customs as a people. The Jewish Christians were loyal to their country and people, and thus kept "the law" (verse 24) and the "customs" of the Jews (verse 2). They thus walked "orderly" among their own people so as to receive a favorable hearing for the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). The Jerusalem elders asked Paul to take a leading role with four disciples in completing their vow, which he did (Acts 21:23-26). As this is an apostolic example recorded with no divine disapproval, it must be considered authoritative (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; Philippians 3:17: 4:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7,9). It by itself constitutes divine authority to keep the customs of our own people, even those rooted in religious beliefs, as a legitimate means to maintain favorable relations with one's people so as to teach them the gospel.

Three Situations in 1 Cor 8-10





1 Corinthians 8

Known False

Religious - v. 1


v. 2


vv. 8-9

1 Corinthians


Known False

Religious v. 14


vv. 14,21


vv. 14,20-21

1 Corinthians



v. 25


v. 27


vv. 23,25,27

These principles specifically apply to remembering special days (Romans 14:5-6). This does not justify congregational observance of holy days for worship (Galatians 4:10-11), but it does authorize individual observance of special days, including days based on religious beliefs, in keeping with social customs. The association of objectionable names with a day does not negate these truths. Yes, "Christmas" means "Christ mass." But "Sunday" means, "sun's day." Is it wrong to assemble to worship on Sunday? Should we refuse to observe this day by taking off from work and having "Sunday dinner" with our families?

Binding the nonobservance of matters of liberty is just as wrong as binding their observance (Romans 14:3). Is there any inherent sin in putting up an evergreen tree in one's home and decorating it? Is it wrong to exchange gifts? Is it iniquity to send cards? Does one err by singing innocent songs of frivolity? Is it wrong to do on December twenty-fifth what is right on July twenty-ninth?

Does this necessarily mean all should observe the social customs of Christmas? No, it is a matter of liberty and one must be willing to give up a liberty for the spiritual good of others. (1 Corinthians 8:8-9; 10:23-24,31-33; Romans 14:14-15; 15:1-2). Thus, if my observance of Christmas customs leads a weak brother to violate his conscience by following my example against his convictions, I must give up the exercise of my liberty to keep him from sin (1 Corinthians 8:10-13. Romans 14:20-21) . If an unbeliever is led to think I am participating in false worship by the practice I must sacrifice the liberty (1 Corinthians 10:27-29). However, I am not obligated to try to read the minds of others but am to react to what they say (1 Corinthians 10:28) . If exercising a liberty is disruptive to the peace of the Church, I should give it up (Romans 14:14-19). I must not participate in any matter of liberty that I am not fully persuaded is right (Romans 14:23).

Is the observance of Christmas pleasing to God? Not as a religious holy day to remember the birth of Christ nor as a congregational function, for it is both unauthorized and violates principles of the doctrine of Christ. But we may individually observe Christmas and other holidays based in the religious customs of our people as a matter of liberty. "Let each be fully convinced in his own mind."

V. Conclusion

A. 2 Jn 9 It is sin to promote & bind anything religious not found in the

Bible like Christmas, Palm Sunday or Easter upon others. Church shouldn't promote

B. Rom 14:5,6 If an individual places special religious significance upon a certain day and doesn't bind it on any others, that's acceptable

1. Church shouldn't promote publicly that which God has not commanded

C. We need to examine ourselves in these matters:

1. In some areas we can conform: 1 Cor 9:19-23

2. In others we cannot: 2 Cor 6:14-16


Works Cited

  1. Barnes, Albert. Notes On the New Testament.
  2. Jackson, Samuel Macualey, Editor-in-Chief. The New Schaff -Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge.


Steve Rudd

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