Increase Mather’s Testimony on Holy Days – his understanding of Christmas


Jeremiah 6:16

Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways,
and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way,
and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.
But they said, We will not walk therein.


Sherry, from The X Mass H8rs Blog, posted a quote from a work by Increase Mather directed against unbiblical customs in the New England of his day. The entire work is posted at, website of the Reformed Presbyterian Church (Covenanted). Here is the post at Sherry’s blog where you can find the excerpt:

Increase Mather’s Quote from His Testimony on Holy Days

Here is the longer passage from which the quote was taken. In it, Mather argues against the celebration of “Christ-mass” and other manmade “Holy-days”. Give his arguments a hearing and try not to let his use of Latin, older spellings, and the in-text notes stand in your way. 


The Rev. Increase Mather by Jan van der Spriet


Against several Prophane and Superstitious
Now Practised by some in
The Evil whereof is evinced from the
Holy Scriptures, and from the
Writings both of Ancient
and Modern Divines.
By Increase Mather, Teacher of a Church in Boston, and Rector of Harvard College at Cambridge in NEW-ENGLAND.
They turned quickly out of the Way, which their Fathers walked, in Obeying the Commandment of the Lord; but they did not so, Judg. 2:17.
The Customs of the People are Vain. Jer. 10:3.

Ego (inquit Apostolus) omnibus per omnia placeo, Nimirum Saturnalia, & Calendas Januarias celebrans, hominibus placebat? An Modestia, Patientia, an Humanitate, an Integritate Timent Gentes ne viderentur Christiani. Nos ne Ethnici pronunciemur non veremur. Tertullian De Idololatr. Cap. 14.

LONDON: Printed in the Year, 1687.



Against profane Christ-mass-keeping. In the Apostolical Times the Feast of the Nativity was not observed. The very name of Christmass savours of superstition. It can never bee proved that Christ was born on December 25. It is most probable that the Nativity was in September. The New-Testament allows of no stated Holy-day but the Lords-day. Objections answered. It was in compliance with the Pagan Saturnalia that Christ-mass Holy-days were first invented. The manner of Christ-mass-keeping, as generally observed, is highly dishonourable to the Name of Christ.

Concerning that practice of Keeping the 25th day of December in a stated Anniversary way, as a Festival in pretended honour to our Saviour Christ, and in commemoration of his Birth-day, I shall briefly present a few Arguments to the consideration of the Judicious.

1. In the pure Apostolical times there was no Christ-mass-day observed in the Church of God. We ought to keep to the primitive Pattern. That Book of Scripture which is called, The Acts of the Apostles, saith nothing of their keeping Christ’s Nativity as an Holy-day. The [Cent. 2.] Centuriators, and many others take notice that in the first Ages of the New-Testament Church, there were no stated Anniversary Holy-days among Christians. Easter was kept a long time before the Feast of the Nativity, and yet the Apostles never ordained that, as [Lib. 5. c. cap. 22.] Socrates (the most excellent of the Ancient Ecclesiastical Historians) does truly observe. Had there been the least hint of any such day observed in the primitive times, learned Vossius would have told the world of it. One [Voetius in Disput. de Nativ. Christi. p. 22.] saith of him, Si pergama dextra defendi possunt etiam hac defensa fuissent. But he acknowledges that the Feast of Christ’s Nativity was not kept in the first nor yet in the second Century. After Prelatical writers have said all they can say, Chemnitius [Contra Conc. Trial. part. 4 de Festis. p. 262.] his words will be found true. Anniversarium diem Natalis Christi celebratum fuisse, apud vetustissimos nunquam legitur. The most Ancient writers speak not the least word concerning the celebration of Christ’s Birth-day.

2. The word Christ-mass is enough to cause such as are studious of reformation to dislike what shall be known by a name so superstitious. Why should Protestants own any thing which has the name of Mass in it? How unsuitable is it to join Christ and Mass together? i.e., Christ and Antichrist. But what Communion has light with Darkness, and what concord hath Christ with Belial? 2 Cor. 6:15. some of the Jesuits [So the Rhemists.] have advised that endeavours should be used to keep up their old terms and names, such as Priest, Altar, Christ-mass, Candlemass, and the like, hoping that by means thereof in time the things would follow the Names whereby their memory is preserved.

3. It can never be proved that Christ’s nativity was on 25. of December. The most learned and accurate Chronologers conclude otherwise; so Scaliger, Lidiat, Calvisius, Casaubon, Lansbergius, Alstedius; And the ablest Divines which this and the last age have known, such as Parcaeus, Scultetus, Spanhemius, Hospinian; and of our own nation, Perkins, Broughton, and innumerable more; yea, some of the most learned amongst the Papists refer the observation of December 25. to Ecclesiastical Constitution. So Petavius, Suarez, Azorius, &c. The Providence of God has strangely hid the day, perhaps (as concerning Moses’s Body) to prevent Idolatry. They that lived 1400 Years nearer to the time of Christ’s Nativity then we do, yet were at a loss about the day. Clemens Alexandrinus [Stromat. lib. I p. 249.] (who lived Anno 200.) testifieth that in his time there were various opinions concerning it; And he reflects on them as guilty of curiosity who would go about to determine the day of Christ’s Birth. Moreover, when that superstition of keeping a stated Festival in commemoration of the day of Christ’s Nativity did first obtain in the Church, not the 25. of December, but the 6th day of January was the time observed. Many of the Churches in Egypt kept the 5th of January; And so did the Christians of old in Jerusalem. And the Armenians even until the year 1170. And that some belonging to the Latin Church supposed that to be the true day of Christ’s Nativity, is evident from the Glossa ordinaria. [In Esther. 2.] Epiphanius conceived that to be the true time. And some of our late writers (in special Lansbergius) are of that opinion. The truth is that the keeping of December 25. came from Rome: And it began there after Constantine’s time. Nor would the Graecian Churches comply with it at first. Chrysostom (who flourished Anno 400. circiter) in one of his Sermons endeavours to excuse the Novelty of that observation, acknowledging that the 25 of December had not been kept amongst them in Constantinople above ten years. The Arguments commonly alleged in favour of this day are very insufficient. The Prwton Pseudos, or original mistake, which Popish Writers (and before them some of the Ancients) have laid much weight upon, is, that Zachary was the High Priest, and that he did Minister on the 10th of Tisri, i.e., September 27, whence it would follow that John Baptist was born in the latter end of June, and consequently that Christ’s Nativity must be in the latter end of December. But Zachary was not the High Priest, nor can it be proved that his Turn to Minister was at the time mentioned; nor could the Nativity to a day or a week be from thence demonstrated, supposing the premises to be indisputable. There have been some who pretend to a miraculous Argument for their 25 of December viz. That of the Rose of Jericho. They have given out that there is at Jericho a Plant like a Rose, which every year on Christ-mass-Eve flourished, and the next day is dry again. Adrichomius [In Theatro Terrae Sanctae. In Descript. Tribus Benjamin, numb. 63. v. C. a Lapide in Syrac. 24. 18.] & other Papists mention this as a wonderful testimony to their Opinion, of 25 December. But Bellonius [De Plantis terra Sanctae.] has informed us that this is a Monastical Imposture. There is a thorny shrub at Jericho which bears white flowers; and the nature of that Plant is such, that if the Leaves of it (though Dry) be moistened, they will dilate themselves and seem to flourish: which the Monks observing, would on Christ-mass-Eve apply water thereunto, and then make Ignorant People believe that this happened as a sign of Christ’s Nativity on that day. Perhaps the story of the Holy Thorn at Glassenburg in Somerset [Dr. Brown vulgar Errors p. 99, 100. Edit. I.] is the Daughter of this Fiction.

Let it be further added here, that except we could know the hour of the day when our Saviour came into the world, (which no man living does, and it would be sinful curiosity to inquire concerning it) it cannot be proved that it was on December 25. This Suarez was aware of: And therefore he confesseth that if we suppose Christ to be born before midnight, not the 25, but the 24 of December should be celebrated in honour of his Nativity. To conclude (as Torniellus does) that Christ was born a little past Midnight, or (as others say) on the same day of the week, and the same hour of the day in which Adam was created, are curious and bold speculations, which cannot be justified. As for the Astrologers (such as Petrus de Aliaco, Cusanus, Gauricus, Cardan, and some more lately) who by their Horoscopes and Calculations have undertaken to declare the day and hour of Christ’s birth, their attempt is justly charged with not only Vanity but Impiety. A late learned [Riccioli in Almagest, p. prsterior. eom. I. 18.Sect. 2 cap. 20.] Astronomer (though a Jesuit) acknowledges that such Practices are not only unprofitable, but highly Profane:

4. Though the particular Day of Christ’s Nativity is now unknown unto the world, yet it seems most probable that He was born in the latter End of September, or in the beginning of October. There hath been great Variety of Opinions amongst Christians concerning the time of our Lord’s Nativity. Paulus de Middleburgo thinks it was on March 26. But the grounds he goeth on are weak. There were some of old (as Clemens Alexandrinus witnesseth) who believed it was on April 22. unto which opinion Temporarius seems to incline. Lydiat conjectures that the Nativity was on or near May 22. Dr. Petit [In Chronol. l. 1. cap. 13.] thinks it was in the beginning of November. Thus we see that the Providence of God has kept the day secret from the knowledge of men; and it is in vain for any to determine the particular day. Nevertheless, as to the month, a probable Judgement may be made. The Great [De Emendat. Temp. l. 5] Scaliger, [In Chronol. Isag. c. 47.] Calvisius, and L’Empereur [In Scholiis ad Iarchiadenia Dan. 9.] conclude that it was in the latter end of September, or the beginning of October. And before them, Beroaldus, Wolfius and Hospinian were of that Judgment. And this suits well with what is recorded of the shepherds, Luke 2:8. It is not probable that the Shepherds would be abroad watching their Flocks in the Depth of Winter. The month of December is by Hesiod called Meis kalepos probatois, And though in Judaea the summer be hot, yet the winter is cold. Matth. 24:20. Ps. 147:17. But in September or October this might well be. [Wolphius de Tempore p. 81, 82.] Nor is it likely that Augustus should enjoin all his Subjects throughout the whole Roman World to travel into their own cities in the midst of Winter, as he did at the Time when Christ was born. Luke 2:1. Moreover, the Feast of Tabernacles, which signified the Incarnation of Christ, was in the seventh month. Inasmuch as the Passover typified Christ’s Death, he was crucified in that month. Why then may we not think that since the Feast of Tabernacles typified his Nativity, he was in that month born? There were also several other Festivals in that month, which might fitly type the Good Tidings of great joy that should be to all People by reason of Christ’s being born into the world at that season of the Year. Likewise in the same month was the Ark by Solomon brought into the Temple.

From these considerations, some of the Jewish Rabbins (v. Midrash Rabba) have concluded that Messiah should be born in Ethanim or Tisri, i.e., in the 7th Month. And Mr.Broughton (in his Book called the Lord’s Family) observes that the Jews scoff at Christians for keeping the Feast of Christ’s Nativity on 25. of December, saying that they place Christ’s Birth in the month of his Conception. And this Opinion has been confirmed by the practice of the Church in Alexandria, who did of old (as [Homil. in Natal. Domini.] Cyril Alexandrinus testifieth) keep the Feast of John Baptists nativity on the 28. of Pharmuth, i.e., the 23. of our April. And if John’s Birth was at that time of year, Christ’s must needs be in September, or October. I shall not insist on the Argument urged by Scaliger & Calvisius (which some look upon as demonstrative) taken from the several courses appointed for the Priests to Minister, because it depends much upon the testimony of Josephus, who does often mistake in his relating of things. Nor is it certain that Christ was born in the year of the world 3947. upon which Foundation the Scaligeran Argument is built. I shall only add, that [Sic argumentat, Beroald.] Christ was 30. years old when he entered upon his Public Ministry, Luke 3:23. And he continued preaching three years and an half, Dan. 9:27. so that he lived 33 years and an half. And if so (dying at the time of the Passover in the first month) his Birth must needs be in the latter End of September, or the beginning of October.

By this it is appears that Christ-mass-Keepers speak they know not what, when they say on the 25 of December, Thou hast given thy Son to be born this Day; and to use that expression several Days one after another, is absurd. A learned Man [Voetius in Disp. de Festis. pag. 1302.] observes that when the Papists in their Postills say of the Festival dedicated to the memory of this or that Saint, He was born this day, such Festivals are Teachers of Lies, like their graven Images. The like is to be affirmed in this case. It is said of Jeroboam, that he ordained a Feast in the Eighth Month, on the 15 day of the Month, even The Month that he had devised of his own Heart, 1 Kings 12:33. So has the Jeroboam, of Rome ordained a Festival to be kept on the 25th of the 10th Month, but it is the Month and the day which he has devised of his own Heart.

5. God in his Word has no where appointed Christians to keep an Anniversary Holy-day in Commemoration of Christ’s Nativity. It is not a Work but a Word makes one Day more Holy then another. There is no day of the Week, but some eminent Work of God has been done therein; but it does not therefore follow that every day must be kept as a Sabbath. The Lord Christ has appointed the first day of the Week to be perpetually observed in remembrance of his Resurrection and Redemption. If more days then that had been needful, he would have appointed more. It is a deep Reflection on the Wisdom of Christ, to say, He has not appointed days enough for his own Honour, but he must be beholding to men for their Additions. The Old Waldenses witnessed against the observing of any Holidays, besides that which God in his Word hath Instituted.Calvin, Luther, Danaeus, Bucer, Farel, Viret, and other great Reformers, have wished that the Observation of all Holidays, except the Lord’s Day, were abolished. A Popish [Fits-Simeon in Britanomacha, 1. 2. c. 7.] Writer complains that the Puritans in England were of the same mind. So was John Huss and Jerom of Prague long ago. And the Belgic Churches in their Synod, Anno 1578. The Apostle condemns the Observation of Jewish Festivals in these days of the New Testament, Gal. 4:10. Col. 2:16. Much less may Christians state other days in their room. The Gospel has put an end to the difference of Days as well as of Meats. And neither the Pope nor the Church can make some Days Holy above others, no more then they can make the use of some Meats to be Lawful or Unlawful, both which are expressly contrary to the Scripture. Rom. 14:5, 6. All stated Holidays of mans inventing, are Breaches both of the Second and of the Fourth Commandment. A stated Religious Festival is a part of Instituted Worship. Therefore it is not in the Power of men, but God only, to make a Day Holy.

It has been by some pleaded, that Mordecai and Esther appointed the Days of Purim. This was objected by the Papists against the Waldenses many hundred years ago. And of latter time by Bellarmin, Servarius, Bonartus, and other Papists in their Writings against Protestants. And lately by the Prelates against the Non-Conformists. There are two answers given by our Divines. 1. It cannot be proved that those Days of Purim were a Religious Festival. Many [Sic Junius. Et alii. V. Gillespie of English-Popish Ceremonies, p. 55.] Judicious Authors take them to be no more then Days of Civil Rejoicing. They are not called Holy Days of Purim; nor do we find that there was an Holy Convocation of the People enjoined on those Days. The present Jews do not look upon those Days as Holy; they spend them in Feasting, and in telling merry Stories; and although few of them do any servile work on those Days, yet [Buxtorf. Synag. Jud. c. 24. p. 430.] they confess that servile labour is not prohibited therein; so that it appears to be only a Political Feast, not unlike our 5th of November. 2. If we suppose them to be Religious Feasts, we have reason to conceive that they were not of meet Humane Institution. Dr. Whitaker thinks that Mordecai was Divinely inspired, or that some Prophet was sent to give order about the Observation of these Days.

It is also objected, That Christ manifested his Approbation of the Feast of Dedication, by his walking in the Porch of the Temple at that Time, John 10:22, 23. And yet that Feast was made Anniversary by Judas Maccabeus. But it is answered [See Mr. Cawdrey of Holidays in answer to Dr. Hammond, p. 418. &c.] that Christ’s walking there was no Approbation of the Feast. Our Saviour might walk in the Porch of the Temple, and yet not approve all that was done there, at that time. Nor is there the least Evidence of Christ’s going up to Jerusalem, that so he might keep that Feast, or that he was present at it as a Feast. When Paul hasted to be at Jerusalem before Pentecost, Act. 20:16. it was not to keep that Feast, but for other Reasons. And undoubtedly, if the Feast of Dedication was a Tradition of the Elders, Christ, who was for Divine Institutions only in matters of Religion, never manifested his Approbation of it. When Solomon had built the Temple, he made a Feast at the Dedication of it, but he did not command that it should be stated and anniversary. The like is to be said of the second Temple in Ezra 6:16. And therefore it may be questioned whether Judas Maccabeus did not go beyond his Commission, when upon Repairing and Purifying of the Temple after its Defilement by Antiochus, he made it a Law that eight Days should be observed in a stated Anniversary way, to commemorate that Mercy. Some [Weems vol. I. cap, 3. p. 60.] have truly observed, that the Jews in their declining times appointed several Fasts and Feasts which they had no warrant for out of God’s Word.

It is further alleged that the Jews did of themselves state a Fast on the Fifth Month, because of the Temple’s being burnt in that Month, and another Fast in the Seventh Month, on account of Gedaliah’s being then murdered, Zechar. 7:5. Answer. But these were only Temporary and not Perpetual Fasts. Nor did the Lord, when inquired of by them, manifest the least approbation of what they did, but rather the contrary.

6. Christmas Holidays were at first invented and institute in compliance with the Pagan Festivals, of old observed at that very time of the Year. This [De Antiq. Conviv. p. 133.] Stuckius has fully cleared. And [De Origine Festorum Christ.] Hospinian speaketh judiciously, when he saith, that he cloth not believe that they who first of all observed the Feast of Christ’s Nativity in the latter end of December, did it as thinking that Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian. Hence December was called Mensis Genialis, the Voluptuous Month. Whilst the Saturnalian Days lasted, the observers of them were wont to send Gifts one to another, which therefore Tertullian calls Saturnalitia, and Jerom giveth them the Name of Saturnalium Sportulae. The like is done by many in Christmas time. Again, In the Saturnalian Days, Masters did wait on their Servants, as [Saturnal. lib. I.] Macrobius and [Lib. 14.] Athenaeus declare. Hence is that of Horace——Age Libertate Decembri. The Gentiles called Saturn’s time the Golden Age, because in it there was no Servitude, in Commemoration whereof on his Festival, Servants must be Masters. [V. Rainold. Lect. libr. Apoc. p. 1346. Stuckius Antiq. Conviv. p. 131.] And that amongst Christmas-keepers in some parts of the World, there use to be such Masters of Misrule, is too well known. From these Considerations not only Protestant writers, but some Papists [P. Jovius Histor. L. 38. Polydor. Virgil. de Rerum Inventoribus L. 5. c.2.] acknowledge that Christmas Holidays succeed the Old Saturnalia of the Heathen.

Now for Christians thus to practise, is against clear Scripture, which commands the Lord’s People not to learn the way of the Heathen, nor do after their manner, Jer. 10:2.Lev. 20:23. Ezek. 11:12. To observe the Festivals of the Heathen, is one way of partaking with them in their Superstitions. Tertullian in his Book against Idolatry, (cap. 14.) expresseth himself after this manner, Shall we Christians who have nothing to do with the Festivals of the Jews, which were once of Divine Institution, Embrace the Saturnalia and Januaria of the Heathen? How do the Gentiles shame us? who are more true to their Religion than we are to ours. None of them will observe the Lord’s-Day for fear lest they should be Christians: And shall not we then by observing their Festivals, fear least we be made Ethnic’s?

We might take notice of the Ethnicism of this Festival in another respect. It was the manner of the Gentiles to celebrate the Birth-days of their Princes and Patrons. And in Imitation of them, Degenerating Christians thought good so far to symbolize with the Customs of the Nations, as to keep the Birth-day of Christ, whom they acknowledge to be their Lord and Sovereign.

7. The generality of Christmas-keepers observe that Festival after such a manner as is highly dishonourable to the name of Christ. How few are there comparatively that spend those Holidays (as they are called) after an Holy manner. But they are consumed in Compotations, in Interludes, in playing at Cards, in Revellings, in excess of Wine, in mad Mirth; Will Christ the holy Son of God be pleased with such Services? Just after this manner were the Saturnalia of the Heathen celebrated. Saturn was the Gaming God. And (as [Prin. Histriomastix, p. 759.] one saith) the Feast of Christ’s Nativity is attended with such Profaneness, as that it deserves the name of Saturn’s Mass, or of Bacchus his Mass, or if you will, the Devil’s Mass, rather than to have the Holy name of Christ put upon it. Mr. Perkins [In his Exposition of the Creed.] justly complains that, The Feast of Christ’s Nativity (commonly so called) is not spent in praising God, but in Revelling, Dicing, Carding, Masking, Mumming, and in all Licentious Liberty for the most part, as though it were some Heathen Feast of Ceres or Bacchus [See Gataker of Lots, p. 238.]. And Latimer in one of his Sermons saith, That Men dishonour Christ more in the 12 Days of Christmas, than in all the 12 Months besides. Nor is it to be wondered at, if that Festival be accompanied with much Profaneness and Vanity, when the chief Pleaders for them (yea Dr. Hammond [In his Answer to Mr. Cawdrey, p. 274.] himself) are not ashamed to justify the playing at Cards as lawful for a Divertisement on Christmas Holy-days. And is that the way to honour Christ? The Love-Feasts (though in themselves lawful) which began in the Apostles times, were wholly laid aside amongst Christians, because they had been an occasion of Riotous Abuses. There is much more reason to omit the Observation of Christmas Festivities, which have brought a Deluge of Profaneness upon the World. The Scandal of them calls for their Abolition. The School Doctors affirm rightly, [Sic Bannes & Cajetan.] Etiam Spiritualia non-necessaria sunt fugienda, si ex iis Scandalum oritur. Things of an indifferent nature, when they become an occasion of Sin, should not at all be used.


A biography of Increase Mather can be found at Georgia State University’s THE MATHER PROJECT:



5 thoughts on “Increase Mather’s Testimony on Holy Days – his understanding of Christmas

  1. The whole part of Mather’s dissertation against X Mass is very good-I had a hard time choosing which section to c&p. It is much easier to read here at your blog than from the website it came from.

    God bless you!~

    Liked by 1 person

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