Every year before Christmas we all see people sharing memes and articles about how Christmas is a pagan holiday or comes from pagan roots. But is this true and does it matter? First lets investigate where Christmas, the seasonal symbols and ideals, came from and discuss why it matters.
First lets look at the significance of December 25th. This is around the time, every year, of the winter solstice. A day that pagan cultures noted winter was half way over. The agricultural based cultures would celebrate this because they were happy, the winter that killed their crops, was half way over. They would celebrate heavily and thus their businesses would be closed due to the celebrations. Those who had supplies stored up during the winter would help those who were running low on supplies.
In Roman culture, Saturn was the god of agriculture. As winter approached they believed that the god Jupiter forced Saturn out of his provisional position thus the crops suffer from the cold in the absence of Saturn’s provisional power. The winter solstice was a celebration that Saturn would regain power, the winter would end, and agriculture would begin again. The winter festival, Saturnaila, was a well established week long festival by the time of Jesus, beginning December 17th and ending December 25th. The celebrations would consist of all kinds of sinful behaviors. The ever green fir tree was used to decorate the houses of Romans and the temples during the winter festival to have the look and feel that winter is ending. Some pre-christian cultures would ring bells and light candles to drive out evil spirits.
Then in the 4th century, Rome became officially a Christian nation. Also in the 4th century the church then moved to redefine the winter festival to focus on Christian values instead of pagan ones by declaring December 25th as The Lord’s birth day and establishing the Feast of the Nativity. Bells were rang to usher in a spirit (lower case spirit, not a being, but the qualities of an attitude) of making joyful noise for the Lord and celebrating the incarnation of Christ and charity. Candles were lit to symbolize the arrival of the Light of the World. Gifts were given to the poor and charity was a major focus because of God’s charity to the whole world by giving the gift of his Son. Christmas trees soon symbolized everlasting life through the incarnation of Christ. The word Christmas is actually ‘Christes maesse’ which means, “the Mass of Christ.” As more cultures absorbed the Christian beliefs, the various cultures added their own symbolism that were once pagan but redefined to focus on Christian beliefs. Back to our original question:
Is Christmas Pagan?
The answer is yes and no. For atheists and other religions that celebrate the westernized Christmas, of course it is. It serves no value in remembering the birth of The Lord and savior. In some ways it is a holiday for making money for businesses and humanistic thought in showing goodwill and charity to justify ones self as a ‘good person’. For Christians to celebrate the birth of Christ, it is not pagan. All the symbolism reflect the faith in God the Son incarnate. The roots of something does not necessary mean it is predominately and wholly corrupt. The Christian themselves were once lost sinners and pagan but are now saved and made new, they themselves have been redefined and now glorify God in their redefinition. Just about thing can be used to dishonor God then re-purposed to honor God. An annual BBQ with family who were once unbelievers can be redefined as an annual BBQ for family evangelism. A church building, once used as a porn shop, can be re-purposed as a place of ministry and worship for a new church who purchased the building. There are endless examples of how things can be redefined to serve the Lord and glorify him.
What about Santa?
The modern concept of Santa Claus comes from the gradual blending of a variety of traditions into one mythical figure. The tradition of Santa Claus is barely tied to the historical figure, Nicholas of Myra, or “Saint Nicholas.” Nicholas was a Bishop of the church in Myra. There is very little historical information about Nicholas, though
records do show that he was present at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. There are legendary stories and folklore of his generosity. The most famous legend
is that of his giving three gifts of dowry money by wrapping them up and
tossing them through a window to save an impoverished nobleman from
selling his three virgin daughters into slavery or prostitution. Thus we find the very basic elements of Nicholas as a supernatural figure and an anonymous gift giver. But the Santa we have now is by far different from the actual person. Currently he is portrayed nothing more than a mythical figure with very basic elements of the Christmas spirit. Subtracting Santa from Christian Christmas celebrations does not change the Christian meaning of Christmas. When it comes to celebrating God incarnate, Santa is irrelevant.
Christians who DON’T celebrate Christmas
That is fine. Nothing wrong with that. If you can not, in good conscience, celebrate Christmas, you don’t have to. Paul tells us to let everyone be fully convinced in their own mind what days they feel they should and should not celebrate (Romans 14:5). But condemning Christians who do celebrate it is a failure in hearing what Paul (The Holy Spirit) is saying. Some Christians CAN celebrate Christmas in good conscience because they are able to use the redefined traditions and focus the symbol-isms on Christ for God’s Glory. They genuinely celebrate the birth of God The Son incarnate and reflect on the gift of the Son, eternal life, and the very nature of God to love, be charitable, and help those in need. But again, not everyone has to.
EVERY DAY IS CHRISTMAS
To be completely honest, EVERY DAY should be Christmas. We are always to be thankful for God The Son incarnate and the gift of eternal life. We should always show good will toward men and be charitable and help those in need. The ‘spirit’ of Christmas should be an every day attitude and mindset for Christians. But, being human, we need to be encouraged, supported, and revitalized. Having a designated celebritorial day can do just that.
Some aspects of the current symbols in western Christmas celebrations may have come from pagan roots but that doesn’t even matter. So what? The question is how you have purposed them now. Does what you do reflect Jesus Christ and his glory? If Christians do not want to celebrate Christmas than they don’t have not. It is nothing more than a culturally constructed celebration re-purposed for remembering God’s eternal gift. But then again, we should, as Christians, always be in remembrance of God’s eternal gift in the form of Jesus for all the world. The Christmas spirit should be an every day attitude. The meaning of Christmas is what you make it to be; either about Christ or not; but regardless it is a perfect opportunity to proclaim the gospel.
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