Gift giving, Santa, Christmas trees, lights and decorations. Holiday meals and traditions come from all over the place. So many things in our modern day didn’t have just one origin, they are a conglomeration of dozens of bits and pieces that have come from many places and many times.
We hear constantly that Christmas is a pagan holiday, by why?
I have had a few debates myself on the topic and for what it’s worth I wanted to share some of the reasons people believe on both sides in the hope of bringing peace to this topic.
First thing we want o be sure to know is that there are many things around you at all time that could possibly traces some parts of their roots to some pagan practice in history. Paganism is a very broad thing it’s not like Christianity where we have a very specific God and specific beliefs. Paganism was the catch all term for anything outside of God’s people.
Worshiping Idols and human sacrifice were as much a pagan practice as it was to mix herbal remedies. We can easily identify idol worship and sacrifices as evil but at the same time most of us have used or are using some manner of vitamin, mineral or medication all of which derived from the, once considered “pagan” practices of old.
I’m not saying that as a Christian we ought to embrace paganism but if we don’t have a clear definition of what we believe then we end up with narrow legalistic views that we don’t even understand.
The concept that Christmas is a pagan and therefore “Evil” holiday stem from 3 main points.
“Christmas is based on the Ancient Roman Festival of Saturnalia”
Saturnalia was observed between the 17th and 23rd of December and was celebrated by making a sacrifice to Saturn the Roman god associated with Liberation, renewal, wealth, abundance, generation and dissolution.
They had a public festival like a fair they had a public feast and they gave gifts to each other. They even served their own servants at this event.
There are some similarities to the way modern people celebrate Christmas however there are some very important fundamental differences.
Giving gifts is a part of this festival however giving gifts is not an exclusively pagan custom. Neither is Sharing a meal which is scriptural. The book of acts talks much about the communal meal shared between believers. The only specifically Pagan thing about this festival was the sacrifice to the god Saturn.
Christianity is not a trap. God isn’t looking for us to fail and the idea that you might give a gift to a person and God jump out and say “Ha! That was pagan, your evil!” is ridiculous. The only thing in this set of activities that is wrong is making a sacrifice to another god and you absolutely can’t do something like that by accident. I will touch on this more later in the article.
Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25th
Birth records of Jesus day weren’t quite the same as they are now. People had children at home their community whom knew them would be aware of the new additions but in a wider view they were necessarily recording those things thinking that history would want to know. Most people on average didn’t even know how to read or write it wasn’t as very common skill especially in rural areas where it wasn’t a common need. As such in the early church they wanted to honor the birth of Christ but didn’t have an exact day. December 25th was the day chosen. The choice wasn’t random and it wasn’t to cover up old pagan beliefs it was chosen based on historical extrapolation. In other words, they used certain bits of information that was known about the area and events to try and narrow it down. This is also where the concepts of B.C. and A.D. come from its not a precise measure it was an approximation. The actual day of Christs birth is not really the point. This was the day decided upon by the church at the time to set aside for the celebration of the birth of our king. There’s nothing evil or deceptive going on here its just a commemoration like a plaque is or a monument. We know who it was and we know what they did and even though we don’t have the date we can still celebrate.
If you were to do a quick search on scriptures against Christmas you see among the top results this passage from Jeremiah
Jeremiah 10 New International Version (NIV)
God and Idols
10 Hear what the Lord says to you, people of Israel. 2 This is what the Lord says:
“Do not learn the ways of the nations
or be terrified by signs in the heavens,
though the nations are terrified by them.
3 For the practices of the peoples are worthless;
they cut a tree out of the forest,
and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.
4 They adorn it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so it will not totter.
5 Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field,
their idols cannot speak;
they must be carried
because they cannot walk.
Do not fear them;
they can do no harm
nor can they do any good.”
Many people see this as being very cut and dry. The passage mentions trees and it mentions decorating them in silver and gold (two iconic Christmas colors) and bringing it in the house. Sounds like a Christmas tree, right?
Well not really. See on closer inspection we read that it was a tree but it was shaped by the chisel of a craftsman. That adds more information to the decoration aspect because that was how they used to make idols. They car it our of wood and then plate it in gold and decorate it with silver. This is talking now about a tree in the house as being a pagan practice “ways of the word” as it says in the passage. Its talking about actual idols, carvings of actual gods of the pagans for worship.
To sum up here worship is an intentional act. You can’t do it by accident. You can’t worship pagan Gods accidentally no more than one could accidentally worship Jesus. Worship is a heart expression. The bible tells us that God sees our hearts and frankly, Thank God that he does. Putting up a tree or lights or giving gifts is not the same as making a temple sacrifice to a pagan god. Its not the same as worshiping false gods or other gods and its not detracting from our God so long as you are focused on the lord Christ for which the holiday gets it name.
Its not important what other traditions have close or similar dates, its not important avoid doing what other people do when what your referring to are simple and mundane activities like having a communal meal or giving gifts, fellowship and generosity are both biblical. Just because pagans have done it as well doesn’t taint the activity. You will know when you have stepped over that line because it won’t be accidental. You can’t find yourself praying to a wooden statue or making sacrifices without knowing what you’re doing.
I’m not saying that every Christian person needs to have trees or give gifts or anything like that but its important to know that there is no cause for division in this area.
If there is a logical reason for keeping peace and you choose instead to keep fighting that is no other peoples mistake or misunderstanding it is yours.
Let us be peaceful in the body of Christ as we all love our lord and celebrate not when he was born but that he was born and all the glorious things that he died for us while here.