- Holidays and Celebrations
Is Christmas of Pagan Origin?
The question of whether Christmas is a pagan celebration always crops up as the holidays approach. Some make the assertion it is, therefore shouldn’t be celebrated. But contrary to this notion, Christmas doesn’t have pagan origins as many claim. This idea evolved from some winter celebrations that were, for example, the Saturnalia. The Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival in honor of the deity Saturn originally held December 17 and later expanded with unofficial festivities through December 23.
Originally Christmas was celebrated in the spring, but the Church had to compete with the temptation of Christians wanting to participate in the Saturnalia. So the church caved deciding they could celebrate Christmas anytime they wanted. Why not do it at the same time pagans were celebrating their festival? The concept was to keep Christians from being wooed away from the church.
Was that a good idea? Some might not agree. But it wasn’t the first time the church resorted to such measures, taking a popular cultural practice and reinvesting it with spiritual new meaning. For instance, circumcision was practiced by the Egyptians before it became a Jewish custom having religious significance.
God took the practice, reinvested it with new meaning and gave it to Abraham. Christian leaders figured if it was okay for God to do that, then it certainly was okay for the church. After all, Christians weren’t celebrating the pagan holiday.
No doubt some are thinking, “But what about the Christmas Tree? Isn’t that a pagan symbol?” If you listen to the words of the song "Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree," the original was composed with the Christmas tree speaking the gospel. So, Christians aren’t worshiping some tree god as an idol. It represents a religious cultural expression.
The same thing applies for the custom of gift giving. It may have had pagan origins for others at one time. However, for Christians now, it represents the gifts given to the baby Jesus in the manger and the gift God gave in the person of Jesus. The point is, there’s nothing negative about reinvesting cultural forms with spiritual meaning. That’s what was done with certain aspects of Christmas. Of course, some still object.
It appears if one celebrates the birth of Christ, they’re doing something wrong. Nowhere in the Bible are we told to celebrate Christmas. Perhaps, but that in no way implies it shouldn’t be. Here’s one way to look at it. Man's law says we shouldn't smoke in certain places or are not allowed to drink if underage. Now, the Bible doesn't say directly we shouldn't smoke but as Christians, we know by what it teaches, it’s morally wrong.
There are different ways this kind of legalism works. One way it's used is we take man’s laws and make them equal with God's laws. In other words, we make things wrong the Bible doesn't make wrong. It takes a rule God didn't give and applies it to men.
Christmas is a fully legitimate holiday even though there may have been some pagan elements originally associated with it in the beginning. That doesn't mean it does today. What the word Christmas means now is the day Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. That’s what it means, pure and simple with no paganism attached. For anyone to say that centuries ago it meant this or that is a moot argument. It doesn't mean that anymore.
There are probably many things people do, that if you went back to their beginnings, would have their origins in questionable ideology, but their significance is different now. Even Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, wasn't commanded to be celebrated in the Scriptures. It's something done in remembrance of a special deliverance by God.
There is a difference between the meaning of Christmas and spirit of Christmas. One is theological, the other emotional. The true meaning of Christmas has to do with the birth of Jesus. The spirit of Christmas involves the feelings one has about it. For example many people of non Christian cultures celebrate Christmas…for whatever reasons.
Those who argue Christmas is a pagan celebration have the right to believe that and not celebrate it. But, they don’t have the right to selfishly deny those believing differently the right to celebrate it if they choose to do so.