For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life – John 3:16

 

Is Christmas just a Christianized pagan holiday? Is this “holiday” really a very unholy day unworthy of celebrating the birth of Jesus, the incarnation of God? Those questions will be addressed in this study. First we will start by looking at reasons we should not celebrate Christmas.

Why you SHOULDN’T celebrate Christmas

Are there pagan parallels in Christian Christmas? There are definitely some pagan trimmings to the Christmas holiday. There’s a lot of misinformation floating around out there in the social media world and personal conversations. Let’s look at some reasons why we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas.

Santa may not be as bogus as we think. Let’s begin with the Big Fella in the room, Santa Claus. There are those who say “Santa is just a misspelling of Satan.” They demonize Santa. I have to admit, there really is a lot that is bogus about Santa Claus. For instance, I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to lie to your children. If you lie to your children, even in a way you think is harmless and fun, when they grow older it will leave a doubt in their minds that says, “Hmm, mom and dad liked to me once, are they lying now when the speak about Jesus?” You may think telling your kids about a mystical Man riding mystical reindeer throughout the world on Christmas night is harmless, but ask yourself as a parent, do we really want to communicate anything other than integrity, honesty, and truth to our children?

But before you throw out the baby Santa with the bathwater also know that there is some good from Old Saint Nick. History tells us that Sain Nicholas was so passionate about protecting and contending for the deity of Christ that at the Council of Nicea he took a swing at the heretic Arius. Now maybe he lacked self-control, but there’s something about someone that passionate about the nature of Jesus that I find attractive. [1]

The legend of St. Nick giving to the needy seems to be rooted in history. He does appear to have been a leader in the Church who gave in secret and had a heart of compassion. Those are good qualities that we should include in our Christmas holiday celebrations. [2]

Pagan associations. [3] In an article entitled The Unexpected Origins of Popular Christmas Traditions (CBS Mornings – 12.25.2018) historian Kenneth C. Davis states, “Christmas is really about bringing out your inner pagan.” According to Kenneth C. Davis, Christmas is nothing more than an early fourth century Christianize pagan holiday. Davis’s take on the holiday is that:

“In ancient Rome there was a feast called Saturnalia that celebrated the solstice. What is the solstice? It’s the day that the sun starts coming back, the days start getting longer. And most of the traditions that we have that relate to Christmas relate to the solstice, which was celebrated in ancient Rome on December 25. So when Christianity became the official religion in a sense, in Rome, they were able to fix this date. … There’s a little discrepancy about it but there’s no question that the fact that it was celebrated in Rome as an important day with gift giving, candle lighting, and singing and decorating houses really cemented Christmas as December 25.

David goes on to say that evergreen trees, hanging apples or ornaments on those trees were all rooted in pagan worship. He states kissing or greeting under Mistletoe was a Druidic custom believed to bring peace and have healing powers. He mentions that the early Puritans of the mid-17th century prohibited celebrating Christmas because of its pagan connections. [4]

It’s true, kissing under the Mistletoe is purely a pagan practice. Of all the Christmas symbols or traditions Mistletoe is the one with the least value. I’m good with anyone who would say The Mistletoe must go! But the Christmas tree itself finds its Christian use in the 16th century when Martin Luther started the tradition of using an evergreen tree as a symbol of eternal life and decorating it with lit candles as symbols of the stars of heaven. He did that after he was impressed with the beauty of God’s creation while walking home one night. That seems to be a good thing to emphasize at Christmas.

Some would say gift giving at Christmas finds its origins in Egypt, but we should remember that the wisemen form the East came to present gifts to Jesus. There is Biblical precedent to gifting (Matthew 2:1-12). [5] Gifting is a type or symbol of grace. Jesus is the greatest gift of God’s grace. Grace is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Christmas should be about God’s grace and His giving. Giving can be corrupted. When we give to get or give dishonestly and freely, we pollute the spirit of giving. Giving, if it is holy and God-like, should be costly, meaningful, sacrificial and in love. Christmas is a great opportunity to demonstrate the true nature of giving.

Pure non-pagan symbols of Christmas. Are there any Christmas symbols that are pure and not pagan pollutions? There are! It’s believed the tradition of Candy Canes in the shape of a “J” for Jesus were an invention of a choirmaster in 1670 who used them to quiet down children in his choir as they rehearsed for a Nativity presentation. Putting a star atop your Christmas tree reminds us of the Star of Bethlehem that led the wisemen and shepherds to Jesus. Holly reminds us the Babe in a manger would one day bear a crown of thorns. The presence of poinsettias at Christmas is rooted in two poor Mexican children wanting to give something to Jesus. They had nothing but brought leaves that miraculously bloomed. Not much wrong with wanting to give Jesus a gift. Hanging Christmas stockings comes from a story in the 1800s about a father who was concerned he lacked a dowry for his three daughters. He hung three stockings on his fireplace in hopes of a gift and his prayers were answered when Saint Nick deposited some gold in them. It’s not hard to see the connection with decorating with lights being associated with the light of the world Jesus. Tinsel finds its beginnings in a legend of the Ukraine where a family in poverty, with no means to decorate their Christmas tree, found in that in the night a spiker had crept in and spun a web on their tree. In the morning as the sun rose, it turned the threads to silver and gold. A bit magical, but nothing prohibitive I can see. [6]

Christmas is NOT a pagan holiday. Despite all of the above, Christmas is not a “pagan” holiday. Christmas is distinctively “Christian” in that it celebrates the virgin birth of Jesus. Christmas is a holy day set aside once a year to recognize and appreciate the day (the night) God became man and came into this world to make Himself known personally to humanity His creation. Christmas is the holy day to celebrate and be thankful that on that holy night Immanuel “God with us” became a reality (Matthew 1:23).

Here’s a few things to keep in mind when considering Christmas and paganism (Thanks to GotQuestions.org):

First, the pagan origins of Christmas are far from certain. The winter solstice, often tied with Christmas, never falls on December 25. Likewise, Saturnalia, which has also been proposed as the origin of Christmas, was never celebrated on December 25. Other Christmas symbols, such as trees and candles, may have had some pagan connotations, but these are so common in human experience that it can hardly be claimed that their use was ever exclusive to paganism.

Second, the meaning of any word, symbol, or custom is determined by current usage, not origin. Many words and practices have departed from their origins and no longer mean anything close to what they once did. For instance, the swastika has been around for thousands of years as a symbol of good fortune. It was therefore reasonable for the Nazi party to take this as their symbol, as they emphasized that they were the party to bring good times back to Germany, which was going through hard times after World War I. However, it would be absolute foolishness for a person to decorate his home today with swastikas based on their “real meaning.” The swastika has been so thoroughly identified with the horrors of the Holocaust that, in the current culture, it is a symbol for anti-Semitism and all things evil. The original meaning of the symbol is completely irrelevant. . . .

Regardless of what the Christmas symbols may once have meant, their use today needs to be evaluated on the basis of what they mean today. To automatically associate candles, colored lights, or decorated trees with pagan worship is unwarranted. . ..

Third, when cultures clash, there is always an attempt to change and co-opt language and cultural symbols. Paul had no problem co-opting a pagan altar in order to spread the gospel. Speaking at the Areopagus, he says, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23–24).

If what we know as Christmas originally started out as a pagan celebration, then it has been so successfully co-opted by Christians that any self-respecting pagan would be distressed at what Christians have done to it. Christmas celebrations are so completely the opposite of paganism that any suggested link between the two can be disregarded.

Christians celebrating Christmas are no more pagan than are churches who gather to worship on Sunday (so named because it was the pagan “Day of the Sun”) or who hold a prayer service on Wednesday (named after the Norse god Woden). The pagan origins of the names of the days of the week have nothing to do with the church’s weekly gatherings, and ancient pagan winter festivals have no real bearing on the modern Christian celebration of Christmas.

Imagine a second- or third-century Christian reflecting on his town’s celebration of Saturnalia. He thinks to himself: “The whole town is celebrating Saturnalia with feasting and giving of gifts. They are talking about ‘freeing souls into immortality’ and ‘the dawn of a golden age.’ I think this might be a great time to throw a party and invite my friends over to tell them how their souls really can be freed into immortality and the dawning of the truest golden age of all, the Kingdom of God. I think it might be a good idea to give them some gifts as well in honor of God’s giving us the greatest gift of all.” In this way, a celebration is “redeemed” for God’s glory and Christians are given a biblical alternative to the pagan day.

With every cultural practice, Christians usually fall into three different camps. Some simply accept the practice wholesale without any reflection. Obviously, this is unwise. Other Christians will simply reject it and often retreat into a Christian subculture. Finally, some will carefully reflect on the cultural practice, embrace what they can, reject what’s ungodly, and redeem what’s worth saving. Christians have been so successful in co-opting some cultural practices that no one even remembers what the original meaning of the practices was. If the origins of Christmas are indeed pagan, then this is what happened, to God be the glory! Would to God that it would happen to more of our social and cultural conventions and activities. . .. [7]

Well said I think.

Christmas worldliness. If there is something we should not indulge in during the Christmas season it is carnal selfishness and worldliness.  In the Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1659 to 1681 celebrating Christmas was illegal. This prohibition was based on the belief that “such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other countries” were “a great dishonor of God and offense of others. The penalty for breaking the law was five shillings. This prohibition was lifted by 1789 as the December 25th celebration had become so popular. But Christmas wasn’t made a federal holiday until nearly a century later.

There is good to celebrate Christmas as we will see. But there are also pitfalls and pollution to be avoided. For instance, each year nearly 1500 people are taken to the Emergency Room because of accidents associate with Christmas. [8] Dried out Christmas trees cause an estimated 260 fires per year in the United States which result in 12 death, 24 injuries, and 16.4 MILLION dollars in damage on average.[9] Americans spend on average about $1000 a year on gifts. Only about fifty-one percent of American adults attend religious services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. [10] All of this seems to “X” out the true spirit of Christmas. But wait, did you know that “Xmas” isn’t really an attempt to “X” Jesus out of Christmas? That’s right, the “X” in Christmas is from the Greek letter Chi, the first letter in the Greek rendering of Jesus’ name. As far back as 1100 the name for Christianity was frequently spelled “Xianity.” [11] There’s still hope for Christmas!

The History of the Church and Politics. “Historically, in 311 AD, The Edict of Serdica was issued by the Roman Tetrarchy of GaleriusConstantine and Licinius, officially ending the Diocletian persecution of Christianity by declaring it a Religio licita in the Roman Religion. Soon after, in 313 The Edict of Milan legalized Christianity across the whole Roman Empire.”[12] These edicts which effectively made a halt to the persecution of Christians were welcomed by the Church, but some view these developments as leading to the corruption of the Church. When these edicts were enacted it led to a closer relationship with the government by the Church. Emperor Constantine feigned conversion (which he did not fully admit to until he was on his death bed) and welcomed the Church as a helpful asset and ally in his rule. This grew into a political relationship that benefited the State and the Church. The State protected the Church and required church membership to function in society. The Church was then besieged with an influx of people. This may sound good, but it led to a diminishing of discipleship as well as a watering down of ministry so that to connect with pagan people coming into the Church, pagan symbols were adopted by the Church and given a Christianized meaning. As the Church and State allied themselves the Church suffered as it succumbed to the lust for power and influence and wealth in the world.

Beyond its symbolism, the Church also began to alter its theology. No longer was the Church persecuted and in need of a “blessed hope” of Jesus’ return. Instead, the Church that was increasingly growing comfortable in the world began to allegorize scripture and see itself as establishing the Kingdom of God for Jesus to return. This led to Amillenialism and ultimately to supplanting the Bible as sole authority with the Church as authority over the Bible. This has led to a great deal of confusion and abuse historically.  It’s led to antisemitism and an overemphasis on political action to the neglect of evangelism. It’s a complex issue that this digression is not aimed at addressing. But some would say that “Christmas” and its “pagan” rooted symbolism, is a result of the Church’s political involvement. They are not altogether incorrect in that assertion. There is some truth to it.

Is December 25th even the actual date of the birth of Jesus? Some cite the unlikeliness of shepherds being in the fields in wintertime when the angels made their proclamation in the Biblical account of Jesus birth. But there is indeed evidence to support a December 25th dating of Jesus birth. As early as the Third century we find reference to December 25th as the birthday of Jesus. There is quite a bit of proof for December 25th being the actual birthdate of Jesus. (see this link for more details – https://www.gotquestions.org/December-25.html ). The important part of Christmas is not so much the actual dating of Jesus birthday, but that Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, Messiah, Immanual – God with us, WAS ACTUALLY BORN INTO OUR WORLD.  Sometimes we can miss the trees by getting lost in the forest of “facts.”

But there is no scriptural command to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The Bible doesn’t instruct us to celebrate the birth of Jesus. There is no indication that the church in the Book of Acts did not celebrate the birth of Jesus. The Bible doesn’t command us to nor prohibit us from celebrating the virgin birth of Jesus. But does the absence of instruction to celebrate the birth of Jesus prohibit us from celebrating the birth fo Jesus? No!

Why you CAN celebrate Christmas.

It’s a personal decision. When it comes to the individual recognition of “days” the Bible indicates it is a matter of personal preference. The Apostle Paul addressed such an issue in his letter to the Romans where he states:

Romans 14:1–13 (NKJV) – Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written:

“As I live, says the Lord,

Every knee shall bow to Me,

And every tongue shall confess to God.”

12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.

Paul was addressing not only an issue with worshipping on certain days, but also with the eating of food that had been used in pagan temple worship. An animal would be sacrificed in the pagan temple and any meat that was left over would be sold for people’s consumption. Some in the Church viewed eating meat with such pagan associations as akin to joining in the pagan worship. Paul refuted such a thought saying:

Romans 14:14–23 (NKJV) – 14 I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.

19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. 21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. 22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.

There is precedent in principle for people celebrating Christmas. These verses are applicable to our deciding whether to celebrate Christmas. Considering this, we should give liberty to people to celebrate Jesus at Christmas if they so desire.

Why it’s a BLESSING to celebrate Christmas.

Lifting up Jesus is always good. Even though celebrating the birth of Christ is not commented in scripture, it also is not prohibited. In the Fourth century AD when the nature of Jesus was under attack, Christmas celebrated His birth.

Why celebrating Christmas is a MUST. We should always lift up Jesus –

John 3:14–16 (NKJV) – 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Lifting up Jesus is always good. Whenever we can point to Jesus, that’s good. Celebrating the birth of Jesus would fall into that category. When we lift up Jesus at Christmas, we should take the opportunity to tell them about God’s greatest gift, Jesus, given in God’s love for the lost of the world. God loves this world, He doesn’t hate it. God loves this world so much that in His grace he sent Jesus and Jesus came to pay our debt of sin. In so doing Jesus became the just basis for the forgiveness of sins for all who admit their sins and ask God’s forgiveness. That is at the heart of Christmas. That truth should be at the heart of every Christmas celebration. Jesus really is the reason fo the season. Jesus is the greatest Gift!

All things to All People to Save Them

When it comes to Christmas the bottom line is that it’s an opportunity to lift up Jesus before a sinful world. Rather than huddle in isolation and hibernation from the world, we are to infiltrate and influence for the glory of God. That’s what Jesus meant when He said:

Matthew 5:13–16 (NKJV) – 13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

We are to always be “holy,” separate and distinct from the commonalities of a sinful world. But holiness is not isolation and hibernation. Holiness means we take our distinctiveness in Christ and shine His light in the lost world’s darkness. Holiness is not being out of touch with the lost world but being in touch with Jesus in their midst.

The Apostle Paul explained our relationship to the world in the following way:

1 Corinthians 9:19–23 (NKJV) – 19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.

What does this mean? It means we serve all people in order to win to Christ as many of them as possible. When Paul says, “I became a Jew,” or became “as under the law,” “weak,” and “all things to all men,” he wasn’t speaking of compromising with sin in some way. Paul was speaking of being aware of people’s circumstances so that we can relate to them and share jesus with them so they might be saved from their sin. We don’t get drunk to minister to alcoholics. We don’t become a Jehovah’s Witness to win a Jehovah’s Witness to Christ. We don’t have sex with the lost to try to win them to Christ. No, we familiarize ourselves with unsaved people and empathize with their plight, so they know we are genuinely sympathetic to them and loving them when we shar ethe gospel with them. This is holy in that our holy love compels us to reach out to the lost (e.g. 2 Cor. 5:14-16). This is making Christmas a holy day.

It’s always good to lift up Jesus, to present Him to a lost world as a Savior to be received by faith as a gift of God’s grace. It’s not really a question of whether we should celebrate Christmas. We definitely should celebrate and proclaim the birth of Christ. The issue is more in the how we celebrate the holy day holiday of Christmas. Let’s lift up Jesus. Let’s lift up Holy Jesus in a holy way on this holiday of Christmas. It’s always good to celebrate and lift up Jesus. That’s why we should celebrate Christmas. By the way, have a MERRY CHRISTMAS! PRAISE THE LORD!

 

[1] https://charlotteriggle.com/st-nicholas-and-arius-at-the-council-of-nicea/

[2] https://leadersgolast.com/the-story-of-saint-nicholas-kindness/

[3] https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/holidays/christmas-ideas/g29130761/christmas-symbols-meaning/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=arb_ga_ghk_md_pmx_us_urlx_19597983321&gad_source=5&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIuvDrpKDpggMV0U9HAR2dYgouEAAYASAAEgIHsPD_BwE

[4] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-unexpected-pagan-origins-of-popular-christmas-traditions/

[5] Ibid. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/holidays/christmas-ideas/g2972/surprising-christmas-facts/

 

[6] 11 Popular Christmas Symbols and What they Really Mean by Liz Schumer of Good House Keeping 9.23.22. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/holidays/christmas-ideas/g29130761/christmas-symbols-meaning/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=arb_ga_ghk_md_pmx_us_urlx_19597983321&gad_source=5&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIuvDrpKDpggMV0U9HAR2dYgouEAAYASAAEgIHsPD_BwE

[7] https://www.gotquestions.org/Christmas-pagan-holiday.html

[8] Ibid. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/holidays/christmas-ideas/g2972/surprising-christmas-facts/

 

[9] Ibid. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/holidays/christmas-ideas/g2972/surprising-christmas-facts/

 

[10] Ibid. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/holidays/christmas-ideas/g2972/surprising-christmas-facts/

 

[11] Ibid. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/holidays/christmas-ideas/g2972/surprising-christmas-facts/

 

[12] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_toleration

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