Question:I heard that Christmas is a pagan holiday? What gives?
Every year, this question is bound to come up. Well-meaning people want to inform the ignorant that this Norman Rockwell holiday has evil roots; that Christians who know better should shun the whole Santa scene with its reindeer, snowmen, elves and sleighs. The Grinch is the only proper person to emulate on this non-Christian holiday.
So is Christmas a fabricated, non-Christian holiday?
There are a number of ways to answer this: “No,” “Sort of,” and “Yes.” Let me take them in that order.
Christmas isn’t a pagan (non-Christian) holiday. We celebrate the birth of Jesus, the long awaited coming of Christ into the world. How Christian can you get?
But the fact that so much of our holiday is shared and shaped by the world around us leads me to answer, “Sort of.” After all, Baby Jesus shares the stage with angels, donkeys, shepherds, wisemen, and a whole host of other creatures and figures less than Biblical: Frosty, Rudolf, elves, Santa, and even a green Grinch. The whole notion of a Savior is threatened to be smothered by wrapping paper, fudge, gifts, cards, parties, lights, candy canes, Visa bills, dead fir trees and wreaths. So the day isn’t exclusively Christian.
In fact historically, first century believers didn’t celebrate the birth of Christ at all. The resurrection of Christ from the dead (celebrated as “Easter”) captivated their attention far more than His birth. Authorities aren’t even certain about the precise date of Christ’s birthday. Some think the end of December, while others point to the first of January, and still others figure as late as the end of March! No one is sure. So how did we arrive at December 25th?
By 336 A.D., the majority of churches celebrated Christmas (or as they called it, “The Feast of the Nativity”) on our traditional date. But some point out (usually passionately and angrily) that behind that date was a pagan holiday—the Feast of Saturnalia, the festival celebrating the birth of the Sun in the sky (i.e. the turning point in the dead of winter when days begin to get longer again). They had feasts, gave gifts, sang songs and made merry. (Sound familiar?)
So it is a pagan holiday!? Yes. So what?
THEN WHY CELEBRATE IT?
Ponder why Christians associated with that date. Instead of boycotting the whole mess, early Christians decided to redefine it and use it as an evangelistic opportunity to reach their pagan neighbors with the message of Christ—who at least for time would be open to the thought of God in their life. They took hold of the holiday, and used it as a platform to worship and proclaim not the sun, but the Son (a play on the words not only in English, but also in Greek).
So if someone gets in your face about Christmas, just remember. You don’t have to participate if you don’t want to. There is no Biblical command to buy a tree, or to eat fudge (though I wish there were), or to buy gifts or even to kiss under mistletoe. God doesn’t demand you celebrate Christmas. On the other hand, you do no wrong to enjoy the season, especially if you use it as a means to remember that the Son of God has come, and to enjoy the company of others who don’t yet know Him as Savior.
People need to know Jesus. Worship Him, talk about Him, and give others the best gift God has given you: His Love in Christ!
What do you do traditionally that you treasure at Christmas?