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Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

What Would You Say?

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Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?


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You’re in a conversation and someone says, “Christmas is a pagan holiday, so Christians shouldn’t celebrate it.” What would you say? Perhaps you’ve heard a skeptic or maybe even a Christian claim that Christmas, including decorated trees, gifts, the date of December 25 and even the idea of a virgin birth are actually just leftovers that were taken from non-Christian religions. And because they are, Christians shouldn’t participate in Christmas celebrations. Relax. Even if the origins of some Christmas traditions are unclear, that’s not really a problem for Christians. So, the next time someone says, “Christmas is a pagan holiday, so Christians should stop celebrating it,” here are three things to remember: Number 1: Christmas is rooted in Scripture, and it’s always been about Christ. The accounts of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke were written in the first century. No serious historian believes that Jesus’ Jewish disciples were copying some pagan tradition when they told this story. Even before the church settled on a date or the word “Christmas” was invented, the reason for the season was right there in the Gospels. When we read the accounts of Jesus’ birth in the Gospels, and sing carols about Him, and show our gratitude to God for giving us His Son by giving to others, we are doing what the very earliest Christians would have done. In fact, the song that became the very first Advent hymn is Mary’s “Magnificat.” You can find it in Luke chapter 1. Number 2: The date of Christmas probably has nothing to do with pagan festivals. No one is exactly sure when Jesus was born. Sometimes people claim that December 25th was chosen as the date of His birth because it coincided with a Roman feast day. But this theory has actually fallen out of favor with many historians. In fact, according to the Biblical Archaeology Society, “…we don’t have evidence of Christians adopting pagan festivals in the third century, at which point dates for Christmas were established. Thus, it seems unlikely that the date was simply selected to correspond with pagan solar festivals.” A more convincing theory is that the early church simply calculated December 25th as Jesus’ birthday because it was nine months from the day they believed to be the date of His conception and death: March 25th. For instance, Saint Augustine wrote: “For [Jesus] is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day he also suffered…But he was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th.” In fact, it wasn’t until the 12th century that any writer even suggested the date for Christmas was influenced by a pagan festival. Number 3: It’s okay to adopt and redeem some pagan traditions. The origins of decorated trees, yule logs, mistletoe and other seasonal trappings aren’t exactly clear. Historians think they were traditional to parts of Europe before Christianity arrived. But just because a tradition has pagan roots doesn’t mean Christians can’t enjoy it. The cross that sits on top of many church steeples and hangs around many necks was a Roman tool of torture, before it was transformed into a symbol of eternal life by Christ. Several months of our year are named after Roman deities, and the very days of the week, like “Woden’s Day,” and “Thor’s Day” are named after Norse gods. Yet Christians use calendars. Christ is Lord of all. He created pine trees. He’s not trapped by the ways that pagans thought of them long ago. Even the idea of Santa Claus is based on a Christian saint. As long as these traditions don’t distract us from the true meaning of Christmas, there’s nothing wrong with Christians using them to celebrate Jesus’ birth. So, the next time someone says, “Christmas is a pagan holiday,” remember these three things: Number 1: Christmas is rooted in Scripture, and it’s always been about Christ. Number 2: The date of Christmas probably has nothing to do with pagan festivals. Number 3: It’s okay to adopt and redeem some pagan traditions. For What Would You Say, I’m Shane Morris. Merry Christmas.


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