Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, December 20, 2018 5 comments

by Steve Risner

As we approach the day that Christians (and many non-Christians) celebrate called Christmas, I wanted to clear some things up as to the origins of many of the traditions we hold so dear when we honor the birth of the Savior of mankind. Some have said that Christians should not celebrate this day because it's actually pagan in its origins, as are many of the traditions associated with it. Some have left churches or been estranged from family or friends because of this misunderstanding. I'd like to look at a few of these traditions and where they come from.

I, too, had been told and even accepted the fact that many of the things we do for Christmas had pagan beginnings, but I brushed it off as something Christians took from their pagan cultures and made their own. I was wrong. But in reality, I don't feel that these traditions, even if they did have pagan origins, would be an insult to our Lord. His grace is sufficient and, as Paul tells us, much of these things are meaningless anyway. We are not celebrating pagan things here. We're celebrating Christ Jesus! And keep in mind that God has filled the Old Testament with celebrations that are to honor the Lord and bring glory to His Name. Those listed in Leviticus 22 are Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Now, Colossians 2:16 tells us that we are under no obligation to observe these days or times, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to know what each of them was about. But the point of me bringing this up is to demonstrate the fact that God clearly feels remembering great events is important.

That's why, for me anyway, Christmas (in my estimation the second greatest event in all of history behind the Resurrection) is an obvious time to celebrate what God has done! It's been tarnished for many by the commercialization and other unimportant things that people have added onto it, but it's still one of the greatest events the world has ever known. And I wouldn't think that we would be honoring God by throwing out this celebration simply to not participate in the nonsense that others have applied to it. Just don't participate in the nonsense. It began and continued for centuries as a celebration pointing us to Christ. Let's look at a few traditions and where they come from. There is no question that Christmas has its origins in the Church.

Firstly, I'll just say that Christmas has many traditions that actually predate the pagan equivalent in many instances, so this would make it impossible to have its origins in paganism. The word Christmas comes from Christ and mass. This is not a reference to a Roman Catholic meeting. The word “mass” is from Latin and means to be sent on a mission. So Christ-mass was when God sent Christ to the earth to fulfill His mission, becoming a human and dying and Resurrecting as our Savior.

Christmas was celebrated as early as AD 202 (possibly earlier) and we know this from the writings of Hippolytus of Rome. He stated that Christ was born shortly before January and that He was resurrected shortly before April. Tertullian also confirmed this. This goes along with the Jewish tradition called the integral age that a prophet was conceived on the same day he died. This tradition is not Biblical, but it give us an important look at where the dates for Christmas and the Resurrection come from. This states that Christ died on March 25th (the early Church determined this) and would be the same day He was conceived, exactly 9 months before December 25th. This is why we celebrate on December 25th. There is controversy as to whether this Jewish tradition was real. I can't say as I'm not an ancient Jew. But it makes sense as to the timing/dates of the events in question. Was this the actual date Jesus was born? Most likely not, but that's not actually the point at all. We're celebrating the birth of Christ, whether we know exactly what day that was or not. We celebrate the Resurrection every Sunday! It's okay.

The issue some have erroneously placed on the date we celebrate is that the Romans, too, have a holiday honoring the sun god on December 25th. That seems like a slam dunk, right? Obviously the Christians stole this date so they could make the celebration easier for the Romans to accept. Wrong! This Roman holiday is called Sol Invictus. It was first made a holiday by Aurelian in 274 AD. That's at least 72 years after Christmas was first recorded as a Christian holiday. This not only means that December 25th was not taken from the pagan Sol Invictus holiday but, in fact, the Roman holiday was created at least 70 years after December 25th was chosen as Christ's birthday to hijack the Christian observance of the birth of Jesus.

What about Christmas trees? Those things must be taken from some ancient pagan ritual or symbol, right? Not even close. The Christmas tree is also not a pagan tradition. In fact, it's a very recent tradition (relatively speaking) and has a very solid connection to the Bible. This may have started as early as the 1400's but possibly not until the 1600's. It's unclear. However, Christmas Eve, December 24th, was the day Adam and Eve acquired sainthood according to some Christian groups. Adam and Eve were honored this way as our first parents. Plays, called mystery plays, were performed of Adam and Eve and their creation, sin, and banishment. The play would end with the promise of the coming incarnation of the Savior to redeem mankind from their sins. A prop in this play was an evergreen laden with apples (the only green tree to be found on December 24th in Germany most likely) which was the common representation for Adam. This tradition originally came from the Germans and became popular after Queen Victoria brought it to England. There are records from the 1600's of decorations being placed on the trees. This tradition is not pagan but stems from a tradition connected to creation and the Bible.

Then there's Santa Claus. Santa Claus is a distortion of the name Sinterklaas, the Dutch name for Saint Nicholas, a real person. He was considered a saint of the Greek church and lived during the 3rd and into the 4th centuries AD. He was known as a very generous person, frequently giving gifts, often in secret. This, as well as remembering the gifts of the “Wise Men” or Magi, is why we celebrate Christ's birth by giving gifts. Saint Nicholas also blessed 3 sisters with money in their stockings while they hung them over the fire to dry. This is where we get the tradition of the Christmas stocking. It's true that there are many things that have been added to this character. Saint Nicholas didn't fly around in a sleigh pulled by magical reindeer. He didn't go down people's chimneys to drop off gifts. To my knowledge, and judging from his pictures, he was not a fat man. He never even visited the North Pole, let alone lived there with little people with pointy ears. I don't believe any of these things has a pagan origin, although I could be wrong. But they're clearly embellishments or just plain made up things that were added over time to make Christmas not be about Christ and more about gift giving or receiving.

Wreaths are another tradition that was not taken from paganism. In Rome, a wreath was a symbol of victory. To Christians in the Roman world, the wreath symbolized Christ—the Victor over sin and death. Christmas lights have an origin with deep Christian roots as well. Trees were once decorated with candles, symbolizing Christ being the light of the world. These candles became strings of lights in the 20th century and there you have it. It’s another Christmas tradition that is clearly all about Jesus and has nothing to do with pagan traditions. Christmas carols are beautiful songs written with such deep and powerful lyrics. Oh Come All Ye Faithful, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, What Child is This, O Holy Night, and so many others are very meaningful, powerful worship songs that we sing every Christmas season to worship and praise God for the glorious gift of His Son. How can God be unhappy with such a thing?

What's troubling here is that many have been duped to believe that Christmas is a pagan holiday and if you search on Google for answers, you'll find that this is the widely publicized view. But the facts don't line up with this idea at all. In fact, it doesn't seem like there are any pagan influences whatsoever to the celebration of Christmas. I didn't find any, anyway.

In the end, the fact is the Bible does not condemn nor does it condone celebrating Christmas—the birth of Christ. So, like many other things not specifically mentioned in the Bible, the choice is yours. If you have issues with celebrating Christmas, that's fine. However, I hope I've made it clear that Christmas has literally no connection to any pagan traditions. If you are not comfortable with it, don't celebrate, but don't alienate yourself from believers who do want to celebrate one of the greatest events in all of history. It's not important enough to build a wall. Merry Christmas!

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5 comments: said...

Would you please post more of the sources for your information for your great article?

Steve Risner said...

Thank you, Cora, for reading and for commenting. I appreciate your time. Some info I gathered was from the website. You can search using their search bar and find a great deal. I also found info on a few other sites. Google it. However, I will say that most of what I read was anti-Christmas and had poor info meaning the info was "newer" meaning that it indicated things like Dec 25th was the date chosen to swipe the day from pagans. This, of course, is not true since that date was chosen by pagans in 274 AD and we have record of Christians referencing this day as Christ's birthday as early as 202 AD. I'll look some more as I actually posted the writing of one of the church fathers indicating this on Facebook somewhere. I need to keep better track of this stuff so I don't have to search for it again and again. Too many irons in the fire, I'm afraid. I'll get back to you... said...

Thanks for taking time to respond and back up your comments with more sources. Thanks for getting truth out where it can be shared.

Tony Fluerty said...

As with most things concerning God, its not what you do, its why you do.
Why give Christmas to the devil instead of glorifying Christ?

Making Christmas a big deal still gets the name of Jesus out there in the minds of the masses.

Unknown said...

Thank you Steve! Been struggling with Christmas this year. I am tired of the Happy Holiday thing first of all. Sad that people are ashamed to say Merry Christmas. It just seems that if you can't spit out the words Merry Christmas then you seriously have a problem with our Lord and Saviour. And it's all about buying buying buying. Sad I believe. I appreciate all information (which I have already heard a lot of it before) but you had so much more. And more indepth. God Bless you for this insight to the Christmas we should all believe in.