CHRISTMAS - PAGAN OR CHRISTIAN?
CHRISTIAN OR PAGAN?
By Pastor Paul M Hanssen
There are many theories, ideas, suggestions and thoughts about the origin of Christmas, its traditions and its practices. Some people boldly state it is altogether pagan and everything to do with Christmas traditions are evil and not to be celebrated by “true” Christians.
Others state as a matter of fact that certain traditions of Christmas are evil and pagan, while other traditions are acceptable and Christmas itself can be, and should be, celebrated.
There is yet another group of people who celebrate Christmas blindly without any kind of persuasion or belief whatsoever. To them Christmas is simply a holiday season, a time to take a break, visit family, eat food, give and receive gifts. To this group anything and everything about Christmas tradition is accepted and practiced.
But how should a believer enter into the Christmas season? Is this a pagan celebration? Are the traditions practiced by so many people worldwide rooted in paganism, idolatry, and the worship of heathen Gods? Are these things abominable in God’s sight? Or is Christmas a season to be embraced, enjoyed, and celebrated in its entirety by believers? What should a believer’s stance be on this annual celebration and the traditions associated with Christmas? How should the Christian view this celebration along with the traditions associated with it that bring as much divide in the Christian community as does Jesus Name baptism?
The actual date of the birth of Jesus is not known. This date is not recorded in scripture or in history. However, it is commonly accepted that Jesus was probably born in September or October, or possibly in March. There are credible theories pointing to either of these theories.
So where did the date of December 25th come from as the celebration of the birth of Jesus? The origin of the date celebrated as Christmas came from Roman pagans who introduced the holiday of Saturnalia, a week-long period of lawlessness, overindulgence, and sports celebrated between December 17-25. This celebration also eventually became a time of giving gifts, catering to the poor and became known as “the best of times”. During this time of festivity, the pagans used clippings from evergreen trees to decorate their homes as well as decorate living trees outside with images of their gods. The Romans also celebrated the festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun). This was celebrated on December 25th to commemorate the end of the long, dark nights, and the birth of the sun beginning to rise higher in the heavens and lengthening of the day.
The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336AD, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (he was the first Christian Roman Emperor). A few years later, Pope Julius I, officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December. (source www.whychristmas.com). The word Christmas comes from the Old English words Cristes moesse, 'the mass or festival of Christ'. The first celebration took place in Rome about the middle of the fourth century.
Christians in this period of time wanted to impact and influence the heathens. However, they did not feel they could do so by discarding the pagan festivities. Hence it was decided to embrace the festivities but replace the pagan meaning with a Christian meaning. Instead of the birth of the Sun God, they celebrated the birth of the Son of God. Hence Christmas became an annual event celebrated by Christians. So, I ask the question, is Christmas Christian or Pagan?
As we consider that question let us also consider the Christmas tree and other Christmas ornamental decorations. Since Christmas itself derives from pagan origin, what about the things we use to celebrate Christmas?
There are also many theories as to the origin of the Christmas tree. Many cultures, especially European and Scandinavian, have their particular historic origins of the Christmas tree. However, the earliest use of the evergreen tree as ornamental is dated back to 16th century, Germany, when “mystery plays” were performed on December 24th each year. This was done to commemorate the creation of Adam and Eve and a tree used in the play was decorated with apples to depict the Tree of Life, or the Tree of Paradise.
The evergreen tree being used in homes as a Christmas decoration originated in Germany in the 15th - 16th centuries. Martin Luther is believed to be the first one to ever place lights, or candles, on the Christmas Tree, or Tree of Life. He did so after walking home one winter evening where he had paid particular attention to the stars shining in a clear sky through the branches of fir trees. From this he got the idea of lights on the tree. Many people in this time period who could not afford a tree would often break branches off of pine or fir trees, and weave them together to make garlands, wreaths or other decorations they used in their homes. As already mentioned the fir or evergreen tree was also used in various pagan ceremonies and has many roots in folkloric origins. Branches of evergreen trees were woven together and placed on doors and windows in the belief that it would ward off evil spirits.
There is much, much more to know about these matters. But what I have written here is a basic overview. So, what do we do with this information? Should we celebrate Christmas at all? And if we are not to have Christmas trees in our celebration of Christmas because of the certain historic roots, should we be celebrating Christmas itself due to the same pagan and heathenish roots. Some want to take Christmas and celebrate the season not realizing it has deeper pagan roots than the use of a tree depicting the Tree of Paradise, or the Tree of Life. What is the difference? Anyone who celebrates Christmas yet calls the Christmas tree pagan idolatry is a hypocrite as both have roots in paganism. The same people who look at those who have a Christmas tree as idolaters deck their homes, doors, mantles and even churches with decorative “branches” of fir and pine trees as did the poor who were unable to have a whole tree, and as did the pagans to ward off evil spirits. There is no difference between the branches of a tree or the tree itself!
We as God’s people have chosen to accept and celebrate the birth of the Son of God on the dates dedicated to pagan gods. We have chosen to make this a time of remembering the birth of our Savior, the Son of God, even though He was most definitely not born on December 25th. We make this a season of celebration of joy and gratitude to God the Father for sending us the most precious gift offered to man, His only begotten Son. We do so by giving each other gifts and with each gift we remember the greatest gift of all! We have chosen to celebrate the birth of Christ by placing memorials around about us such as candles, lights, figures of angels, stars, sparkly ornaments and pine wreaths and garlands. All this and more is done to help us remember and bring a sense of celebration of an event that changed human history forever. But many leave out the Christmas tree because of its pagan roots. Yet Christmas itself is drenched in pagan origin as are all the ornaments that go along with it.
Some also use the words of Jeremiah to prove that the Christmas tree is idolatry. Read Jeremiah 10:4-8. Careful examination of these verses makes it very clear that God is speaking about people cutting down a tree and carving images, or idols, that cannot speak or walk but which have to be carried. These verses are not speaking of the tree itself, but what God’s people made of the tree in carving it into an image. So, I ask again, what do we do with all this?
The Apostle Paul said, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. (1 Corinthians 6:12)
Everything within the limits of morality is lawful, meaning it is permitted. But even within that which is allowed, we find that which is not always expedient, meaning profitable. The reason certain things that are allowed are not always profitable is because of the power things have to bring a person under their control or authority. Paul said he would not be brought under the power of anything, even that which is lawful, or allowed. It is lawful to drink wine, but for some it is certainly not expedient because it can lead one to be brought under its power. It is lawful to marry but it is just as lawful to remain single. But for some it is better to marry, for others it is better to remain single, depending upon what it will ultimately profit. Eating food is certainly lawful, but for many it is not expedient because of overindulgence. Food can have a authority over those who allow themselves to be brought under its power. So, is all eating wrong? God, forbid! On and on we could go looking at examples of that which is lawful yet not always expedient. Many things are lawful, allowed or permitted. But not everything is expedient or profitable depending on the authority and control we give these things in our lives.
Christmas, along with the traditions that surround it are neither moral nor immoral. It is indeed lawful to celebrate Christmas just as it is lawful to have a Christmas tree. However, these things are not always expedient.
Some become obsessed with the season and the celebration to the extent that it becomes a form of bondage, or it overpowers them. The question is, what place do we give these things in our lives? What place do we give Christmas and all the paraphernalia that go along with the season? Does the celebration bring us into bondage? If so it is not expedient. Or does the season cause the heart to spring forth with gratitude, adoration and worship to God who is the giver of the gift of life? If so it is expedient indeed!
To one person something can be clean, yet to another it is dirty. It all depends on the heart. Titus wrote, Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. (Titus 1:15)
The moral of the story is for us as believers to keep our hearts clean and pure before God. To one individual both Christmas and the Christmas tree, can be “dirty”, or un-expedient. To another it can be a celebration of great price! Let’s keep the season in the rightful place in our lives. Make Christ the center of the “Christ”-mas. Enjoy the season as we love and adore the greatest gift ever given, the gift of the Son of God!
OH, COME LET US ADORE HIM!
Wishing you all the best and blessed for this wonderful season of celebration. We love you all!
Pastors Paul & Gwen Hanssen