Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday? Should Christians celebrate Christmas? As always, the heart of the matter is the heart. Why do you celebrate it? Is it to celebrate with fellow Christians the birth of our Savior? If so, what does it matter why other people do it or what other peoples and cultures might have – or did have- a celebration on that date?
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Why talk about it? Not Biblical history but just an interesting thought to this author. What is being said is that Christmas is not a legitimate Christian holiday because
(a)there was a pagan holiday on that date, in fact, multiple pagan holidays around the world on that date, so it wasn’t about Christ and
(b) non-Christians also celebrate the holiday today so that today it still isn’t about Christ.
What’s a Christian to do? Should a Christian celebrate Christmas? Let’s look at some history now.
While Christmas has become a major celebration, for most Christians in the beginning it was only one of a number of masses celebrated for Christ and not necessarily the most important. It was a mass for Christ’s birth or Christ-mass. It is the recognition of God becoming as a man in all ways except sin. It is not a birth date but a birth that is celebrated. (There is no month or day date given in the Bible but enough clues are given to place it to within a year or two on the Bible timeline.) The date was chosen for symbolic reasons.
The December 25 date may have been selected by the church in Rome in the early 4th century. At this time, a church calendar was created and other holidays were also placed on solar dates:
“It is cosmic symbolism…which inspired the Church leadership in Rome to elect the winter solstice, December 25, as the birthday of Christ, and the summer solstice as that of John the Baptist, supplemented by the equinoxes as their respective dates of conception. While they were aware that pagans called this day the ‘birthday’ of Sol Invictus, this did not concern them and it did not play any role in their choice of date for Christmas,”
S.E. Hijmans author of Sol, the sun in the art and religions of Rome, 2009, pp. 587–588
Was it to convert pagans to Christianity, to allow them to keep celebrating pagan holidays if they would convert?
There are many theories surrounding Christmas, such as the belief that it was created simply to convert pagans and/or replace the pagan celebrations around the winter solstice. The problem with these theories is two-fold. First, there is a lack of evidence. There was no big push in the early church to create a birthday celebration for Christ. Of course, the church was and is “in the business” of spreading Christianity, so there is no doubt that the early church fathers wanted pagans to convert and wanted celebrations to honor God.
Second, pagan worship practices were seasonal and on-going. That is, almost any date or time frame could be said to be a pagan “Holy day. That Christian Holy Days would clash with and even replace pagan days was inevitable.2
Christmas today. Christmas is being celebrated around the world by people and cultures with no belief in Christ, people who retain the gift-giving and family get-together traditions but do not bring Christ into it. The US federal government closes for a paid holiday on both Thanksgiving and Christmas holding that to do so is not necessarily an endorsement of the Christian religion.
Should Christians celebrate Christmas? As always, the heart of the matter is the heart. Why do you celebrate it? Is it to celebrate a birth rather than a birthday? If so, what does it matter why other people do it or what other peoples and cultures might have – or did have- a celebration on that date?
photo used with permission of photographer Michael Hunter