Every year we hear talk of Christmas being a pagan holiday. The Jehovah’s Witnesses immediately come to mind when this charge is heard; but I have known many solid Bible-believing Christians who do not celebrate Christmas because either it is not explicitly commanded in the Holy Scriptures, or out of a concern for its alleged pagan connections.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses contend that, “those who celebrate Christmas do not honor God or Christ, but honor pagan celebrations and pagan gods” (Awake! magazine of December 8, 1988, p. 19). The view that Christmas is really an old pagan holiday was made more popular in recent years by Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (p. 232).
If Christmas is indeed just a pagan holiday, Christians should nothing to do with it. I know that I do not want to have anything to do with any pagan holidays or religious syncretism. With Advent right around the corner, we need to look at the historical facts surrounding Christmas so we can answer the question: Is Christmas really a celebration of the birth of the Messiah, or is it just a hijacked pagan holiday with a thin veneer of Christianity?
Did fourth century Christians simply take over the pagan Roman festival of Saturnalia and call it Christmas as many people claim?
Saturnalia was an ancient week-long Roman festival in honour of the pagan god Saturn. The festival of Saturnalia was celebrated from December 17th, through December 23rd. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum, and a public banquet, which were followed by festive meals, private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere for the entire week.
Saturnalia held theological importance for some Romans, who saw it as a restoration of an ancient Golden Age, when the world was ruled by Saturn. The Neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry interpreted the freedom associated with Saturnalia as symbolizing the "freeing of souls into immortality.”
Christmas cannot be a Christianized version of Saturnalia. If it was, it would certainly have been celebrated at the same time as Saturnalia. Yet, Saturnalia began and ended before December 25th.
Calling Christmas a baptized version of Saturnalia is just another attack against Christ and Christianity. That should not surprise us. The devil and the fallen world hate the Messiah, and always look for opportunities to attack him, and confuse and demoralize his disciples.
THE BIRTH OF THE UNCONQUERED SUN — SOL INVICTUS
What about the pagan Roman festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” — Sol Invictus? Wasn’t the feast of “The Birth of the Unconquered Sun” celebrated on December 25th?
Let’s cut through the rumors, the maybes and the myths, and go right to a credible source for our information.
Dr. William J. Tighe is a professor of history at Muhlenberg College. He earned his B.A in history at Georgetown University, graduating summa cum laude. Subsequently, he earned his M.A. at Yale University, and then went on to earn his Ph.D in history from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. I think his credentials should satisfy us.
This is what Dr. Tighe had to say:
Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival… But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals.
Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance.
When did this myth originate? Not all that long ago.
Dr. Tighe explains:
The idea that the date was taken from the pagans goes back to two scholars from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Paul Ernst Jablonski, a German Protestant, wished to show that the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25th was one of the many “paganizations” of Christianity that the Church of the fourth century embraced, as one of many “degenerations” that transformed pure apostolic Christianity into Catholicism. Dom Jean Hardouin, a Benedictine monk, tried to show that the Catholic Church adopted pagan festivals for Christian purposes without paganizing the gospel.
The myth that Christmas is a pagan holiday grew out of assumptions rather than facts., and is of recent origin.
Dr. William Tighe writes,
In the Julian calendar, created in 45 B.C. under Julius Caesar, the winter solstice fell on December 25th, and it therefore seemed obvious to Jablonski and Hardouin that the day must have had a pagan significance before it had a Christian one. But in fact, the date had no religious significance in the Roman pagan festal calendar before Aurelian’s time, nor did the cult of the sun play a prominent role in Rome before him.
There were two temples of the sun in Rome, one of which (maintained by the clan into which Aurelian was born or adopted) celebrated its dedication festival on August 9th, the other of which celebrated its dedication festival on August 28th. But both of these cults fell into neglect in the second century, when eastern cults of the sun, such as Mithraism, began to win a following in Rome. And in any case, none of these cults, old or new, had festivals associated with solstices or equinoxes.
As things actually happened, Aurelian, who ruled from 270 until his assassination in 275, was hostile to Christianity and appears to have promoted the establishment of the festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” as a device to unify the various pagan cults of the Roman Empire around a commemoration of the annual “rebirth” of the sun. He led an empire that appeared to be collapsing in the face of internal unrest, rebellions in the provinces, economic decay, and repeated attacks from German tribes to the north and the Persian Empire to the east.
In creating the new feast, he intended the beginning of the lengthening of the daylight, and the arresting of the lengthening of darkness, on December 25th to be a symbol of the hoped-for “rebirth,” or perpetual rejuvenation, of the Roman Empire, resulting from the maintenance of the worship of the gods whose tutelage (the Romans thought) had brought Rome to greatness and world-rule. If it co-opted the Christian celebration, so much the better.
You can read more about it in an article by Dr. Tighe in the Touchstone magazine titled “Calculating Christmas.”
HOW WAS DECEMBER 25th ARRIVED AT?
We know for sure that as early as the end of the second century Christians were trying to figure out when Yeshua, Jesus, was born.
Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, is a Messianic Jew and Professor of Ancient Cultures at the Israel Bible Center in the State of Israel. He is an expert Israeli scholar in Biblical Studies and early Christianity, with a copious Jewish and Christian religious and secular education. In addition to his expertise in ancient languages (Biblical Hebrew, Koine Greek, Syriac, and Old Church Slavonic), Dr. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg is fluent in the modern languages of English, Russian, and Hebrew.
Dr. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg writes,
Surprisingly, the early church followed a very Jewish idea – that the beginning and the end of important redemptive events often happen on the same date (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashana 10b-11a). In the beginning of the third century, Tertullian reported that since he knew precisely when Jesus died (14th of Nissan or March 25), he also knew exactly when he was conceived! He was most-likely wrong in his conclusions, but at least we can now see how they arrived to date of Christmas.
The logic went as follows: If Jesus was conceived on March 25 then counting forward to the 9 months of Mary’s pregnancy would place His birth on December 25. This is especially intriguing because January 1st used to be celebrated as the Day of Christ’s circumcision (8 days from the evening of Dec. 24).
Tertullian (c. 155 - c. 240 CE) was correct in believing that Yeshua died on the 14th of Nissan, but he was incorrect in thinking that the 14th of Nissan fell on March 25th on the Roman calendar. However, he was not alone in that assumption.
Hippolytus of Rome (170-235 CE) said in his commentary on Daniel (written c. 202-211 CE) that Jesus’ birthdate is December 25. Hippolytus’s calculation involved Jesus’s conception on the Passover, which according to a widely held belief in his day was calculated as March 25th on the Roman calendar. If it is believed that Yeshua was conceived on March 25th, given a nine month gestational period, this puts Jesus’s birth at December 25th.
Why is this significant? It is significant because it means that Christian references to a December 25th date for Jesus’ birth are decades earlier than the pagan Roman festival instituted by Aurelian in 274 CE. If there was any borrowing it is more probable that the pagans were borrowing from the Christians.
Originally, various dates where suggested as to when Yeshua was born, but it was the December 25th date that caught on. And yet, for all its significance, Christmas wasn’t celebrated as an official feast by Christians until 200 CE in North Africa, and there is some evidence that Christmas may have been celebrated in Rome on December 25th as early as 205 CE. This was certainly true of Rome by the year 335 CE. Still, it took nearly another 200 years until celebrating the Nativity on December 25th gained near universal acceptance by Christians.
I say nearly universal acceptance, because it has never been universal. For instance, the Armenians (a nation on the southern border of Russia), a very old Christian community, still does not celebrate Christmas at all. Instead, they join the commemoration of the birth of Yeshua with with his Baptism on Epiphany, — and his baptism is emphasized over his birth.
What about the Emperor Constantine? What part did he play? Constantine issued an edict of Toleration in 313, but the birth of the Messiah was commemorated on December 25th in some places long before Constantine became Roman emperor.
The Donatists were a large body of rigorist Christians who separated from the long established Christian community in Roman North Africa (modern Algeria and Tunisia) at the time of Constantine’s edict of Toleration.
When the persecution finally ended in 313 CE, those Christians, who had fallen away under Diocletian’s persecution were welcomed back into the Christian community and the clergy returned to positions of authority under the Emperor Constantine. The Donatists were unwilling to recognize the ministries of the clergy who had committed apostasy, and they separated from them and from Constantine’s Roman State Church.
The Donatists were committed to the practices in place in the year 312 CE, the year before Constantine’s Edict of Toleration. They were a major Christian community in North Africa during the time of Augustine of Hippo, despite repression by the Roman authorities on behalf of the Roman State Church, and only disappeared in the eighth century after the Muslim conquest.
What does this have to do with Christmas? While the writings of the Donatists were destroyed, information about them survives in the writings of Augustine of Hippo, an opponent of the Donatists. Augustine writes that the Donatists celebrated the birth of Yeshua on December 25th. That is more evidence that Christians were celebrating Christmas on December 25th before Constantine ever came to the throne, and that it was being celebrated at least in North Africa during the persecution under the pagan Roman Emperor Diocletian. The Donatists, a rigorous Christian community, and opponents of Constantine’s Roman State Church and anything that smacked of a pagan—Christian synthesis, had no problem celebrating the birth of the Messiah on December 25th.
The facts are clear. Christmas is not a baptized version of the pagan celebration of Saturnalia. The two feasts do not fall at the same time and do not overlap. If Christmas was a Christian replacement for Saturnalia, the two celebrations would have at least been observed at the same time, but they never were.
Likewise, Christmas is not a Christian appropriation of the pagan festival of “The Birth of the Unconquered Sun.” That pagan festival was not even established until the year 274 CE, while Christians were calculating the birth of Yeshua to be on December 25th since at least late in the 2nd century, — decades earlier. If there was any copying and appropriation, it was the Emperor Aurelian who was copying and appropriating a Christian commemoration.
IS ADDING RELIGIOUS COMMEMORATIONS TO THE CALENDAR PAGAN?
The idea that certain days should be set aside for special religious commemorations is not unique to pagans. The Jewish people did this. They were given certain feast days by God. You can read about them in Leviticus chapter 23. Thousands of years later hundreds of thousands of Christians continue to keep God’s appointed Holy Days. We at Holy Cross are among them. The Jewish people later added other festivals of spiritual significance to their calendar as well, such as Purim and Hanukkah, among others.
When early Christians decided to start adding feast days that commemorated New Covenant events such as the Annunciation on March 25th, the Birth of the Messiah nine months later, his circumcision eight days after that, and his Ascension into heaven forty days after his resurrection, they did so based on their Jewish inheritance. They were commemorating Biblical events that were worth remembering and celebrating. There was nothing pagan about it. Instead, it was a very Jewish thing to do.
Marking time with religious commemorations is not pagan. It is Jewish. To deny this part of our spiritual inheritance is essentially to deny that time can be sanctified by God.
Commemorating the birth of Yeshua on December 25 is not a claim that he was actually born on that day. It is about a feast that was set nine months earlier — the Feast of the Annunciation. Was Yeshua actually born on December 25th? Probably not, but the date of his birth is not given in Scripture and it is the event, not the date, that is important.
We do not know the exact date of Messiah’s birth, but that should not keep us for celebrating the event that has even divided time itself. Yeshua, Jesus, is the reason for the season, and his birth is worthy of celebration.
DID GOD COMMAND US TO CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS?
No He did not. Nowhere in the Holy Scriptures does God command Christmas to be observed by anyone. God has established certain feasts and commanded His people to observe them. They are found in Leviticus chapter 23.
The early Christians kept all of these feasts. The eleventh edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica says:
"The first Christians continued to observe the Jewish festivals, though in a new spirit, as commemorations of events which those festivals foreshadowed.”
Our friends from the Watchtower condemn Christmas as a pagan holiday — which it is not — but at the same time they do not keep God’s appointed Feasts. We keep the Holy Days of Leviticus 23 at Holy Cross parish, and you are invited to join us in celebrating them.
Now, it is true that we are not commanded in Scripture to celebrate Christmas, but that is not the issue. Our Jewish brethren have also added new festivals to their liturgical celebrations that were not commanded by God, of which Purim and Hanukkah are just two well known examples. Both of these festivals arose from within the Jewish community rather than by commandment of God.
Purim, or the Feast of Lots, celebrates the deliverance of the Jews from the threat of genocide in ancient Persia. You can read all about it in the book of Esther. Certainly such a great deliverance is worth celebrating!
Hanukkah, or the Feast of the Dedication, commemorates the cleansing and rededication of the Temple after it was defiled by Antiochus Epiphanes at the time of the Maccabees. Like Purim, this was a festival instituted by the Jewish people themselves, and we have a record of Yeshua celebrating it in Jerusalem. You can read all about it in the 10th chapter of John’s Gospel.
If God’s people could celebrate their deliverance from death in Persia, and if they could celebrate the rededication of the Temple, all without a specific command from God to do so, then surely we can likewise celebrate the birth of a Deliverer greater than the one recorded in the Book of Esther, and the birth of one greater than the Temple. After all, Yeshua’s birth was no ordinary birth. From his conception to his birth it was a miracle of God, and was part of the plan of God before the foundation of the world. Now that’s something worth celebrating!
After the destruction of the Temple in the year 70 CE, the Jewish people began to observe the Ninth of Av, the anniversary of the Temple’s destruction, with prayer and fasting. There was no command to do so, but the commemoration arose from the hearts of the Jewish people, and it remains a very important observance in Judaism until today.
On the 9th of Av the Jewish people mourn the destruction of both the first and second Temples, along with other tragic events in their long history. It is said that all of these events all happened on the same day, the 9th of Av. That may not be literally true, but it is the tragic events that they are mourning, not the particular day they happened on.
Another Jewish festival that arose among a small part of the people of Israel, but has recently spread throughout the Jewish community is the festival of Sigd. This is a festival that had been unique to the Jews of Ethiopia, the Beta Israel, celebrated fifty days after the Day of Atonement. On the Feast of Sigd the Ethiopian Jews gather together on a mountain to commemorate Moses’ encounter with the God of Israel and to pray for a return to Zion. This festival is found nowhere in Scripture, yet in 2008 the State of Israel made Sigd a national holiday, and the feast is now celebrated throughout the Jewish community in Israel and by many Jews in the diaspora.
WAS THE BIRTH OF YESHUA CELEBRATED IN THE FIRST CENTURY?
While it would be two centuries before the birth of the Messiah began to be celebrated as an annual commemoration, his birth was indeed celebrated in the first century. The Bible is clear on that matter:
Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them (Luke 2:4-20).
The angels and the shepherds — which were no ordinary shepherds, but were Levitical shepherds caring for some very special sheep — certainly celebrated the birth of Yeshua, and they did so with great joy!
The Magi or Wise Men also celebrated the birth of Yeshua. Now they did not arrive on the day he was born, but they still celebrated his birth with great joy. In Matthew chapter 2, verses 1 through 11 we read:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”
Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
WHAT ABOUT THE WORD “CHRISTMAS”?
Some people do not like the term Christ-MAS because it sounds too Roman Catholic to them, but it really isn’t. The feast was historically called “The Nativity of our Lord, or the Birthday of Christ, commonly called Christmas-day.” Christmas is just a commonly used nickname, but it is a good one.
Mass is just a Latin term for the Eucharist. Eucharist is a Greek word that means thanksgiving. This is a Biblical term for the New Covenant Kiddush, what is commonly called Communion. It doesn’t mean the Mass in the modern Roman Catholic use of the term — unless of course you are using it in that way.
When Yeshua took bread and a cup he gave thanks over them — Eucharist means giving thanks. Christmas is a perfectly usable nickname, and no one should be troubled by it, but if you are, then simply don’t use it. It is only a nickname after all. You can simply call it the annual commemoration of “The Nativity of our Lord, or the Birthday of Christ.”
DOES JEREMIAH THE PROPHET WARN AGAINST CHRISTMAS TREES?
Some Christians are concerned about the Christmas tree. They are concerned that it may be forbidden in the Holy Scriptures. They get that from a misreading of Jeremiah the prophet.
The text in question is found in Jeremiah chapter 10:
Hear the word which the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel.
Thus says the LORD:
“Do not learn the way of the Gentiles;
Do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven,
For the Gentiles are dismayed at them.
For the customs of the peoples are futile;
For one cuts a tree from the forest,
The work of the hands of the workman, with the ax.
They decorate it with silver and gold;
They fasten it with nails and hammers
So that it will not topple.
They are upright, like a palm tree,
And they cannot speak;
They must be carried,
Because they cannot go by themselves.
Do not be afraid of them,
For they cannot do evil,
Nor can they do any good” (Jeremiah 10:1-5).
Context is very important. This text has nothing to do with a Christmas tree. Jeremiah lived some six centuries before Yeshua’s birth. There were no Christmas trees in Jeremiah’s day. He is warning against cutting down a tree to make the idol of a pagan god. He is not warning about Christmas trees which came into use more than 2,000 years later in the 16th century CE.
Notice that in Jeremiah 10:5 it says:
And they cannot speak;
They must be carried,
Because they cannot go by themselves.
Do not be afraid of them,
For they cannot do evil,
Nor can they do any good.
No one expects a Christmas tree to speak or to move about on its own. No one is afraid of a Christmas tree, and no one fears that it will do them harm. Likewise, no one believes that a Christmas tree has the power to do them good. The Prophet Jeremiah is speaking about cutting down a tree and making it into an idol. He is not speaking about Christmas trees.
DO CHRISTMAS TREES AND DECORATING WITH EVERGREENS HAVE PAGAN ROOTS?
There was a very good article on the Answers in Genesis website titled, “Do Christmas Trees Have Pagan Roots?”
The article explains:
When reading most historical sources on the origin of the Christmas tree, it is almost universally and offhandedly mentioned that it was borrowed from pagan religious festivals and adapted into Christianity. But when one closely examines these claims, they seem to have little basis in fact. Most of the traditions associated with pagan festivals are only remotely similar to Christmas celebrations. But even a cursory glance at Scripture shows that evergreens were mentioned prominently in Scripture and were associated with God’s favor towards his people (Numbers 24:6, Psalms 104:16, Isaiah 41:19) or were mentioned in connection with testifying to the goodness of God (Psalms 148:9, Isaiah 55:13). Solomon loved cedars and (c. 1000 BC), he imported them into Jerusalem and made them commonplace within the city (2 Chronicles 9:27). In Isaiah 60:13 (c. 700 BC) we read that the Lord promised that fragrant evergreen trees such as the cedar, cypress, and pine would be brought from Lebanon and be planted around the Temple to beautify it. Indeed, the first Temple, built by Solomon was constructed of cedar and cypress wood (1 Kings 6:15), and when God spoke of revitalizing Israel, he specifically mentioned planting cedar, cypress, and pine trees (and others) in the wilderness (Isaiah 41:19). We can glean from Scripture then that evergreen trees were used for decorating and building and were well-loved trees.
As far as the modern practice of cutting evergreen trees, bringing them into the home and decorating them for Christmas, that can be traced back to Germany in the 16th Century. The tradition is that Martin Luther while walking in a forest, saw starlight coming through the branches of an evergreen tree and was dazzled by the beauty of the scene. Luther went out and cut down a fir tree and brought it into his house. He then decorated it with candles to simulate the moonlight effect for his family.
The decoration of Christmas trees in areas outside of continental Europe can be traced to Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert’s Christmas tree at Buckingham Palace which was decorated, and adorned with presents. An article about the Royal family’s Christmas tree was published in 1846 by the Illustrated London News. Prince Albert, a German, brought this beloved German tradition to England. After seeing the sketch of the Christmas tree in the Illustrated London News, which undoubtedly was also seen by many nobles when visiting the palace, the word spread of the Royal family’s Christmas tree and soon many in England were putting decorated trees into their homes at Christmas time.
Queen Victoria’s popularity in English-speaking countries soon led to many other countries adopting the Christmas tree. In America, President Benjamin Harrison was the first president to have a Christmas tree in the White House in 1889, and this greatly increased its popularity in the United States. Over time, this 16th century tradition spread throughout the world.
HAS CHRISTMAS BECOME SECULARIZED AND MATERIALISTIC?
Has Christmas been secularized and become materialistic? It certainly has, but that does not mean that there is anything wrong with Christmas. Instead, it means that too many of us have forgotten the reason for the season.
Until well into the 20th century Christmas was seen as simply a religious celebration, and it was religious people who observed it. Christmas did not even become a Federal holiday in the United States until 1870. There wasn’t even secular Christmas music until the mid-20th century.
White Christmas was the first commercially successful secular Christmas song. The first public performance of the song was by Bing Crosby, on his NBC radio show The Kraft Music Hall on Christmas Day, 1941. By the end of October 1942, White Christmas had topped the Your Hit Parade chart. It remained in that position until well into the new year of 1943. White Christmas was a mix of melancholy, ”just like the ones I used to know,” with comforting images of home, ”where the treetops glisten.” The song was very popular with listeners during World War II. White Christmas may have been a secular Christmas song, but it was spiritual none-the-less with its theme of home and family, and nostalgia for the joy of Christmas’s past.
Unfortunately, much has changed since Bing Crosby first sang White Christmas two and a half weeks after Pearl Harbor was attacked. Today, much of the “Christmas” music heard on the radio is secular, and the birth of Jesus is lost among the secular and material symbols of Santa, reindeer, elves, shopping, sales, and partying; but it does not have to be that way. I even heard an obviously clueless woman once remark that she didn’t like the way Christians were always trying to shove their religion on her holiday!
I am not only a pastor, but I am also a parent. No one in our family has ever sat on Santa’s lap, written him letters or expected him to bring presents on Christmas day. Christmas in the Novak household has always been strictly a religious celebration. Yes, we put up a Christmas tree and exchange gifts, but it is all in light of the greatest gift of all — the birth of the Messiah, the Christ-child, and our gift giving has always been a sign of our love. I often wonder how many children, when they learn that Santa is a myth, come to think that Jesus is a myth as well? After all, in the minds of so many Santa and Jesus are linked, and in all too many homes Santa seems to overshadow Jesus.
It is never too late to put aside the overtly secular Christmas music, remove Santa, reindeer and elves from our decorations, avoid materialism, and make Advent a spiritually profitable season. And then celebrate the birth of the Christ-child with joy by attending Divine Services, reading aloud the Christmas Story from the Holy Bible rather than The Night Before Christmas, enjoying a festive meal with family and friends, and expressing our love by celebrating with gifts. But let us never forget the poor, the lonely, and the hurting, and do what we can to bring them comfort and joy in the Christmas season. For Jesus is the one and only reason for the season.
CHRISTMAS IS A CHRISTIAN FESTIVAL
Do Christians honor pagan god’s on Christmas? No, they do not. In more than 36 years in the ordained ministry I have never known a single Christian who has worshipped or even honored Saturn or Sol Invictus at Christmas. The thought is absurd. You can worship pagan gods or you can celebrate Christmas, but you cannot do both at the same time.
The birth of the promised Messiah was celebrated by the angels, the shepherds, and the holy family on the night Yeshua, Jesus, was born. The birth of Christ was celebrated on a later day by the Magi, the Wise Men from the east, with just as much joy as was expressed on the day he was born.
The early Christians were trying to calculate the date of Christ’s birth from at least late in the second century, and December 25th was commemorated as the birth of the Messiah by around the year 200 CE in some places. Christmas has nothing to do with Saturnalia and Sol Invictus, and has everything to do with the good tidings of great joy that a Saviour has been born — Christ the Lord.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Is Christmas a Divinely appointed Holy Day?
No. It was not commanded by God in the Bible.
Must Christians celebrate Christmas?
No. There is no command to celebrate the Nativity of the Lord, and those Christians who choose not to do so, either because its observance is not commanded by God, or out of concerns for its alleged pagan connections, are free to not celebrate Christmas.
At the same time, those who choose not to celebrate the festival should not judge those who do. An Ebenezer Scrooge-like attitude may simply make others think that not only Christmas, but the Christmas story itself is nothing more than “humbug.”
May Christians celebrate Christmas?
Yes, just as Yeshua celebrated Hanukkah as recorded in John chapter 10 — another festival that commemorated a great event in the life of God’s people, but was not specifically commanded by God. Christians are free to celebrate not only the Birth of the Messiah with an annual commemoration, but other important Biblical events such as the Annunciation and his Ascension as well.
Must Christmas be celebrated with a tree and decorations?
No. While the Christmas tree is a Christmas tradition beloved by millions, it only dates back to the 16th century. Christmas was celebrated for centuries before the Christmas tree came into use, and it is still celebrated in some places without a Christmas tree.
Is December 25th the actual day that Yeshua was born?
It is possible, but not probable. It is far more likely that he was born in the Fall, around the time of the Feast of Tabernacles.
Still, there is little point in trying to change the date of celebrating his birth. First, it would be all but impossible at this time to get two billion self-professed Christians to move the observance; and second, even if it was moved to around Tabernacles there would still be no way of know what the exact date was. The truth is though that it is the event, not the date, that really matters.
Advent and Christmas as now celebrated are a time when many people are thinking of spiritual matters, and looking back with nostalgia to a better time. It remains a time of good tidings of great joy for a great many people, and people often wish that the Christmas spirit would remain all year long. Advent and Christmas therefore are a time when many people are more open to a spiritual message, and can indeed be reached with the Gospel and the call to repentance. It is a time for planting seeds of faith and for reaping a harvest. Christmas is a time for good tidings of great joy.
And finally, is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?
As we have seen, Christmas is not a Christian appropriation of either Saturnalia or Sol Invictus. There is nothing pagan about commemorating the birth of Yeshua on December 25th.
All of this can be summed up in the words of G.K.Chesterton. When it comes to the battle between paganism and Christianity, he wrote, “Paganism was the biggest thing in the world; Christianity was bigger. And everything since has been comparatively small.”
Christ is born. Glorify him! Merry Christmas!