A Pagan Festival or a Christian Holiday?

A Pagan Festival or a Christian Holiday? December 15, 2014

Was Jesusborn on December 25? Probably not. The Bible doesn’t specify a date or even amonth, but what little evidence we have points to a time for Jesus’ birthsometime in the fall, not the winter.

Nonetheless,Christians have commemorated Jesus’ birth on December 25 for well over 1,000years. The first recorded “Feast of the Nativity” on December 25 was held in Rome in AD 336. Churchleaders probably didn’t select that date randomly, since it was already a majorcelebration day throughout the Roman Empire.Specifically, the 25th of December was the date of a pagan festivalhonoring the “birth” of the sun right after the winter solstice. Gradually, thecultural significance of the date changed, and the new tradition caught on; andin AD 440 the church officially declared December 25 as a Holy Day (i.e.,“holiday”) for its annual Christ Mass (i.e., “Christmas”). Several of thetraditions we associate with Christmas are actually carry-overs from thatoriginal pagan festival—evergreen decorations, lights on a tree, and even giftsof (horrors!) fruitcake.

Should thisbother us? Cause us to resist Christmas? Avoid seasonal traditions like lightsand evergreen trees? After all, the pagan roots of our Christmas traditions arepretty hard to deny.

No, itshouldn’t bother us at all. For one thing, people don’t make these paganassociations anymore. Virtually everyone—whether they believe in Jesus ornot—recognizes the special significance Christians attach to the Christmasseason. Traditional carols, nativity scenes, and the Christmas story all pointexplicitly to the real Reason for the season. Even the shortened word “Xmas” isa nod to Jesus Christ, since the Greek letter X (chi) is the firstletter in the title “Christ” and came to be an early Christian symbol for Jesus.

But evenmore to the point, Christians shouldn’t be any more concerned about the paganorigins of Christmas than we are about the pagan origins of our own lives! It’scalled redemption, and God does it all the time. He buys back something thatwas ruled and ruined by sin, and He makes it brand new. He takes random datesand evergreen bows and lights on trees and gifts of fruitcake (maybe?)—alongwith ruined sinners like you and me—and infuses them with a whole new identityand redeems them for His own new purposes. And aren’t you glad He does?