A Pagan Festival or a Christian Holiday?

A Pagan Festival or a Christian Holiday? December 17, 2012

Was Jesus born on December 25? Probably not. The Bibledoesn’t specify a date or even a month, but what little evidence we have pointsto a time for Jesus’ birth sometime in the fall, not the winter.

Nonetheless, Christians have commemorated Jesus’ birthon December 25 for well over 1,000 years. The first recorded “Feast of theNativity” on December 25 was held in Romein AD 336. Church leaders probably didn’t select that date randomly, since itwas already a major celebration day throughout the Roman Empire. Specifically, the 25th of December was the dateof a pagan festival honoring the “birth” of the sun right after the wintersolstice. Gradually, the cultural significance of the date changed, and the newtradition caught on; and in AD 440 the church officially declared December 25as a Holy Day (i.e., “holiday”) for its annual Christ Mass (i.e., “Christmas”).Several of the traditions we associate with Christmas are actually carry-oversfrom that original pagan festival—evergreen decorations, lights on a tree, andeven gifts of (horrors!) fruitcake.

Should this bother us? Cause us to resist Christmas?Avoid seasonal traditions like lights and evergreen trees? After all, the paganroots of our Christmas traditions are pretty hard to deny.

No, it shouldn’t bother us at all. For one thing,people don’t make these pagan associations anymore. Virtually everyone—whetherthey believe in Jesus or not—recognizes the special significance Christiansattach to the Christmas season. Traditional carols, nativity scenes, and theChristmas story all point explicitly to the real Reason for the season. Eventhe shortened word “Xmas” is a nod to Jesus Christ, since the Greek letter X (chi)is the first letter in the title “Christ” and came to be an early Christiansymbol for Jesus.

But even more to the point, Christians shouldn’t be anymore concerned about the pagan origins of Christmas than we are about the paganorigins of our own lives! It’s called redemption, and God does it all the time.He buys back something that was ruled and ruined by sin, and He makes it brandnew. He takes random dates and evergreen bows and lights on trees and gifts offruitcake (maybe?)—along with ruined sinners like you and me—and infuses themwith a whole new identity and redeems them for His own new purposes. And aren’tyou glad He does?