Topics of Concern

Christmas – Is it a pagan holiday?

If we should object to Christmas having its orgins as a festival at the same time as a long-ago pagan festival at the winter equinox, should we also object to using the names of the days of the week with pagan origins? Woden’s-day, Thor’s-day and so forth? Not to mention the names of the months, Janus for January, Juno for June, should we object to using those names?

It does also seem that the real problem at Christmas is not pagan associations, but Santa associations! The meaning changed once, and now it has changed again, so it would seem that the point is to have the right association, to put Christ in Christmas, if we are going to designate a time to remember Christ’s birth. But we need not abandon a Christmas celebration because pagan people had a festival at the same time, or because it became afterwards associated with Santa Claus.

But does the church have the right to set aside special times such as Christmas, to commemorate Christ’s coming? Certainly the Israelites had a time of rememberance of deliverance from Egypt in the Passover, as the church also remembers the Lord’s death in communion, so to remember events is this way is sanctioned, and even commanded in Scripture.

Also, Jesus was in the temple during Hannukah (Jn. 10:22), a feast set apart without being specifically commanded in Scripture, and though Jesus might have been there “under protest,” it seems more likely that he was participating. Similarly, the feast of Purim is not specifically commanded in Scripture, yet Jewish people celebrate this, and have celebrated this for many years, without any note in Scripture to chide them for this. In fact, the tone in Esther about this festival has a decided note of approval.

So it does seem that it is appropriate and good to commemorate deeds and times of God’s deliverance, important moments in history of God’s deeds on earth, and we need not fear other associations that people now do not even recognize or understand, just as we need not remove all the Latin and Greek words from our vocabulary because these languages were spoken by people who for the most part, were once the very definition of paganism.

“It seems likely that the December celebration was promoted in order to replace pagan celebrations. It would have been a good choice on the part of early Christian leaders who wanted to establish Christ’s preeminence in the hearts of people from a wide array of cultures. If some of these people adapted familiar customs to worship Emmanuel rather than the false gods they had rejected, shouldn’t we rejoice? As long as the customs are not immoral, unbiblical or idolatrous, why not worship the Lord in ways that are meaningful within the context of one’s culture? That is what missiologists mean by the word ‘contextualization.'”

“If new believers were going to be tempted by their old pagan religions, perhaps their old festivals and life cycle events would present the greatest temptation. By focusing on the birth of Christ at such a time, perhaps those early church leaders were putting a wonderful missions principle to work, sanctifying that which was ungodly and pagan by giving the day a new and wonderful meaning in Christ.”

“The Lord Himself employed a similar principle when He commanded the children of Israel to observe certain festivals. All three major Jewish feasts found in Deuteronomy 16 corresponded to Middle Eastern harvest times. Pagan nations held festivals of their own during these times, often filled with immoral rituals. God knew that Israel might be tempted and drawn into the corruption and idolatry of the surrounding nations, particularly during these harvest times. In His goodness, He gave Israel sanctified holidays to observe during these times. He gave them holidays to reflect His truth and not pagan myths. The Israelites were celebrating God’s provision at the same time the pagans were celebrating and entreating their gods for a good harvest the following year. Yet they were very separate celebrations.”

“Perhaps we can view Christmas in a similar way—not the exact same way, since it is a man-made tradition, but with the understanding that there is a godly principle at work here. Christmas need not be dismissed as a pagan holiday. Others wonder about the real reason for the season. May God bless you as you contemplate the enormous sacrifice He made to come and dwell among us. May His Spirit dwell in you richly, so that truly, you can rejoice in the God who is with us. And may your joy in Jesus draw many others to Him, during this season and all year long.”

– David Brickner, Jews for Jesus newsletter

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