Is Christmas Pagan?

Arguments Against Christmas
The Origins of Christmas
Christmas Customs


Every year when the Holidays roll around we get the usual circulated messages about Christmas. One sector of Christendom cries, "Let's put Christ back in Christmas" and "Jesus is the reason for the season!" Meanwhile another sector says we can't put Christ back in Christmas because he was never there to begin with. They claim that Christmas is a Pagan feast and any Christian who observes it is committing idolatry. Obviously both sides can't be right. Is it Pagan? Is it Christian? Is it both? Is it neither? This article is an attempt to sort it out.

When I was growing up, Christmas was a time of wonder and amazement, as it is for many children. As I got older I was increasingly disenchanted with it until I became a "real" Christian - as opposed to a nominal Christian who did no more than go to church on Sunday. I was moved by the scenes of Christ's birth and the season took on a whole new meaning when I came to believe that "Jesus is the reason for the Season."

In light of this, many Christians have taken offense at the use of "Xmas" as an abbreviation, believing it to be a secular attempt at removing Christ from the celebration. I have since found out that "Xmas" has been an acceptable abbreviation for Christmas for about a thousand years, and is related to the common use of X as an abbreviation for Christ (X representing chi, the first letter of Christos in Greek) that goes all the way back to the early church. Other words based on Christ were also abbreviated that way, such as "Xtian" for Christian.

But then I learned that Jesus wasn't born on December 25th. Virtually all scholars and many everyday Christians know this. Still, I maintained that since we didn't know exactly when he was born, Christmas was as good a time as any to celebrate it. Around the same time I was introduced to the possibility that he was born on September 11, 3 B.C. I first heard of it through another book, but the research and publication of this theory originated with Dr. Ernest L. Martin. He published The Birth of Christ Recalculated in 1980, and later revised and expanded it as The Star of Bethlehem: The Star That Astonished the World in 1996 (which can be purchased or read online from his website). He makes a very good case for this date of Christ's birth.

With the date of December 25 being all but disproved, many well-meaning Christians (not only in the group I was with) have gone a step further and proclaimed that Christmas is based on a Pagan holiday and Pagan customs, and should not be observed by Christians. To do so, they say, is embracing Paganism and is therefore a sin and an insult to God. But is Christmas really Pagan? Where does this idea come from? Is it really sin?

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Arguments Against Christmas

I am basing much of this writing on a series of articles by Dr. Richard P. Bucher, which can be seen on the web site of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Lexington, KY. He writes about Christmas and the origins of the Christmas tree, among other things. So many Christians admonished him about celebrating a "Pagan holiday" that he began to search the web and found a multitude of articles. As he explains:

I carefully read these and other articles and books because I wanted to know the basis for their argumentation. What I found is that, though there are minor differences, they all make the same basic argument and recycle the same reasons why Christmas is pagan [by "pagan" the various authors mean "non-Christian religions."].

Their argument is this: "Christmas is obviously pagan because:

  • There is neither Biblical command or precedent for it;
  • Christians did not observe it until the time of Constantine (after 313 AD); only then did the Church of Rome introduce it;
  • The Date of Christmas and its many customs all come from pagan sources;
  • When Christians observe Christmas in any way they are participating in paganism."

He deals with each of these arguments in turn, with the view that it is neither commanded nor forbidden, and should be a matter of individual choice.

In fact, if the "Christmas is pagan" crowd merely presented their argument as "opinion," there would be no urgent need to respond. But it is the fact that they condemn Christmas observers as guilty of idolatry and, as in some cases, suggest that Christians who do Christmas are risking their salvation that is just too much. For in so doing they are binding Christian consciences and robbing Christians of their God-given freedom, making unnecessary matters necessary.

First, while the Bible does not command or even mention the observance of Christ's birth, it does include two different records of it. Christians since then have read these passages and responded in worship and thanksgiving for the coming of the Messiah. They are in that sense "observing Christ's birth" (although not with the type of celebration later associated with Christmas).

More to the point, however, does the silence of Scripture make celebrating Christ's birth wrong? Is it true that when it comes to religious celebrations, the Bible must specifically give command or precedent? Is it true that creating a Christian festival is the same as adding to Scripture?

The answer to all these questions is a resounding, "No!" To say that Christians are forbidden to create a special day for worship unless it is specifically commanded in the Scriptures is ludicrous. Where did they get this idea? Actually there is a word for this: Biblicism. Biblicism is the legalistic error that Christians can only do what the Bible specifically says to do. This led some of the radical reformers in the Sixteenth Century to rid their churches of organs, crosses, clergy vestments, and many other things because the Bible did not command such things.

Have these authors never heard of Christian freedom? Yes, the doctrine of the Christian Church must be based only on Scripture alone and we dare not add to or subtract from it. But in matters that do not involve doctrine, in matters that are neither commanded nor forbidden, Christians have freedom in the Church to do or say, add or create, or subtract and delete anything -- unless, as I said, it clearly contradicts an essential teaching of the Christian faith, or is found by the majority not to be edifying.

It is frequently pointed out that many Reformation churches rejected and/or condemned the celebration of Christmas, as did the Puritans, and some Protestant denominations after them. However, it is clear from their writings that it was not so much because they thought it was Pagan, but because they associated it with the Roman Catholic church from which they were distancing themselves. Yet not all Reformers were against Christmas. Martin Luther himself only condemned doctrines and traditions he believed directly contradicted the Scriptures, and retained things like the liturgical calendar and the observance of Christmas. He wrote the following:

We do not condemn the doctrines of men just because they are the doctrines of men, for we would gladly put up with them. But we condemn them because they are contrary to the gospel and the Scriptures. While the Scriptures liberate consciences and forbid that they be taken captive by the doctrines of men, these doctrines of men captivate the conscience anyhow (A Reply to the Texts, LW 35:153; WA 10II:91).

The second argument against Christmas is that the first Christians did not celebrate it. The implication is that "when the church was 'pure' during the first three hundred years, Christmas was never celebrated. Only when the church became corrupt, during and after the time of Constantine, did the Roman Church adopt a form of Christianity based on pagan ideas." But the fact is that many different factions arose during the first few centuries of Christianity, many of them bringing in legalistic rules that seemed to lose sight of grace. In addition, there is no evidence that Constantine was responsible for combining Christ's birth with Pagan festivals in December.

In addition, while the birth of Christ was not among the festivals observed by Christians in the first two centuries, there is evidence that in some circles it was observed when the date was thought to be determined.

Actually there is evidence of the feast being celebrated in Egypt prior to 200 A.D. The Church father Clement of Alexandria tells us that certain theologians had claimed to have determined not only the year of the Lord's birth but also the day; that it took place in the 28th year of Augustus and on the 25th day of Pachon (May 20) (Stromata, I, 21). He also added that others said that he was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi (April 19 or 20). Another piece of evidence is De Paschae Computus of 243, which states that Christ was born on March 28, because, it says, this was the day that the sun was created. Clement also tells us that other Christians were in the custom of celebrating the Baptism of Christ (his Epiphany) on the 15th day of Tubi and others on the 11th of the same month (Jan. 10 or 6). This is significant because it became customary in many places for Christians to celebrate both Christ's epiphany and his birth at the same – a practice of the Armenian Church to this day.

It is in fact the origin of its date that is used as the strongest argument against Christmas. It is widely contended that Christmas was established as December 25th because of the Roman feast of Saturnalia. But this feast was held from December 14 - 24. Others correct this misunderstanding with the (more accurate) observation that December 25 was celebrated in Rome as the birth of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun. But does the choice of this date by the Christian Church automatically mean they were "compromising" with Paganism? Or were they providing an alternative for Christians to celebrate instead of the Pagan feast? (More on this later.)

And even if it had originated as a Pagan festival, so much has changed in the hundreds of years since then that Christians who choose to celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas are no more embracing Paganism than those who worship on Sunday are worshiping the sun, for whom the day was named. Many Christians who celebrate the birth of Christ at this time of year do so based on several hundred years of Christian traditions, not on the much older Pagan ones. If they are celebrating the coming of the Messiah, God looks at that heart, not whether some other ungodly festivals were observed at the same time.

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The Origins of Christmas

Even if Christmas had originated as a Pagan festival, it has long since been given new meaning by Christians in celebration of the birth of Christ. But did it actually stem from a Pagan festival?

The earliest reference to Christmas being observed on December 25 was a Chronography from 354 AD. This document listed the feasts of the Church calendar. Observance of Christ's birth on December 25 was widespread in the Church by the time Chrysostom was Bishop of Constantinople (398-404), except in Armenia where it was observed on January 6.

But how did it happen that the early Christians began observing Christmas on December 25? Why this date? There are two theories about why December 25 was chosen.

(1) The first theory holds that after careful research, Julius (337-352), Bishop of Rome, determined that Christ had been born on December 25; or at least he determined that December 25 was the best authenticated date in the Tradition. John Chrystostom states this in one of his writings (John Chrysostom, Homil. Diem Natal., 2; PL, 49, 552ff.). Chrysostom claims that Julius, after he had been requested by Cyril of Jerusalem, had the official records of the Roman census examined and determined that December 25 was the correct date. As Weiser points out, however, there is no evidence to back this up; in fact, "it was expressly stated in Rome that the actual date of the Saviour's birth was unknown and that different traditions prevailed in different parts of the world" (F. Weiser, Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs - New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1958, 61.).

(2) The second theory states that the Church of Rome deliberately chose December 25 as the date of Christ's birth to turn people away from a pagan feast that was observed at the same time. Since the time of the Roman emperor Elagabulus (218-222), the god Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun god), had been one of the chief deities worshiped by the Romans. When emperor Aurelian (270-275) came to power, he sought to restore the worship of the Sun god to prominence and make him the chief deity. In the last years of his reign, Sol was hailed as "The Lord of the Roman Empire." Sol, along with Jupiter, appeared on the coins Aurelian had minted. In 274, the emperor built a magnificent temple to the Sun god, and established a new college of senators which he named "the priests of the Sun god." Finally, December 25 was observed as "the birthday of the Sun god" (natalis solis invicti). Because the Sun god was identified with Mithra, a popular Persian god that also was viewed as the Sun god, pagan celebrations occurred throughout the empire on Dec. 25 (see Clement A. Miles, Christmas, New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1912, 23). The Church at Rome seems to have chosen this date to counteract this pagan feast of the sun god and turn people instead to the "Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings" (Malachi 4:2; Luke 1:78). Or put another way, Julius chose December 25 so that the Son of God rather than the Sun god would be worshiped. Though there is no direct evidence that proves that the Church of Rome deliberately chose December 25 so that Christ's birth would replace "the birthday of the sun," we do have sermons from fathers of the church who soon after this used this line of reasoning. For example, Augustine (354-430) in his sermon 202 and Leo the Great (440-461 -- PL 54 Sources chretiennes 22) gives this line of reasoning.

Therefore, the second theory seems to be the probable one. December 25 was chosen not because it had somehow been proven from extra-biblical sources that Christ was definitely born on December 25. Rather the date was chosen to counteract a very popular pagan holiday that already had been occurring on this date.

So we have indirect evidence that the date of Christmas was chosen as an alternative. In contrast, what evidence do we have that it was chosen as a compromise with Paganism? The commonly recycled explanations involve Nimrod and the supposed origins of all Pagan religion. In his article, Dr. Bucher quotes the following from the World Wide Church of God tract, The Plain Truth About Christmas.

But if we got Christmas from the Roman Catholics, and they got it from paganism, where did the pagans get it? Where, when, and what was its real origin? It is a chief custom of the corrupt system denounced all through Bible prophecies and teachings under the name of Babylon. And it started and originated in the original Babylon of ancient Nimrod! Yes, it stems from roots whose beginning was shortly this side of the Flood! Nimrod, grandson of Ham, son of Noah, was the real founder of the Babylonish system that has gripped the world ever since. … Nimrod built the tower of Babel, the original Babylon, ancient Nineveh, and many other cities. He organized this world's first kingdom. The name Nimrod, in Hebrew, is derived from "Marad," meaning "he rebelled." … Nimrod was so evil, it is said he married his own mother, whose name was Semiramis. After Nimrod's untimely death, his so-called mother-wife, Semiramis, propagated the evil doctrine of the survival of Nimrod as a spirit being. She claimed a full-grown evergreen tree sprang overnight from a dead tree stump, which symbolized the springing forth unto new life the dead Nimrod. On each anniversary of his birth, she claimed, Nimrod would visit the evergreen tree and leave gifts upon it. December 25th was the birthday of Nimrod. This is the real origin of the Christmas tree. Through her scheming and designing, Semiramis became the Babylonian "Queen of Heaven," and Nimrod, under various names, became the "divine son of heaven." Through the generations, in this idolatrous worship, Nimrod also became the false Messiah, son of Baal the Sun-god. In this false Babylonish system, the "Mother and Child" (Semiramis and Nimrod reborn) became chief objects of worship. This worship of "Mother and Child" spread over the world. The names varied in different countries and languages. In Egypt it was Isis and Osiris. In Asia, Cybele and Deoius. … Thus, during the fourth and fifth centuries, when the pagans of the Roman world were "accepting" the new popular "Christianity" by the hundreds of thousands, carrying their old pagan customs and beliefs along with them, merely cloaking them with Christian-sounding names. … The real origin of Christmas goes back to ancient Babylon. It is bound up in the organized apostasy which has gripped a deceived world these many centuries! In Egypt, it was always believed that the son of Isis (Egyptian name for "Queen of Heaven") was born December 25th. Paganism celebrated this famous birthday over most of the known world for centuries before the birth of Christ. December 25th is not the birthday of Jesus the true Christ!

This line of thinking is seen repeated and recycled in many different sources. Where did it originate? Dr. Bucher explains.

So goes the argument, which is repeated by many different anti-Christmas authors. Where in the world did such an argument come from? This was the thesis of Alexander Hislop, who in the Nineteenth Century wrote a book entitled, The Two Babylons: Or the Papal Worship Proved to be the Worship of Nimrod and His Wife. It was Hislop's thesis that the Roman Catholic Church was a direct descendent of the paganism of Nimrod and ancient Babylon. One of his arguments was that some of the chief holy days of the Roman Catholic Church, such as Christmas, prove this to be so. The stamp of Hislop's thesis is found all over most of the anti-Christmas literature that I've seen. But is his argument sound?

Hardly. I have no doubt that Hislop consulted a vast amount of sources in writing his book. This is obvious in reading it. But some of its key arguments are flawed. He makes many philological leaps of faith to prove his points. For example, his entire argument rests on making the Babylonian "Ninus" the same person as the Biblical "Nimrod." (Nimrod is mentioned in only three places in the Scriptures, Gen. 10:8-12, 1 Chr. 1:10, and Micah 5:6). Only then can he claim that the wife of Nimrod was Semiramis, and that both were worshiped as divine mother and son, etc. Hislop himself recognizes how important this is, in this very interesting sentence:

Now, assuming that Ninus is Nimrod, the way in which that assumption explains what is otherwise inexplicable in the statements of ancient history greatly confirms the truth of the assumption itself (The Two Babylons, 25).

Got that? The point is that this turns out to be a big assumption. In other ancient literature, the father of Ninus was Bel, and it is said that he built the city of Nineveh. The Bible on the other hand says that Nimrod built Nineveh, and that Cush was his father. The way in which Hislop attempts to reconcile this contradiction is a truly remarkable example of literary gymnastics that is hardly convincing. He argues that Bel is the same as Hermes/Mercury, and the same as Janus/Chaos, which is the same as Cush. Right. (See for yourself by reading The Two Babylons, 25-29).

It is possible that Nimrod, the son of Cush, led people into pagan worship. But the argument that all paganism, and especially that all pagan festivals at the time of the winter solstice, can be traced back to Nimrod, just doesn't hold. To say it is a scholarly stretch is an understatement. Yet most of the "Christmas is pagan" literature bases its arguments on Hislop's thesis.

Isn't it more likely, that many primitive cultures and religions would choose to celebrate the birth of their gods at a time when the sun began to grow stronger, and thus be reborn? Isn't it much more likely that this is the reason that so many pagan religions have festivals at the time of the winter solstice? I'll let you decide which thesis is stronger.

So there is no direct evidence for or against the claim that Christmas grew from Pagan roots. And if the source of the claim is flawed (and then constantly repeated) while there is at least indirect evidence to the contrary, which view is the more likely?

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Christmas Customs

In many people's minds, the idea that Christmas evolved from Pagan feasts is given more credence by the fact that many Christmas customs were observed as part of Pagan religion and culture. Yule logs, holly, mistletoe, and evergreen decorations all play a part in many different Pagan festivals. But does that mean that they all stem from the same source? Lights and trees, revelry and gift-giving are common to many different celebrations in many different cultures. But this doesn't prove that they are derived from the same source. If Christians use them at Christmas, why assume they were all taken from Paganism?

Of course some Christmas customs are certainly taken from paganism. The use of the word Yule and the various customs associated with it, for example, come from pagan culture. The word probably came from the Anglo-Saxon geol, which meant "feast." It is thought that among the Anglo-Saxons, the time of the winter solstice was a time of a great feast.

But so what? Is everything that was once used by paganism centuries ago, now off limits when Christians apply them to Christmas or other Christian festivals? Are we prepared to strictly apply that to everything we do? Why can't we use some of the same words, symbols or customs, which long ago ceased to be used in the worship of false gods? We need to remember that before pagans co-opted them centuries ago, God had given many of the things used in custom, as good gifts to be enjoyed by his people. Why then can Christians not redeem these good gifts for their use as they celebrate Christmas? In my opinion, it is sufficient to point out to people the origin of these customs, and distinguish these "winter customs" from the true Christmas celebration, which has to do with the birth of God's Son, Jesus Christ. In my perfect world, people would call all of those customs "winter customs" or "holiday customs" rather than "Christmas customs." "Christmas" would only be used to refer to the Christian holy day that remembers Christ's birth. But I don't see that happening any time soon.

There is a FAQ page about various Christmas customs on the same web site as Dr. Bucher's other articles.

Perhaps the biggest custom of Christmas is the Christmas tree. There have been a number of false assumptions linking its origin to Paganism, but again, with no historical basis. It is often difficult to separate history from legend in such cases. Many variations are found on the internet, most without sources or citations (not uncommon on the Web). Dr. Bucher lists his sources for his articles:

In doing the research for this article, I found three works especially helpful. The first is Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan by Clement A. Miles. Though now a bit dated, Miles's work made use of the best scholarship of the time, much of which has not been improved upon, and therefore is still a valuable resource. Of equal value is Francis X. Weiser's Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs. Weiser's work only devotes several chapters to the customs of Christmas, but these are well researched and articulated. I also found The Solstice Evergreen by Sheryl Ann Karas to be helpful. Karas has done an admirable job researching the various ways that the evergreen has been used in various cultures over the centuries and this is the book's strength.

At one time I, like many other Christians, cited Jeremiah 10 as "proof" that the Christmas tree was Pagan.

Jeremiah 10:
2 Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
3 For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
5 They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.
[see NASB]

However, careful examination of the context shows that it is speaking of cutting down trees and carving them into idols, decking them with silver and gold. It is not referring to the Christmas tree, which in its modern form did not come into existence till hundreds of years later. (See Dr. Bucher's article on this here.)

So where did the Christmas tree originate? While the popular story of Martin Luther setting up the first Christmas tree is purely legendary, most history scholars agree that it did originate in Germany. The earliest record of a decorated evergreen at Christmas is from 1521 in Alsace (a region of Germany). Another record from Strasbourg in 1605 describes what was hung on their tree - "...roses cut of many-coloured paper, apples, wafers, gold-foil, sweets..." We also know from historical writings that not all Christians approved of the custom. The theologian Johann Dannhauer said he didn't know where the custom came from, and called it "child's play... Far better were it to point the children to the spiritual cedar-tree, Jesus Christ." The first mention of candles on a Christmas tree is in the 1600's. The custom grew slowly in popularity from the mid-17th century, and had grown to the general German custom it is today by the early 19th century. But where did it originate?

Karas has amply demonstrated that evergreens have been a symbol of rebirth from ancient times. Bringing greenery into one's home, often at the time of the winter solstice, symbolized life in the midst of death in many cultures. The Romans decked their homes with evergreens and other greenery during the Kalends of January. Living trees were also brought into homes during the old German feast of Yule, which originally was a two-month feast beginning in November. The Yule tree was planted in a tub and brought into the home. However, the evidence just does not exist which shows that Christians first used trees at Christmas as a symbol of rebirth, nor that the Christmas tree was a direct descendent of the Yule tree. On the contrary, the evidence that we have points in another direction. The Christmas tree appears to be a descendent of the Paradise tree and the Christmas light of the late Middle Ages.

From the eleventh century, religious plays called "mystery plays" became quite popular throughout Europe. These plays were performed outdoors and in churches. One of the most prevalent of these plays was the "Paradise play." The play depicted the story of the creation of Adam and Eve, their sin, and their banishment from Paradise. The play would end with the promise of the coming Savior and His Incarnation (cf. Gen. 3:15). The Paradise play was simple by today's standards. The only prop on stage was the "Paradise tree," a fir tree adorned with apples. From this tree, at the appropriate time in the play, Eve would take the fruit, eat it, and give it to Adam.

Because of abuses that crept into the mystery plays (i.e., immoral behavior), the Church forbade these plays during the fifteenth century. The people had grown so accustomed to the Paradise tree, however, that they began putting their own Paradise tree up in their homes on Dec. 24. They did so on Dec. 24 because this was the feast day of Adam and Eve (at least in the Eastern Church). The Paradise tree, as it had in the Paradise plays, symbolized both a tree of sin and a tree of life. For this reason, the people would decorate these trees with apples (representing the fruit of sin) and homemade wafers (like communion wafers which represented the fruit of life). Later, candy and sweets were added.

Another custom was to be found in the homes of Christians on Dec. 24 since the late Middle Ages. A large candle called the "Christmas light," symbolizing Christ who is the light of the world, was lit on Christmas Eve. In western Germany, many smaller candles were set upon a wooden pyramid and lit. Besides the candles, other objects such as glass balls, tinsel, and the "star of Bethlehem" were placed on its top.

Though we cannot be certain, it seems highly likely that the first Christmas trees that appeared in Germany in the early sixteenth century were descendants of both of these customs: the Paradise tree and the Christmas pyramids and lights. The Paradise tree became our Christmas tree. Decorations that had been placed on the pyramids were transferred to the Christmas tree.

For many Christians the Christmas tree still retains the symbolism of the Paradise tree. The tree reminds us of the tree in Eden by which Adam and Eve were overcome and which thrust them into sin. But more importantly, the tree reminds us of the tree by which our sin was overcome, namely the tree upon which Christ Jesus was crucified. Is it a stretch to refer to the cross as a tree? Hardly, for this is the language of the New Testament itself! For example, Paul writes in Galatians 3:13, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree" (quoting Deut. 21:23). And Peter writes, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed." [I Peter 2:24, NIV] Therefore, the Christmas tree is a wonderful symbol and reminder of our salvation and forgiveness through Jesus Christ!

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Another reliable source that backs up its information with credible research is Their article on the date of the birth of Jesus also corroborates the fact that December 25 was chosen as an alternative to Pagan celebration.

In those tenuous early days of Christianity, however, Church fathers debated strategies for supplanting the Mithras cult with their own religion. Since it was well known that Roman patricians and plebians alike enjoyed festivals of a protracted nature, Christians recognized that they needed an alternative to the December celebration of Natalis Solis Invincti. They needed a celebration in which all participants — Mithraists, Christians, and those in between — could take part with pride. Accordingly, the Church officially recognized Christ's birth, and to offer head-on competition to the sun worshipers' popular feast, the Church located the Nativity on December 25. The mode of observance would be characteristically prayerful: a Mass. In fact, Christ's Mass. As one theologian wrote around 320 CE:

We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of him who made it.

Although centuries later, social scientists would write of the psychological power of group celebrations — the unification of ranks, the solidification of collective identity, the reinforcement of common objectives — the principle had long been intuitively obvious. Christianity took permanent hold in the Western world in 337 CE when Constantine I was baptized on his deathbed, uniting for the first time the Crown and the Church.

Granted there have been times since then that Pagan customs were mixed with Christian traditions. And there were also times when the celebration degenerated into drunken revelry. But that wasn't always the case, and it didn't start out that way. Also, because of this degradation, there were times in history when Christmas was frowned upon. The Puritans banned it in England at one point, and in America, English customs including Christmas fell out of favor after the Revolution. It wasn't until June 26, 1870 that Christmas was declared a federal holiday. But much of the reason for rejecting Christmas in more recent centuries was not so much because they thought it was Pagan, but because of the drunken debauchery it had become. Such revelry as well as crass commercialism and unbridled greed have turned many off to Christmas even today. In response, many Christians have tried to get back to the observation of Christ's birth, but this idea is hindered by those who insist that Christmas originated as a Pagan holiday.

The fact is many different customs from many different cultures are mixed at this time of year, even among non-Christians. But the holiday isn't going away any time soon. So if you're going to celebrate something, why not observe the Christian traditions in contrast to the Pagan ones or the secular ones? As long as the celebration exists, which reaction would be more conducive to spreading the gospel - ignoring everything about Christmas because you were told it's pagan, or encouraging more people to focus on the birth of Christ as Christians have done for hundreds of years? Focusing on Christ rather than other things is always a better choice.

Paul said in Romans 14 that, "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Romans 14:5). If one is convinced that Christmas is evil and Pagan, then he shouldn't observe it. But a person can't make an informed choice if the information they're given is not historically accurate, and a vast amount of the info out there is just that. So it is important to get the facts straight about the origins of Christmas, and only then can one make an informed decision and thus be persuaded in his own mind.


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Mark Clarke