Christmas is Christian
December 23, 2010
One of the common discussions that I find myself having every Christmas (and every Easter) is about the so called pagan origins of these holidays. The argument goes as follows.
Christians have foolishly chosen to celebrate a pagan holiday. The pagans celebrated Winter solstice and on this day until the fourth century when the Pope coopted the day and made it the celebration of the birth of Christ. Christians simply put a Christian façade on the pagan practices of Christmas trees mistletoe and many of the other practices now associated with Christmas.
This story, told by critics of Christianity as well as by some well meaning Christians, is supposed to show that the Christianity of today is not the Christianity of Christ and the early church. Observing Christmas is a compromise with paganism.
But I love Christmas. I don’t think it is a compromise. I think all Christians should observe it.
Let me explain my logic. First of all, many of the supposed parallels are just people trying to make connections that are not there. If Christians had chosen a day in January or February, critics would say that they chose some other pagan holiday that happens to hit in those months. Most religions skatter holidays throughout the year – you cannot assume that an overlap is anything more than coincidence.
Secondly, it is impossible to separate ourselves from all things first developed or practiced by nonchristians. Things like the our system of time (24 hr days, 60 minute hours, 60 second minutes etc) were developed in pagan cultures. Many of the instruments used in churches were not invented by Christians. The names of the days of the week are pagan in origin. The fact that our churches announce that we meet at 11am on Sunday (or Saturday for the sabbatarians out there) is a big violation of the rule that we can’t mix pagan things with Christian practices.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the way that God works is that he redeems what is corrupt. We were sinners but now we are saved. We were pagans but now we are sons of God (Jn 1:12). Every tradition points to a god of some sort. Pagans thought that winter solstice pointed to their pagan gods. They were wrong. God created the solstice. He created the seasons – not Isis or Saturn. The heavens point to the God of Abraham. Saturn deserves scorn not fear. Isis is not Lord, Christ is.
Part of what it means to be a Christian is declaring Jesus to be King of this world (Rev 19:6, Isa 52:7). When William the Conquerer invaded England in 1066 he went around the countryside to declare that he was the King of England. When he came to an estate, a messenger would ask the owner, ‘To Whom does this estate belong?’ When the owner would respond ‘this belongs to Lord So-and-So.’ The messenger would reply, ‘Wrong, it belongs to King William.’ And so I would ask the same question. To whom do the trees, mistletoe, and candles belong? Isis? Saturn? Wrong answer. They belong to the God of Israel.
Christians conquered the pagans. Our God is real. Theirs are fake. Our God created the seasons. Their gods created nothing. Trees, holly, and mistletoe point to Christ not Isis. That is why I have no problem with them.
Can we give presents and candy canes to our children as we celebrate the incarnation and Christ’s birth into this world? Yes. So long as we explain that they are signs and pointers to Christ our Lord.