Yes, it’s true. Christmas has pagan origins. But it’s not the only common thing in our modern, western culture with pagan origins. In fact, vitamins and medicine are deeply rooted in paganism. Actually, dare I say, if it wasn’t for the pagans, our progress in modern medicine would not be where it is today. But does that make medicine bad, or (to up it a notch) evil? Is it bad to have pagan origins or even pagan connections?
No. And no.
In fact, the same can be said for Christmas. I would even go as far to say that a person (yes, this pertains mostly to Christians) who chooses not to celebrate Christmas based on its pagan origins yet chooses to take modern medicine is being hypocritical. If you reject something, at least be consistent.
Anyway, it’s true. Christmas’s origins are wrapped up (forgive the pun) in some pretty messed up stuff, like human sacrifice, rape, and idol worship– coming from pagan celebrations such as Saturnalia and the birthday of Mithras (god of an ancient mystery cult known as Mithraism). And yes, I imagine that to some of you, this is a shock. As a matter of fact, I’m quite sure that the shock value from learning how Christmas began is the very reason people go from jolly Christmas supporters to adamant holiday opposers. But fear not, we can– and should– continue celebrating the festive season.
Christmas Becomes a Christian
You see, one of Christianity’s major elements is that of transformation– repentance leading to a new creation, first with us and then with the planet (see Revelation if you don’t believe me). In transforming person to person, Christianity also transforms its society.
Take for example the term “gospel,” which you should know (if you attended any Sunday school at all) as a term meaning “good news.” In the same way that they reinvented Saturnalia (Christmas), Christians reinvented the Greek word for gospel, evangelion. Before its reinvention, evangelion was commonly used by Romans to declare military victory. But after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, early Christians began using this term to declare Christ’s victory over death. And, quite often, Christians took other terms, ideas, and practices that were common to their culture and adopted them to spread their faith. It’s quite brilliant.
The Smartness of Early Christians and the Importance of Culture
You see, the early church was smart; they were led by God, as we believe. And no, the early Catholic church was a not a scheming, diabolical, Satan-led, pre-illuminati sect, whose ultimate plan with Christmas was to trick future, modern societies into worshipping pagan gods. Just no.
They were smart– yes, this needs to be repeated because it’s true. In following Paul’s example (and suggestion) to be Greek to the Greeks, the early church sought to transform their culture through their culture. They shared their faith in a way that their society could understand by taking recognized customs and reinterpreting them with Christian lenses.
Christmas, by the way, is very important to our modern, western culture. It’s a perfect opportunity, a wide window, for sharing the Christian message of future hope and present (not a pun this time) transformation. Just walk into any Hallmark card-store and ask to see the Christian Christmas cards. I saw one last week that mentioned not only the baby in the manger but also the God on the cross who died for man. While you’re there, pay attention, listen to the music; you just might catch the radio playing Amazing Grace with a nearby store-clerk humming along.
Throughout the year, there’s rarely another moment when our culture is as open to Christ as they are at Christmas. Sure there are those who want to remove religion from “the Holidays” but that hasn’t happened yet. While there are still carollers singing church hymns, and feet wandering into cathedrals, take the opportunity. Our culture is placing it in front of us.
So, yeah, Christmas is a pagan festival, but it’s still a pagan festival containing Christ’s name, his songs, and his story. Before those things are taken away (if that should ever happen), stop rejecting Christmas (or at least be consistent and reject everything with pagan origins– like medicine) and use what God–through paganism and our culture– has placed before us.