Thursday, December 09, 2004

Wasn’t Christmas Originally Celebrated as a Pagan Holiday?

I thought that in the spirit of the season I would address a question that seems to come up every year. That is, did Christmas originate as a Pagan holiday? The surprising answer is that although it coincided with pagan festivals that were occurring at around the same time, Christmas itself did not originate from a pagan holiday. (In fact, the word “Christmas” comes from two other words meaning “Christ” and “Maesse” or “mass” which means “The Mass of the Christ.” It is so named because it is in reference to when the Catholic priest re-offers the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross). In order to more fully understand this, we must take a quick look at history.

There are stories of many cultures with celebrations ushering in the winter season. In the Roman Empire, Saturn (the god of sowing) was worshipped in a celebration called “Saturnalia.” This celebration marked the winter solstice and its date varied every year (but it usually occurred between December 17th and 23rd). Now the exact reasoning varies depending on what research you’ve done. Some sources say the church wanted to get rid of the Pagan worship but was having difficulty. Other sources say the Christians wanted to move their celebration of the Lord’s birth (which was already being celebrated in the springtime) to this time to provide a contrast for the Pagan worship. That is it would provide an alternative for Pagan worship as well as help protect Christians that were being wooed into these celebrations. (Similar to what many missionaries do today). Either way, what is agreed upon is that the Roman church wanted to adopt the holiday, they turned it into a celebration of the Lord’s birth, originally called it the “Feast of the Nativity” and it has been a part of western culture ever since.

Many people claim that the celebration is misleading because nobody knows the exact day Jesus was born. I don’t know about it being misleading, but they are absolutely correct about Jesus’ actual birthday. While some Scholars estimate it could have been in April or October or September, no one knows for sure. And that is okay. It’s no different than throwing a belated birthday party for someone whom was out of town. It’s the meaning of the celebration that provides its value, not its accuracy on a calendar. (Considering that our calendar is off by 4 years anyway [i.e. Jesus was actually born in 4 BC] it shouldn’t really matter).

In regards to whether or not Christians should celebrate Christmas I really don’t want to go into because I don’t see it as being an issue important enough to possibly upset someone. Different people have different opinions on the issue and that’s fine. I will say this though; it is the worshipping of Jesus that makes the day holy and not the potential pagan origins that makes the day evil. I see nothing wrong with re-inventing cultural practices with a spiritual meaning; after all God did it. I bet you didn’t know that long before God instituted circumcision as a ritual among the Jews it was being practiced by the Egyptians. To the Egyptians it was a cultural practice. When God gave it to the Jews he gave it to them with spiritual implications. In addition to that, God gave the Jews many different festivals and celebrations throughout the year as opportunities to worship and remember what God did for them.

Whether or not a Christian should celebrate Christmas is a personal choice. For reasons mentioned above, I personally have no problems celebrating Christmas as I focus on the birth of my Savior and not anything else anyone associates with it. If you don’t believe in celebrating Christmas that is definitely your choice, however I have found a well written article that may impact your decision. Click HERE to read it.

No comments: