8 Facts About Christmas and Paganism

By Dr. Bob Martin III
Published 1 year ago

Do you know there are claims about an association between Christmas and paganism? In other words, some people want you to actually believe that Christmas is a pagan holiday.

If you are aware of these accusations, what do you think of them?

  • Are you confused about what it all means?
  • Do you wish you knew how to respond when you read or hear about this supposed association?
  • Did you wonder if this association affected the core principles of Christianity?
  • Will you believe that the accusations discredit Christmas?
  • Have you decided to stop celebrating Christmas because of the claims?

Let me start by reassuring you. There is no need to worry about these claims.

 

 

Is there a Rélationship Between Christmas & Paganism? * 'Arg you confused? Can you respond? Does this affect Christianity's core principles? • Does this discredit Christmas? Will you stop celebrating Christmas?

 

 

 

 

I.   How Do You View Christmas?

What does the Christmas season mean for you?

  • Warm memories
  • Beautifully decorated homes
  • Gorgeous light shows throughout larger towns and cities
  • Inspiring Christmas music continuously playing on Christian radio stations
  • Family gathering
  • Sumptuous meals with friends and family
  • Exchanging gifts

 

Conversely, for many people, Christmas represents:

  • Painful memories
  • Feeling depressed
  • Feeling lonely even though people surround you
  • Exhausting preparation of meals and home
  • Stress over entertaining family and friends that you are not close too
  • Anxiety over being judged according to the gifts you choose
  • Dealing with roots of bitterness and anger toward family
  • Spending too much money on gifts

 

II.   The Importance of Christmas

Before we tackle the topic of Christmas and paganism, let me explain why Christmas is so important.

Regardless of whether you love or hate the Christmas season, let’s look at the real meaning of Christmas.

 

 

Importance of Christmas Christmas celebrates Jesus' birth to Mary and Joseph more than 2,000 years ago Christmas also celebrates the virgin conception or incarnation

 

 

Most importantly, Christmas is the annual celebration of Jesus’ birth. Christ’s birth occurred more than 2,000 years ago to a poor couple in a Bethlehem manger.

  • But in reality, Christmas celebrates not just Jesus’ birth
  • In addition, Christmas celebrates the miracle that occurred nine months before Jesus’ birth
  • In particular, the miracle is called the virgin conception
  • The virgin conception involves the Trinity. In this case, God the Father sent the Holy Spirit to conceive Jesus in the womb of the virgin Mary
  • Therefore, Christmas celebrates the birth of God in human flesh (i.e., incarnation)
  • In other words, Christmas introduces Jesus, who is fully God and fully human, to the world

 

 

 

 

Without a doubt, there are many reasons to celebrate Christ’s birth, including.

  • Fulfilling prophecy proving he is “the Christ” (Messiah or “Anointed One”) (Matt. 1:23; John 19:37; Phil. 2:10-11; Rev. 1:7)
  • Inaugurating God’s plan of salvation (Rom. 10:9-10)
  • Christ came into the world to die for our sins (Rom. 4:25; Phil. 2:8; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 Peter 3:18), was resurrected(Acts 2:24, 31–32; 3:15, 26; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30–37; 2 Tim. 2:8), ascended back to heaven (Luke 24:51-53; Acts 1:9-11) and is alive today, acting as our mediator between God and us (1 Tim 2:5; cf. Luke 22:9; Acts 2:33)

 

Reasons to Celebrate Christ's Birth Jesus' birth fulfilled prophecies proving he is the "Christ" Jesus' ' birth inaugurated God's plan of salvation Christ came into the world to die for our sins, was resurrected, & ascended back to heaven to mediate between God and us

 

 

III.   Pushback about Christmas

Have you received pushback for sharing the real reason for Christmas?

Moreover, this pushback came from several directions:

  • Firstly, atheists don’t like Christmas because it celebrates Jesus’ miraculous conception
  • Secondly, non-Christian religions don’t like Jesus being proclaimed God (Matt. 1:23)
  • Thirdly, some Christians feel consumerism has obscured Christmas’ true meaning
  • Finally, some Christians and non-Christians believe that there is an association between Christmas and paganism that discredits the holiday’s legitimacy

 

Despite the pushback, one thing is undeniably true! Jesus was miraculously conceived and born to a virgin!

This article will refute the argument about an association between Christmas and paganism. You can be confident that any associations between Christmas and paganism:

  • Are firstly irrelevant
  • And secondly, do not discredit the holiday.

 

IV.   Paganism is not Meant Pejoratively

To clarify, when I use the term pagan, I am not being mean-spirited. In fact, there are modern-day pagans and neo-pagans.

But to be clear, in this article, my use of “paganism” refers to ancient non-Christian beliefs and practices.

The term paganism was, at first, coined by fourth-century Christians. It applied chiefly to Romans practicing polytheism (the worship of many gods).

To be sure, the word paganism has subsequently evolved into anyone adhering to non-Christian beliefs.

Furthermore, “paganism” is not unique to Christianity

  • Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists similarly use paganism for people outside their beliefs
  • Finally, paganism can also describe non-religious, hedonistic, solely pleasure-seeking persons

 

 

 

Paganism ros BINMIN The term is not meant to be mean-spirited "Paganism" was first used by 4th-century Christians Referred to Roman polytheists (worship of many gods) We use paganism to refer to ancient non-Christian practices

 

 

V.   Eight Facts About Christmas and Paganism

Because of the controversy surrounding the relationship between Christmas and paganism, I will present eight facts that should answer your questions.

  • Firstly, these facts will introduce the controversies
  • Following that, we will learn why any association is irrelevant
  • And finally, conclude that Christians can celebrate Christmas

 

The list of eight facts includes:

  • Fact 1: There are controversies about Christmas and paganism
  • Fact 2: Two reasons we celebrate Jesus’s birth on December 25
  • Fact 3: Any association between Christmas and paganism is irrelevant
  • Fact 4: The meaning of Christmas traditions is based on present-day definitions!
  • Fact 5: Biblical evidence of Paul redeeming a pagan belief
  • Fact 6: Examples of Christmas traditions that redefined pagan practices
  • Fact 7: Deciding whether to celebrate Christmas is a “Christian liberty!”
  • Fact 8: A Christian can celebrate Christmas if Jesus is the only focus

 

8 Facts About Christmas & Paganism Fact 1: There are Controversies about Christmas & Paganism Fact 2: Two Reasons We Celebrate Jesus's Birth on December 25 Fact 3: Any Association Between Christmas & Paganism is Irrelevant Fact 4: The Meaning of Christmas Traditions is Based on Present-day Definitions! Fact 5: Biblical Evidence of Paul Redeeming a Pagan Belief Fact 6: Examples of Christmas Traditions that Redefined Pagan Practices Fact 7: Deciding to Celebrate Christmas is a Christian Liberty Fact 8: A Christian Can Celebrate Christmas if Jesus is the only Focus

 

1.   Fact 1: There are Controversies about Christmas and Paganism

As shown above, an association between Christmas and paganism can be upsetting.

  • Firstly, it bewilders some Christians
  • And secondly, it incites non-Christians

 

Obviously, people argue about pagan influences on Christmas. For example:

  • The accuracy of December 25 as the date of Christ’s birth
  • Whether pagan practices gave rise to certain Christmas symbols or traditions

 

 

Controversies about Christmas & Paganism The accuracy of December 25 as the date of Christ's birth Did pagan practices give rise to Christmas symbols or traditions?

 

 

2.   Fact 2: Two Reasons We Celebrate Jesus’s Birth on December 25

To begin with, we do not know the exact day of Christ’s birth!

Moreover, not all Christians celebrate Christmas on the same date:

  • Roman Catholics and most Protestants celebrate on December 25
  • Eastern Orthodox church celebrates on January 6
  • Armenian church observes January 19

 

Why Celebrate Christmas on December 25? We do not know the exact day of Christ's birth! Not all Christians celebrate on the same date: • Catholics & Protestants; December 25 • Eastern Orthodox: January 6 • Armenian Church: January 19

 

a.   Hippolytus’ Calculation

Hippolytus (c. 160-236) was a third-century Roman theologian. He was the first to propose December 25 as Jesus’ birth in his Daniel commentary.

  • He believed Christ’s conception and crucifixion occurred on the same day (March 25)
  • Adding nine months of pregnancy from conception, Hippolytus arrived on December 25 as Jesus’ day of birth

 

However, the first known recorded celebration of December 25 as a church festival was in 336 AD. The Philocalian Calendar recorded it during the Roman emperor Constantine’s reign.

 

b.   Relation to the Roman Festivals

Conversely, another explanation is favored by non-Christians. To show a relationship between Christmas and paganism, they claim Christians adopted December 25 from the pagan festivals.

  • These were Brumalia (December 25), following the Saturnalia (December 17–24)
  • They celebrated the shortest day in the year and the “new sun,” or the beginning of the lengthening of days

 

 

How December 25 was Chosen Hippolytus (c. 160-236) 3rd-century theologian • Calculated Jesus' conception to March 25 Adding 9 months of pregnancy gives December 25 as Jesus' day of birth Others believe Christians appropriated December 25 from Roman festival Brumalia

 

 

3.   Fact 3: Any Association between Christmas and Paganism is Irrelevant

No one denies that some Christmas traditions are similar to pagan practices. However, there are several factors to consider:

  • Firstly, no Christmas tradition similar to paganism affects any core belief of Christianity! If it does, it should be abandoned
  • Secondly, whenever cultures clash, some things are inevitable. In particular, symbols, customs, and even language will be absorbed and redefined by the new society. For example, is Paul assimilating “an altar to an unknown god” to introduce Jesus (Acts 17:23-24)
  • Thirdly, even if Christians assimilated pagan practices, no one remembers their original meaning

 

 

Any Association Between Christmas & Paganism is Irrelevant 1. No Christmas tradition similar to paganism affects any core belief of Christianity! 2. Whenever cultures clash, symbols, customs, & language will be absorbed & redefined by new society like Paul at Mars Hill (Acts 17:23-24) 3. Even if Christians assimilated pagan practices, no one remembers their original meaning

 

 

4.   Fact 4: The Meaning of Christmas Traditions is Based on Present-day Definitions!

Accusations of a relationship between Christmas and paganism are unimportant. The irrelevance of this association is based on the following:

  • Firstly, the current usage of Christmas symbols and traditions determines their meaning
  • And secondly, the present-day understanding of Christmas customs cancels ancient pagan meaning.”

 

 

The Meaning of Christmas Customs is Based on Present-day Definitions! 1. The current usage of Christmas symbols and traditions determines their meaning 2. The present-day definition of Christmas customs cancels ancient pagan meaning

 

 

Does this seem confusing? Let me give a few illustrations. Many ancient symbols have been adopted and redefined into contemporary understandings.

For example, I send a specific message when I buy my wife Valentine’s Day card with hearts.

  • The hearts symbolize my love for her
  • I don’t expect Hallmark to stop creating these cards because of the ancient meaning of the heart
  • Specifically, the heart symbol was once an ancient Grecian symbol for silphium. Silphium was used for food flavoring, perfume, cough syrup, and birth control
  • That’s not the message I want to send

 

Additionally, many other symbols have evolved from their original meanings. For instance, the:

  • Swastika went from ancient “well-being” to symbolizing Nazism
  • Triquetra: was an ancient Celtic symbol for three elements or three-fold goddess. Now, in this case, it symbolizes eternity, eternal love, or even the Trinity
  • Two-finger “victory” gesture: was once a taunting gesture by ancient archers. The reason was if captured; the archer had their index and middle fingers cut off so they couldn’t shoot an arrow. Now, by comparison, it stands for “victory”
  • Infinity sign in ancient India and Tibet meant perfection. It also represented dualism and the male and female union. However, today it is used as a mathematical sign for infinity
  • Thumbs-up/ down gestures arose in the Roman arena indicating the gladiator’s fate. Today it means “all’s good/ bad.”
  • Skull and crossbones were initially Spanish markers for cemeteries. But today, they mean danger

 

 

Contemporary Understandings of Ancient Symbols Present-day definition Ancient Meaning Love & romance Grecian symbol for silphium Eternity, Eternal love, & Trinity V for Victory Math sign for infinity "All's Good" Celtic symbol for 3 elements Danger Taunting gesture by archers Indian/ Tibetan for perfection Roman gladiators fate Spanish marker

 

 

In every case, these symbols are understood by contemporary understanding. Meanwhile, their ancient meanings have been lost.

What about you? Do you think we should not worship on Sunday or Wednesday because:

  • Sunday was named after the pagan “Day of Sun”
  • Wednesday was named after the Norse god Woden!

 

5.   Fact 5: Biblical Evidence of Paul Redeeming Pagan Beliefs

Paul demonstrates how to redeem pagan symbols into Christianity in Acts 17:22–24.

In effect, Paul confronted a group of philosophers at the Areopagus (Mars Hill). “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” [emphasis mine]

In light of his statement, Paul culturally redefined the pagan altar to the unknown god. As a result, he introduced Jesus and evangelized the philosophers.

 

 

Biblical Evidence of Redeeming Pagan Beliefs Paul confronted a group of philosophers at the Areopagus (Mars Hill) "Men of Athens, I perceive... you are very religious. For as I passed along & observed…an altar with this inscription: 'To the unknown god. What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you" Paul appropriated a pagan altar to introduce Jesus & evangelize the philosophers

 

6.   Fact 6: Examples of Christmas Traditions that Redefined Pagan Practices

An association between Christmas and paganism cannot discredit the holiday. The reasoning is simple.

  • To begin with, Christmas traditions and symbols are defined by present-day usage
  • Moreover, the ancient pagan understanding is long forgotten and unhelpful

 

Let’s assume that some Christmas traditions did originate from pagan practices. In these cases, early believers absorbed and redefined the pagan traditions into Christian culture. Once they became part of Christian culture, they took on new, meanings.

As a result the pagan customs or symbols were so thoroughly redefined that the original pagan meanings became lost and irrelevant. Therefore, any previous influence or meaning is lost. And in its place is only the present-day definitions of Christmas traditions. In other words, any past pagan practices hold no influence over Christmas traditions.

To illustrate, let me share Christmas traditions compared to purportedly pagan customs.

  • Firstly, I love singing and listening to beautiful Christmas hymns. They lift my mind and spirit to focus on God. By comparison, I never interpret them as driving away evil spirits
  • Secondly, the ringing of Christmas bells ushers in my excitement over Jesus’ birth. This interpretation is different from believing they ward off evil spirits
  • Thirdly, lighting Christmas candles reminds me that Jesus is the “light of the world.” He came into our darkness(John 1:4-9). In contrast, they do nothing to ward off evil spirits or celebrate the rebirth of the sun
  • Fourthly, decorating and enjoying our indoor Christmas tree is a source of joy. There are family stories, laughter, Christmas music, and Bible reading. On the contrary, no one sees the tree as a pagan symbol of life
  • Fifthly, giving gifts to family reminds us of the greatest gift, Jesus. On the negative side, we are not giving gifts to the ancient god Saturn or hoping for a good harvest
  • Sixthly, kissing my beloved under the mistletoe is a favorite tradition. And I confess. I have never considered mistletoe representing a truce between Druids and their enemies
  • And finally, Christmas greenery is part of our festive seasonal décor. Contrarily, it carries no pagan association with warding off evil

 

 

Christmas Traditions vS. Pagan Customs Christmas Tradition Pagan Belief Hymns glorify God Drive away evil spirits Bells usher in Christmas day Drive away evil spirits Candles represent Jesus bringing light into world Gifts remind me of God's greatest gift Jesus Drive away evil spirits & celebrate sun's rebirth Gifts to "sun god" & good harvest Mistletoe to kiss wife & appreciate her as God's gift to me Truce between Druids and enemies

 

 

All the above may be accurate, but please take heed. Uncritically practicing Christmas customs is unwise.

It is crucial to examine how we celebrate Christ’s birth. And if any Christmas practices don’t glorify God, discard them! For instance:

  • Feasting is acceptable, but overeating to the point of gluttony is sinful.
  • Giving gifts is biblical, but it is sinfully irresponsible to spend into indebtedness

 

7.   Fact 7: Deciding to Celebrate Christmas is a “Christian Liberty”

Choosing whether to celebrate Christmas falls under the category of “Christian liberty”:

  • Paul wrote in Romans 14:5-6 “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord.”

 

Deciding what is best for you and your family will consequently require discernment. And discernment particularly includes:

  • Firstly, studying Scripture (Rom. 12:1–2; 1 Thess. 5:14–17; 2 Tim. 3:16–17)
  • Secondly, relying on the Holy Spirit (John 16:13)
  • Thirdly, prayer (Col. 4:12; 1 Thes. 5:16–18)
  • Fourthly, living a godly lifestyle (James 4:8)
  • Finally, seeking sound counsel (James 1:5).

A Christian Can Celebrate Christmas!

 

8.   Fact 8: A Christian can Celebrate Christmas if the Focus is Only on Jesus

After reading this article, in addition to practicing discernment, are you still undecided? Are you still struggling with whether to celebrate Christmas? Here are some thoughts to consider.

  • To begin with, even if aspects of Christmas had pagan origins, they are irrelevant now
  • Above all, current usage defines Christmas customs, not ancient meanings
  • Further, not knowing the exact date of Jesus’ birth is unimportant! It should not deter you from celebrating Christmas
  • Additionally, Christmas provides an opportunity to introduce friends a family to Jesus

 

 

Still Undecided? Practical Ideas 1. Even if aspects of Christmas had pagan origins, they are irrelevant now 2. Not knowing the exact date of Jesus' birth is unimportant! 3. Current usage defines Christmas customs 4. Christmas is an opportunity to evangelize

 

 

Conversely, if you are convinced that the association between Christmas and paganism causes you too much discomfort, then don’t celebrate the holiday.

But in my opinion, a Christian can celebrate Christmas if the focus in only on Jesus!

In fact, Christmas should be no different than any other time.

Why?

Because everything we do in life should focus on and glorify the Lord!

In the final analysis, Paul wrote it best, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Basically, Christmas glorifies God by celebrating Jesus’ birth (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).

 

V.   What’s Your Next Step?

Finally, let me end with a word of warning. Don’t allow cultural influences to minimize your Christmas celebration.

  • Christmas is much more than feasting, exchanging gifts, and a semi-annual church visit
  • Consumerism should not distract you from the message of Christmas
  • Instead, focus on God’s great gift to us
  • And that gift is Jesus, who came to provide salvation for humans who put their faith in him.

 

If you are a Christian this Christmas season, celebrate by:

  • Saying a mealtime prayer when your family gathers
  • Listening to Jesus-centered Christmas music
  • Inviting a friend to your church’s Christmas Eve service
  • Sharing the life-giving message of why you celebrate Jesus at Christmas

 

If you are not a Christian, this is the perfect time to place your faith in him as your Lord and Savior.

Binmin Resources

Binmin Podcast ep. 15: Virgin Birth | Putting the Fun In…

Ep. 48. Why is Christmas Such a Big Deal?

Ep. 49. Why is Christmas Such a Big Deal?

Resources

  1. Buckwalter, H. Douglas. “Virgin Birth.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1996.
  2. Earle, Ralph E. (1975). “Christmas.” In C. F. Pfeiffer, H. F. Vos, & J. Rea (Eds.), The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia. Moody Press.
  3. Got Questions Ministries. (2002–2013). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Logos Bible Software.
  4. Kendall, R. T. Understanding Theology, Volume Two. Ross-shire Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2000
  5. Smith and S. Cheetham, Dictionary of Christian Antiquities. 2 volumes. London, 1875–80
  6. Hastings, James A., John A. Selbie, and John C. Lambert, A Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, 2 vols., Edinburgh and New York, 1906–1908
  7. Talley, Thomas J. “Christmas.” In Dictionary of Christianity in America. Edited by Reid, D. G., et al. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990.
  8. Newman, A. H. “Christmas.” In Samuel M. Jackson et al., In The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge: Embracing Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology and Biblical Theological and Ecclesiastical Biography from the Earliest Times to Present. Volume 3. Funk & Wagnalls 1908–1914.

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