Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?
Is Christmas Turning Into Xmas?
Some of us feel a strange conflict when we see "Xmas" instead of "Christmas". What causes this internal conflict? We might tell ourselves that it's just because there was no room to add "Christ." But then this becomes not just an issue of making room for a holiday sign at a store. It becomes an issue of faith and spirituality.
Do we make room for Christ, especially on Christmas? And how did Christmas come to be what it is today? This article will answer a few mysteries about the meaning and origins of Christmas, including:
- Why Is Christmas on December 25th?
- What Does It Mean to Be Pagan?
- What's the Connection Between Christmas, Yuletides, and Sun Gods?
- Are Christians Accidentally Following Pagan Traditions?
- What Are the Origins of Santa Claus?
- Why Have There Been Anti-Christmas Trends in History?
- How Can Christians Keep Christ in This Holiday?
Why Is Christmas on December 25th?
Christmas is usually celebrated on the 25th of December. It may not be the actual birthday of Jesus, but more of a commemoration of the day of his birth.
In the book of Luke and Matthew, different accounts are told about Jesus's birth. In fact, many of us only know the basics. Mary was a virgin. Joseph was upset that Mary randomly got pregnant. An angel talked to Joseph. They left town. She gave birth in a manger. Three wise men came that night because a star guided them. In fact, many songs, like "The Little Drummer Boy," mention the series of events, as follows:
Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum,
A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,
So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.
Take away all the pa rums and pum pums, and we have a story of the three wise men bringing gifts to lay before the King. Unfortunately, the Bible does not mention when Jesus's birthday was.
The day of December 25th was set by Pope Julius in the 4th century AD. (AD means Anno Domini, which equates to "Year of Our Lord".) This is a theory, however, and many believe that Christmas started off as a substitute for celebrations for winter solstice, which were pagan in nature.
What Does It Mean to Be Pagan?
Sometimes when I read articles trying to learn more about a subject, I get annoyed at how some writers sling words around like "pagan," assuming one understands the deeper meaning of pagan. Let me what explain paganism really is.
Pagan can mean that you worship multiple gods (also known as polytheistic). Pagan can mean that you don't necessarily believe in religion. The word "pagan" has also been used to disparage people who do not follow one of the Abrahamic religions. Pagans may believe in the natural world as its own force. For example, are Wiccans pagans? Wicca is derived from "witchcraft," and yes, Wicca happens to be a type of Paganism.
Yuletides and Sun Gods
Let's go back to winter solstice. This is the celebration of the beginning of the solar year that celebrates light and the sun's rebirthing. For Romans, this was also known as Saturnalia. It was the most popular holiday in accordance with the Roman calendar. Sacrifices and gifts were offered to the gods in the sowing season of winter.
In ancient Europe, it was known as "yule." Does the word sound familiar? Yulecomes for jul, which is the Norse word for "wheel." The wheel was in reference to the sun as a wheel that was responsible for the change in the seasons. Emperor Aurelian (a Roman Emperor, also known as Father Christmas), worshipped the Pagan sun god. He persecuted sects that he considered rivals, like Christians.
December 25th, in the year of 274, was declared as the feast day known as Invictus Sol. He levied harsh taxes on the rich, made bonfires, canceled debts of a public nature, and did all this to try to gain favor with his people. (This "generous" spirit came to be known as the "Christmas Spirit.") Since Christians knew they could not worship the sun god, they prayed to their own Jesus Christ, lord and savior. So Christ Mass, perhaps derived from "Christ's Mass," came to be.
How Christians Accidentally Celebrate Pagan Winter Solstice
The song "Deck the Halls" mentions this cryptic line: “Troll the ancient yuletide carol.” How many fa-la-la-la-la's does it take to realize that this line may be referring to winter solstice, and therefore, pagan roots? And why do we make yule logs and burn them? This was the Nordic tradition to celebrate, again, winter solstice.
The yule log was part of a large tree that was chosen with care. In pagan traditions, the celebrations were more than a day long. In fact, many lasted 12 days (as in the song "The 12 Days of Christmas"), so the trees would be lit or utilized for those 12 days of winter solstice celebrations.
Part of winter solstice is to adorn one's homes in sacred herbs, such as ivy, holly, boughs of evergreen, pine cones, and even that romantic mistletoe sprig that's said to bring true love. Wreaths, anyone? Harvested evergreen tree? The reason for this was to bring nature indoors to please the nature gods. Many believed that these evergreens would keep away disease and bad spirits. Since winter solstice was a time for the sun god to "get well," the evergreens brought indoors were a reminder that green plants would bloom again when the sun god was well. Vikings actually believed that the sun god, Balder, gave them the special gift of evergreens.
Red, Green, and Yule
Do you know that the Druidic holiday colors are green, red, and white? Druids' festivals celebrate equinoxes and solstices, which are controlled by the Sun and Earth. The website TwoPagans mentions that the colors for Yule pagan observances are green, red, gold, silver, white, yellow, and orange.
Let's backtrack a bit—what are Druids? Druidry was a shaman-like religion that focused on nature-based medicines. In fact, many people believe that Stonehenge was a place of worship for the Druids to cast incantations of a magical nature.
The Pagan Origins of Santa Claus
Santa Claus is a strange mix of pagan Gods. He is a mix of Poseidon, Saturn, Wodan, Cronos, Holly King, Father Ice, Thor, Odin, and Tomte. You may have heard of St. Nicholas, or Sinter Klaas, which shows its Dutch roots. One can write a whole other article on the subject of Santa Claus alone, as it's extremely interesting, but it's all based on pagan roots. It was Americanized, of course, and stitched up to be less pagan and more kid-friendly.
So who were these aforementioned gods?
- Cronos was Father Time.
- Holly King was a Celtic god that symbolized the 'dying year'.
- Saturn was the agriculture god.
- Father Ice was the Russian god of winter.
- Thor was the Norse sky god that rode through the sky in a goat-drawn chariot.
- Odin was also another god of Scandinavian roots that rode through the sky on a horse with eight legs.
- Tomte was a Land Spirit, also from Norse lore, that gave gifts to children.
In the 1840s, a man known as Thomas Nast, who drew cartoons and illustrations, drew a figure that resembled the Bavarian god-mix that he remembered from the Alps of his childhood—the image we know today as Santa Claus. No, he was no longer dressed in animal skins. Yes, he looked more like a man and less like a gnome. No, he no longer threatened or punished people. But yes, he shows up in Christian homes and traditions.
The Popularity of Christmas in History
During the times of the Protestant Reformation, Christmas was given a good blow to its chin. Around the 16th century, the Protestants did not approve of Christmas due to its pagan roots. Christmas, pagan style, was rowdy. It was loud. It was a bit too lively. It was accompanied by drink. Oliver Cromwell decided that Christmas was illegal to celebrate. This went on for about 25 years and happened around the 1600s. The biggest issue was that Christmas did not have its roots in the Bible or Christ. People still continued to celebrate Christmas, however.
The Roman Emperor Constantine, when he converted Christianity in the year 312, sanctioned Christianity. Leaders of the church tried to integrate already-ingrained pagan rituals with Chirality in an attempt to introduce and strengthen the word of God and Jesus. The rationalization was this: The world was created on a spring equinox, so maybe late March. Jesus may have been conceived on a similar date, and a pregnant Virgin Mary would give birth nine months later in winter, around the time of winter solstice.
Ideas for Keeping Christ in Christmas
- Give God a special gift. Promise God to spend more time with him.
- Forgive someone who has wronged you.
- Make time to read the Christmas Story in Luke 1:5-56 through 2:1-20.
- Turn to K-Love to listen to beautiful, uplifting Christian music.
- Watch movies that are based on Jesus.
- Set up a Nativity scene outside and/or indoors.
- Have the kids make nativity or Jesus-based crafts.
- Make a birthday cake for Jesus with the family to commemorate Jesus's birthday, and even have a full-fledged birthday party for him.
- Sing faith-based Christmas carols at a nursing home, or volunteer at a local charity-based organization.
- Give an unexpected gift to a family or friend, or even a stranger, to exemplify Christ-like service and love.
- Dedicate time for Bible readings and family devotions on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.
- Attend Christmas church services as a family.
- Send Christmas cards that have a message of a spiritual nature.
- You can decide to deviate a bit from the traditional green and red colors of Christmas, and maybe decorate with colors or themes that remind you of Jesus.
Let's Not Ban Christmas
Most of us know, or feel, that Jesus wasn't born on December 25. In fact, my husband had a strange conflict about it when we were going to spend our first Christmas together. We had to be long-distance at that time, and I, as a gift, sent him a tiny nativity scene and a tiny Christmas tree since he said he didn't have anything like that. He had just moved to his new home, so I chalked it up to that. When he received it, he seemed put off by the gift. He mentioned that he hated Christmas because it was just a commercial holiday.
It's true that Christians can't escape the commercialism and paganism that runs rampant in many parts of the world. We really can't suppress that giddy, happy feeling that comes from within when Christmas trees and stockings line up the shelves at our favorite store. What Christians can do is just recognize the love of Jesus, make sure He fills up our hearts and homes, and ensure that the "Christ" is always in our personal "Christmas."
We want that Christmas glow, in our home and hearts. Christians want that glow to come from above, not from that new phone that the world has been eyeing. We want that family time, cheer, and celebration in a time when the days are, perhaps, a bit dark. Ultimately, God knows our good intentions. He knows our good hearts. So let's make a bit of an extra effort, this Christmas, to say yes to Jesus, and yes to his birth, and yes to hope and to salvation. May God bless you always.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Reformed Eve