Archive for December 19, 2012

Dec 19

Does Christmas have Pagan Roots? If so, Can Christians Celebrate it?

2012 | by Trent Hunter | Category: Recommended Link

Some Christians suggest that believers should not celebrate Christmas because of the holiday’s mysterious and possibly pagan roots. If you are curious, here’s a post by Kevin DeYoung on the background to Santa Claus.

In his post, “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” Steve Hayes over at the Reformation 21 Blog helps us think through what Christians are to do with Christmas given these questions. Here are excerpts from Hayes’ post, which you can read in full here.

Every year, as the Christmas season approaches, some folks object to the celebration of Christmas due to its allegedly pagan roots. Some critics are Christians while others are cultists (i.e. Jehovah’s Witnesses). Before proceeding any further, let’s draw a few distinctions.

The question at issue is not whether Christians have an obligation to celebrate Christmas. Rather, the issue is whether it’s wrong for Christians to celebrate Christmas-given the allegedly pagan roots of the holiday.

Likewise, we’re not defending any particular Christmas custom. That’s something we can evaluate on a case-by-case basis.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Christmas has its roots in ancient paganism. Suppose it co-opted a pagan festival. Would it be wrong for Christians to celebrate Christmas?

. . .Words often change meaning with the passage of time. Some modern words have unsavory associations if you trace them far enough back into the history of the English language.

But that’s not a reason to refrain from using these words. What they may have meant in Elizabethan English or Middle English or Old English is simply irrelevant to contemporary usage. Those are obsolete connotations. Most contemporary English speakers are oblivious to those obsolete connotations. Moreover, scholars who are aware of those obsolete connotations ought to be astute enough not to take offense. They should make allowance for semantic change over time.

. . .The allegedly heathen roots of Christmas are long forgotten. But even if the associations were still fresh in the mind of the celebrants, that, itself, wouldn’t automatically discredit the holiday.

. . . Many Asians practice folk Buddhism, Taoism, veneration of the dead, &c. If you go to an oriental restaurant, you may notice statuary. Perhaps you assume that’s decorative. Maybe so. But you may well be eating in the presence of idols.

I doubt many Christians, including those who oppose Christmas, give Chinese take-out a second thought. But in consistency, this may have pagan associations that are current rather than historical. Not a dead religion, but a living religion-albeit false. Real idolatry.

Not only are Christians not defiled by incidental pagan associations, but, as temples of the Holy Spirit, there’s a sense in which we can consecrate residual pagan associations. Purify it. Conscript it to the service of Christ.

Jesus hung on the cross. “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree,” says the law (Gal 3:13). Yet Jesus embraced the odious association. Jesus transfigured the odious association. Made death a source of life. Made night a source of light.

. . .The Puritans were rightly opposed to invented religious duties. That’s why they stood against the church calendar.

But unless we’re very careful, this can become just another invented duty. Not having a duty to celebrate Christmas becomes a duty not to celebrate Christians. It’s a mirror-image of the error it opposes.

Although the Bible doesn’t have a Christmas holiday, yet when Christians celebrate Christmas, they commemorate a Biblical event. And not just any event, but the midpoint in world history. The beginning of the end of our age-long pilgrimage.