On the Alleged Paganism of Christmas

9:37 am | Uncategorized

We’re coming up on the holidays again, a time where certain claims are made about Christmas being rooted in pagan holidays and festivals, or claims that Christians should refrain from celebrating Christmas due to its allegedly pagan roots. Most often these sorts of claims come up from certain fringe groups in Christianity who are working to convince Christians that Christianity is a pagan holiday and that celebrating it makes them partakers with the demonic. But there is reason to see the alleged borrowing of Christmas from ancient paganism as itself a modern myth:

William K. Tighe, “Calculating Christmas”
Touchstone magazine, December 2003

Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival. Almost no one minds, except for a few groups on the fringes of American Evangelicalism, who seem to think that this makes Christmas itself a pagan festival. But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals.

Rather, the pagan festival of the ‘Birth of the Unconquered Son’ instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the ‘pagan origins of Christmas’ is a myth without historical substance.

Similarly, Gene Veith addressed this concern last year in an article in World Magazine:

Gene Edward Veith, “Why December 25? The origin of Christmas had nothing to do with paganism”

But even if Christmas were the result of Christians borrowing from paganism, would that mean that Christians should refuse to be part of it? James Jordan writes satirically on this very subject, by forming a humorous argument against “pagan” Chinese food:

James B. Jordan, “The Menace of Chinese Food”

One of the unrecognized and most deadly evil of modern life’s facets is Chinese food. Most people are wholly unaware of the critical nature of the Chinese food question, and blithely continue to participate in this wicked and dangerous activity: eating Chinese food. … A moment’s reflection by any serious and committed Christian will show transparently why Chinese food must be rejected. Chinese food is an expression of Eastern monism. Not only does it come from the East, the heart of the world’s most sophisticated paganism (which in itself is reason to reject it as dangerous); it also in its very nature and composition reflects the monistic philosophy of the East.

After several paragraphs of satirically arguing against Chinese food, James Jordan comes back to make his point about the absurdity of abandoning Christmas celebrations on the basis of its alleged pagan origins:

The point of this parable can be seen if the reader will read it over again, substituting ‘Christmas’ or ‘Christmas tree’ for ‘Chinese food.’ The arguments against Chinese food appear ridiculous. The notion that Chinese food is idolatrous because people happen to like it is clearly nonsense, as is the silly argument from history.

Hidden in this kind of argumentation is the premise that the Bible is insufficient as a rule of faith and life. We have to add new rules to it. We ought to be guided not only by the Word, but also by what non-Christians are doing. If they like something, such as Christmas, we ought to dislike it. This sets up another rule for conscience beside the Scripture, and undermines the entire faith.

Robert Bowman has a chart on his website detailing and responding to fourteen objections that are brought up against the Christmas holiday:

Robert M. Bowman, Jr. “Christmas: Charting a Christian Perspective”

Worth noting, after this chart there is a discussion of a spectrum of practices of Christmas, ranking them from the practices that are dubious and condemned to the practices that are encouraged and commanded in scripture. I recommend considering this framework in helping to clarify how Christians should participate in cultural celebrations and events.

Likewise, Hampton Keathley has addressed a number of objections to celebrating Christmas on Bible.Org:

J. Hampton Keathley, III, Th.M. “Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?”

Additionally, here is a discussion about what Hampton calls God’s Christmas Tree - the cross of Christ:

J. Hampton Keathley, III, Th.M. “God’s Christmas Tree”

In any case, I hope that you will find this information valuable and will pass it on as appropriate to people who may need it.

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