Last time we looked at an objection to celebrating Christmas: that it’s not a divinely ordained holiday. This time we’ll look at another: that it’s a “pagan” holiday.
The charge that Christmas is a pagan holiday stems from allegations that December 25 was a holiday for ancient pagan religions and that some of the elements of the modern Christmas celebration have pagan origins – such as the Christmas tree.
Origins or Parallels?
It is probably true that some elements of the Christmas celebration have pagan origins, though it may also be that the “origins” are really just parallels – that is, coincidental similarities. Others might be intentional borrowing for effect. For instance, it’s widely believed that December 25 was chosen precisely to parallel the ancient pagan holidays – it made the “holidays” easier on converts from paganism. (UPDATE: From Touchstone Magazine – The early Christians may well have thought Jesus was born that day.)
Do Pagans Use Cups?
Things that pagans use(d) in religious rituals are not necessarily evil. Did they use cups in their ceremonies? Probably – whether they contained water, wine, or something much more unholy. Does that mean Christians can’t use cups? Since Christ Himself gave us the use of a cup in the Lord’s Supper, probably not.
If that’s true, then we have to ask whether the pagan use of a date or a tree or anything else disqualifies it from Christian use.
Similarity to Pagan Things Isn’t Pagan
Things are neutral – “pagan” things aren’t pagan if they are devoted to God. The greatest example of this is the temple of Solomon. Although the basic floor plan of the worship area came from the tabernacle as decreed by God to Moses, the temple’s architecture was borrowed from Phoenician (that is, pagan) buildings of the same era, and so were many of the temple’s decorations.1
Did this bother God? Apparently not.
The fact that some people used these things in unholy ways did not render them unfit for the temple, so we shouldn’t think that the fact that some have used Christmas trees to worship Thor (or whatever it was) means that our use of Christmas trees offends God.
Reclaiming the Pagan
Lastly, I think there’s something to be said for taking things back for Christ. There is nothing made that Christ did not make. If there is a day or a tree or a symbol or anything else that has been used to honor demons, I think we should seize it for our Lord.
(1) see Old Testament Times or What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? for more details