Post Author: Bill Pratt
There are many reasons why a Christian may not want to celebrate Christmas: it’s too commercial, it encourages greediness, it focuses too much on Santa Claus. I want to consider another reason, which is that Christmas is based on pagan beliefs and influences, and that if we celebrate Christmas, we are celebrating a form of paganism.
The Christian Research Institute (CRI) published an article directly dealing with this topic, so I will use some of their thoughts as I proceed.
First, some argue that since the Bible does not command us to celebrate birthdays, then we shouldn’t celebrate Jesus’ birthday on Christmas. CRI counters this argument with a couple of points. “First of all, the fact is that the Bible says nothing against the practice of celebrating birthdays.” Celebrating birthdays is nowhere forbidden, so we are not left with any explicit biblical command in the matter. “Second, what the Bible does not forbid, either explicitly or by implication from some moral principle, is permissible to the Christian, as long as it is edifying (Rom. 13:10; 14:1-23; 1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23; Col. 2:20-23; etc.).” In conclusion, there is no good reason, biblically, to not celebrate Jesus’ birthday, as long we do it in an edifying way.
What about the date of Dec. 25? Isn’t it true that this is not likely Jesus’ actual birthday and that it was, in fact, the date of a Roman pagan festival in the fourth century? In answer, we should first say that whether Jesus’ actual birthday was on Dec. 25 is not relevant to the celebration of his birth. We routinely commemorate the birthdays of great individuals of the past on days that do not correspond to their actual birthdays (e.g., George Washington). It is the intent to celebrate their births that really matters, not that we get the day correct.
Does it matter that Dec. 25 was a pagan festival? It should be noted that the origin of the Dec. 25 date for Christmas is somewhat disputed and that at least one scholar believes it had little to do with pagan festivals. However, the most common theory is that the purpose of the church in co-opting this date was to replace a pagan festival with the celebration of the birth of Jesus. As the CRI article argues, the Christians were saying, “Rather than celebrate in immorality the birth of Mithra, a false god who was never really born and who cannot save you, let us celebrate in joyful righteousness the birth of Jesus, the true God incarnate who is the Savior of the world.”
Is it wrong to replace a pagan holiday with a Christian holiday? According to CRI, this is exactly what God did in ancient Israel. “Historical evidence shows conclusively that some of the feasts given to Israel by God through Moses were originally pagan agricultural festivals, which were filled with idolatrous imagery and practices. What God did, in effect, was to establish feasts which would replace the pagan festivals without adopting any of the idolatry or immorality associated with them.”
Please read part 2 of this post where we discuss the jolly North Pole dweller himself, Santa Claus.