I’ve been hearing a lot of things about Christmas having pagan origins, from Santa’s elves starting out as demons to the Roman winter solstice celebration of Saturnalia morphing into Christmas. Are these things true, and, if so, should Christians be celebrating Christmas?
Here’s Michelle’s thoughtful –and biblical–response:
There’s an old story about a woman who made a ham every year for Christmas dinner. As she was preparing it one year, her daughter asked, “Mom, why do you cut off the end of the ham before you put it in the oven?” The woman answered, “That’s the way my mom taught me to do it.” The woman thought about her daughter’s question all day long, and finally decided to call her own mother to ask about it. When the woman got her mother on the phone, she asked, “Mom, why did you teach me to cut off the end of the ham before putting it in the oven?” The woman’s mother said, “That’s the way my mom taught me to do it.” Intrigued, the woman called her grandmother and asked once again, “Grandma, why did you cut off the end of the ham before putting it in the oven?”. Her grandmother replied, “Because I didn’t have a roasting pan large enough for a whole ham.”
Human beings are creatures of habit and tradition, so it’s always important to examine why we do the things we do. As Christians, whether it’s putting up a tree every year, a beloved hymn we’ve been singing since we could talk, or the annual church picnic, our brains should never be on autopilot, unquestioningly taking part in activities by rote.
Do some aspects of the celebration of Christmas find their origin in millennia-old paganism? Possibly. But are you participating in that paganism if you put up a tree or give gifts at Christmas? Probably not. The “Christmas is pagan” lore is so ancient and uncertain that most people aren’t even aware of it. How could you possibly be participating in paganism if a) you’re not even aware of its existence, b) you have no intention of participating in it, and c) it has nothing to do with your reasons for celebrating? Did you know that many of our days of the week and months of the year were originally named for pagan idols and gods? “Sun”day was originally a pagan Roman holiday, and the sun was an object of worship for many ancient peoples. Should we stop having church on Sunday because of that? Are we somehow participating in paganism by holding the Christian day of worship on an ancient pagan feast day? Of course not. Ancient pagans don’t own certain days on the calendar or any particular object or symbol. The Bible tells us, “The earth is the Lord‘s and the fullness thereof.” When godless people take a day or an object God has created and use it for evil, they are the ones in the wrong, not godly people who come after them and want to use that same day or object for a godly purpose. To say that Christians can’t use a certain day or object for celebrating Christmas because pagans used that day or object for pagan purposes is to give those ancient pagans power over Christians. Power they have no business holding.