It is the time of year when trees are lit, wreaths are hung, and the battle of the nativity scene is wrought. Christian communities decry the commercialism, consumerism, and self-centeredism. We need to put the Christ back in Christmas. Out with Santa Claus and in with the advent wreath. We have to make sure that Jesus is the reason for the season. But honestly when it comes down to it, do we really understand where Christmas and its traditions came from. Are they really biblically centered and ordained? How appropriate might it be to decorate a Christmas tree? And would we really want to haul out the holly if we knew why holly was originally used?
The fact is many of our beloved traditions are rooted in pagan practices. Christmas trees were once decorated with the entrails of our ancestor’s enemies. And mistletoe was intended to encourage fertility. Even the date we celebrate as our Saviors birth was originally a pagan festival to the rebirth of the sun the Romans called Saturnalia. All these traditions were carried on long before Christ. It wasn’t until the second, perhaps third century that Christmas was celebrated with Christian intentions. The holiday was in essence co-opted by the post-Constantinian world to help legitimize Christianity by transforming previously anti-Christ behaviors and beliefs into something more respectable in a world now ruled by the church.
And why stop there. Easter was originally started in much the same way in the Celtic lands by transforming fertility celebrations into a reminder of the new life we have in Christ. If our most beloved religious holidays were something originally intended as something quite foreign to biblical standards of living, why do we celebrate them? This is not intended to cause Christians to stop enjoying their traditional festivities. Indeed, today Christmas and Easter are some of the greatest evangelical focuses in the church. Rather, this might cause us to question how we approach other things we consider to be pagan and worldly. If our Christian forefathers saw value in transforming concepts seen by the larger world into something distinctly Christian should we not be open to the same?
So the next time you complain about Christians being involved in Hollywood or the inappropriate lyrics to the song your kids seem to like, look a little closer. Is there something there that can be redeemed? Is it possible that something the world views in one way can be transformed into something entirely different by looking at it through a Christ-centered lens? If we can celebrate a pagan holiday by rejoicing in the birth of our Savior why can’t we enjoy the gospel message that may be unearthed in the latest New York Times best seller? Celebrate Christmas if you choose. But we should also choose to celebrate the wonders around us everyday.
For an explanation of where Christmas traditions originated click here.
For an argument on why Christians shouldn’t celebrate Christmas click here.
For an exploration of the pagan origins of other holidays click here.