Is there a connection between Christmas and Christianity? Is Christmas Christian or pagan? Is the true meaning of Christmas to Christians to “sanctify paganism?” Here are some issues that deserve to be addressed and will be the focus of this article.
Historians know that the origins of Christmas date back to pagan antiquity, but theologians have long argued that it was possible to “sanctify paganism”. With this approach, a culture could thus retain its pre-Christian form, giving its pagan symbols and myths a Christian meaning and purpose. Cardinal John Henry Newman, an influential Catholic prelate, wrote:
“Eusebius [one of the first historians of the Church] tells us in different ways that the emperor Constantine, to recommend the new religion to the pagans, introduced the external ornaments that they had accustomed to in theirs […] the use of temples, churches dedicated to particular saints, and adorned with branches of trees on certain occasions […] on feast days and four-strokes [seasons], the use of turning to the East, that of the images at a later time … are things of pagan origin, sanctified by the adoption of the Church “(History of the development of the Christian doctrine, Editions Sagnier and Bray, page 361, translation Jules Gondon).
Theologian Christopher Dawson goes even further by writing: “The complete sanctification of paganism is the culmination of the Christianization of the world” (The Leavening Process in Christian Culture, August 7, 1955). Seen in this light, the conversion of the world necessarily involves the acceptance of its pagan practices.
Is Christmas Christian or Pagan?
But who should adopt what? Is Christmas Christian or pagan? Should paganism adopt Christianity or should Christianity adopt paganism? The fact that many Christmas symbols and the time of its observance come from pagan practices is a fact well known to historians, whether secular or religious. What is questionable is the doctrine of the “sanctification of paganism” used to justify many pagan practices within Christianity.
This rationalism may seem attractive to theologians and traditionalists, but it is contradicted by the Bible. What does God think of the “sanctification of paganism”? What does He say about this? The truth would surprise millions of people thinking that they can simply mix their dear pagan traditions with the worship of the true God who declared to His people, “When the Lord your God has exterminated the nations that you are going to hunt before you. when you have driven them out and settled in their land, beware of being trapped by imitating them, after they have been destroyed before you. Beware of inquiring of their gods and saying, How did these nations serve their gods? Me too, I want to do the same. You shall not do so with the LORD your God; for they served their gods by doing all the abominations that are odious to the LORD, and even they burned their sons and daughters in the honor of their gods in the fire. You will observe and practice all the things that I command you; you will not add anything to it, and you will not take away from it “(Deuteronomy 12: 29-32).
*** Is Pagan Practice Acceptable to Worship God?
How can one brave this clear order contained in the inspired word of God? If you think that a pagan practice is “pleasant” and not “abominable”, would it be acceptable to observe it in order to worship God? Some people who want to observe the modern replica of pagan festivals argue around this biblical passage, saying that God has only forbidden Israel to observe the worst “abominations” of the Gentiles, such as the sacrifices of children. So they think the rest might be acceptable. However, that’s not what God says. He has banned all pagan practices and He commands His instructions to be followed. Even if you think it’s “pleasant” – God commands us to abstain. As we have just read, He declares, “You will observe and practice all the things I command you; you will add nothing to it, and you will not subtract anything from it. “
Some claim that God can theologically purify and sanctify what He wishes – but the fact is that He plainly declares that He does not want to do it. We have been ordered to observe all that He commands, without adding or deleting anything!
*** Did Jesus Observe Pagan Customs?
Some say that Jesus observed the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22), which took place on the 25th of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar – around mid-December of the present Western calendar. This traditional festival was instituted by a Judaism hero Judas Maccabee to commemorate a great event in Jewish history – the temple’s new dedication after being desecrated by the Greek ruler, Antiochos Epiphanes. However, this traditional celebration was observed according to the Hebrew lunisolar calendar, not the Roman solar calendar, and it is not the adoption of pagan practice. This day marked only one important event in the history of the nation, such as Canada’s National Day commemorating the Union of the Provinces, or July 14 French celebrating the end of absolute monarchy. In the same way, the Jewish holiday of Purim, which takes place at the end of winter or early spring, recalls the divine protection of the Jewish people at the time of Queen Esther. These two Jewish holidays are based on the Hebrew calendar and none of them comes from paganism. Jesus was a practicing Jew and He observed many legitimate traditions of His people – but He never observed any pagan custom.
*** We Can’t Ignore a Very Clear Bible Instruction
Since we use things of pagan origin in everyday life, some people make the mistake of thinking that it is acceptable to do the same in our religious activity. They are based on the fact that the names of the days of the week have pagan origins. For example, Wednesday derives its origin from the Roman god Mercury – in Latin Mercurii dies, the “day of Mercury”. In English, Wednesday is said Wednesday, from the name of the Norse god Odin (Woden in Old English) – Woden’s Day, the “Odin’s Day”. Thursday takes its name from Jupiter, another Roman god – Jovies dies, the “day of Jupiter”. In addition, most Western institutions do not use the biblical lunisolar calendar; they use the Gregorian solar calendar.
In fact, even the Israelites’ calendar used Babylonian month names. It’s important to be clear about this: People do not read or sing the contents of a calendar in their church! The fact that society is full of practices of pagan origin does not mean that we can ignore very clear Bible instruction. God does not say that a month cannot bear a Babylonian name. On the other hand, He commands that His worship is not inspired by Babylonian practices (or any other pagan practice). So the question “Is Christmas Christian or pagan” is definitely important.
I – Who Was Adopted by Whom?
From 318 apr. BC, the Roman emperor Constantine authorized the open practice of Christianity throughout the Empire. Later, in the year 380, Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire. Historians have long recognized that when the Roman world began to profess Christianity, many religious leaders found it convenient to adapt many pagan customs to the new faith. The less there were changes in the old practices, the better it was – or at least they thought!
*** Christianity Did Not Destroy Paganism; He Adopted It. So, Is Christmas Christian or Pagan?
In his monumental work Histoire de la civilization, published in 32 volumes in his French edition, the famous historian Will Durant titled the third section (books 7 to 9) “Caesar and Christ”. He candidly comments on the effects of paganism on the subsequent development of so-called Christianity:
“Christianity did not destroy paganism; he adopted it. The Greek spirit, which was dying, resumed a new life in the theology and the liturgy of the Church. The Greek language, which had reigned over philosophy for centuries, became the vehicle of Christian literature and the ritual of the new religion. The Greek mysteries came to settle in the impressive mystery of the mass. Other pagan cultures contributed to the syncretistic result. From Egypt came the ideas of the divine trinity, of last judgment, of personal immortality for reward and punishment; from Egypt also, the adoration of the mother and the child […] From Phrygia came the worship of the grandmother; from Syria, the drama of the resurrection of Adonis […] The Mithraic ritual so closely resembled the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass that Christian fathers accused the devil of having invented these analogies to mislead weak minds. Christianity was the last great creation of the ancient pagan world “(Histoire de la civilization, volume 9, Editions Rencontre, pages 239-240, translation Jacques Marty).
*** For I Am the Lord, I Do Not Change
Some might be tempted to say that it does not matter if they use pagan practices in their worship, as long as they do it to honor God. These people should then ask themselves if God has changed his mind about it. He told us, “For I am the Lord, I do not change” (Malachi 3: 6) and “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13: 8). Jesus quoted the prophet, Isaiah, saying, “These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain do they honor me, teaching precepts that are commandments of men “(Matthew 15: 8-9). God has not changed his mind about how He should be worshiped.
*** Copying the Gentiles in the Worship of God Is Forbidden
God rejects pagan practices and commands us not to incorporate them into His worship. It tells us the Holy Days we must observe, how we must observe them, and why we must observe them. Christ or the apostles never said to observe an annual commemoration of His birth or to copy pagan holidays! On the contrary, copying the Gentiles in the worship of God is forbidden.
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II – Sanctified by the Truth!
The truth of God apart from His begotten children. In addressing His Father, Jesus said, “Sanctify them by your truth: your word is the truth. As you sent me into the world, I also sent them to the world. And I sanctify myself for them, that they also may be sanctified by the truth “(John 17: 17-19). History shows us that from the 2nd century AD BC, the beliefs and practices of so-called Christianity began to be very different from the faith preached by Christ and His apostles. Seeing this as coming during his life, Jude wrote to the faithful Church: “Beloved, while I was anxious to write to you about our common salvation, I felt compelled to send you this letter to exhort you to fight for the faith that was passed on to the saints once and for all. For there have crept in among you certain men, whose condemnation has long been written, ungodly men, who change the grace of our God into unrighteousness, and who deny our only teacher and Lord Jesus Christ “(Jude 3-4).
We must not follow the widespread wish to distort the message of Christ into popular paganism that would be a real affront to His own teachings. The divine truth shows us the way to follow and deviating from “the faith that has been transmitted once and for all” is to deviate from the path He has set before us – the narrow way. Unfortunately, we see that few people have come through the narrow door in recent decades, as was the case in ancient times. One lesson we must always remember is that the true Church is a “little flock” (Luke 12:32).
We cannot “sanctify paganism”!
As a Conclusion on “Is Christmas Christian or Pagan”
Did the original Church observe Christmas in one form or another? No! Neither the Bible nor the secular history of the first century of the Church mentions the observance of Christmas – or any other celebration – at the time of the winter solstice. As we have seen earlier, History reports that Christmas began to be a widespread practice only after Catholicism became the official religion of the Roman Empire. It is easy to understand that in the event of a change in the state religion, millions of pagans throughout the Empire did not suddenly experience the “conversion experience” – on the contrary, they generally kept their customs and their traditions to which new meanings have been attributed by the Catholic Church.
*** Christmas Was Not an institutionalized Practice
Historical facts show that the supposed birth of Christ on December 25 was celebrated before the supposed “conversion” of Constantine in 336 AD. BC, but before that time, it was not an institutionalized practice, even within the Catholic Church! As for the first-century church – made up of the original believers directly taught by the apostles of Christ – she never observed such a celebration! The first-century church used the Hebrew lunisolar calendar (as evidenced by the New Testament) and carefully avoided the religious celebrations associated with the Roman solar calendar – which is the same type of calendar that we use today.
What were the religious celebrations of the first-century church according to the Bible and historical narratives? Did this Church support the “faith that was passed on to the saints once and for all” (Jude 3) and what were the annual celebrations taught by the apostles? In contrast to the observance of the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ taught His disciples to observe the commemoration of His death, and the Apostles transmitted His instruction to the congregations of the Church they were building.
*** Are Easter and Christmas Christian or Pagan?
In the present French language, it is customary to use the expression Passover (singular) to designate the Biblical Feast commemorating the death of Christ (see Acts 12: 4). On the other hand, the Easter (plural) are never mentioned in the Bible; these indicate the feast which takes place “the first Sunday after the full moon of the spring equinox, to commemorate the resurrection of Christ” (“Passover”, Dictionary The Great Robert). It is interesting to note that in several languages of Proto-Germanic origin, “Easter” is translated by Easter (English), Ostern (German) or Ouschteren (Luxemburgish) – these spellings are simply variants of the name of the Anglo goddess -spaces spring Eostre (or its Germanic equivalent Ostara). The name of this festival (in the English-speaking world) and some of the associated practices were imported by the Anglo-Saxons when they converted to Roman Catholicism.
*** How Does Christ Want to Be Celebrated?
How does Christ want to be celebrated? The Apostle Paul gave the following instructions to the brothers and sisters in Corinth, Greece – a congregation composed of converted Gentiles: “For I have received from the Lord what I taught you; it is because the Lord Jesus, on the night he was delivered [14 Nisan, the beginning of the Passover], took bread, and, having given thanks, broke it, and said: This is my body, which is broken for you; do this in memory of me. Likewise, after supping, he took the cup, and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this in remembrance of me whenever you drink it “(1 Corinthians 11: 23-25). The original Church observed the commemoration of the death of Christ as Jesus and the apostles had taught them. The sacrificial death of Christ, as the Lamb of God, is extremely important for the whole world. He commanded us no commemoration of His birth!
Why Don’t You Do What I Say?
Jesus asked, “Why do you call me Lord? And why don’t you do what I say? (Luke 6:46) He also says, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15: 8). Many people say they want to honor Christ, but they set their own paths contradicting the instructions He gave them. Jesus continued, “In vain do they honor me, teaching precepts that are commandments of men” (verse 9). If we want to honor Christ and our heart is close to Him, we will do what He has ordered – and we will not do what He has forbidden us to do. We have a clear choice to make between the practices ordained by God and the traditions that humanity has created for itself.