It seems that every December we see an influx of anti-Christmas posts, whether it be from fundamentalists or strict RPW proponents. Usually they will make arguments against Christmas from their strict view, by saying that either celebrating Christmas isn’t biblical or that Christmas is pagan and therefore should not be celebrated.
Such argumentation cannot be logically consistent, however, because pagans throughout history have co-opted many things, a good example is the triquetra. Some conspiracy theorists think that the triquetra is three 6’s rather than something early Christians used to represent the Trinity. (To be fair, a 2CV argument against the Triquetra would be different.)
The days of the week you observe are all based on pagan names, the planets that you acknowledge are based on pagan names, we cannot escape the pagans. That being said, there is a difference between taking a pagan concept, renewing it to the glory of the Lord and participating in outright paganism, though the detractors seem to say that they’re one in the same.
My assertions are
1.) Christmas is not a clear-cut case of pagan origins.
2.) Even if it was, it is not necessarily a sin to observe it.
We will start in order. How good is the evidence for Christmas having pagan origins? Well, it’s about as good as the atheist memes that compare Horus to Jesus.
The Anti-Christmas argument is framed like this
1. Pagans did X
2. Christian Practice Y is similar to X
3. Therefore, Y is Evil.
An example given by InspiringPhilosophy in his video is a bonfire. Odds are, you or your church groups have started a bonfire, roasted some marshmallows and had a good time. However, if someone were to come up and say “You need to put that bonfire out, because pagans used bonfires for their rituals.” How would you respond? Hopefully you would say that your bonfire is not built with the intent to worship a pagan god, rather it was for other reasons, like fellowship or just a night to hang out with friends. This response recognizes that sometimes motivation matters more than the act itself.
Another point is that pagans adopt all types of symbols in their worship throughout the time of their existence. Even in the time the Bible was written, they used “King of Kings” a term given to Jesus, to apply to secular kings in royalty worship among other things. (1 Timothy 6:15, Revelation 17:14, Revelation 19:16)
What is it about symbols that brings about an inherent evil in their use because an evil person used them? We even see this in secular society. The Swastika, used by Hitler and his Nazi Regime is widely recognized as a hate symbol now, because he co-opted it. However, the swastika predates Hitler, he didn’t invent it. It actually was a symbol belonging to the Hindus. In fact, swastika comes from sanskrit and means “conducive to well being”. In the Hindu belief system, it is a reference to a clockwise symbol, representing the sun, prosperity and good luck while the counterclockwise part of the design represents night. A similar idea is that of the Yin Yang, so imagine if Hitler co-opted the Yin-Yang instead of the Swastika, we’d have a lot less 40 year old men and women with yin yangs tattooed on them, that’s for sure. Instead, we’d have people, not affiliated with nazi ideology, with swastikas, because it’d be a religious/mystical tattoo rather than a hate symbol at that point.
Now, this doesn’t mean I think we can take back the Swastika and act like Hitler never happened (though in places where Hinduism is the majority this should be fine) but to recognize that the symbol itself is not evil, it’s what you mean when you represent that symbol that matters. Typically, at least in america, when sporting the Swastika as a tattoo or T-shirt, this usually refers to some white pride, white power nationalism and racist beliefs. This is not what the Hindu means. The anti-Christmas argument, if it were consistent, would have to condemn the Hindu for using the Swastika, even though they predated Hiter’s use of it and don’t mean the same thing when they use it.
We also see that biblical writers used pagan books in their writing of scripture. Scholars, such as Paul Overland, in his work “Structure in the wisdom of Ammennope and Proverbs” shows that the writer of Proverbs was clearly influenced by the writings. Now, does this matter? No, not really. But it should matter to the anti-christmas crowd, if they were being consistent with their argumentation.
It reminds me of when Augustine cautioned the people to stop ignoring the pagan scientists, because despite their rejection of Yahweh, they understood some of his truths about the universe.
It shouldn’t be controversial to say that you agree with a pagan when they get something right. If a Pagan, who is otherwise heretical, says that Jesus is the savior of the world, you wouldn’t disagree with them because they said it, would you? Rather, you would find out their motivation for saying that in the context of the rest of their theology.
Paul’s use of the term “subjugation” in 1 Corinthians 15:25-28 was seen by the early Christians as partly to due with reclaiming God’s creation as his own. InspiringPhilosophy mentions an example of the obelisk at the Vatican, the obelisk was moved to Rome in 37 A.D. by Caligula and in 1586 Pope Sixtus christianized it by adding a cross to it and giving it a different meaning, that meaning being of man reaching up his hand to God, much like Peter, thinking he was going to drown before Jesus pulled him up. (Rome, Marcia B. Hall pg. 282)
Another argument made is the day itself, December 25th, was chosen as “Jesus’ birthday” in relation to the pagan celebration of Sol Invictus, which was only celebrated on December 25th. However, there are two problems with this. The first being that the earliest inscriptions of Sol Invictus do not mention a date that it was celebrated. The second problem is the first mention of it being dated was in 394 A.D. when Christians were already in power. It could be, that pagans moved their holiday to December 25th to combat the Christians. In fact, Scholar Thomas Talley argues just that, he argues that It is more likely that the Roman Emperor Aurelian placed Sol Invictus on December 25th to compete with Christianity (Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Calendar (pg. 88-91)
A few side notes that I found interesting was that John Chrysostom says celebrating Christmas on December 25th was a long-time tradition (Homily on Christmas) and that the Philocian calendar lists Christmas as a church holiday
You don’t have to celebrate Christmas, put let’s put the fake piety away and be a little joyful.
Have a Merry Christmas!