Is Christmas a pagan holiday?

Because of the cultural evolution of Christmas in Western countries, some have wondered if Christmas is a pagan holiday. It is not. Christmas is meant to be a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). It is a remembrance of the miraculous event of God taking on human form and coming into the midst of humanity in order to save us from our sins and reunite us with God (Romans 5:1–11).

Through the years, many cultures have added traditions and myths to the holiday that have nothing to do with the celebration of Jesus' virgin birth. For instance, the use of Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas originated in the Renaissance era based on the real life of a pious, kind Christian by that name. Myth upon myth was heaped on his life and history. It was in the late 1700s and early 1800s that he was introduced to the United States and took on a life of its own.

Another example of a cultural addition to Christmas is the use of the Christmas tree. This tradition has its roots in medieval Germany as a symbolic celebration of Christmas with the evergreen for eternal life and candles for Jesus as the light of the world (John 8:12). Originally, wafers were tied to the branches as a symbol of God's provision. Again, this tradition took off in many directions, coming to America in the 1800s. Historically, pagan religions also used trees and evergreens for symbolic purposes, and some have feared the use of a Christmas tree was too closely tied to these. Though there might be some similarities in the use of evergreens and/or trees, the original use by the Germans was rooted in biblical understandings of Jesus' birth, life, death, and resurrection.

A more modern issue associated with Christmas is the consumerism that surrounds this holiday. The giving of gifts is also associated with Saint Nicholas, who was an incredibly generous man who used his personal wealth and inheritance to help the poor as a reflection of his faith in Jesus Christ. Time, culture, advertising, and unprecedented wealth have contrived to take a once simple tradition and turn it into a driving economic force in the United States, taking the focus off of Jesus and putting it onto greed, possessions and consumerism.

Others are concerned that Christmas originated as a replacement for pagan holidays such as Saturnalia or other observances of the winter solstice. But those celebrations never seem to have fallen on December 25th. Even if that were the case, the current celebration of Christmas has nothing to do with any such pagan practices. Christmas is no more pagan than are the names of the days of the week an act of worship toward the pagan gods for which they were named.

Christmas is a celebration of the miraculous love of God for the whole world (John 3:16–18). Jesus physically embodied that love, choosing the humble birth and life that lead to His death and resurrection. No tradition can uproot what God has done for us.

How people choose to celebrate Christmas, or any other holiday, is often driven by a person's culture. They may not even know why something is done or where it came from. Understanding these things is the beginning of deciding for yourself what you will and will not take part in. Prayer and seeking wisdom from other Christians and through God's Word is the best place to start (Proverbs 1:7). Romans 14:13–23 and Colossians 2:16–19 are helpful guides.

Related Truth:

The true meaning of Christmas – What is it?

Are Christians supposed to celebrate Christmas? Is it okay for Christians to celebrate Christmas?

Are the origins of some Christmas traditions pagan?

How should parents handle the issue of Santa Claus with their children?

Was Jesus actually born on December 25?

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Truth about Holidays

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