December 2016

December 2016

Christmas: A Pagan Holiday?

You may have heard that Christmas, though we regard it as a celebration of Christ’s birth, nevertheless has roots in a pagan holiday. There are even Christians who believe it to be immoral to celebrate Christmas because of its alleged pagan connection. But what about us? When we celebrate December 25 with trees and tinsel, with gifts and goodies, with music and feasting, are we joining ourselves to paganism?

It is helpful to consider how the date December 25 really came to be the time for the celebration of Christ’s birth. It is often alleged that the early Church felt the need to replace a pagan festival of the winter solstice with something more appropriate to Christians. The truth, though, is rather the reverse. As it turns out, the early Church chose the date December 25 to correspond to another important date: March 25, the Annunciation, when we remember the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she would become the mother of our Lord. The date March 25 came about because of an ancient belief that prophets died on the same calendar date as their conception or birth. The death of Jesus was calculated to have taken place on March 25 (in actual fact, His death probably took place in early April). Working on the assumption

that Jesus was conceived the moment Gabriel proclaimed the Word of God to Mary, His conception would have been on the same calendar date as His death. And if Mary’s pregnancy lasted exactly nine months, His birth would have been December 25. Hence the traditional date of Christmas!

What about the connection to the winter solstice? As it turns out, the ancient Romans did not originally celebrate the solstice. It was not until the reign of the third-century emperor Aurelian that the festival of Sol Invictus (“The Unconquered Sun”) was imposed to compete with the Christian feast of Christmas.

What is more, one of the most likely candidates for the star that led the wise men to believe that a king had been born in Judea would have appeared around December 25. The traditional date of Christmas may be less arbitrary than we have been led to believe. It may be that Jesus actually was born on Christmas day!

When it comes down to it, though, whether Christmas replaced pagan holidays or whether pagan holidays tried to replace Christmas, and whether Christ was really born on December 25 or not, what matters is how we celebrate the holiday. It is with a good conscience that we rejoice at this time in the birth of our Savior, however much the naysayers may protest. Be of good cheer and rejoice this year with all the Christian Church in Jesus’ birth!

Pastor Neuendorf