2. Is Christmas Pagan?
First a story. I was getting ready to preach one morning and the fellow giving the announcements said: “Everybody’s talking about the pagan roots of Christmas. Next thing we’ll know, they are going to start telling us that Halloween is pagan too!” He was being funny of course. But we must deal with the pagan roots of Christmas or at least the accusations.
One theory is that it was connected to the heresy, Docetism, spreading in the fourth century which stated that Jesus had never been physically born, but was merely some sort of spiritual entity. The Council of Nicea dealt a blow to this heresy affirming both the divinity and humanity of the Messiah. It is believed that Church leaders felt that if they gave Him a birthday, it would crush the heresy.
The winter pagan celebrations were already widely observed, so they chose December. It is believed that they did this to win pagans to Christianity.
“More than likely, this date was picked to line up with the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, which was celebrated with a pagan sacrifice to Saturn and a public banquet, followed by gift-giving and a carnival-like atmosphere.” (click for source)
However, Saturnalia ends on December 23th, not the 25th. And there is a strong case made that Christians were celebrating Christmas before the fourth century. To be honest with you, there is much that is written on the pagan roots of Christmas and just as much written to refute it. Many of these folks have outstanding credentials and they all make strong cases. But as we will see in point three, it doesn’t really matter.
3. Just because the pagans use a symbol doesn’t make it pagan.
For instance, the LBGT community uses the rainbow. But when I see a rainbow I think of God’s covenant with Noah. A symbol only has meaning to the extent that you give it meaning. That is why Paul said that for someone who realizes there is no power in idols, he can eat meat sacrificed to idols. But for someone who grew up as a pagan, he still might think there is some spiritual power in this practice, so as a believer, he abstains.
My point is that if someone brings a Christmas tree into their house, it doesn’t mean that are embracing pagan practices. Yes, it is true that pagans were fond of bringing greenery into their homes in the winter and many Romans decorated the tree to honor Bachuss, the fertility God. But that doesn’t make trees evil.
Jeremiah (10:2-4) does condemn the practice, but again, he is condemning mimicking the pagans who sought spiritual reward or favor through such things. So to be clear, if you think that your Christmas tree has spiritual power, then Jeremiah has a problem with you. But if it is merely a family tradition that reminds you of Yeshua’s birth, what is to condemn?