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When I was growing up in rural Canada, Christmas was all about celebrating the birth of Christ, happy family get-togethers over Christmas meals, and Christmas concerts in our small, rural church. As kids, we would re-enact the Christmas story and I would always mess up my lines or, to my dumb-struck horror, completely forget them.
Yesterday evening, a friend of mine mentioned that more non-religious people show up to Christmas services than at any other time in the year. There they are reminded of the coming of Christ into this world and the purpose behind his coming. Christmas is the last surviving, publicly-acceptable beacon of light in a darkening world, when one can still hear on secular radio stations the occasional song proclaiming strikingly clear messages of the gospel and of Jesus Christ.
Christmas is the last surviving, publicly-acceptable beacon of light in a darkening world, when one can still hear on secular radio stations the occasional song containing strikingly clear messages of the gospel and of Jesus Christ.
It should not surprise us, therefore, if the dark forces in this world are doing everything they can to snuff out this public proclamation of Jesus Christ and why he came. Shifting the focus of Christmas from Jesus to Santa Claus and a spending frenzy of materialism has been remarkably successful.
Yet, many Christians still resist the corruption of Christmas by setting aside materialism and remembering and celebrating the true meaning of Christmas — the birth of the Saviour. So the solution used by those who are anti-Christ is to persuade well-intentioned Christians to join them in extinguishing this final public proclamation of Christ by convincing them that what they have been celebrating is not the birth of Christ after all, but a pagan festival. Despite the avalanche of online articles claiming this, mutually referencing each other, an actual look into ancient sources reveals this to be a modern day urban myth.
I have four thoughts on this strange anti-Christ/Christian alliance devoted to destroying the last publicly acceptable focus on Jesus Christ.
1. The birth of Christ was the most celebrated-by-God event in history
We have only two mentions (apart from the birth of Christ) of birthdays in the Bible — that of the Pharaoh ofExodus and that of the Herod who executed John the Baptist. The ancient Jews of the Bible obviously kept track of how old they were, and we have frequent mention of those facts. I recognize that thisdoes not mean birthdays were celebrated; they were simply seldom mentioned in the Scriptures — but there is one, remarkable exception.
There is no other event in human history recorded in the Bible as celebrated by God as the birth of Christ. The night Christ was born, a “multitude of angels” appeared in the sky near Bethlehem giving glory to God and proclaiming the birth of Christ. There was also a special star seen across the middle east, announcing to all people, including the magi, the birth of the King of Kings.1
There is no other event in human history, so far as it is recorded in the Bible, that God has celebrated to such an unusual extent as the birth of Christ.
From a human perspective, it would seem to me that the resurrection of Christ should be an even bigger celebration than his birth, so I pondered why there was such a unique and unprecedented celebration by God for Christ’s birth into this world, rather than for his resurrection. Then it occurred to me that from the Almighty God’s perspective, once the Saviour made his entry into this world, his plan of salvation was now an unstoppable event, launched that holy night when Christ was born in a stable. God’s people had waited millennia for the Savior. Now he had arrived and the greatest celebration in the history of humanity was unleashed by none other than God himself.
The takeaway: If the birth of our Saviour warranted the greatest celebration God has ever launched, then we can infer that it is also pleasing to God for his people to also celebrate it, remembering why he came and what he accomplished.
2. Christianity is all about making things pure and redeeming things
Sunday was named after the sun, and Saturday was named after the Roman god Saturn. The list goes on. If Christians simply handed over to evil every thing and every date on the calendar that has ever had anything to do with paganism, we would actually be promoting paganism rather than defeating it.
Jesus came to redeem people and his creation from its slavery to corruption.2 Christianity is all about redeeming, or buying back, from death and evil — consecrating, making things pure, setting them apart for God. It follows therefore, that even if some imaginary date was celebrated as the birthday of Satan himself, then that day should be redeemed, made holy, and set apart for God. Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overpower it.”3 No one actually knows with certainty when Christ was born, but as we shall shortly see, early Christianity set apart December 25th to be a holy day within which we would celebrate the birth of the Savior.
Christianity is all about redeeming, or buying back, from death and evil — consecrating, making things pure, setting them apart for God.
The takeaway: The very last thing a Christian should do is to relinquish ground — to hand things over to evil, to concede that a day that was previously set apart as holy should now be surrendered to paganism.
3. Let paganism keep what is pagan, but render to God what is God’s
Pagan religions may wish to appropriate aspects of God’s creation for their own rituals, but these things belong to God, not man.
There are symbols, such as the pentagram and the swastika, that have their origins in pagan religions. Then there are things that have been created by God for his glory that have been appropriated by pagan religions. Paganism can keep the symbols it has invented; we do not want those. But paganism has no right to the things created by God for his own glory. Thus, the Christian has no right to surrender things created by God for his glory, to paganism — they belong to God. Some examples are:
God commanded that pomegranates be used to decorate the temple and the priest’s robes, despite the fact that the ancient Greeks used them in the worship of their god Demeter.
Many pagan religions worshipped the sun, yet God used the sun as a symbol of his righteousness.
Chickens are used as Voodoo sacrifices, yet Christ likened himself to a hen who desired to gather her chicks under her wings.
The lion was worshiped by ancient Egyptians, Ethiopians, and other middle eastern groups, yet God uses the lion as a symbol for Jesus Christ.
Nature is worshiped in various pagan religions, yet God has chosen to reveal his “invisible attributes, eternal power, and divine nature” through his creation.
The ancient Canaanites worshiped the Asherah in sacred groves of trees, yet God says that the “trees of the forest will sing for joy” when he someday returns to judge the earth. Despite what the pagans did with their trees, trees were created to for the glory of God.
Bottom line: Pagan religions may wish to appropriate or co-opt aspects of God’s creation for their own rituals, but these things belong to God, not man. Pagan-invented symbols such as the pentagram and swastika belong to paganism and can stay there, but the things God has created for his glory belong to God.
Anything can be defiled in the mind of a person. The Holy Spirit spoke through Paul to say that “to the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure”.4 This idea is closely related to my second point above: we can assign impurity to anything by what we make of it. Or we can set everything apart for God.
The takeaway: Pagan religions have appropriated many things created by God for his glory. But this does not mean that God gives up and surrenders those things to paganism. It follows that to defile things created for the glory of God by applying evil meanings to them should not be a practice of those who belong to God. We can let paganism keep what belongs to paganism (e.g., the swastika), but render to God what belongs to God. The Holy Spirit spoke through Paul saying, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”5
4. Was December 25th a pagan holiday?
The point to make here is that the December 25 dedication of the temple of Sol was after Christians had already chosen, on the basis of rabbinic tradition, December 25 as the day to celebrate the birth of the Saviour.
The Bible makes no mention of the exact day Christ was born. Shortly after AD 192, however, we note that Clement of Alexandria wrote about the total elapsed time since Christ’s birth, down to the very day (according to his figuring) which corresponded to January 6.6 Around the same time, Hippolytus wrote that December 25th was the date of the birth of the Messiah.7 Later, in AD 235 he wrote that Christ was born nine months after the traditional anniversary of creation (March 25), which placed Christ’s birth on December 25.8 This was because Jewish rabbinic scholars held the tradition that all Old Testament patriarchs were born on the same day. Therefore, Christ would have been conceived on March 25 and his birth would have been precisely nine months later on December 25. As late as AD 400, however, some Christians such as Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, still insisted that Christ was born on January 6th, a tradition still upheld by certain branches of the Christian Church.9
Note: I am not arguing that Christ was actually born on December 25, only that it was one of two dates early Christians chose for his birth — based on rabbinic tradition rather than actual fact.
By AD 192, early Christians were celebrating either December 25th or January 6th as the day of the nativity. About 83 years later, Roman Emperor Aurelian dedicated a temple for Sol, the sun god, on December 25, AD 27510 simply because December 25th was regarded in Roman times as the date for the winter solstice. The point to make here is that the December 25 dedication of the temple of Sol was after Christians had already chosen, on the basis of rabbinic tradition, December 25 as the day to celebrate the birth of the Savior.
Saturnalia was a Roman festival honouring the god Saturn. It began on December 17th and was eventually extended to December 23.11 It was an entirely pagan festival and early Christians were instructed to not let the drunkenness and sensuality of pagan practice to creep into their own celebrations of Christ’s birth. We see this in the writings of Origen12 and Tertullian13. Drunkenness was also creeping into the celebration of the “Lord’s Supper” (communion) in the first century Corinthian church (see 1 Corinthians 11). Our spiritual enemy will always seek to corrupt every aspect of authentic christianity but that does not mean we simply concede defeat and turn those Christian practices and traditions over to paganism.
Takeaway: Each day of the year is a gift from God. Not a single day of the year should be surrendered to paganism. Rather, every day belongs to God, for his glory.
So, what should we do?
Those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sin and for eternal life must continue to be faithful to the true meaning of Christmas, protecting that last blazing beacon of light in our culture.
In this world, there are a lot of little “lights” representing Christ — those who have put their faith in Christ. Then there are the larger lights — the local churches all over the world. But there is one blazing public light that is still permitted in secular culture — the Christmas celebration of the birth of our Saviour. Although it has been heavily corrupted by a frenzy of spending and materialism and the usual drunken partying, there are still an enormous number of unchurched people who will attend a Christmas service this year and hear about Christ and why he came.
Those who follow Jesus Christ must continue to be faithful to the true meaning of Christmas, protecting that last blazing beacon of light in our culture, celebrating the coming of our Savior into this world and everything that it meant and means.
As for me, I love Christmas, and I like to keep Christmas traditional and wholesome — a time when family comes together to enjoy one another and celebrate the birth of our Savior into this world. We have lights and holly and evergreen to remind us of the Light of this world who is the giver of life. We sing Christmas carols that celebrate his birth, coming together as a family to build happy memories together in a darkening world, and we exchange a few gifts (see footnote on gifts below). What makes Christmas and our family times together so wonderful is knowing that our family will always be together throughout a perfect, sinless eternity as a result of putting our faith in Christ and what he did for each one of us. As we sit around our family Christmas meal, I give thanks to God for the coming of our Savior into this world and his gift of eternal life and spiritual rebirth.
Footnote on Christmas gifts: As for gifts, I love to exchange a small number of gifts. I loath, however, the materialistic insanity in the malls in December, and I also have a very strong aversion to the stress and waste of money that goes with feeling obligated to buy a bunch of stuff that is mostly useless. My preference is to pool most of our money and put it toward a mission project that we can sponsor and celebrate the privilege of doing that as a couple or as a family. Another wonderful option is to collect money from family members and give a surprise gift card or a substantial gift of groceries and clothes to someone local who is struggling, such as a single mom, a widow, or a newcomer to the community.
Note: If you would like to experience the true meaning of Christmas in your own life, and why Christ was born, you may appreciate two other short articles I have published, What Does it Mean to be Human: Vastly more than you can Imagine, and Life After Death (my own story).
Recommended Reading: The Archeology of Christmas by Bryan Windle
Acknowledgement: Posting my articles online is a type of informal peer review. If there is a way I can improve an article, I revise it accordingly. Consequently, I thank the many people who have directly or indirectly contributed to my articles through their suggestions and comments.
- Bible, Luke 2:13, 14
- Bible, Romans 8:18-23
- Bible, Matthew 16:18
- Bible, Titus 1:15
- Bible, Philippians 4:8
- Stromata, I21
- Hippolytus, Commentary on Daniel, IV.23.3
- Hippolytus, Chronicon, 686ff
- Panarion, ‘Refutation of All the Heresies’, IV.22.5-6 and IV.24.1
- Manfred Clauss, Die römischen Kaiser – 55 historische Portraits von Caesar bis Iustinian
- Origen, Against Celsus, VIII.22
- Tertullian, On Baptism, XIX and On Idolatry, X, XIII, XIV