Is Christmas pagan, and therefore wrong to celebrate?

QUESTION: Is Christmas OK to celebrate or are the trappings so pagan they are wrong to participate in? Please comment on this site: Do you think the “no-Christmas” stance advocated here potentially borders on legalism?

RESPONSE: Having looked at this tract, I think you’ve stumbled onto a hyper-Protestant overreaction to Roman Catholicism.  The author of the tract, Pastor Meyer (deceased) was saved out of an occult background so his writings and tracts present heavy condemnation on anything that is directly or even remotely associated with paganism, witchcraft and spiritism.  While there are many things to be concerned with in the occult, the effect of this tract feels like that of the militant ex-addict we all know, who no longer sees any difference between a beer and a binge.

The evidence of overstatement in his arguments can be seen easily enough in the first two of his “three things wrong with Christmas”.

First, he states with complete confidence that the Bible says Jesus was born in September, which is nowhere in Scripture.  Ironic.  When you throw anything ‘Roman Catholic’ under the bus because they purportedly invent traditions that just aren’t in Scripture, then I feel you better be really sure you aren’t doing the same.  I’ve heard all the arguments for why Jesus was possibly born in December or September or even the Spring, but all of them lack this one thing:  explicit biblical support.  They are all cases built totally on circumstantial evidence and Scriptural inferences.

Which doesn’t mean none of the positions has historical merit, it just means we don’t know for sure. And that means it doesn’t matter, for sure. Clearly, Jesus was born! But anyone who celebrates that event, is going to be doing so on a somewhat arbitrary date. That the author’s biggest problem with Christmas is that it should be in September not December, tells you everything you need to know about how he’s going to use Scripture: he going to read his thoughts into it, rather than extracting God’s thoughts out of it, and making bold pronouncements out of the scantest evidence.

Second, he states that trees and holly are “strictly forbidden”.  Where?  Of course, the Bible nowhere forbids people to put a tree with lights in their living room.  The principle he suggests forbids this, is the principle of God’s people separating from pagan beliefs and practices.  Jer 10.  Yes, this is an important principle.  But let us have a complete understanding of how this principle played out before we apply it to Christmas.

Jeremiah 10:2 says, “do not learn their ways”.  Their ways included, but not limited to what the same Prophet lists in chapter 7:5-9:  idol worship, murder, infanticide etc.  Idol worship is clearly a huge concern, but are the symbols and trappings of Christmas idols to other gods?

No Christian who puts a tree in their home or holly on their door is doing so to appeal to a god who is not the Lord. They don’t do so to gain favor with that god and they surely don’t support the immoral practices that God detests in Jeremiah 7 – which pagan idolatry did.  So the principles forbidding the occult can’t apply to Christmas traditions as MOST people practice them.

A case might be made that the commercialism we’ve attached to Christmas is idolatrous, since Paul says that greed is an idol (Col 3:5) and our obsession with things may elevate acquisition and materialism above God in our heart’s affection.  In that same sense, we might also say Christmas trappings, could, if  they lead us into real temptation to do real evil are to be avoided.  But in and of themselves, these things are amoral.  As music also is, depending on how it’s used.

A Yule log was a pagan tradition – no one doubts this.  Gift giving, the winter solstice rites surrounding the coming of the longer days… all of this had pagan expressions in Europe.  Now, the author will even admit a certain amount of strategic thinking on the part of the church as it accepted and changed these rituals and infused them with Christian meaning.  But the Author goes further saying, the Church said, “bring your gods, goddesses, rituals and rites, and we will assign Christian sounding titles and names to them…”.

To clarify, the Roman Church never told European pagans to “bring their gods into the church” to worship along side of Christ.  This is wild overstatement.  It did however, accept many pagan rituals as it Christianized the continent.  This missionary policy had some problems (the attempted conversion of the Knight ideal has to be considered troublesome on any scale) but on some level it was genius.  Without compromising the truth about Christ, their compromises with pagan culture showed that the Christian message had deep relevance to the world they lived in.  It showed (as with the Athenians in Acts 17) that some of what they had done in ignorance, the Gospel would fully explain/fulfill.

For example, having Christmas at the winter solstice, is a beautiful expression of the Light of God coming to the world.  The same is true with taking an evergreen tree and seeing in it the promise of eternal life, or taking holly and seeing the blood of Jesus and the crown of thorns.  Same is true of the lights and fires the Church appropriated to point to the Light of the World, and same is true with gift giving showing us how God so loved the world that he GAVE his only Son.

In this way, the gospel didn’t repudiate paganism as a whole but rather FULFILLED it.

Yes, many perversions about God are in paganism – but it’s basic instinct was to see spiritual reality in nature.  Do we think it’s for no reason that Resurrection is celebrated in Spring?  The date of that event is known with certainty, as it parallels Passover, and I see God’s romantic touch in the timing.  We propose to our girlfriends in the place we first dated, or first kissed or first saw each other.  You can propose anywhere, why there?  Because the time and the place and the physical setting add weight and symbolic significance to our hearts which respond to metaphor.

That the Father raised Jesus from the dead in Spring is perfectly consistent with that same God calling for New Moon festivals, and calling for the sacrifice of animals, or approving palm trees and flowers carved into his Temple, or enshrining other festivals around the cycles of the harvest.  So we follow in God’s example then, when we use symbols, settings, and rituals found in God’s nature to add weight to our memory of his work and his love.

Just because a thing is from nature, doesn’t automatically make it pagan, or demonic.  And the truth is, even if the devil could use some natural thing, like an animal or a physical ritual to imprison people to himself, expose his power or dumb down our view of God (Romans 1), nature finally doesn’t belong to him!!  If he is using it to promote his power or obscure God, then it is the right and privilege of the people of God to relieve him of it!  If it’s the devil’s rituals, they are stolen goods and we, the children of God, rightly steal them back!  He holds no ground in this world that’s rightfully his.  He only perverts what isn’t his originally.  Evil is a parasite, Lewis once said.

So I do not approach the use of formerly pagan trappings with fear, cowed by their former meaning, former owner, former usage, or former evil associations, if any.  The earth is the Lord’s and I am the Lord’s and so the earth is mine.  A Yule log is mine to burn in the fireplace and I remember the warmth of God’s grace coming to my cold heart.  A wreath is mine to hang on the door and say to my neighbors, eternal evergreen life is celebrated in this home!

Yes, I think the no-Christmas stance not only borders on legalism, it marches right on in!