26th December 2010

Is Christmas Pagan?

“…Great and marvellous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy….”
Revelation 15:3-4 (NIV UK)

You might be surprised to know that some Christians believe it is a sin to celebrate Christmas. They contend that Christmas is pagan and God doesn’t want Christians copying pagans. There’s no denying that some of the traditional practices and elements associated with Christmas are similar to those found in ancient pagan religious ceremonies.

It does not follow, however, that Christians are practising paganism when they use similar practices or elements in worshipping Jesus. The early Christians succeeded in replacing the pagan celebrations by redeeming and transforming them. Just as an individual sinner who repents becomes redeemed and transformed in Christ, everything God has created for our enjoyment may be redeemed and transformed for use in worship to him.

For example, the pagan Feast of Saturnalia in early Rome was celebrated with a spirit of merriment, giving gifts to children and other forms of entertainment. The fact that pagans gave gifts to their children and celebrated with special meals on certain days of the year does not mean that such activities on Christian days and seasons of worship are sinful.

There are basic elements of celebration common to all peoples of all religions and ethnic backgrounds, whether they are parts of a wedding, an anniversary, a homecoming, a graduation or a memorial. Characteristics of most celebrations might include a special meal, giving of gifts, music and singing, decorations and sending greeting cards or notes. These are not inherently pagan activities; they are simply human activities and common patterns for celebration, even in the worship patterns God gave the ancient Israelites.

Worship in ancient Israel, for example, included the lighting of candles and the burning of incense (Exodus 30:1-9), feasting (Deuteronomy 14:25), and offerings of thanksgiving for abundant harvests. In setting up Israel’s worship system, God gave them several institutions, elements and practices already in use by pagan religions. These included, among other things, the priesthood, the harvest festivals, sacred music in worship, animal sacrifices, circumcision, tithing, and purification rites. These were all elements of ancient pagan worship systems that existed prior to Israel’s receiving of the Law. God even permitted the addition of a magnificent temple in Jerusalem, which served as Israel’s worship centre, even though pagan religions also had resplendent temples to their gods.

God transformed these customs and elements used in pagan religions into a form of worship devoted to him. We cannot deny the transforming power of Christ when it comes to Christians using certain elements in their celebration and worship that might be found in ancient pagan religious systems. But Christians who keep Christmas are not pagans. They do not worship trees or anything in nature as the pagans did, nor do they regard false gods. They honour God alone, who sent his Son to save the world.

Holy Father, thank you for revealing yourself, the true God, to us. All of our worship and praise is worthless in comparison with you. But worship and praise is for our benefit. We use the mundane to remind ourselves of your true glory. We praise you with taudry, superficial items to help us realise the real praise you deserve. Thank you for your great graciousness towards us, through your Son.

Study by Joseph Tkach

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