Monday, December 22, 2008

Pagan Christmas

Lots of message board chatter, this Christmas season, about the pagan origins of Christmas. This is not surprising given some recent books and the contemporary hatred for all things institutional. Truth be told, a 12/25 celebration does have pagan origins. In the 3rd and 4th century world, that date was, pretty much, a universally celebrated pagan holiday (they believed it was the winter solstice, for one thing, among others). There are basically three positions to take when confronted with this information:

1) What!?! Jesus wasn't born on 12/25? Christmas has pagan origins? We should stop practicing it right now! God must be really mad at us! I can't believe I've been practicing paganism all these years! I'm so sorry! I am now going to become a crusader against Christmas. I must let other Christians know how sinful they are being!

2) Good idea! I think the early Christians were smart to replace pagan festivals with Christian holy days. After all, I was once a pagan and God redeemed me. I happen to think God is in the redeeming business. We're not told when, or even to, celebrate Jesus' birth. So we're free to be creative!

3) So what? Contemporary Christians don't know the pagan origins of Christmas anyways. The day is as 'Christian' or as 'Pagan' as each individual makes it. We can use it to celebrate the incarnation or we can not use it at all. The main question should always be "What is it now?" Is it a Christian celebration of incarnation or a pagan celebration of consumerism? Hmm.


Coady said...

I think it's sad that people celebrated the darkest (literally) day of the year.

Erskine said...

Also in your "good idea" section, this wasn't just reflective of pagan-gone-Christian sentiment; it was also intended to be a missionary endeavor from new Christians to their friends. They now knew the truth and wanted to apply it to what they formerly worshiped in ignorance. (I read that somewhere two years ago in a textbook and would love to quote it, but I have nothing.....)

Glo said...

I am some where between 2 and 3. I remember being on message board with a christian who said that Christians shouldn't celibate the 4th of July because the shooting off of fire works was used in the ancient world to worship a pagan God of war. almost all of our holidays have pagan origins. So if your not going to celibrate one then you shouldn't celibrate any of them. and I am one who belives that in this short cruel life you have to grab every chance you can to celibrate.

and i think it is fitting that Christ's birth is calibrated on the "darkest" (the actual darkest day changes with the solstice so it is not always the 25). because Jesus is the word that was the light to all men, and the light shines into the darkness and the darkness does not understand it.

i think it adds a great deal of symbolism if you think about it it is dark but we remember that the world is dark without Christ.

Thankful Paul said...

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Robin said...

I tend to land on #2, and chime with what Erskine and Glo said. I wish more Japanese Christians would "get" that, and that we'd see a more contexualized church here.