Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas and "Pagan Customs"

I just finished talking with our daughter on the telephone. She told me about a conversation she'd had with a guy at work that nearly made me bust a gut.

This fellow told her knowingly, "You know, most of the customs of Christmas go back to the pagans. Even the date for Christmas goes back to them."

He said this with a triumphant knowing tone, as if to say, "This all proves Christmas is bunk."

But any informed Christian can tell you that we have no idea when Jesus was actually born. No Christan claims that December 25 is the actual birthday of Jesus. It's just the day we've chosen to celebrate the birth.

For centuries, residents of the northern hemisphere have celebrated varied holidays involving light, just around the Winter Solstice. In the first century Roman world in which Christianity was born, the festival of Saturnalia, celebrated in honor of a god of agriculture, took place during the Solstice. Evergreens were hung. Gifts were exchanged. Candles were lit.

Christians, a marginalized minority, appropriated the customs of the "pagans" in order to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the One they believed was "the light of the world." This is Who the evangelist John wrote about in the prologue of his Gospel:
...The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God... [John 1:9-13]
The Christian reclamation of old customs may have been a somewhat subversive act for a persecuted band of believers to employ to worship and honor the God they'd come to know through Jesus Christ. But people who think that it all disproves the revelation of God in Christ are guilty of poor logic...or wishful thinking.


Spencer Troxell said...

Whatever Christians may have appropriated over the years from pagan rituals is a testament to the resourcefulness and pragmatism of Christians, not a blow against Christmas. I would guess it would be harder to get other people to celebrate your holiday if it was placed at some random date throughout the year. Using a date that was already at or on a pre-existing holiday, and integrating that holiday's symbols into your own holiday is resourceful.

Michele Scaparrotti said...

The superior attitude of your daughter's friend seems to be a universal reaction of a few people who take some kind of joy in thinking that they are the ruin of a Christian belief. Right here in the little town of Logan I was so heart sick to see the letter to the editor reqesting the removal of our historic, handmade and absolutly beautiful Christmas lights. The Virgin and Child and the three wise men have lighted up our little square since before WWII. They rest in peace against all three floors of our court house. We are very proud of them. I would guess that a very high percentage of Loganites are Christians of one denomination or another. In other words a majority is again trying to be run by a very small minority; seems to be about one person a year. All I can say is Thank God that we are not dependent upon symbols and light to validate our belief, but also, Thanks Be To God, that everyone seems to ignore this joyless man. I guess we should pray for him.
Those in Logan should drive to midnight service down main street and revel in the wonder of our lovely Christmas lights as you prepare again to welcome our Savor. All the Blessing of this Wonderous Night.

Phyllis said...

Merry CHRISTmas Mark!!
I choose to celebrate the life of Jesus Christ during these days. Actually I celebrate it every day of the year, but more so this week.