By Caleb Hong, Spiritual Life Co-Division Head.
So many of modern Christmas traditions, no, the vast majority of them, are rooted in the pagan rituals of the ancient world. In fact, Christmas isn’t even mentioned in the Bible (although there are a few verses that can vaguely be linked together to the idea of Christmas trees). So what’s the deal with all the Christmas mania, and why do we, as Christians, celebrate Christmas?
Why do we celebrate Christmas?
We celebrate Christmas because the birth of Jesus is worth celebrating. Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day were created because we as a country decided that the sacrifice of our soldiers was worth commemorating. Although the Bible never explicitly tells us to celebrate Jesus’ birth, in Psalm 78:4-6 it says, “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them.” Christmas is a time when people gather together and remind each other of how God sent his only son to us. Furthermore, we celebrate the coming of our king and eagerly wait for his second coming as commanded in Titus 2:13 “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
What about pagan Christmas traditions?
Remembering Christ’s birth is great and all, but why do we celebrate with pagan traditions? Many critics often use this point to oppose the validity of Christmas and even Christianity. Mistletoe, the Christmas tree, the yule log, caroling, and even the date of December 25th stem from pagan holidays. So why do we practise them?
With the legalization of Christianity by Emperor Constantine in AD 313, the church rapidly and systematically spread throughout the Byzantine and Roman empires and to the surrounding nations. However, they soon began to clash with the native, non-Christian beliefs and practices, including holidays of these pagan religions. In order to make the conversion to Christianity easier and more attractive, the Church set Christian holidays to coincide with pagan ones and gave Christian reasons for the pagan traditions practised.
There’s not necessarily a problem with this. What matters is the intent behind the action (I’m not condoning bad actions with good intentions, but generally it’s the thought that counts). In 1 Samuel 16:7, God says to Samuel, “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Though the original meaning of Christmas was pagan, there’s nothing wrong with the action itself, but the use of the action to worship pagan gods. To worship God in such a manner is actually obeying the command given in Colossians 3:23, “Do everything as working for the LORD not for man.” In Genesis 50:20, Joseph tells his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” What started as pagan rituals became tools for the early missionaries to preach the good news of Christ. Instead of drunken caroling, they taught songs of praise. Instead of dissipation and revelry to praise Saturn, they celebrated the birth of the eternal king.
So this Christmas season, celebrate to your heart’s content in whichever way that suits you and your family. Only forget not the reason for the season and give all due glory to the King.