“Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.” (2 Corinthians 9:15)
Recently I discovered the pagan roots of Christmas, and it shook my world. Christmas had always been so special to me. I prided myself in putting together the most thoughtful gifts for friends and family. To find out where it all derived from really took me out of my element. Now before you close this webpage and think this is all some religious setup, know that the source for this information all came from the Brittanica Encyclopedia and History.com. I want to share with you the historical truth I discovered, what the Bible has to say about it, and how I’m choosing to celebrate the holiday from this year moving forward.
In the 3rd and 4th century, Roman Emperor Constantine worked to make Christianity the state religion, a decision primarily based on the faith’s growing popularity from the early church’s hard work to spread the Word (before the thought of a phone or internet- can you imagine all that walking, horseback riding, and sailing?!). However, Constantine had some competition from the ancient Roman traditions of the day. December 25th was the celebration of the Unconquered Sun (Sol Invictus), which coincided with their winter solstice celebration of Saturnalia.
Saturnalia was the most jolly festival of the Roman Empire. In the worship of the agricultural god, Saturn, they feasted, partied, and exchanged gifts. They decorated their homes with wreaths and candles. They gave each other terracotta figures, derived from past traditions of human sacrifice, a common tradition during Saturnalia was to put a figurine in a meal and whosoever found it would be the mock King, playing tricks on guests, wearing different outfits, etc. During their festivities, they took a break from wearing togas and wore synthetic bright colors.
And if you’re still not seeing the connections, here’s another tidbit: December 25th was also the celebration of the birth of Mirtha, their god of light, that grew popular in said times among Roman soldiers. To grow interest and consensus around Christianity, Christmas was created by Constantine with a bit of all of these pagan holidays in order to appease the people.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered all the Christmas traditions I knew derived from worship of false gods:
- Decorating the tree, decking the halls with boughs of holly, hanging up wreaths
Before Christmas was even a thing, many pagan religions believed that hanging evergreens during the winter would ward off evil spirits. They hung evergreen boughs in their house to mark the winter solstice, as a sign that the harvest would soon return. Let’s take holly for example, a vibrant green plant with red berries that does not die in the winter. Romans associated it with Saturn, the god of agriculture and harvest. They decorated their homes with it (as well as wreaths and other evergreens) during the annual festival of Saturnalia.
During Saturnalia, Romans did not work but rather gambled, socialized over music and feasts, and gave gifts. A common gift was cerei, wax taper candles to signify light returning after the solstice.
- Even the Hispanic tradition of the King’s cake
A mock king, the leader of Saturnalia, would be chosen in Roman homes for the holiday. This individual was expected to make mischief during the event by insulting guests, wearing crazy outfits, and other such things. This mock king was selected by a coin or small object in a cake.
All of this made me feel really uneasy about celebrating Christmas. So, I took it to the Word for some guidance.
So I looked and read and looked some more. In the Bible, the birth of Jesus was celebrated once, on the very day he was born. There is no mention of the date, or any other indicator that would tell us it is on December 25th, let alone any obligation to celebrate it. However, this did bring me to look further into what Jesus did tell us to do. Because I mean, if I’m going to celebrate His birthday I should at least be doing what He asked. When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus mentioned the top two:
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:36-40).
Now love is defined in different ways by different people, so I looked further into what Jesus meant by how best to love Him. He put it quite simply in John 14:15: “If you love Me, keep My commandments”. Not just on one day that pagan tradition determined would be the best day to celebrate it, but on EVERY day we should be loving Jesus.
Jesus Celebrated Hanukkah
In my biblical search for holidays celebrated around this time I did find one that Jesus observed. In John 10:22, Jesus is celebrating the Feast of the Dedication during the winter. The Feast of the Dedication is Hanukkah in Hebrew. This festival was in remembrance of a previous Dedication day to the Lord. Prior to 165 B.C. the Jews were living under the rule of the Greek kings of Damascus. King Antiochus IV at the time had taken over the temple in Jerusalem and prohibited the Jews from worshiping the Lord. He proceeded to use the temple for pagan worship, including a sacrifice of a pig on the altar.
Four Jewish brothers started a group for religious revolt known as the Maccabees. After three years of fighting, the Lord gave them the victory and the Jews regained the temple. After cleaning the temple, the Jews rededicated it to the Lord. As was tradition, a flame was to burn at all times in the temple as a symbol of God’s presence. However, the Jews only had enough oil for one night. God once again miraculously provided and the flame remained for eight days. Since then, the Jews celebrate the Feast of Dedication in remembrance of the Lord’s deliverance and provision, the rededication of the temple to the Lord, and God’s promise that one day He will rebuild His temple in the new Jerusalem. Now that’s a holiday with sacred roots!
Can We Celebrate Any Way We Want?
Holidays comes from holy days, and when I searched the Bible, there were seven holy feasts God asked us to keep in the Old Testament and one additional mentioned in the New Testament; none of these were Christmas. After God freed the Israelites from Egypt, they built a golden calf and worshipped it, saying it was the Lord that had delivered them. However, just because they said it didn’t make it so and the Lord was angered (read Exodus 32). God said they had corrupted themselves; one of His very commandments warned them to not create idols for themselves. God warns them yet again about partaking in the customs of others, rather than abiding by his law:
“Hear ye the word which the Lord speaketh unto you, O house of Israel: Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.” (Jeremiah 10:1-4)
With the facts before me on what the world was doing as well as what God called us to do as His people, I felt pretty conflicted on what to do. All of the evidence pointed to not celebrating Christmas. Yet somehow that wasn’t quite what the Holy Spirit was telling me. If it was a clean cut from Christmas altogether, then what was I to do this entire month?
Where the Holy Spirit Leads
After a lot of reading, research, and prayer, the Holy Spirit led me back to the book of John where Jesus says:
He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. (John 14:21).
Isn’t that our desire as Christians? To let God, the One who first loved us, know that we love Him too, and to allow Him to manifest Himself in our lives and make us whole? My prayer each and every day is that God will make Himself known in and through my life. I want to make sure I live a life that is glorifying to Him. So how can I do that with a holiday that comes from all these pagan roots?
Well for starters I am getting rid of all of the traditions that have no connection to Christ. If this is Christmas, then I am going to celebrate Christ. No more tree, no more gifts, really no more purpose to lavishing loved ones with material things; especially when the best gift ever offered has already been given. Have you received it?
It’s Jesus! He really is the greatest gift, so why not take this time of year to learn about Him, His life, death & resurrection? Find out all what He did for you and me and decide. Will you receive this Christmas the greatest gift ever given, or hold onto the hope that the things someone buys you will fill the gaping hole that only Christ can fill?
My Personal Conclusion on Christmas
I’ve decided I don’t need any gifts this year, the next, or ever really. I’ve already received the greatest gift I could ever ask for. I am grateful for His birth, that He came in the flesh and humbled Himself further than He ever should have to as God. He walked this earth for 33 years, was crucified and rose again, so that we could be reunited with our Creator. He thought we were worth it. Once a year, people celebrate His “birthday”, on the incorrect date, with a whole bunch of fake traditions that God doesn’t like.
And so as a Christian, I am choosing to keep this time as a reminder of what God would want it to be, regardless of what anyone else does. During this time, I am choosing to reflect on Jesus, in the books of Matthew through John, and the life He lived for us. He died for us, so I have chosen to live for Him. Now we as Christians carry His mission forward by telling others He came to save us all. This is a time to share that gift, so others can know who He is and why it’s called CHRISTmas. If we want to give glory to God for His birth, then we should do what He commanded us to do by sharing the good news, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
What Are You Celebrating?
All in all, that’s why and how I am choosing to celebrate Christmas this year; because I am not going to miss out on an opportunity to speak about Jesus! I pray that you’ll also take a moment to think about how you’re putting Christ back in Christmas this year. What gifts did you purchase this year for all your loved ones? Do they all have a relationship with the living God?
I’m sure you have been praying for salvation for some family and friends. Why not gift those dear ones with a Bible that you have prayed over instead (or even noted your favorite scriptures)? Or a Christmas album that sings about Jesus and not Santa? Maybe your kid doesn’t need countless presents under a tree that they accredit to an old man who sneaks into your house once a year when YOU in fact worked for the money to pay for those toys.
Is not EVERY need met daily by Jesus? Eternal life is the best present anyone could ever receive. And maybe this year, along with future years, your children can take the time to reflect on Jesus. Then they can decide for themselves if they are ready to accept that amazing gift into their lives. As a parent/relative/friend, that may be the best gift you could ever introduce your child/family/friends to.