One thing I’ve never had much patience with are Christians who refuse to celebrate Christmas and Easter because these celebrations were simply co-opted pagan festivals. These are fringe fundamentalists “reclaim the gospel” by pontificating on how we should not celebrate those holidays. I actually met one a couple weeks ago, which prompted this writing. She said she doesn’t celebrate Christmas because the origins “really had nothing to do with Jesus.” (Enter Napoleon Dynamite sigh here……)
The “proofs” summoned forth by these peripheral groups are typically just statements assumed to be fact; similarity proves equivalence; and no real historic analysis is brought forth. “X looks sort of like Y; therefore X = Y and we don’t even need to bother looking at actual evidence.” Reasoning like this would receive a grade ‘F’ in a college term paper.
One video I watched was called “Truth or Tradition.” The title itself is a statement that assumes a preconceived answer; it immediately sets truth and tradition in opposition, as if tradition is synonymous with “lie.” But I reject that premise straight out of the gate. Truth and tradition are not automatic opposites. Tradition can be truthful and truth can be traditional. If truth is eternal, it would be traditional because it predates the present.
In another video the host begins by saying, “I want to talk about the origins of Easter. I want to talk about whether we find this day in Scripture or whether we find this day within pagan worship.” This echoes the same false dichotomy. The host assumes if it is not in Scripture it must therefore be pagan lies. That is simply ridiculous.
There are two elements to this issue. 1) Is it true that Christians “baptized” pagan holidays? and 2) Does it matter?
Is it true that Christians “baptized” pagan holidays?
Historically, it is highly debatable whether Christians co-opted pagan festivals or whether the festivals even existed before Christianity.
- Easter: The Bible itself tells us Jesus was crucified and resurrected during the time of Passover, which even today is celebrated around the March/April period. Even if a pagan festival was celebrated during this time, the dating of our Lords’ Resurrection was still based on the time of the Passover and not based on the pagan festival.
- Christmas: Likewise, December 25 probably had no major pagan festival until after Christians had already been assigning that date to the birth of Christ. And even if there was, the dating of the birth of Christ was connected to the time of His death during Passover and not connected to the pagan festival. [See Calculating Christmas].
- From the history we actually know, when determining these dates, I know of no early Christian who said, “Hey look at these pagan holidays. Let’s co-opt them with a Christian spin.” The pagan festivals most likely had nothing to do with the dating of Passover nor Christ’s birth. These dating systems were likely unconnected and circumstantial.
- What about the imagery and symbolism? Didn’t all these come from pagan roots? Even that is debatable. For example, see Steadfast Lutheran for a host of articles Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies.
But this question transitions into my next topic very well.
Does it matter?
Even if Christians adopted “pagan” symbolism and baptized it with a Christian spin, I propose it does not matter. Nothing is inherently evil; it depends on its use that makes something good or bad. This Youtuber made an excellent analogy of bonfires. Pagans used bonfires in their worship. Does that mean hanging out around a bonfire is now “evil” and “pagan”? The reasonable person says, “Obviously not.” It’s the belief and use of the bonfire that makes it wrong or right. That is the obvious nuance that fringe fundamentalists cannot seem to grasp.
Pondering these things recently I may have stumbled across a couple roots to the belief system of the anti-holiday iconoclasts.
- A gnostic Manicheism underlies their belief system. For them, apparently, matter and spirit are in opposition (gnosticism). They also seem to believe evil is a force that exists of its own nature (Manicheism); as if evil can also name itself “I am”. But this is not the Christian belief of evil. Everything that exists was created by God (John 1:3) and everything created He called good (Genesis 1:31). Even Satan himself was originally an angel—something really only known from tradition, by the way. Therefore, anything evil is a corruption of something originally good. Evil can only corrupt and destroy something that already exists. Therefore, pagans using imagery in their worship means they were the ones who co-opted and corrupted what was originally good.
To say Christians should not celebrate December 25 because pagans worshiped on that day is to say December 25 was originally evil. To say Christians should not decorate Christmas trees because pagans did is to say evergreen trees with lights are inherently evil. But something cannot be originally evil. December 25 and evergreen trees were created by God, still belong to God, and are good. As Christians, they also belong to us too.
A star atop a Christmas tree is not evil because pagans used stars. After all, one of them led wise men to the Holy Family.
- These people serve an emasculated god. They apparently believe their god incapable of redeeming a day devoted to paganism. For them, December 25 is the province of Satan and the season encompassing Easter serves the will of evil. God is impotent and can do nothing to stop it. And yet again, this is not the Christian belief. Jesus, at the end of Revelation says, “Behold, I make all things new.” Paul says eating food offered to idols is not sinful because “an idol has no real existence” (this seems to echo the idea that evil does not exist of its own nature, like its own “I am”). Our very salvation is a witness to the redeeming power of God; this is what He does! If we can’t believe that, why are we Christians?
So if holidays like Christmas and Easter were at one time pagan, there is no reason they cannot now be celebrated as Christian Holy Days. To claim that Christians should not celebrate these days because of their pagan past is to serve a gnostic, Manichean, and emasculated god; the very type of god the pagans themselves worshiped. In other words, it is to serve a god not found in Judaism, Christianity, or Scripture. Serve that god if you will, but do not claim him Christian.
Final Note: The only real “evidence” of Christians co-opting and “baptizing” pagan festivals seems like nothing but similarities that people assume are equivalents. Like I said above, this reasoning would justify a grade ‘F’ in college.
As for similarities, when one thinks about it, the practices of those pagan festivals would simply be the sorts of practices performed in any religious festival. Like Thorin told Bilbo Baggins; “If more of us valued food and cheer and song…it would be a merrier world.” Food, cheer, and song; these things are necessary for festivity.
Of the ancient pagans, G.K. Chesterton said “this sort of heathen is enough of a human being to admit the popular element of pomp and pictures and feasts and fairy-tales. We only mean that Pagans have more sense than Puritans.”
Any religious celebration anywhere around the world will include song and dance, feast and drink, decorations and lights, imagery and symbolism, ritual and solemnity. It will include sacrifice and thankfulness. It will include those things that make us human.
 Chronological Snobbery: “…the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.” C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy; in other words, someone who believes that the past is inherently inferior to the present.
 Temporal Provincials: “…convinced that the present was the only time that mattered, and that anything that had occurred earlier could be safely ignored.” Michael Crichton, Timeline