Christmas

Is Christmas Pagan?

Originally published December 5, 2019

If you’re a Christian, you might have heard the anti-Christmas rumblings on social media, or maybe even in real life: Christmas has pagan origins…Santa’s elves started out as demons…the Roman winter solstice celebration of Saturnalia morphed into Christmas…Mithras…Krampus…the “naughty list” about the origins of Christmas goes on and on. Are these things true? Should Christians celebrate Christmas?

There’s an old story about a woman who made a ham every year for Christmas dinner. As she was preparing it one year, her daughter asked, “Mom, why do you cut off the end of the ham before you put it in the oven?” The woman answered, “That’s the way my mom taught me to do it.” The woman thought about her daughter’s question all day long, and finally decided to call her own mother to ask about it. When the woman got her mother on the phone, she asked, “Mom, why did you teach me to cut off the end of the ham before putting it in the oven?” The woman’s mother said, “That’s the way my mom taught me to do it.” Intrigued, the woman called her grandmother and asked once again, “Grandma, why did you cut off the end of the ham before putting it in the oven?”. Her grandmother replied, “Because I didn’t have a roasting pan large enough for a whole ham.”

Human beings are creatures of habit and tradition, so it’s always important to examine why we do the things we do. As Christians, whether it’s putting up a tree every year, a beloved hymn we’ve been singing since we could talk, or the annual church picnic, our brains should never be on autopilot, unquestioningly taking part in activities by rote.

Do some aspects of the celebration of Christmas find their origin in millennia-old paganism? Possibly. But are you participating in that paganism if you put up a tree or give gifts at Christmas? Probably not. The “Christmas is pagan” lore is so ancient and uncertain that most people aren’t even aware of it. How could you possibly be participating in paganism if you’re not even aware of its existence, you have no intention of participating in it, and it has nothing to do with your reasons for celebrating?

Did you know that many of our days of the week and months of the year were originally named for pagan idols and gods? “Sun”day was originally a pagan Roman holiday, and the sun was an object of worship for many ancient peoples. Should we stop having church on Sunday because of that? Are we somehow participating in paganism by holding the Christian day of worship on an ancient pagan feast day? Of course not. Ancient pagans don’t own certain days on the calendar or any particular object or symbol. The Bible tells us, “The earth is the Lord‘s and the fullness thereof.” When godless people take a day or an object God has created and use it for evil, they are the ones in the wrong, not godly people who come after them and want to use that same day or object for a godly purpose. To say that Christians can’t use a certain day or object for celebrating Christmas because pagans used that day or object for pagan purposes is to give those ancient pagans power over Christians. Power they have no business holding.

To say that Christians can’t use a certain day or object for celebrating Christmas because pagans used that day or object for pagan purposes is to give those ancient pagans power over Christians. Power they have no business holding.

Furthermore, just because pagans used a day, an object, or a symbol for their wicked practices hundreds or thousands of years ago does not mean those days, objects, or symbols carry the same meaning today. Think about the way a mere word can change meanings in such a short time. The 1890’s were known as the “Gay Nineties.” The song, “Deck the Halls” contains the phrase “don we now our gay apparel.” The primary meaning of the word “gay” – just 100-150 years ago in our own country – was “happy, merry, or festive.” Now it means “homosexual.” But the “Christmas is pagan” folks would have us believe we’re supposed to attach centuries old definitions and foreign cultural practices surrounding Christmas and other winter observances to our 21st century American celebrations? Santa may have had demon elves hundreds of years ago in another country and culture, but in our culture today, they’re just his happy little helpers – no demonic strings attached. The meanings of cultural practices and symbols change over time.

And if anyone should understand that, it ought to be Christians. We took the cross – “the emblem of suffering and shame” to everyone in the known world at the time of its use – and turned it into a symbol of victory and triumph. The Romans wanted people to look at the cross and think, “criminal.” Today we look at the cross and think “Christ.” They wanted the cross to evoke fear. To us it means freedom. The cross used to mean humiliation. Now it reminds us to honor our glorious Savior.

The Romans wanted people to look at the cross and think, “criminal.” Today we look at the cross and think “Christ.”

Certainly, there’s no biblical requirement for Christians to observe Christmas in any way, so anyone who doesn’t want to observe the holiday doesn’t have to. Conversely, there’s nothing in the Bible that says we can’t celebrate Christmas, so Christians are free to do so as long as we aren’t violating any of the clear commands and principles of Scripture. But whatever conclusion we come to, it’s crucial that we base everything we do on God’s Word correctly applied to our actions and motivations, not supposed connections between Christmas and paganism. There are probably dozens of objects in our homes, traditions we observe, and days on the calendar that can, if we go back far enough and look hard enough, be traced back to one pagan religion or another. Don’t be ruled by that. Christians are ruled by God’s Word, not fears and superstitions.

Christians are ruled by God’s Word, not fears and superstitions.

So let’s be sure we take some time to examine our Christmastime traditions. Why do we put up a Christmas tree every year? What do we tell our children about Santa Claus? What do the words of those Christmas carols mean? Are we doing anything that conflicts with Scripture? If so, it’s incumbent upon us to stop, repent, and make sure “whether [we] eat or drink, or whatever [we] do, do all to the glory of God.” Because it’s not about what pagans did centuries ago a world away, it’s about what we’re doing today, why we’re doing it, and whether or not it glorifies God.

It’s not about what pagans did centuries ago a world away, it’s about what we’re doing today, why we’re doing it, and whether or not it glorifies God.

Scriptures to Consider:

Romans 14

1 Corinthians 10:23-33

Colossians 2:16-23

Additional Resources:

Is Christmas Sinful to Celebrate? by Chris Rosebrough

Is Christmas a Pagan Rip-off? by Kevin DeYoung

Myths on the Myths of Santa Claus at When We Understand the Text

Other Christmas Myths at When We Understand the Text

Can Christians Celebrate Christmas? at CARM

Christmas at Got Questions

The Bible reveals Xmas day on the 25th-not from paganism by Agustin Astacio

Christmas Is Not Pagan at Christian Answers for the New Age

Christmas

8 Christmas Tradition Do-Overs (and Do Over and Overs!)

Originally Published December 18, 2014

I love being one of the “older sisters” in the Christian blogosphere.  Reading about other writers’ young children brings back sweet memories of when mine were that little. It also gives me the opportunity to occasionally bring in the “been there, done that, here’s how I would go back and do it better if I could” perspective. And that’s what I’d like to share with you today.

I wish I had realized as a young mother that once you start a Christmas precedent, or fail to start one, it can be really hard to change later. Looking back over 20+ years, here are some Christmas traditions and precedents I would go back and change, and others I’m glad we started early and kept.

1.
I wish we had minimized gifts.

Instead of showering each child with several gifts, large and small, I think I would either do one “large” gift plus stockings (candy and dollar store type items), or two to three small to moderate gifts, plus stockings, per child. Not only does limiting the number and price of gifts cut down on the holiday “gimmes” so you can refocus Christmas on Christ, but there are a couple of practical reasons this can be helpful. First, if your family is still growing, you may end up with too many children (we have six) for multiple gifts to be financially feasible. Second, family finances aren’t foolproof. Your husband could lose his job. You could decide you want to be a stay at home mom instead of working. Anything could happen. If your kids are used to tons of gifts every year, a financial setback will make Christmas disappointing.

2.
I wish we had given more experiences and fewer material gifts.

We’ve all bemoaned the kids getting a toy they’ve BEGGED for for months only to play with it for a few days and tire of it. Not only that, but toys can take up a lot of space. And think back to your own childhood. What do you remember and appreciate more, the material gifts you received, or the memories of spending special time with your family? Plus, experiences can be spaced out over months and weeks and can be enjoyed all year long (and they don’t even have to be wrapped!). How about giving each child a calendar for the new year with things penciled in on certain dates? An afternoon at the skate park. A day trip to the aquarium. Lessons he wants to take. Mother-daughter mani-pedis. A family outing to a local festival. Making cookies together. It gives everyone something to look forward to.

3.
I wish we had done Advent. 

I’m a lifelong Southern Baptist, and, not to sound too old and codger-y, but, in my day, we really didn’t do Advent (a lot of SBC churches still don’t). I was in my 30’s before we began attending a church that even did Advent candles on the Sundays leading up to Christmas. And I was in my 40’s before I became aware of all the wonderful devotionals and worship activites available for families to enjoy together during the Christmas season. Nightly family worship is a great way to bring the focus of Christmas back to Christ.

4.
I wish we had “rescheduled” our December baby.

Don’t get me wrong here. I would still have my son, just in January, if possible, instead of December. Of course, pregnancies can be unpredictable, and babies are a blessing no matter when they arrive, but as anyone born between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can attest, birthdays around the holidays tend to get lost in the shuffle. It is extremely difficult to schedule a child’s birthday party in December and have anyone attend because everyone is already committed to Christmas parties, family activities, and traveling. December birthday presents and parties also add to the expense of the holidays.

5.
I’m glad I did a yearly Christmas newsletter.

I started doing this the first year we were married. While most folks write a little blurb about what each family member has been up to since last Christmas, my format is a bit different. I do twelve little blurbs, hitting our family highlights for each month of the past year. When I’m finished, I send them out with my Christmas cards. I also keep a copy and put it into my “newsletter notebook.” Now, we have a complete family history. My kids love reading back through them every year, and it has also been helpful to us for record-keeping and filling out forms (remembering which year we moved to a certain house or when a child sustained a particular injury, for example).

6.
I’m glad I didn’t do a “theme tree”.

I have seen some absolutely gorgeous Christmas trees. There’s a color scheme. All the ornaments match or coordinate. Maybe there’s a sports or regional or literary theme to it.

My tree kinda looks like a tornado hit a pre-school, made its way through a Hallmark store, and sucked up a souvenir shop before landing in my living room. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s a memory attached to almost every ornament. The ones from my childhood. The ones we bought on our honeymoon and the time we went to Disney World. The ones the kids made in Sunday School. And all the children have certain ornaments that are “theirs,” (we mark them with their initials and the year) that they made or that were given to them. And one day, when they grow up and get married, one of their wedding presents will be a box containing all of “their” ornaments to hang on their own trees, so they can take some memories with them.

7.
I’m glad we have some family traditions
that are unique to our particular family.

There are some traditions that are common to lots of families, but it’s the ones that no other family on the planet does that can be extra special. For example, last year, after we got home from our annual family outing of picking out our tree, we sat around the table together and had hot chocolate. And chips and salsa. (I know. Weird, huh?) My 12 year old remembered this a whole year later and begged to do it again. It’s those little things that go the extra mile in binding you together and giving your family a unique identity.

8.
I’m glad we handled Santa Claus the way we did.

We decided before we had children that we would not lie to them about the existence or omniscience (he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, etc.) of Santa Claus. The Bible says that lying is a sin, period. There’s no exception for jolly old elves who pass out toys (or for tooth fairies or Easter bunnies, for that matter). But there’s nothing wrong with the fun of Santa as long as he arrives on the scene without lies or claims to attributes only God possesses. So we sang Santa songs and told Santa stories, but on Christmas Eve, our children knew it was Mom and Dad filling the stockings. When they were very small, my husband or I would don a Santa hat and say something like: “You know how you like to play pretend? Well, mommies and daddies like to play pretend, too, especially at Christmas! Now it’s time for you to go to bed so we can pretend to be Santa Claus.” So far, no one is in therapy from us handling the Santa Claus story this way, plus there were no conspiracies with the older children to keep the secret from the younger ones, and no moments of devastation as each child grew up and found out the truth.


THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT SATISFACTION THROUGH CHRIST.

Well, that’s my list.
What are some things you’d like to do over
-or do over and over- at Christmas with your family?

Christmas

Is Christmas Pagan?

If you’re a Christian, you might have heard the anti-Christmas rumblings on social media, or maybe even in real life: Christmas has pagan origins…Santa’s elves started out as demons…the Roman winter solstice celebration of Saturnalia morphed into Christmas…Mithras…Krampus…the “naughty list” about the origins of Christmas goes on and on. Are these things true? Should Christians celebrate Christmas?

There’s an old story about a woman who made a ham every year for Christmas dinner. As she was preparing it one year, her daughter asked, “Mom, why do you cut off the end of the ham before you put it in the oven?” The woman answered, “That’s the way my mom taught me to do it.” The woman thought about her daughter’s question all day long, and finally decided to call her own mother to ask about it. When the woman got her mother on the phone, she asked, “Mom, why did you teach me to cut off the end of the ham before putting it in the oven?” The woman’s mother said, “That’s the way my mom taught me to do it.” Intrigued, the woman called her grandmother and asked once again, “Grandma, why did you cut off the end of the ham before putting it in the oven?”. Her grandmother replied, “Because I didn’t have a roasting pan large enough for a whole ham.”

Human beings are creatures of habit and tradition, so it’s always important to examine why we do the things we do. As Christians, whether it’s putting up a tree every year, a beloved hymn we’ve been singing since we could talk, or the annual church picnic, our brains should never be on autopilot, unquestioningly taking part in activities by rote.

Do some aspects of the celebration of Christmas find their origin in millennia-old paganism? Possibly. But are you participating in that paganism if you put up a tree or give gifts at Christmas? Probably not. The “Christmas is pagan” lore is so ancient and uncertain that most people aren’t even aware of it. How could you possibly be participating in paganism if you’re not even aware of its existence, you have no intention of participating in it, and it has nothing to do with your reasons for celebrating?

Did you know that many of our days of the week and months of the year were originally named for pagan idols and gods? “Sun”day was originally a pagan Roman holiday, and the sun was an object of worship for many ancient peoples. Should we stop having church on Sunday because of that? Are we somehow participating in paganism by holding the Christian day of worship on an ancient pagan feast day? Of course not. Ancient pagans don’t own certain days on the calendar or any particular object or symbol. The Bible tells us, “The earth is the Lord‘s and the fullness thereof.” When godless people take a day or an object God has created and use it for evil, they are the ones in the wrong, not godly people who come after them and want to use that same day or object for a godly purpose. To say that Christians can’t use a certain day or object for celebrating Christmas because pagans used that day or object for pagan purposes is to give those ancient pagans power over Christians. Power they have no business holding.

Furthermore, just because pagans used a day, an object, or a symbol for their wicked practices hundreds or thousands of years ago does not mean those days, objects, or symbols carry the same meaning today. Think about the way a mere word can change meanings in such a short time. The 1890’s were known as the “Gay Nineties.” The song, “Deck the Halls” contains the phrase “don we now our gay apparel.” The primary meaning of the word “gay” – just 100-150 years ago in our own country – was “happy, merry, or festive.” Now it means “homosexual.” But the “Christmas is pagan” folks would have us believe we’re supposed to attach centuries old definitions and foreign cultural practices surrounding Christmas and other winter observances to our 21st century American celebrations? Santa may have had demon elves hundreds of years ago in another country and culture, but in our culture today, they’re just his happy little helpers – no demonic strings attached. The meanings of cultural practices and symbols change over time.

And if anyone should understand that, it ought to be Christians. We took the cross – “the emblem of suffering and shame” to everyone in the known world at the time of its use – and turned it into a symbol of victory and triumph. The Romans wanted people to look at the cross and think, “criminal.” Today we look at the cross and think “Christ.” They wanted the cross to evoke fear. To us it means freedom. The cross used to mean humiliation. Now it reminds us to honor our glorious Savior.

Certainly, there’s no biblical requirement for Christians to observe Christmas in any way, so anyone who doesn’t want to observe the holiday doesn’t have to. Conversely, there’s nothing in the Bible that says we can’t celebrate Christmas, so Christians are free to do so as long as we aren’t violating any of the clear commands and principles of Scripture. But whatever conclusion we come to, it’s crucial that we base everything we do on God’s Word correctly applied to our actions and motivations, not supposed connections between Christmas and paganism. There are probably dozens of objects in our homes, traditions we observe, and days on the calendar that can, if we go back far enough and look hard enough, be traced back to one pagan religion or another. Don’t be ruled by that. Christians are ruled by God’s Word, not fears and superstitions.

So let’s be sure we take some time to examine our Christmastime traditions. Why do we put up a Christmas tree every year? What do we tell our children about Santa Claus? What do the words of those Christmas carols mean? Are we doing anything that conflicts with Scripture? If so, it’s incumbent upon us to stop, repent, and make sure “whether [we] eat or drink, or whatever [we] do, do all to the glory of God.” Because it’s not about what pagans did centuries ago a world away, it’s about what we’re doing today, why we’re doing it, and whether or not it glorifies God.

Scriptures to Consider:

Romans 14

1 Corinthians 10:23-33

Colossians 2:16-23

Additional Resources:

Is Christmas Sinful to Celebrate? by Chris Rosebrough

Myths on the Myths of Santa Claus at When We Understand the Text

Other Christmas Myths at When We Understand the Text

Can Christians Celebrate Christmas? at CARM

Christmas at Got Questions

Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday? at Ligonier

Pastor Mike Fabarez explains why you can celebrate this Christmas season/Did Jesus celebrate man-made holidays? on Wretched Radio

The Bible reveals Xmas day on the 25th-not from paganism by Agustin Astacio

Christmas Is Not Pagan at Christian Answers for the New Age

Christmas, Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday ~ 8 Christmas Tradition Do-Overs (and Do Over and Overs!)

Originally published December 18, 2014

I love being one of the “older sisters” in the Christian blogosphere.  Reading about other writers’ young children brings back sweet memories of when mine were that little. It also gives me the opportunity to occasionally bring in the “been there, done that, here’s how I would go back and do it better if I could” perspective. And that’s what I’d like to share with you today.

I wish I had realized as a young mother that once you start a Christmas precedent, or fail to start one, it can be really hard to change later. Looking back over 20+ years, here are some Christmas traditions and precedents I would go back and change, and others I’m glad we started early and kept.

1.
I wish we had minimized gifts.

Instead of showering each child with several gifts, large and small, I think I would either do one “large” gift plus stockings (candy and dollar store type items), or two to three small to moderate gifts, plus stockings, per child. Not only does limiting the number and price of gifts cut down on the holiday “gimmes” so you can refocus Christmas on Christ, but there are a couple of practical reasons this can be helpful. First, if your family is still growing, you may end up with too many children (we have six) for multiple gifts to be financially feasible. Second, family finances aren’t foolproof. Your husband could lose his job. You could decide you want to be a stay at home mom instead of working. Anything could happen. If your kids are used to tons of gifts every year, a financial setback will make Christmas disappointing.

2.
I wish we had given more experiences and fewer material gifts.

We’ve all bemoaned the kids getting a toy they’ve BEGGED for for months only to play with it for a few days and tire of it. Not only that, but toys can take up a lot of space. And think back to your own childhood. What do you remember and appreciate more, the material gifts you received, or the memories of spending special time with your family? Plus, experiences can be spaced out over months and weeks and can be enjoyed all year long (and they don’t even have to be wrapped!). How about giving each child a calendar for the new year with things penciled in on certain dates? An afternoon at the skate park. A day trip to the aquarium. Lessons he wants to take. Mother-daughter mani-pedis. A family outing to a local festival. Making cookies together. It gives everyone something to look forward to.

3.
I wish we had done Advent. 

I’m a lifelong Southern Baptist, and, not to sound too old and codger-y, but, in my day, we really didn’t do Advent (a lot of SBC churches still don’t). I was in my 30’s before we began attending a church that even did Advent candles on the Sundays leading up to Christmas. And I was in my 40’s before I became aware of all the wonderful devotionals and worship activites available for families to enjoy together during the Christmas season. Nightly family worship is a great way to bring the focus of Christmas back to Christ.

4.
I wish we had “rescheduled” our December baby.

Don’t get me wrong here. I would still have my son, just in January, if possible, instead of December. Of course, pregnancies can be unpredictable, and babies are a blessing no matter when they arrive, but as anyone born between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can attest, birthdays around the holidays tend to get lost in the shuffle. It is extremely difficult to schedule a child’s birthday party in December and have anyone attend because everyone is already committed to Christmas parties, family activities, and traveling. December birthday presents and parties also add to the expense of the holidays.

5.
I’m glad I did a yearly Christmas newsletter.

I started doing this the first year we were married. While most folks write a little blurb about what each family member has been up to since last Christmas, my format is a bit different. I do twelve little blurbs, hitting our family highlights for each month of the past year. When I’m finished, I send them out with my Christmas cards. I also keep a copy and put it into my “newsletter notebook.” Now, we have a complete family history. My kids love reading back through them every year, and it has also been helpful to us for record-keeping and filling out forms (remembering which year we moved to a certain house or when a child sustained a particular injury, for example).

6.
I’m glad I didn’t do a “theme tree”.

I have seen some absolutely gorgeous Christmas trees. There’s a color scheme. All the ornaments match or coordinate. Maybe there’s a sports or regional or literary theme to it.

My tree kinda looks like a tornado hit a pre-school, made its way through a Hallmark store, and sucked up a souvenir shop before landing in my living room. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s a memory attached to almost every ornament. The ones from my childhood. The ones we bought on our honeymoon and the time we went to Disney World. The ones the kids made in Sunday School. And all the children have certain ornaments that are “theirs,” (we mark them with their initials and the year) that they made or that were given to them. And one day, when they grow up and get married, one of their wedding presents will be a box containing all of “their” ornaments to hang on their own trees, so they can take some memories with them.

7.
I’m glad we have some family traditions
that are unique to our particular family.

There are some traditions that are common to lots of families, but it’s the ones that no other family on the planet does that can be extra special. For example, last year, after we got home from our annual family outing of picking out our tree, we sat around the table together and had hot chocolate. And chips and salsa. (I know. Weird, huh?) My 12 year old remembered this a whole year later and begged to do it again. It’s those little things that go the extra mile in binding you together and giving your family a unique identity.

8.
I’m glad we handled Santa Claus the way we did.

We decided before we had children that we would not lie to them about the existence or omniscience (he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, etc.) of Santa Claus. The Bible says that lying is a sin, period. There’s no exception for jolly old elves who pass out toys (or for tooth fairies or Easter bunnies, for that matter). But there’s nothing wrong with the fun of Santa as long as he arrives on the scene without lies or claims to attributes only God possesses. So we sang Santa songs and told Santa stories, but on Christmas Eve, our children knew it was Mom and Dad filling the stockings. When they were very small, my husband or I would don a Santa hat and say something like: “You know how you like to play pretend? Well, mommies and daddies like to play pretend, too, especially at Christmas! Now it’s time for you to go to bed so we can pretend to be Santa Claus.” So far, no one is in therapy from us handling the Santa Claus story this way, plus there were no conspiracies with the older children to keep the secret from the younger ones, and no moments of devastation as each child grew up and found out the truth.


THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT SATISFACTION THROUGH CHRIST.

Well, that’s my list.
What are some things you’d like to do over
-or do over and over- at Christmas with your family?