Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

Note: This devotional is adapted from the Romans: Theology for Everybody days 312 and 313.

I believe there are three basic principles for living as a follower of Jesus Christ in any culture. 

  • Receive. I’ve read the entire Bible, and I can’t find a single mention of air conditioning. Does that change my belief in it? Not at all. I still believe in it. You may do some historical work and discover that the man who invented air conditioning was a godless pagan. I would still be pro-air conditioning. I receive it. 
  • Reject. Some things we simply have to reject. There is a reason why Christian drug cartels and Christian abortion clinics do not exist. There is no such thing as a Christian “non-traditional” marriage. There are certain things that we as believers must reject because God rejects them. There are certain things we say no to because God says no to them. We’re not trying to be religious; we’re trying to be obedient. God knows right and wrong, and He knows what’s best for us. So, when God says no, our final answer is also no. 
  • Redeem. A stick in its essence is neither good nor bad, but it can be used for good or bad. Even if someone else uses a stick for bad, we can redeem it and use it for good. This concept of redeeming is crucial because God redeems us. There are things that we can redeem. 

Now, we tend to get the most legalistic about the people and things we care most about. We want to protect our children, which obviously is not wrong, but we need to help them think and make their own decisions. Instead of giving them a bunch of rules, we need to help them have a relationship with the Holy Spirit who can lead and guide them. 

One highly debated example of reject vs. redeem is holidays. Christmas has roots in a pagan Roman holiday (Saturnalia) as we studied in the previous daily devotional. Some believers would say we have to reject this holiday because of its pagan roots. 

I had a friend who served as a pastor, and he was very religious. He had so many rules! One day he told me, “I don’t think Christians should be involved in anything that has a pagan origin.” He wanted to argue about Christmas, Easter, and Halloween. I took him by surprise when I responded, “What kind of car do you drive?” (I already knew the answer). He said, “I drive a Volkswagen.” I replied, “Do you know that Adolf Hitler invented the Volkswagen? He created a cult called Nazi Germany, and he was worshipped as a demonic counterfeit of Jesus and a false God. He was a mass murderer, and not only was he probably demon-possessed, but he was likely Satan-possessed as well. You need to get rid of your car.” 

Much of our engineering in the Western world comes from Germany, specifically from the Nazi era. One example is the microwave. If you genuinely believe you should never associate with anything that has a pagan origin, then you can never use a microwave or drive a Volkswagen again. On the other hand, you could redeem them—you could drive the Volkswagen to church and use the microwave to heat healthy food to honor your body, which Paul refers to as the “temple of the Holy Spirit” in 1 Corinthians 6:19.

What about Christmas? Christmas was originally the pagan holiday of Saturnalia. The early Christians did not know when Jesus was born, so they chose this holiday to recognize His birth. (In actuality, Jesus was probably born in the springtime because the Bible says the shepherds were in the field, and it would have been too cold for them to be out in the winter.) Now, as Christians, can we receive Saturnalia and worship a pagan deity every December? No, we cannot. Is it okay for some to reject it? Yes, some Christians have done so throughout history, such as the Puritans who refused to celebrate Christmas and worked on that day in protest. Is there a way to redeem Christmas? Yes, many Christians do. We have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day church services. We have Nativity scenes, and we tell the story of Jesus’ birth. We make it all about Jesus. 

My point is this: in every culture, there are diverse backgrounds, different opinions, a variety of consciences, and various convictions. A legalist will say, “I will just tell everybody what to do.” But the Bible says, “The Holy Spirit will tell everybody what to do.” 

Mark Driscoll
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