It Is What You Make It
This Friday is Gregg’s birthday. In our house, when we celebrate birthdays — regardless of the month — we make the focus on Christ:
“We open presents because Jesus received presents when he was born.”
“We light candles because Jesus is the light of the world.”
“We eat cake to remind us that Jesus is the sweetest gift.”
While we are in this season of Christmas, the world is focused on the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, even though he was likely born sometime in the autumn.
Over the last few years, I’ve heard more and more about the pagan routes of Christmas. I don’t know if more people are talking about it, or if it’s just something that is now coming to my attention.
I’ll give you the cliff notes version. If you want more, I could flood you with sources.
In pre-Christ Scandanavia, during the winter solstice, Norsemen lit a log (intended to be a phallic idol) and kept it lit for 12 days to worship the sex and fertility god Jul (also spelled Yule). During this 12-day festival, they celebrated with daily animal and human sacrifices in the fire. Wild, delirious reveling ensued while drunken participants strode to make contact with spirits. Hence, our modern “yule log” and “12-days of Christmas.”
A thousand miles away, in Rome, celebrants during the winter solstice paid homage to their own gods. Witchcraft traditions have Dionysus, Attis, and Baal (the god of fertility and licentiousness) all born during the winter solstice period. The pagan god Mithras was said to be born on December 25th. Mithras was the god of the incomparable sun, the god of the light between heaven and earth and was worshiped by an influential Roman cult. During Rome’s month-long winter solstice celebration, the courts were closed. Any and all crimes were allowed. Homosexuality, cross dressing, and uncontrolled debauchery reigned supreme.
In 270 AD, Roman emperor Aurelian made it an official 7-day celebration. The sexually focused 7-day celebration went from December 17th to the 24th and ended with gift exchange on the 25th to celebrate the birth of the sun god. This 7-day celebration later became known as Saturnalia, after the god Saturn (who is also the archetype of “father time”).
So, you have these civilizations with pretty major armies with these pagan celebrations during winter solstice. Then, Romans and Norsemen separately conquered the world, and took their traditions with them.
In Britain, by the 4th century, the government sanctioned church could no longer outlaw the pagan practices, because they were so wide-spread. Instead, they decided to adopt them into their “Christianity”. They felt by allowing the pagan worship and excessive sexual celebratory style, they would attract more pagans into their fold. Despite Biblical evidence to the contrary showing that Christ was not born in December. But the church chose to ignore that and celebrate Christ’s birth on the birthday of a pagan god.
And so now, here we are. There’s a long line of pagan backgrounds to all sorts of Christmas traditions from the tree to the stockings hung by the chimney with care to the halls decked with holly to that kiss under the mistletoe.
What does that mean for Christians today?
The Bible reveals that Jesus Christ, the Apostles and the early Church all observed the (Saturday) Sabbath and the biblical Holy Days (see Luke 4:16; John 7:8–10; Acts 17:2; 1 Corinthians 5:7–8). However, the early Church, beginning around the time of Constantine, appropriated Sunday worship along with a host of “saints days” from paganism, including Easter and Christmas. Not only is there no biblical precedent nor command to do this, Scripture actually warns against adopting pagan practices (see Deuteronomy 12:29–32; Jeremiah 10:2).
Puritans coming to America sought to rid themselves of the paganism that had flooded the church, and actually banned Christmas. However, the people celebrating the pagan traditions weren’t just slapping a Santa hat on their head and singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” They were indulging in 12-day drunken orgies around burning Yule logs.
The early church was wrong in their decision to incorporate the pagan worship into the Christian calendar. Of that, there can be no arguing. Even as recent as 200 years ago, the pagan debauchery was the purpose of the celebration.
Churches today will say that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Except, He’s not. Not historically, and not really currently.
Today, crass greed and commercialism have replaced the traditional orgy-fests. Many retailers make almost half of their annual profits during the official Christmas shopping season. A fictional character with omniscient observation and judgement and supernatural powers with an army of elfin creatures ready to do his bidding is used as a method of manipulating the behavior in children, and IS the symbol of Christmas. (Santa’s evolution began with Beelzebub and has morphed into the jolly old elf.)
When the Bible warns us against adopting pagan practices, it’s my belief that singing “Silent Night” while sipping fresh eggnog and focusing on the angels singing “Glory to God in the Highest” is not what it’s talking about. If that is where the focus lies at Christmas, then what can possibly be the problem with that?
What to do?
Gregg and I have spent many an hour discussing this. Due to our research into the origins of Easter, we have chosen not to celebrate that in any way. We don’t do eggs, we don’t do the Easter bunny, we don’t do any of the traditional Easter “things”. We celebrate Passover, as Christ did, and we celebrate His resurrection. But, there was nothing of Christ in Eostre and her magical bunny. It’s very easy to celebrate Resurrection Sunday and be removed from Easter.
In Christmas, however, Christ is everywhere. People who might never in their life ever have heard the name of Jesus will hear the song “O Holy Night” and hear the beautiful and poignant words that rejoice in the coming of our Lord. Everywhere you look, nativity scenes share shelf space with Santa’s sleigh. Angels are near bells.
We are given the mission to “go ye therefore and teach all nations” — what better platform to teach than to do it in a time of open giving and love, when everyone is focused on “Peace on earth”?
Our family has decided to “tread the line”.
We purposefully have stripped anything secular out of our Christmas. There is no Santa. There is only a focus on Christ, and His gift to us, on our salvation and the presence of the Holy Spirit. (Even my “Christmas Village” is the Town of Bethlehem.) We share that love with Christmas cards, with gifts, with a spirit of love to our fellow man. And we encourage our children to hold onto that love all through the year, so that the generosity shown at Christmastime is our norm and not something for which we strive on an annual basis.
Yes, we’ll have a Christmas tree. But, unlike my pagan ancestors, I don’t believe its presence is going to keep away evil spirits. We use it to hang and display gift ornaments that have been given to us over the years. We use it as a place to place the three gifts our children get from us every year and the presents they’ll get from family members. It doesn’t go up until the week before Christmas, and it comes down before New Year’s Day.
We celebrated in the hanging of the greens at our church – a very beautiful and joyous ceremony. We did not attend the pancakes with Santa at our church the following week. It’s a balancing act, but it’s one we’ve chosen to balance at this time.
We do not feel that the Holy Spirit is leading us to remove Christmas from our lives the same way we removed Easter. Instead, we want to use it as a time to spread the glorious good news of Christ Jesus — and to not stop telling the story at his birth, but to tell the whole story – of love and forgiveness, of redemption and grace.
That is our family’s decision. We feel that it is a personal one and that all Christians should examine the history leading to where we are today and make their own decisions.
Whatever your family does to celebrate this Christmas season, I pray that you are blessed by it, and that you are able to be a blessing to others through it.
I’m so grateful for your visit, today.
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Excellent post Hallee. We also celebrate Christmas, and I will admit I’m always confused why some people don’t. “It IS what you make it.” If we focus on Christ at Christmas, not Santa then I think the holiday has fulfilled its purpose.
I’m curious though – if both Christmas and Easter have pagan backgrounds, why is it that you’ve chosen to celebrate Christmas but not Easter? If you can take the bad out of Christmas and only celebrate the good, then why not do the same thing with Easter? Although, I think maybe that’s what you already said? You DO celebrate, but call it Passover instead of Easter?
We celebrate Passover. And we celebrate Christ’s resurrection. But we don’t do anything Easter-ly at all – no gifts, no baskets, no eggs. We Do do Resurrection Cookies on the night before Easter Sunday.
At Christmas, we’ll have a tree, and we’ll exchange gifts. I’ll do some decorating around the house. We’ll tell people, “Merry Christmas,” the kids will have stockings, etc. So, in a sense we ARE celebrating Christmas. We’re just more low-key than other people, and purposefully Christ focused.
I really appreciated this post and hearing your take on celebrating Christmas. I’ve also become more aware lately of the pagan history of this holiday and have found it interesting to think about the way we celebrate as Christians and how we can do it in a way that honors God without becoming totally wrapped up in the commercialism our culture brings to it. I found myself looking at our Christmas tree the other day and thinking, “What on earth actually is the point of a Christmas tree?” and I like how you put it here, that it’s a place to display gift ornaments you’ve received.
I’ve been particularly challenged this year by family members that have requested that we don’t give them gifts and have stated that they will not be giving gifts this year as a way for them to show that as Christians, they are different. It’s been hard for me to see that our tradition of showing our love for each other through gifts (that have always been small and never overboard) is wrong, but at the same time, I need to respect their wishes and their convictions.
As you said, it’s a balancing act, and as Christians in a fallen world, it can be really challenging. Thanks again for sharing your perspective.
I know many people who have removed themselves from Christmas entirely. That seems to be becoming more popular. I’m happy to respect that. Though, I’d likely do something like a missions donation and give it to them in March (in honor of St. Patrick) just to do a gift – HAHA!
Thank you for your encouragement. Have a wonderful Christmas.
Jesus was born at the feast of Sukkot! Why not keep it when it TRULY happened! I don’t believe for one single second that He would give us a thumbs up to celebrate His birth in the midst of such a wicked time as christmas, and I’m am POSITIVE He commands us to keep His Appointed Feasts so that we can come out from among them and be ye a separate people. Why have one foot in the world (christmas) and one foot out (Passover)?! It’s NOT a balancing act, it’s a CHOICE, G-d’s ways or the man’s traditions, NO gray area, as many claim. Your post was amazingly correct on all counts except it being what you make it….can I call a brothel a church and still play the harlot?! No, indeed not! But that is exactly what the church has become.
I’ve been round this mountain before, too. It’s hard to know what to do and what not to do and to walk in our freedom and yet honor God and be separate. I like what you’ve shared here and this is much how we do it. We’ve not eliminated Easter, although I’ve been mulling it over. And as for Christmas, every single thing we do (even our gingerbread baking and decorating!) focuses on Christ. I can’t see that being bad. But I do walk constantly in prayer, asking God to show me His perfect will.
Gotcha! Seems almost 100% identical to how we celebrate. :-)
The time is not wicked.
This is a day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24.
The history is wicked. The greed is wicked. The commercialism is wicked. My tree may be wicked in some eyes.
My nativity scene is in no way wicked, nor is my telling my children, my friends, relatives, or even strangers Christ’s story — no matter what day I choose to do the telling.
I don’t believe in gray areas, personally.
He does command us to keep His appointed feasts, but He doesn’t exclude other celebrations; Hanukkah is not one and Christ Himself observed that.
Thank you for your comment!
Sorry but I see a huge logical disconnect here.
You justify your tree, and I’m assuming other things like wedding rings and usage of words with pagan origins to suit your needs. Either all pagan stuff is evil and shouldn’t be used or it’s not. But I guess Protestants are used to picking and choosing what suits them best.
I’m pretty sure whatever you’re reading about church history is pretty slanted, and I’d love it if you’d actually research into the catholic church instead of writing posts like these that have an obvious leaning towards anti Catholicism.
I think your confusion comes from being disconnected from the true Church. You seem ok with the book that the Church compiled for you, yet you have a problem with its teachings. Seems contradictory to me.
I will be praying that you come to better conclusions without the cloud of judgement and misunderstanding you have about the church. But I’m going to have to stop reading the blog if it continues down this path.
I didn’t say anything about the Catholic church. I said the early church. Are you saying the history is wrong? The early church did not incorporate the pagan holidays in order to attract the pagans around them? Or are you saying it’s perfectly fine that they did? If that’s the case, read your Bible and tell me where that is fine.
I thought I was clear. My problem with this modern holiday is not the pagan roots – it’s the crass commercialism. I didn’t even go into that in any kind of detail, so you can’t really say I blamed the Catholic church for that. Santa was actually a societal metamorphosis.
I don’t have a problem with trees, or holly, or wreaths, or wedding rings, or the calendar, or the names of the days of the week.
You’re reacting to a blog article I posted a few weeks ago that specifically called the Catholic church evil. For the record, I never even used that as a source for writing this article.
“But I guess Protestants are used to picking and choosing what suits them best.” Most religions pick and choose. A lot of them add to what is already there — as the Catholics did. The reason Protestants even exist as a body is because Luther brought people back to what the Bible said rather than the “Church” said. But then fallible man got a hold of the protestant churches as well, and you have a huge mass of conflicting doctrine and a society that claims to be Christian but runs people down on black Friday to get a television at a discounted rate.
The perfect church was the church in Acts 2. They took care of each other, they fed each other, they prayed for each other, and they loved each other. Everything they owned went into one big pot and as needs were recognized, needs were met. It was a perfect socialist community built on a foundation of serving God and spreading the Gospel. As long as there are people in need being ignored in churches, as long as their are members of the body of Christ sleeping somewhere in the world in a cardboard box, as long as there are starving children next to great wealth and prosperity, we are a sorely lacking church regardless of whether you call yourself Catholic or Protestant.
Read me or not – that is your decision. But don’t put words in my mouth or intent behind what I say. I have NEVER drawn a line between Catholics and Protestants. But YOU just did, with great prejudice.
Greetings and blessings! Actually, the model of Church in the New Testament never, ever has anyone starting their own church on their own authority. Luther, sadly, is a modern day Korah. Also, the Catholic Church has certainly changed disciplines over the millennia (that is the binding and loosing authority that Jesus Christ delegated to the Apostles in Matthew 16:18 and Matthew 18), but never, ever has she changed doctrine (the tenets of faith and the moral law), which can never change. I hope you will take a look:
Have a fruitful and blessed Advent Season, as we await the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ!
PS: The early Church was the Catholic Church. If you tour the catacombs or read the early Fathers, you will see the Catholic Church: Eucharist, altars, prayers for the dead, sacraments, apostolic succession, etc. And yes, the early Church Christianized all pagan things. That’s a good thing. Blessings!
The early church is te catholic church.
I only responded the way I did because of the tone of this post. After reading the post you had posted before about the same subject, I was on edge. I would never have said anything about Protestants had it not been for the prior article you posted and then this one. If you didn’t agree with what he says why did you post it?
I’m not even gonna go into Luther…
The catholic church does more around the world than any organization.
Whether you admit it or not I still felt like some of the things in this article were slanted. I’m not saying history is wrong. I’m saying the way you see it might be prejudiced.
I posted it specifically to hear thoughts on the matter. I never gave my opinion about it one way or the other. I think it’s an easy-out to blame the “Catholic” church for anything — we were all one body up to a time, one body full of fallible man that made really great decisions and really bad decisions.
No matter what any church is doing, none of us are doing enough. We’re all sorely lacking. But I give to Catholic charities as much as I give anywhere – because anyone doing anything in the name of Christ is doing something.
I had no intent to do anything but lay out the history with facts. But, I guess there’s slant in anything anyone has to say.
You are both tempting me to write on Luther.
Although I do not agree with everything in your post, it is excellent work and provokes thinking into why we do each of the Christmas traditions in our family.
How come the children could not attend the Santa event at your church? If it is a Christian event taking place at your home church, why isn’t that ok for your family?
We don’t want Santa to be in any part of their Christmas celebrations. Especially because they are so young.
We also don’t participate in the Easter egg hunt at church.
I don’t know if my church friends understand our reasons, but everyone seems to respect them.
I have long enjoyed your posts. I appreciate this one as well. It is thought provoking and interesting. While I may not agree with all that you said, that (in my humble opinion) is irrelevant. I cannot judge you about what the Holy Spirit has convicted you (and your husband) of any more than you can judge me for the same.
I think a relationship with God is a personal one and we are not all in the same place at the same time in our relationship with Him. God will convict people of the things He deems important in His own time.
Again, thank you for your thoughts.
May God continue to bless you and your family.
“It’s hard to know what to do and what not to do and to walk in our freedom and yet honor God and be separate.”
I identify with what you said. I believe that much of this falls under a Romans 14 category. It is easy to find oneself in either legalism or license if the measure is a rule that so and so made or someone else’s position. I like what Romans 14:12 says, “So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.” It is much harder to live that way as opposed to holding the position of someone that we consider to be a “spiritual superior”. It is harder, but we were made to serve and love each other out of that liberty. There can be no real love for each other without liberty.
The original church was founded by Christ and was actually named in the bible “Church of God”(Acts 20:28, and all throughout 1 Corinthians). This church did not follow any pagan customs, they observed the biblical Holy Days including the way Christ changed the Passover to include the foot washing ceremony. They kept the Saturday sabbath. They were baptized properly. They tithed (1st, 2nd and 3rd tithes). They did NOT try to juggle with one foot in and one foot out. Accepting pagan people and their customs is one thing, practicing any of them is entirely different.
The tree itself is specifically mentioned in the Old Testment, and condemned by God. (Jeremiah 10).
Christ’s whole gospel was focused on the coming Kingdom of God. That his “small flock of first fruits” would be prepared for that day. Prepared for the beginning of sorrows, for the 3 1/2 year tribulation, for the return of Christ, to assist in the 1000 year reign of Christ.
The customs, traditions, garments, altars, practices, doctrine and more of the Catholic church has very little to do with what the bible says. Much is far far older then the birth of Christ, and has nothing to do with the tribes of Israel.
The modern Catholic church is almost identical to the religion of ancient Babylon, except for a few name changes.
This is a really great article:
This article is missing one vital component of the small flock of Christ. That would be that we are commanded to constantly be on watch, be completely aware of prophetical truth, be watching world events and be prepared, and warn the world.
http://www.cog-eim.org/ http://www.worldwatchtoday.org/ http://www.thetrumpet.com/ http://www.ucg.org/