This time of year, Christians can find themselves in a war of "righteousness" with their fellow worshipers. People either embrace the Christmas spirit and enjoy the season--celebrating and honoring the birth of Christ--or injure other Christians by condemning them for joining in on a pagan holiday. I think the whole thing is silly. If it has pagan origins, does it still today? Can we not take something that was meant for evil and shape it into something Godly? Is that not possible? Can we accept the idea that it is over commercialized, that some people do enjoy receiving more than giving, and that not everyone celebrates is because of Jesus--but those of us that do, should not be ridiculed? I think it is possible.
But, it doesn't hurt to understand the season's roots so that you can celebrate with an educated mind. This way, you can smile at the person knocking you over the head for enjoying Christmas, and smile sweetly, saying, "I understand, and I sympathize, but here are the reasons I will celebrate..."
Jesus was not born on December 25th
Yes, it is true. Jesus was not born on December 25th. If you need a real date, well, you might just be out of luck. After all, God did not mention it in scripture. So does it really matter? But here are some dates that scholars believe might be his true birthday:
December 25th was a Roman Pagan Holiday First
True. And not only is it true, but the details of this pagan holiday are really quite troubling. In ancient Rome, the Roman pagans had a holiday known as Saturnalia from December 17-25. During this time, they selected a person to serve as their "Lord of Misrule" who indulged in food and...well, other carnal pleasures. On the 25th, the pagans killed the Lord of Misrule. Some scholars believe that the people went from door to door, singing naked, raping women and eating man-shaped biscuits that we still bake during the holiday season today. Hmmmm. Could this be our gingerbread man? I don't think I can look at that mischievous gingerbread man the same way again.
Christians were appalled by the behavior of the pagans. But not only were they appalled by the Saturnalia, they truly wanted to convert the pagans. So, they set out to do just that--promising the pagan community that they could convert while still celebrating their rituals in December (I guess they thought compromising was the only hope of "saving" them). Big mistake. You cannot turn to God while still holding onto handfuls of evil. It doesn't work out. Think of Lot's wife, turned to a pillar of salt. It just doesn't work, nor does it please God.
Over the next few generations, early Christians and the Catholic Church attempted to turn Christmas into something Jesus-centered, but it wasn't working the way they hoped. Even the Catholic Church fell into some evil business when they once again brought back the ugly pagan ritual of over-eating and caroling naked. Only this time, they did so by humiliating God's chosen people. In 1466, Pope Paul II forced Jews to be overfed, stripped of their clothes, and made to run through the streets for the cities amusement.
Christmas Gains Some Respectability
As you can imagine, it took a while for the pagan's to loosen their grip on Christmas, but slowly, it did happen. Deciding to overshadow the evil that was taking place on December 25th, it was decided that the day would instead be used to celebrate the birth of Christ. Early Christians understood that this was not the actual day of Christ's birth, but hoped that it would eradicate the extreme darkness that unfurled upon the date. Turning the pagan rituals into God-honoring rituals was the plan.
It is said that the Christian origin of the Christmas tree can be tied to Martin Luther--the revolutionary man who would transform the Catholic church. On a starry night, he was admiring the stars in the heavens and was so deeply moved by what he saw that he brought a fir tree into his home and decorated it with lit candles (Fir meaning fire and the burning candles representing spirit).
Note: There will be a future post about the symbolism of the ornaments we use to decorate our tree.
The only "pagan" ties that can be related to gift giving would have to come from the myths and legends surrounded by Saint Nicoloas. Click here to learn that there is really nothing evil about Saint Nick who became Sinterklaas who is now our Santa Claus. It wasn't until the 20th century that we tacked on the North Pole, elves, toy workshops, Rudolf, and all that jazz. So let's not blame the pagans for this one.
In truth, gift giving represents the Three Wise men who came to visit the baby Jesus. They bore gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh. All three gifts were symbolic of Jesus' life, death on the cross, and resurrection. Today, we give gifts to one another honoring the gift of the Lord Jesus Christ to this world as our savior. Simple as that. It is your choice if you go over board and make Christmas more about receiving gifts rather that giving them and honoring Jesus.
Now this one is a bit goofy. The next time you are caught in an awkward position of being under the mistletoe with your in-law, rude co-worker, or even creepy uncle, you can blame the pagans who went on a sexual rampage through the streets during Saturnalia. Yuck! Or you can blame the mythological god Balder who was killed by a mistletoe arrow by the rival god Horder while fighting...(big shocker here)...for a woman! The two gods were said to be fighting to the death for the female Nanna.
Should I mention that Mistletoe is poisonous if ingested?
Christmas Really Comes From The Heart
If you really study the roots of Christmas, it does seem rather dark and cloaked in evil. This holiday used to be a date when men and women lived atrociously: raping, killing, murdering Jews and ostracizing God's people. It is rather shameful, really. But when has mankind ever lived up to what they were created to be? What I find honorable, is the desire of good people to remove such corruption from our culture and replace it with the shining star of Jesus. They took what pagans meant for iniquitous jollies and transformed it into a reminder of God's ultimate sacrifice and love story between a Heavenly Father and mankind. That's worth honoring, even if they did have a bumpy go of it; even if it is still not perfect.
For me and my family, Christmas really does honor the birth of Jesus Christ. We place ornaments on our tree that represent his birth. We create a wreath we can pin our blessings to. We talk about the true story of Saint Nick (honoring the Godly heart that man possessed) and teach our children the real reason we give gifts to one another.
To me, that Saturnalia of the past is nothing like today's Christmas. I congratulate the generations between that managed to salvage some goodness and joy out of it--to wash away nearly all traces of evil and wrong-doing. Because of them, my children will only know the spirit of Christmas joy and goodwill. Our house is warm and perfect with a gorgeous tree, stockings hung on the mantel, and the taste of candy canes on our lips. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the birth of your son--whenever that might have been. Thank you for this holiday...that now, after all of this time, honors you. At least in my home.
Besides, it is frigid outside. I don't want to go caroling naked. ;)
PS: I learned a lot about the origins of Christmas from this website. The author sited his sources which was accurate to most everything else I read. He is not a fan of the holiday.