I often complain about the way that Christ is being dropped out of Christmas. He alone is the reason we celebrate on 25th December and if you don’t want to celebrate that then don’t celebrate Christmas. I thought I should nail my colours to the mast in case anyone reads my title and thinks I’ve gone pagan.
Of course, those who want to celebrate without honouring Christ claim that it is really a pagan festival and so they don’t have to celebrate Jesus’ birth if they don’t want to. They always seem to miss the hole in their argument, though, that if they want to celebrate as a pagan then they must adopt pagan beliefs and honour pagan gods to do so (presumably this ought to include a human sacrifice or two). As most who seem to make this claim are atheists or at best agnostics I suspect they might be very reluctant to adopt the superstitious nature of most pagan beliefs.
Then they will tell me that Christians banned Christmas anyway for a while, but fail to note that actually this was done to try and overcome the problem of those who were celebrating at Christmas time but not honouring Christ. It was the superstitions and over indulgence that was the problem – not the going to church and singing carols. I often find it amusing that today people accuse Christians of being superstitious when we are the very ones who fought to stop people being superstitious in the first place.
But what of all this claim of pagan origins? In our modern world do these claims hold up to scrutiny? It is another irony that science, history, etc. all now accept that claims made about their discipline of study at the start of the enlightenment were mistaken – and sometimes downright embarrassing – and yet are very happy to believe any statement made about religion at that time without question – this is where the claims about paganism come from (claims based on conjecture and not evidence).
So let’s quickly examine this question of pagan origins.
To prove this – rather than it just being conjecture – we would have to demonstrate a direct link. We need some statement somewhere by a Christian describing how they had adopted a pagan practice – for instance. We don’t have this evidence. There are Christians – centuries after the events – who speculate that this is so but no direct evidence. There is a pope who recommends doing it but there is no evidence that his recommendation was ever adopted. I am, of course, aware that Constantine banned pagan practice and converted many temples to churches. This is some evidence of Christians becoming the main religion but not of Christians adopting pagan practice.
Another way to prove it would be to demonstrate that their is no gap in practice and that the belief could not emerge on its own from Christianity. Let’s take the Christmas tree. The Christian Christmas tree can be traced to Martin Luther (16th century). It is claimed that Druids decorated trees and so this must be where the Christmas tree originates from. But Druidism died out in Europe in about the 2nd century and it was their practice not to record any of their beliefs or practices (the only thing we know about them is what others said about them). This is a major gap during which time most of Europe became Christian. The natural superstitious religion of many rural peoples during this period was not pagan but Christian in its basis – there is evidence for this but I’m not writing a phd theses here. So there is a major gap before Martin Luther uses his Christmas tree. Then we have to ask if an evergreen tree could have come to represent everlasting life in a Christians mind independent to paganism. There answer to me is an obvious yes. Similarly holly, etc. This is just common sense and creativity not paganism.
What about the date of Christmas then? Well it is far from clear who first celebrated on the 25th December but it seems it might well have been Christians. Early Christians (2nd century) had worked out a date for Easter as March 25th. There was another belief that this was the same day that Jesus was conceived on (stems from Jewish belief about prophets dying and being conceived on the same day). Nine months from March 25th is December 25th. This predates any reference to a pagan celebration on that day (Sol Invictus is moved to 25th Dec in 274AD – possibly as a result of Christians celebrating Jesus’ birth on that day, although this part is just conjecture). There are other midwinter festivals but none on 25th December.
Of course, we will never know how much paganism influenced the Christmas celebrations. I believe the answer is far less than is often made out but I can’t deny that some practices may have come from paganism. However, even if they did, they were adopted by Christians and used to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th. This does not give anyone the right to claim that Christmas is a pagan festival. It is about time serious minded people got beyond this nonsense.
Happy Christmas everyone.