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Every year I feel the need to address those who say Christmas is pagan. An article, Choosing the Date of Christmas: Why is Christmas Celebrated on December 25th? came out of it a few years ago. I was going over some old posts on the matter, and I found an old quote of mine that I think gets at why many of us just aren’t concerned if Christmas is “pagan”. So this is my annual post about Christmas and paganism (I just hope some pagan didn’t say this somewhere!)
I think there are a few fundamental, philosophical, issues at stake here. For those who believe Catholicism and Mainline Protestantism have “pagan” roots, there seem to be two assumptions:
a) If something in Christianity is similar to, or even borrowed from paganism in some fashion, then the Christian practice is “pagan”
b) that any similarity between Christianity and non-Christian religions is a bad thing.
Personally I disagree with both assumptions, and therefore cannot agree with this author on a basic level. I don’t believe that borrowing elements from non-Christian religions is always bad. It could be bad (e.g. if we borrowed child sacrifice!), but it could also be a good development (e.g. Jews borrowing the idea of the resurrection of the dead from the Persians). The Bible says God used Cyrus to free the Jews from Babylon, so it isn’t out of the ordinary that God could use non-Christians or non-Jews to teach us a thing or two. I don’t see this as wrong, nor do I believe that Jews are pagans for believing in the resurrection of the dead. C.S. Lewis said something to the effect that since Christianity has a good deal in common with ancient religions, that means Christianity is *more* likely to be true, because these religions have prepared people for the incarnation. I also think it is naive to think there are any religions out there that have no outside influence.
In other words, there are major philosophical assumptions going on when someone claims a Christian practice or holiday “is pagan.” Thank God even pagans understood that murder was wrong, and when Christians say the same thing, it doesn’t become invalid simply because a pagan actually could discern certain truths from natural law.
Also, let me point everyone to an interesting Messianic pro-holiday blog, Precious Holidays, whose author stopped here a few weeks ago. Stop by and say hello!
Image taken by my mom at the zoo…I am not sure if a pagan ever took LED lights and bent them in the shape of a bear, but if he did, and worked at a zoo, he was pure genius!
I would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas! Below are lyrics from the poem/song “In the Bleak Midwinter,” that I think excellently express what Christmas is about.
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
(“In the Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rossetti, 1872)
I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas, and that we all remember that, according to the Catholic liturgical calendar, Christmas is just beginning! While Christmas is over for secular America after the Christmas afternoon meal, we celebrate Christmastide through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on January 13. This period includes the feasts of the Holy Innocents, the Holy Family, Mary Mother of God, and more. I have posted the hymn “What Child Is This?” below, because I think the tune and lyrics are beautiful. I especially like verse two that connects the incarnation to the cross.
What Child is this who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary!
Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
The Cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary!
So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh;
Come peasant, king to own Him.
The King of kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise, the song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby;
Joy, joy, for Christ is born,
The babe, the son of Mary!
Photo taken by me on Dec. 23, 2007