Do some Christmas traditions have pagan origins?Question: "Do some Christmas traditions have pagan origins?"
Answer: There is no doubt that some of what we now refer to as Christmas traditions can be traced back, in some form, to pagan cultures and celebrations. The ringing of bells, for example, is generally thought to have had its origin in the early pagan winter celebration of ringing of bells to drive out evil spirits. In later centuries, bells were rung on Christmas Eve to welcome in the spirit of Christmas with joyful noise (Psalm 95:1). When Christians enjoy the beauty of a glorious bell choir ringing Christmas carols, we are reminded of the coming of Jesus into the world, not the driving out of evil spirits.
Similarly, there was an early pagan tradition of lighting candles to drive away the forces of cold and darkness. However, is it likely that our hearts are drawn to those early pagans rather than rejoicing in our Savior, the Light of the World (John 1:4-9) as we light candles? Of course not. Nor is it likely that when I give gifts to my loved ones at Christmas, the gifts will have less significance to either of us because some Druid somewhere in time offered a gift to his goat as part of some pagan ritual. No, we remember, as we should, the gifts given to the Christ-child by the Magi (Matthew 2:11). Jesus was the greatest gift ever given, and therefore His birth is worthy of celebration.
So obscure are the beginnings of many Christmas traditions that reference books and internet sites contradict one another on the details. Some of our most popular and beloved Christmas symbols are entirely Christian, and were never part of any pagan religion anywhere. At the same time, some Christmas traditions undoubtedly do have their origins in the pagan past. What is important is not the origins of traditions, but their significance to us today as believers in the Son of God. December 25 was not mentioned in the biblical narrative as the day Jesus was born, and, as such, we cannot be dogmatic about it one way or the other. But even if the date is completely wrong, there is still the opportunity for thousands of people who wouldn’t go to church any other time of the year to go on Christmas day and hear the gospel of Christ.
If you are fully convinced that you cannot, in good conscience, observe a particular Christmas tradition, do not observe it. If you are fully convinced that a particular tradition is too steeped in paganism to honor God in any way, by all means forsake that tradition. At the same time, if you are fully convinced that you can honor and worship God through a particular tradition, honor and worship God (Romans 14:5)! For Christians, Christmas traditions can be an important part of the celebration of the birth of our Savior, and they remind us of that momentous event that changed the world forever. More importantly, they bring to mind the miracle of new birth He created in us when He came into our hearts, saved us from our sins, and made us children of God by the shedding of His blood on the Cross (Colossians 1:20). It is this amazing truth that enables us to say with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).
Recommended Resources: The Case for Christmas by Lee Strobel
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