Christmas and paganism?


#1

Recently, I was in a debate about the validity of December 25 being the actual birthday of Jesus. Is anyone familiar enough with the issue of paganism and Christmas to give me some insight into the matter?

just curious…

Thanks,

SG


#2

It is irrelevant if Jesus was born on December 25 or not. It has no impact on a person’s faith. The Church chose that day to celebate his birth.
By the way there are two ongoing threads on this subject.


#3

It is much more likely that the date for Christmas roughly coincides with the Jewish Chanukah. Do some research on Chanukah, it’s interesting. Chanukah is the festival of lights, how appropriate that it would coincide with the birth of the light of the world.
Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, is a celebration of the victory of the Maccabees and the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple. It also commemorates the miracle of the oil that burned for 8 days

Every year between the end of November and the end of December (25 Kislev – 2 Tevet), Jewish people around the world celebrate the holiday of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. Chanukah begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, but the starting date on the western calendar varies from year to year. The holiday celebrates the events which took place over 2,300 years ago in the land of Judea, which is now Israel.

Many of our Christian celebrations and Sacraments are derived from the practices of our Jewish heritage. Baptism replaced circumcision, Confirmation replaced Bar/Bas Mitzvah.


#4

hmm…do you have the links or thread titles?

SG


#5

March 25th was accepted as the date of the crucifixion. Because of a theological principle, it was felt that Jesus would have been killed and conceived on exactly the same day. That makes 25th March the date of the annunciation, and add nine months, to obtain December 25th as Christmas.

The date is also very close the the winter solstice, which is no coincidence. John the Baptist was born six months before, which puts him at the summer solstice. Hence “I must diminish and He must increase”.

The historical date is probably nowhere close, although the image of a couple seeking shelter in Bethlehem is consist with the rainy weather one normally gets in that region abouth this time of year.


#6

#7

Yes, there is a pagan connection, but not in the way critics expect:

“Reports of Christian holidays coinciding with pagan ones are often inaccurate (Christmas does not occur on Saturnalia, for example). However, to the extent the phenomenon occurs at all, Christian holidays were introduced to provide a wholesome, non-pagan alternative celebration, which thus critiques and rejects the pagan holiday.”

catholic.com/library/is_catholicism_pagan.asp

The confrontational posture which Christianity adopted toward paganism is found behind the feast of Christmas as well. It was customary in the Hellenistic world to celebrate publicly the birthdays of important people such as emperors and princes, much as we do today with President’s Day. Christians couldn’t very well observe the birthdays of dead emperors while neglecting the risen Lord. What sort of witness would that give the unbelieving world? Not only that, but a celebration of the birth of Christ would fortify the Church against heretics like the Gnostics, who denied that Jesus was a historical, embodied personage.

The problem, though, was that the exact day of Christ’s birth was unknown, so a date on which to celebrate it had to be chosen arbitrarily. Now the pagans already had a fixed festal schedule, so any day of the year the Church chose to celebrate a feast would be a day of some pagan celebration. Here was an opportunity for the Church to confront paganism, and so it aimed at one of the biggest and most important cults in Rome. The day chosen was December 25, when everyone celebrated the pagan feast of the dies natalis Solis Invicti, “the birthday of the Unconquerable Sun.” …

December 25 arrives around the time of the winter solstice, when the days get shorter and the sun seems to be “dying.” After the winter solstice, the sun appears to regain its strength, is “born again” as it were, as the days become longer. Consequently, December 25 was the “birthday” of the Persian sun-god known as Mithras, originally one of the lesser demigods of the Zoroastrian religion. Mithras had become the principal Persian deity by 400 B.C. and his cult quickly overran Asia Minor. According to Plutarch, it was introduced into the West around 68 B.C., and became quite popular among the Roman legions.

Unlike those of other Oriental gods introduced into the Empire, the cult of Mithras remained independent of official foundations to finance and propagate it. Its followers worshiped in small groups in subterranean shrines where the clergy employed special effects to make Mithras appear to “manifest” himself among the congregation. Such artifice, which included fireworks, special lighting and mechanical devices, rarely disappointed the religion’s adherents and provided Christian polemicists with some of their best material.

The conflict between Christianity and Mithraism had always been intense, possibly because of certain similarities between the two. The devotees of sun worship tended to be monotheistic. The cult stressed a personal experience of worship, though it excluded women. Originally, as a Zoroastrian demigod, Mithras personified justice and redemption. Later on, as part of a “mystery religion,” he came to embody all that was good which warred against evil. Mithraism had rituals that included a kind of baptism, a strong code of moral conduct, and the promise of an afterlife.

Christians, for their part, called Christ the “Sun of Righteousness” from the prophecy of the Resurrection in Malachi 4:2-3: “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things, says the Lord Almighty.”

(This article continues here: catholic.com/thisrock/1993/9312fea1.asp )


#8

thanks for the info folks! :thumbsup:


#9

Here’s one more for you:

**Celebrating the Birth of the Son
The Truth About Christmas **
cathinsight.com/apologetics/adventism/christmas.htm


#10

The Christmas as Paganism charge is an anti-Catholic/Christian red herring.

Christmas is not pagan…unless one believes that pagans were celebrating the birth of Christ. (Same for Easter.)

As part of its divine mission and teaching authority, the Church has full authority to develop a liturgical calendar as an aid in teaching, etc. No power this side of Heaven can challenge it.


#11

Several ways 12/25 was calculated as the date for Christmas in the mid fourth century. Remember that Christianity had been an underground religion until the fourth century. It was recognized that they didn’t know the day, but needed a day for the mass because Epiphany was being overloaded.
Considering the birth to be 9 months after Easter has been mentioned. Figuring the date from Zachary’s temple service, father of John the Baptist, also comes to 12/25; but from when that service would have been in the fourth century. Epiphany was already well established and setting His birth 12 days before also leads to 12/25 (I forget why 12 days). All three methods come to 12/25, not to imply that Jesus was born on 12/25; all also admit that they don’t know.

December 25 is near, but well after, the winter solstice. Also, pagans celebrate births, Christians deaths. That is hopefully the order we progress in, from pagan to Christian.
Saturnalia was a huge Roman pagan festival of the solstice; got started a bit early. It was held from 12/17-12/23. Figuring 12/24, Christmas Eve, to be the start of the Christian festival, Christmas - Epiphany (12 days of Christmas); 12/25 is as comfortably after the pagan as could be set, while still drawing in pagans not ready to stop celebrating. The desired progression.

I would allow, however, that capitalists have co-opted Christmas as their prime pagan holiday. Instead of Season’s Greetings, I wish my friends Advent Greetings.


#12

okay, this is good info, too…thank you! :slight_smile:


#13

In RCIA, our pastor said that many people claim we put Christ’s birthday over a pagan holiday to help them convert. He said that even if this was true, so what? I have to agree. It is a good and wholesome thing to celebrate the day our Lord came into the world to save us. The day the Church picked to celebrate it on doesn’t take that away.


#14

**The living God of the Universe does not need the help of a pagan holiday to call His elect.

Joh 6: 39
And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it (on) the last day.
40
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him (on) the last day

**


#15

No one said God needs anything. He didn’t need to come to earth as a man and die so that we might have salvation, either. So, the question is not what God needs to do. Secondly, the triumph of the feast of Christ’s birth over the pagan holiday should be sheer joy to any Christian.

Just a note on the larger picture, you’re going to have a hard time selling your Puritanism to Catholics. We celebrate the feast of Christ’s birth with the same joy that Christians, for more than a millenium before Puritanism was invented, would have had.

The bishops of Rome in the fourth century adopted the date of December 25 as the Feast of the Nativity. Persuaded by John Chrysostom, the Eastern Church joined in, and the universal quality of the celebration for the family of the Church was maintained until the Reformation.

In the first few centuries, when pagan temples were knocked down and replaced by Catholic basilicas, when pagan holidays days were transformed into memorials to the martyrs, saints, and the Lord, there was no misconception about what was taking place. It was an absolute triumph of the Church over paganism. The winter solstice was the astronomical event, written into God’s creation as well as the calendar, used to commemorate Christ’s coming as “The Light of the World.”

This was not going be a half-hearted holiday. Happiness can’t be quantified or rationed. The birth of Christ was bound to be marked with excess because of the very spontaneous nature of exuberance.

And please don’t try to argue that celebration and joy during the feast of the birth of Christ is sinful (as I have seen you do in other threads), for being joyful is not condemned in the Bible:

When the Ark of the Covenant comes home, King David dances and jumps, leaping well outside the bounds of modesty (2 Sam.12-23).

When the woman in Bethany runs up to Jesus she exuberantly breaks the alabaster jar and pours all the ointment onto him (Matt. 26:6-13).

When the wedding guests at Cana drink the place dry, Jesus provides them more wine–to their joy (John 2:1-10).

catholic.com/thisrock/1991/9112cust.asp


#16

Read this post:

sda2rc.blogspot.com/2006/12/why-dec-25-different-view.html

It links to an article by William Tighe that disputes any connection between the celebration of Christmas and paganism. In fact, Tighe believes that the early Christian celebration of December 25 influenced paganism!


#17

Thank you! I’ve been trying to locate this article after first reading it a few years ago.


#18

**This is a contentious statement, even within the Catholic Church.

“Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts; Origen, . . . asserts . . . that in the Scriptures sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthday; Arnobius can still ridicule the “birthdays” of the gods.”

newadvent.org/cathen/03724b.htm

After reading this link myself, I’ve a couple questions to ask:

Why didn’t early church fathers such as Irenaeus, Tertullian and Origen feel a need to celebrate the birthday of Christ?

What was significant about the mid-three hundreds that the Church felt it was necessary to take the pagan festivals that were celebrated long before the birth of Christ and amalgamate Christ into it?**


#19

**
It is not unreasonable to assume that the implication of this statement is that God uses pagan holidays to help convert sinners. To which I replied to the contrary.

I would rephrase this, ‘the triumph of Christ’s death and resurrection over any pagan holiday should be sheer joy to any Christian’.**

**Your need to put a label on me notwithstanding, I am not ashame to preach the gospel in season or out of season.

2Tim 4:2
preach the word; be ready in season {and} out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.**


#20

**First of all, all Christmas paraphernalia has a pagan origin.

Now, let’s look at Professor Tighe’s claim:**

“Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Son” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance.”

**
No where does he site any historical record of this taking place. In fact, it wasn’t until 313 that Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal. Up until then, worship was restricted to underground meetings. Therefore, to suggest that Roman Christians had any political influence over the Roman Empire is false.
**
"(Aurelian) led an empire that appeared to be collapsing in the face of internal unrest, rebellions in the provinces, economic decay, and repeated attacks from German tribes to the north and the Persian Empire to the east.

In creating the new feast (Mithraism), he intended the beginning of the lengthening of the daylight, and the arresting of the lengthening of darkness, on December 25th to be a symbol of the hoped-for “rebirth,” or perpetual rejuvenation, of the Roman Empire, resulting from the maintenance of the worship of the gods whose tutelage (the Romans thought) had brought Rome to greatness and world-rule. If it co-opted the Christian celebration, so much the better."**

I find it funny that a Catholic is attempting to turn the tables on Protestants by saying Aurelian was using Mitra to appease the barbarians. Where as, the Protestants have claimed that Constantine used Christ to appease the barbarians. Both claims have one thing in common.

Politics was the motivation behind creating a secular holiday so as everyone can hold hands and get along and don’t cause trouble for the empire.**


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