Why Christmas?


bill-wilson-2012As we gather together with family and friends on Christmas day, there will be some who say it is a pagan holiday, others who want to honor the Lord, and still others who just want an excuse to celebrate and enjoy. But do we really know what we are celebrating? According to various accounts of the origin of the Christmas holiday, Christmas coincides with the traditional celebration of the Roman commemoration of the pagan god Saturn, called Saturnalia, which began on December 17th. This festival lasted seven days until December 24th. On December 25th, the Romans celebrated the birthday of what they called the “unconquered sun.” December 25th also corresponds with the beginning of winter solstice.

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Pagans celebrated at a similar time a festival called “Yule,” which lasted from late December to January. Yule logs were made in the honor of Thor, the god of thunder. This festival consisted of 12 days of drinking, eating and partying. As Northern Europe became more and more Christian in the 900’s, the pagan celebrations and Christmas seemed to integrate. To this day, Scandinavian countries call Christmas “Yule.” Christmas appears to have been established when the Catholic church combined the pagan sun festivals with the birth of Jesus, justifying the integration that the rebirth of the sun was symbolic of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Protestants rejected Christmas during the reformation and the 1600’s. In fact, Pilgrim leader and governor of the Massachusetts colony William Bradford did not ban Christmas as history revisionists like to promote, but Bradford held that those who said it was against their consciences to work on Christmas should not be playing in the streets when others were going about the colony’s work. Early Protestants believed that no one knew the exact date of the birth of Jesus Christ. They also knew that the Catholic Church had celebrated Christmas during the same time of traditional pagan festivals. Out of favor in the late 1700’s, Christmas was revitalized in the 1840’s after Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” became popular.

It is likely that Christmas falls no where near the actual birth date of Jesus Christ. It is just like a strategy of satan to confuse people with a counterfeit so closely aligned with pagan festivals. But perhaps it is good and proper that Christians celebrate this day even if it is only the symbolic birth of Christ, who while He lived had no place to lay His head and in his death no one remembers his real birth date. For one day of the year at least, we are reminded of Him who the Apostle John described in John 1:9, “That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.” May the one true Light of the world shine from your heart on this day and every day.

By Bill Wilson