Sunday, December 24, 2006

No Pagans Here

Many Christians these days make a scene about boycotting Christmas. That's their choice but I'd like to humbly offer a rebuttal to the notion that all the Christmas symbols (trees, mistletoe, Santa Claus, gift-giving) and, most notably, the date we use for Christmas are nothing but an acceptance of paganism with which no "real" Christian should agree. I don't accept that. Here's why ...

First, what's wrong with stealing stuff from the pagans? Before I go any further with this, please hear me out. I know that probably sounds flippant but I don't mean it that way at all. Not to mention, I don't accept it. But here's the thing -- if we co-opt some formerly pagan practices and use them to celebrate our holiday, I don't see a problem with that. The pagan connections have long since disappeared. I, and my family, have never even considered their pagan roots (if indeed they even have any). They have always, and will always, be Christian images, symbols and practices to us. We associate them with the incarnation of Christ and celebrate that fact in our home. We've never considered otherwise. So please don't accuse me of capitulating to paganism. That's not what I do.

Besides, in keeping with the often-invoked Great Commission, and with Paul's exhortation to "be all things to all men," I don't see a problem with using those pagan symbols to attract pagans, then redefining them in Christian ways. In this way, the pagans are redirected from their journey down the wrong path and onto the path to the real Truth. I think that's a good thing.

Second -- and this applies mainly to the date we use to celebrate Christmas -- who says it has pagan roots?! Many people claim that Christianity uses December 25th as the date because we have caved to the Sun worshippers who give spiritual significance to the Winter Solstice. Not so. For starters, the Winter Solstice occurs on December 21st. But that's just the beginning.
Additionally, there are very distinct Christian-based reasons for selecting December 25th as the date of Christ's birth. For an excellent analysis of those reasons, please read William J. Tighe's, Calculating Christmas. It is a fascinating article that chronicles the origin of the date. I offer a brief summary here:

  • There was a common belief called the Integral Age of the great Jewish prophets that claimed they were born, or conceived, on the same day they died.
  • "Modern scholars agree that the death of Christ could have taken place only in A.D. 30 or 33, as those two are the only years of that time when the eve of Passover could have fallen on a Friday, the possibilities being either 7 April 30 or 3 April 33."
  • By the time of Tertullian the Western church had concluded that he died on Friday, 25 March 29. In keeping with the Integral Age theory, Christ's conception would be the same date -- putting his birth 9 months later -- on December 25
  • The Eastern Church, for a different set of reasons (and with a different set of calendars), concluded that Good Friday was actually April 6. Using parallel reasoning, the Eastern church began celebrating Christ's birth on January 6th -- and still do today.

As shown above, calendar differences necessitate that these dates are probably not correct. But that is not the point. The point is that the date for Christ's birth was not adopted from pagan sources. It was the early church's best effort to get it right. It was a carefully calculated, conscientious decision, based on Jewish tradition that led to the dates we use today.

So I won't accept the pagan accusations or the scorn of those who try to put them on me. My family will celebrate Christmas on December 25th like we always do. We do so because we accept the historicity of the incarnation and the reality of the salvation it brings us all. We hope you'll do the same.

Merry Christmas!

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