Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas: The Uncomfortable Alliance with Ancient Pagan Gods

Christians all over the globe celebrate Christmas. Most celebrate with great joy and anticipation, but there are some who struggle with the origins, and the activities of the season.

Fundamentalist Christians from Pentecostal and non-Charismatic backgrounds look to the history of this holiday, and consider its Pagan origins. They consider the ongoing practices of Christmas and wonder which ones have their source in Pagan worship.

Meanwhile they often continue to purchase gifts, decorate their Christmas Trees, and tell their children stories of an old white bearded gentleman magically flying around the globe, and sneaking down chimneys each December 24th to give gifts.

Many of these same people believe that the origins of the celebration of the birth of the Son of God stem from the attempt to reinvent the Roman Pagan festival Saturnalia during the time the Emperors and Popes were Christianizing Western culture. Saturnalia commemorated the birth of the sun.

Further evidences of the pagan influence are feared in evergreen trees, wreaths, and caroling in their connection to frightening away evil spirits, commemorating the Pagan wheel of the year, and a celebration in fertility rites respectively.

None of these Pagan connections are solidly proven in history. The origins are shrouded in the same dark cloak of unknowing as the uncomfortable fears which they generate. So it seems to me that for a religion which prides itself in bringing new birth to individuals, and redeeming culture, that even a celebration once possibly having Pagan origins now bearing a Christian message is a statement of its adaptive, and redemptive power. The joy of Christmas giving illustrates God's giving of salvation in the birth of the Messiah, and is evidence that whatever Pagan beginnings Christmas had, they are long lost to most of our culture in the message of this Christian Gospel.

Not all the followers of the Bethlehem born Son of God feel this way, and instead uncomfortably wonder if they might be overly compromising their faith with alliances to ancient Pagan gods.

Of course, as capitalism continues to run a greedy course in the human heart, we all uncomfortably wonder if every redemptive message is getting lost in a bustle of commercialism, but that readjustment challenges Pagan and Christian alike.

I was asked to write this short piece by my goodliest buddy Mike (aka Cern) for the soon coming website --> Tapestry of Faiths


Anonymous said...

Cool stuff Dude. Our next trick is to get Tapestry of Faiths up and running. :)



Pastor Phil said...

We are awaiting.

I'm looking forward to what things you have in store for the site.

Anonymous said...

Well they're talking about launching in January now. Deadlines were probably a bit vague and I reckon we've missed the Christmas season. :( Oh well, hopefully future editions will be tighter on deadline. :)



Steve Hayes said...

I thourt the Saturnalia commemorated Saturn!

Saturn (mythology), in Roman mythology, ancient god of agriculture. In later legends he was identified with the Greek god Cronus, who, after having been dethroned by his son Zeus (in Roman mythology, Jupiter), fled to Italy, where he ruled during the Golden Age, a time of perfect peace and happiness. Beginning on December 17 of each year, during the festival known as the Saturnalia, the Golden Age was restored for seven days. All business stopped and executions and military operations were postponed. It was a period of goodwill, devoted to banquets and the exchange of visits and gifts. A special feature of the festival was the freedom given to slaves, who during this time had first place at the family table and were served by their masters.
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

But while some Christmas customs may be of pagan origin, the celebration of the Nativity of Christ is not.

Of course the biggest pagan custom of all is the hijacking of the feast as a fesival of Mammon. But for the rest, did not he who came not to destroy the law and the prophets but to fulfil them not fulfil genuine religious longings of people, no matter what their origin?

Pastor Phil said...

Saturnalia (Dec 17th) was indeed a celebration of Saturn the god of sowing/farming. This feast appears to have been so popular that it extended to a longer period - perhaps a week, and merged with other festivals at the same time: Opalia - the festival commemorating Saturns wife (Dec. 19th), and Sol Invictus - the unconquered sun. (Dec. 23rd, or 25th)

So yes, you are right, and my definition was a simplification of the season of Roman Pagan festivals.

The fulfillment of genuine longings is indeed the heart of the Gospel, and this is wonderful adaptive power of the Gospel. It conquers not by force, but by love it conquers the heart through fulfillment of the deepest longings. In this way all culture can be redefined - in this case as the Sun of righteousness who rises with healing in his wings.

Sally said...

Thanks Phil- good stuff.... I'm glad you didn't over complicate it!

Pastor Phil said...

Merry Christmas Sally!

Shiloh Guy said...

Good common sense! I keep saying, I don't care if Christendom hijacked pagan holidays or not! That's what we're here to do! Let's keep hijacking pagan things and lay them at the feet of the King of kings. We have yet to see what he may make of them!

Dave Moorhead

Pastor Phil said...

Christianity is an adaptive, and transforming faith system. We must face the fact that the late coming of Jesus into human history makes our religion a revolting religion. We are revolting against the previous systems which have set people in bondage.

Interestingly enough, Jesus revolted against those whose beliefs were closest to His - The Pharisees, and not those who were living in Pagan systems, or completely dispassionate to God. That thought challenges me regularly, and causes me to revolt against myself sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Im glad I read this, I was wondering about the Pagan roots of our Christmas. I love how you equate our faith as adapting and redemptive. Yes, thats the power of what Jesus can do in a broken life!