PAGAN ORIGINS OF CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS
It is so surprising and eye opening to discover that there are pagan backgrounds to some of our Christmas traditions. Here are a few of the main ones:
CHRISTMAS TREES: One of the symbols of life found in the pagan celebration of saturnalia was the use of evergreens. These plants, which stayed green all year long, were often used in different cultures as symbols of life and rebirth. They were sometimes decorated as a form of worship in varied cultures in religious ceremonies dealing with fertility.
MISTLETOE: The Celts believed that the plant, which is a parasite that lives on trees, contained the soul of the tree on which it lived. Druid priests would cut it up and distribute it to the people who would place the cuttings over the doorways of their homes. This was supposed to protect the dwellers from various forms of evil.
YULE LOG: The Yule Log was taken from ancient sun worship rituals. Yule Logs were supposed to be cut from red oak trees and burned all of Christmas Eve and into Christmas Day. It was unlucky to buy your own log and lucky ones usually came from your neighbor’s woodpile. It was also customary to light the new log with a scrap of last year's log. The scrap was kept under the homeowners’ bed to protect the home from fire and lightning during the next year.
HOLLY: In Northern Europe, Christmas occurred during the middle of winter, when ghosts and demons could be heard howling in the winter winds. Boughs of holly, believed to have magical powers since they remained green through the harsh winter, were often placed over the doors of homes to drive evil away.
CHRISTMAS WREATH: In ancient Rome, people used decorative wreaths as a sign of victory. The origins of the Advent wreath are found in the folk practices of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples who, during the cold December darkness of Eastern Europe, gathered wreaths of evergreen and lighted fires as signs of hope in a coming spring and renewed light.
So how should Christians respond to these various pagan traditions of Christmas? Some believers will choose to avoid falling into the trappings of Christmas, which would irk their conscience. (Rom 14:23) But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. Other Christians will fall prey to the crass commercialism of the holiday and need the exhortation of Scripture: (1 John 2:15) Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For others, Christmas is a welcome and warm tradition that includes family, friends, and faith at a special time of year. (1 Cor 10:31) Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. It’s up to you. Will Christmas at your house be pagan or praising?