"Was it a pagan holiday? Is it still a pagan holiday, today?"
These are questions sincere believers ask every year around this time. To answer these questions requires an understanding of the ancient world, reading Scripture as it is simply written, and the desire to ask with integrity and then act with consistency.
Let's address the last one, first. Xmas!
There is no doubt that most nonbelievers leave Christ out of Christmas. Not knowing Him as Savoir and Lord makes it perfectly logical that they would. They are simply acting out of what they are. It is also true that some, perhaps many, believers get caught up in the secular idea of Christmas and miss the opportunity to teach their children about the true "reason for the season!" But, to react to the word, "Xmas," as if it was sacrilege is to misunderstand history.
X is the Greek letter “chi,” the initial letter in the word Χριστός.
Χριστός means “Christ.”
X has been an acceptable representation of the word “Christ” for hundreds of years. The first recorded use of this abbreviation was in the mid 1500s, long before it was used in flashy advertising announcing a "Xmas Sale."
This device is known as a Christogram. The "mas" in Xmas is the Old English word for “mass.” In the same way, the dignified terms Xpian and Xtian have been used in place of the word “Christian” for hundreds of years before our modern day. As with all things in Christ, it ultimately comes down to the heart motivation in the person using the term. But simply using the term "Xmas" doesn't actually remove Christ from Christmas like so many have come to believe.
Something Could Be "Fishy" Here
If we are simply aware of Christian history we will realize the same thing occurred among the early believers in the use of a fish symbol. The believers were under regular persecution from Rome and often they had to go into hiding. They began using the symbol of a fish to guide other believers to safety. But why a fish? We might say it's because Jesus called us to be "fishers of men" and this could be a valid reason, but not the original reason.
By taking the first letter of each word in the Greek phrase, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior,” we find it spells the Greek word for "fish"- ichthus. Again, history shows that the early Christians used the simple symbol of a fish to communicate with each other who they were and how to find a safe place.
Over the centuries, the fish symbol has come to be used in everything church art to bumper stickers and it means no disrespect to the Savoir whom it represents. In the same way, there’s a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect. So again, it comes down to the heart motivation of the one using it.
Christmas Trees and Decorations
The following verses are those which are typically used by those who feel we should not participant in this "pagan" ritual on December 25. Sadly, some sincere believers have completely missed the point of these passages and caused fear, confusion, and condemnation in other believers.
None of these verses speak about celebrating Christ's birth.
Using these verses to condemn Christmas trees is a sad twisting of Scripture. All of it speaks directly about idol worship and deliberate disobedience to the God of Israel. Trees were simply the easiest material they had to make into idols. Of course, when God made trees He declared they were good and Scripture often refers to trees as metaphors for God's people and everlasting life; from the Tree of Life in the Garden, to trees planted by "living waters," to the restored Tree of Life at end of Revelation.
A Common Argument - Modern Day Christmas is Commercialized and Materialistic:
This is no doubt true, but it doesn't have to be that way for us if our motives are right. Remember that Satan has twisted and perverted everything God made for good.
Just because the world distorts something does not make it evil for us.
If we avoid the distortions and use it as God intended or in a way that does not go contrary to God's character and holiness, then all things are for our good. A good illustration is the contrast of the beauty of sexual love within the bonds of marriage and the horrendous way sex, in any form, has been grossly perverted by the world.
Paul tells us, "To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted." (Titus 1:15 NIV)
Another Argument - Scripture Doesn't Authorize Celebrating Christmas:
This objection lacks integrity, consistency, or common sense in reading God's Word. We do many things today that the Scripture doesn't authorize or even mention. From using overheads or computers to project the words of our songs or sermon notes, to music instruments or sound systems since none are mentioned in the NT, or using different translations of the Bible since all they had were Hebrew and Greek scrolls, or buildings for church gatherings to keep us out of the heat or cold, or even birthday parties for family and friends. None of these things are mentioned in the Bible. However, they are not forbidden, either.
We can celebrate His birth now because there was tremendous celebration, both on Earth and in the heavens, at the actual birth of Christ!
December 25th, Really?
Of course, the history of humanity contains many ancient pagan celebrations. People have always looked for a greater power, a divine being because the true God put that hunger in the human heart. There is much historical evidence to show that Christ was born during the "winter," but the actual date is unknown. We do know December 25 was, in some places, a pagan celebration day. Rather than trying to merge the pagan with the holy, history shows that Christians actually took this date to declare to the lost that, instead of celebrating darkness without hope, they could embrace the Light that was born into the world to give an eternal hope!
Must I Throw Away My Calendar?
If we are going to give up any and all things that have their origin in old pagan ideas, then we have to start with discarding our calendar. Why? Because every day of the week and every month of the year was named after different so-called "gods" of the ancient world.
Sunday and Monday were related to the worship of the sun and the moon.
Tuesday stood for Tiw, the god of war.
Wednesday is derived from Woden, the chief god in Germanic mythology.
Thursday originally stood for the Germanic god of the sky or of thunder.
Friday comes from Fria, the goddess of love.
Saturday is from Saturnus, or Saturn.
But we don't even think about those things because we don't worship them.
Because of our freedom in Christ under grace, we are at liberty to use these words to measure time just like the rest of the world because we don't worship any of their "gods."
Our freedom in Him certainly gives us the right to celebrate Christmas, if we choose. (And our family does.) But the Bible does clearly warn us to never pass judgment on those who do celebrate Christmas, or in the reverse, be judged by those who don't.
Scripture does, however, set down principles which should affect the way we celebrate.
These principles warn and protect us from the distortions we often find in the world.
We would be truly wise to use this season as a time to teach our children to celebrate the amazing Gift and share Him with others. Since the word, "holiday," comes from the original words, "holy day," we should use every holiday tradition as teaching opportunities for our families. We might also want to respond in humility and gratitude when offered a "holiday greeting" even if the words chosen weren't to our exact personal preference.
Whether we celebrate or not, there is never a righteous reason for prideful judgments or arrogant arguments; only those words and actions that communicate love and devotion for others in whom Christ lives!
Mark Drake is an internationally known author, teacher and leader. He focuses on equipping leaders around the world in New Covenant Grace.