This claim is currently doing the rounds on social media. If you are a Christian, what should we think about this? How should we respond? Are they right? What does this mean for Christmas? For our faith in Christ? It can be tempting to try to justify the Christian basis of Christmas and defend it as a Christian festival. Before you do that, remember a few things:
Firstly: When someone makes a claim, the burden of proof falls on THEM to justify it. It is not for you to show or prove that Christmas is a Christian festival, it is on them to show it ISN’T. So, try hard not to make a ‘counter claim’, instead hold their toes to the fire by insisting they explain and prove their claim. Don’t permit sweeping statements like ‘everybody knows’ either. Hold them to the same burdens of evidence they always insist Christians adhere to. How do they know this? What evidence do they have? How old is the evidence? How can they be sure that it hasn’t been changed over the years and not developed as ‘legend’. In any event even if evidence does exist, when it comes from pagan sources, it will be biased and therefore can’t be trusted. What ‘non pagan’ evidence do they have for this claim (etc etc)?
Secondly: The ELEMENTS of the Christian celebrations are not pagan. The visits of the angels, the shepherds, the magi, the Roman Census, the journey to Bethlehem, Mary, Joseph, Jesus, Herod killing all the babies. All these images and more are not pagan. Every one of them comes straight from the gospels of Luke and Matthew which along with the gospels of Mark and John record the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ not a pagan saviour. The claim appears to be that Christians have somehow ‘stolen’ this festival from pagans. So challenge this: “really? which pagan saviour of the world was born of a virgin in Bethlehem?”; “oh really? I never knew pagans had angels declaring the birth of a child to shepherds!” Don’t forget that when we ‘give a reason for the faith we have’ we are to do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15), so be careful with how you present and articulate this.
Thirdly: Even if there was a pagan festival of some sort in the middle of winter (which seems plausible), the elements of the Christian account of the birth of Jesus are not pagan, they are Christian. We may celebrate this event in December at the same time as a pagan celebration, but we are celebrating Christ who came to redeem the world. In many ways, it makes perfect sense that Christians would do this. Imagine you are a pagan who has celebrated ‘Yuletide’ all your life. You become a Christian and you know that trying to appease evil spirits by offering (often human) sacrifices is no longer appropriate for you. What do you do? You turn from your pagan practices and instead you worship the Lord who saved you. You are not following a pagan festival, you are merely celebrating the birth of your saviour at the same time. So you are not capitulating by accepting that Christians started to celebrate the birth of a baby at the same time their neighbours were sacrificing theirs. That does not in any way negate the essential Christian message of hope and peace and salvation for mankind.
Finally: And? What point are they actually making? What are they trying to achieve? There is often an ideological prejudice and objective embedded in the claim. People who are antagonistic towards the gospel and the Christian faith frequently try to find things to discredit and disprove it. They are opposed to Christianity in all its forms, and are committed to seeing its influence reduced in our society. They are unlikely to argue for the reinstatement of child sacrifice to the “sun God” to help people survive the dark days of winter, so they clearly have some kind of agenda. What is it? Ask them. Press them.
Oh, and don’t forget. This argument is likely to raise its head again in late spring when we come to the time of year that we remember and celebrate Jesus’ crucifixion, death and resurrection (Easter). The same basic thoughts apply, when someone makes a claim against your faith, don’t jump to justifying it, they have the burden of proof. Not you.
Our response in a nutshell could be …
- Prove it. But even if you can:
- That doesn’t mean that what I am doing is pagan.
- Isn’t it great that Christ redeems even the most pagan of cultures?
- And finally … your point is?