Is Christmas a pagan holiday? No, it’s a Christian holiday, a celebration of the birth of Christ! If that wasn’t what Christmas was about, our secular culture wouldn’t be so afraid of the name Christ-mas.
But didn’t Christmas start out as a pagan holiday? Probably not. There have been many pagan festivals around the winter solstice, including the feast of Saturnalia. In 274 AD, Emperor Aurelian chose December 25 as the birthdate of Sol Invictus, the Roman sun-god.
Prior to that in the early 200s, Hippolytus of Rome, in his commentary on the book of Daniel, tried to calculate the birth of Christ and mistakenly came up with December 25. This was long before Rome was Christianized or December 25 in particular was associated with any pagan festival.
It’s probably just a coincidence (or divinely providential) that a holiday celebrating the birth of Christ ended up on the same day as a festival celebrating the birth of the “Unconquerable Sun.” Just because pagan winter festivals are in close proximity with Christmas does not mean one caused the other. Correlation does not equal causation.
The winter solstice was once a celebration of darkness on the darkest day of the year. It has since become a celebration of light when Jesus came into the world.
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” John 1:9
“Again, Jesus spoke to them saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.'” John 8:12
But aren’t all these Christmas traditions a rip-off of former pagan customs? Some of them aren’t. Christmas carols are rich with biblical truth and have impacted the world over. Giving presents comes from the magi bringing gifts to the Savior, and also the gift of the Savior himself to mankind.
“And going into the house, [the wise men] saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” Matthew 2:11
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life.” John 3:16
The Christmas tree has roots in paganism (no pun intended). But so what? Redefining pagan symbols is in the Bible. In ancient Rome, Caesar rode on a white horse. In Revelation 19, Jesus returns on a white horse to show He’s greater than Caesar. So at Christmas, some formerly pagan symbols have been Christianized to celebrate Jesus is greater than darkness.
“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.” Revelation 19:11
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
The Bible says nothing about Christmas, but it does say not to argue about days (see Romans 14). Don’t look down on the person who celebrates, or the person who doesn’t. Let us agree that the advent of our Lord is worth celebrating every day, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), when we understand the text.