Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday? Separating Myth from Reality

The holiday season is a time when many of us gather with family and friends to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Amidst the joy and cheer, however, a perennial question tends to resurface: "Is Christmas really a Christian holiday or was it borrowed from pagan traditions?" 

Skeptics, atheists, and even some liberal theologians often assert that Christmas is nothing more than a repackaged pagan holiday. This notion has gained some traction in media and popular culture, but is it true? In this article, I will dig into the historical evidence to debunk the myth that Christmas is a pagan holiday.

The Popular Argument: A Pagan Rebrand

Skeptics often point to the Roman festival of Saturnalia or the feast of Sol Invictus, claiming that Christmas is merely a Christianized version of these pagan holidays. This theory has been popularized in various articles, documentaries, and social media posts. While it is a compelling narrative, it does not hold up to scholarly scrutiny.

The Timing Does Not Add Up

Saturnalia, dedicated to the Roman god Saturn, was indeed a winter festival. However, the festivities ended on December 23, not December 25. Moreover, the first known reference to December 25 as the date for the birth of Jesus appears in the Philocalian calendar, dated AD 354, which predates any recorded date for a Sol Invictus celebration on December 25.

The Origin of December 25 in the Christian Tradition

Early Christians chose 25 December based on theological, not pagan. According to the calculation hypothesis, early Christian scholars like Hippolytus and Julius Africanus calculated the date of Jesus' birth based on their understanding of the Jewish calendar and Biblical narratives. 

By their calculations, they determined that the Annunciation (when Mary was told that she would conceive Jesus) occurred on March 25, leading to the birth of Jesus nine months later, on December 25. The point here is not when the Annunciation occurred or when Christ was born, but December 25, whether through correct or incorrect calculations, has already been an established Christian tradition.

A Counter-Christian Move by the Romans?

If someone borrowed from anyone else, evidence suggests that the Roman Emperor Aurelian established the festival of Sol Invictus on December 25, 274 AD to rival the already existing Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus.

Misrepresentations in Media and by Skeptics

Unfortunately, the claim that Christmas is a ’stolen’ pagan holiday continues to be perpetuated by the media and skeptics, often as an attack on the legitimacy of Christian tradition. While it is valid to explore the origins of cultural practices, it is crucial that such investigations are based on accurate historical data rather than conjecture and misinformation.

Conclusion: A Christian Holiday, Through and Through

The weight of historical evidence strongly suggests that Christmas is a Christian celebration through and through, with its own unique history and theology. The suggestion that Christmas was ’stolen’ from pagan traditions seems to be more of a modern myth than a fact supported by historical evidence. 

So, as we celebrate this Christmas season, let us do so knowing that this cherished holiday has roots deeply embedded in Christian tradition, rather than in pagan soil. The reason for the season, it seems, is exactly as many Christians have claimed: a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Let us remember that when it comes to history, facts do matter, and they have a powerful way of uprooting popular yet unfounded myths. Merry Christmas! 

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