I’ve written about this every year, but I still get emails about it. (In June, I got a message from someone who was very upset about my position on this.) People have very strong feelings about this one, though I’m not sure why.
As a student of medieval history, I’ve been in a position to examine the history of Christmas and I found no link to anything “pagan.” Let’s set the record straight:
- There are no pre-Christian holidays that involve decorating fir trees, a cappella caroling, Santa Claus delivering toys through a chimney, wassail, The Island of Misfit Toys, Advent candles, egg nog, the ghost of Christmas past, candlelight services, or most of the things we do during the holiday season.
- The religious meaning of Christmas is quite unique. Pre-Christian holidays did not tell of the incarnation of an immaterial, monotheistic deity arriving on earth to bring redemption to mankind. The wise men, the manger scene, the annunciation, and the rest of the Christmas story is peculiar to Christianity and did not come from a pre-existing story.
- The early church celebrated Christmas at different times of the year around the world – sometimes more than once a year. The tradition took off without any adherence to the calendar, so any supposed correlation to a pagan holiday in December is meaningless.
- It was eventually decided that the church should pick one day to all celebrate Christmas at the same time, and Dec. 25th was chosen because of a tradition that said Jesus was born on that day. (Obviously, we don’t know exactly when Jesus was born.)
- Dec. 25th happens to be a day that Romans claimed was the birthday of “Sol Invictus,” the sun god. However, there’s no evidence of a link between these two holidays other than a calendar date – the church documented their decision to make Dec. 25 Christmas, and Sol Invictus is never mentioned. In fact, it’s unclear if anyone in Rome actually celebrated Sol’s birthday.
- Some people will tell you that Christmas comes from the tradition of the Winter Solstice. Of course, Christmas doesn’t ever fall on the Solstice, and the two days have nothing in common.
- The Feast of Saturnalia has also been offered as a possible origin of Christmas. This feast never fell on Dec. 25, and it involved drinking, gambling, and sacrifices. To be frank, it had nothing in common with the church’s Christmas celebrations.
On a more personal note, it’s very immature to criticize religion in this manner. I would certainly never look for reasons to insult another person’s faith, because I believe it’s right to respect people’s traditions – even if I don’t agree with them. It’s time for peace, charity, love, and all of those wonderful things that we do at Christmas, and trying to find fault with a major religion is a good way to miss the point.
Christmas is unique, so stop being such a Scrooge and just enjoy it.