So comes our descent into the grand tradition of Christmas. The “holy” days or holidays as we know them. Full of culture, family, celebration, gifts, decorations, food, food, and more food. It’s a merry time, had by many. It brings out goodwill in the masses, a charity of heart to our neighbors. What could possibly be vile or evil in such a time as this? Indeed, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Messiah. Who came that we might have life and that to the full. (John 10:10)
What traditions within our celebration of Christmas were first observed within pagan festivals? Specifically, Saturnalia, Yule, and Egyptian beliefs. As well as similarity in the dates of the observance of the celebrations. Although, in the case of the Egyptian festivals, dates are not easily acquired because their calendar is, well, a wreck. Therefore in this instance, we will take the similarities of the festival and relate it the best we can. i do find it interesting that Satan is talked about as disguising himself as an angel of light, and each of these pagan traditions involves a sun god.
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” 1 Corinthians 11:13-15
In Ezekiel, we read a depiction of Satan and his desire to rise to the place of God. He wanted to be above all the angels. Yes, we can see that Satan is an egomaniac, and any worship of him that he can generate, even indirectly, is to him a win. It is probably one of the many reason’s, not that any are needed, for God’s decree that we are not to worship him like the nations worship their pagan false gods. We are not to intermix worship practices but are told to eliminate them from our lives completely.
So this week, let’s look at some of the history of these festivals and our observance of Christmas, and you can decide which is right and how best to honor God. After all, it is you that will have to stand before Him one day and give an account, ignorance will not be an excuse, at least not anymore. For instance, although the early church did not have a specific day to honor the birth of Christ, we have a general understanding that it was still significant in the history and telling of Jesus as we read in the Gospels of Mathew, Luke, and referenced in John. At some point in the first century around the time of Telesphorus, believed to be the second Bishop of Rome began a set-aside time to honor Jesus’ birth called, “The Nativity of our Lord and Saviour.” It’s worth noting that at this time, the Nativity, was recognized in September along with the Feast of Trumpets.
In fact, for 300 years the Nativity was celebrated on many days depending on where one was in the world. The recognition of December 25, as Jesus’ birthday, was a move by the Roman Emperor and self-proclaimed Bishop of Rome Constantine. His desire was unity among the Christians and the pagans, as well as perhaps making Christianity more palatable for the pagans to convert. Saturnalia was a celebration of the sun god. It was celebrated from December 17th through the 24th. Part of the celebration included lighting bonfires in honor of the sun and with the idea of helping it defeat the darkness. When the days would begin to get longer generally recognizable around the 23rd. Although this date could be as late as the 26th. Later in 274 A.D. under the Roman Emporer, Aurelian proclaimed the date as “Natalis Solis Invicti,” the festival of the birth of the invincible sun and set the date as December 25th. In 320 A.D., Pope Julius I specified the 25th of December as the official date of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Yule dates back to as early as the 4th century A.D. It would later become known as Christmastide. Yule was a 12-day festival that landed between mid-November and early January. Interesting to note that January 7th, which often ended Yule is for many the day they observe the Nativity or Christmas day to this day (a few exceptions observe the 6th). Coptic Orthodox located in Eygpt and the Middle East as well as Central and Eastern Europe. Although there are many reasons it is notable to say that during this time, two calendar systems were in use, the Julian calendar that pre-dates the Gregorian calendar, which is commonly observed today. What is Yule, well they were original celebrations of the Wild Hunt, the god Odin, and the pagan Anglo-Saxon Mōdraniht.
Again the Egyptians worshipped many gods, including a sun god. However, their calendar was so confusing they didn’t even know how it worked resetting it often. So i will only state here that as we look at the traditions of these festivals more in-depth and begin to recognize how the church co-opted many of the pagan practices in their Christmas celebrations we will see Egyptian influence.
Let me close this entry with this, i am not in any way discouraging the celebration of the birth of Jesus. It is clear that the early church remembered the Nativity. However, it is my goal to get us to think critically and honestly as we walk this narrow road together worshiping the One True God, as He desires, and not as the pagans do.
“. . . take care that you be not ensnared to follow them after they have been destroyed before you and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?–that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods . . .” Deuteronomy 12:30-31 (in part)
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You are loved,
One thought on “Paganism and the Church (part two)”
Ultimately it is the reason we celebrate that is important. Do we love enough to put Him first. Whatever the reason they chose for their celebration, we must choose for ourselves why and how we celebrate.
The actual date and time is second to praising Him and some of those ways is through church programs that help reinforce the story and miracle of his birth and resurrection. Gifts is just another way of recognizing His greatest gift. God has long used various people and events to glorify His name and His kingdom. Look at how we got our king James version of the bible.