Thank the Pagans for Christmas

When I was young I remember that the Christmas season didn’t begin until after Thanksgiving. Now it seems that it begins right after Halloween. In fact, this year they are having sales on Thanksgiving Day. It’s like Thanksgiving Day is lost in the rush for the Christmas sales. We are a culture of consumerism. Christmas is nothing more than an excuse to indulge our desire for more.

It is a documented historical fact that Jesus is not the reason for the season. The season existed long before the birth of Christ. It is actually a combination of several pagan festivals. The first was the Saturnalia, which was celebrated from December 17th through the 24th. The second was the Brumalia, which was celebrated on December 25th. And third was the feast of the birth of Sol, which was also celebrated on December 25th.

Concerning the relationship between Christmas and the Saturnalia, Webster’s New International Dictionary tells us that, “The feasting and exchange of gifts at Christmas are probably to be traced to this Roman festival.” After explaining that many of our “Christmas customs have their roots in Pagan ceremonies,” Christina Hole, in her book Christmas and Its Custom, points out that during the Saturnalia, “candles and green wreaths were given as presents.” During the week of feasting, all businesses, schools, and law courts were closed. Slaves could talk back to their masters and general license prevailed.

The Brumalia was a festival held at the winter solstice. According to Webster’s New International Dictionary, “Some features of the celebration of Christmas seem to have originated in this festival.” The Science Digest (Jan. 1939) states that, “Christmas comes on December 25th because ancient Pagans had a midwinter feast to celebrate the beginning of the sun’s return northward, after the short days and discouraging cold. Christianity, supplanting Paganism, made the transition easier by setting the date of the midwinter feast as the traditional date of Christ’s birth. The connection between Christmas and the midwinter solstice is rather generally accepted. Even the most orthodox churchmen now state that there is no dependable record or tradition exactly dating the great event in Bethlehem and that the Christmas celebration did not begin until about three centuries after Christ.” In The Concise Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, O. G. Oliver, Jr. states that, “Dec. 25 eventually became the officially recognized date because it coincided with the pagan festivals celebrating Saturnalia and the winter solstice.” And, to be blunt, “The Pagan Saturnalia and Brumlia were too deeply entrenched in popular custom to be set aside by Christian influence.”

What made this one of the greatest times of the year was a birthday. December 25th was the birthday of a Pagan god long before anyone ever heard of Jesus Christ. In a culture steeped in the worship of solar gods, it is only logical that the Sun should be regarded as one of the greatest gods. Sol is the Roman name for this Sun god. As Christina Hole explains, the celebration of the Deis Natalis Invicti Solis, that is, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun, was a most “sacred day for thousands of people throughout the Roman Empire.” So much so that, according to Webster’s New International Dictionary, in A.D. 274 the Roman emperor decreed December 25th as “the birthday of the unconquered sun.” Historian Will Durant says that “Christmas was originally the Egyptian feast of the Birth of the Sun – i.e., the winter solstice, when, the holy orb ‘moved’ north, and the days began to lengthen. The Egyptians represented the new-born sun by the image of an infant, which the priests brought out and exhibited to the worshippers.”

Mithras, according to The Random House Basic Everyday Encyclopedia, was “a deity of the Persian pantheon, chief assistant of Ahura Mazda in his struggle vs the powers of darkness. M[ithras] in the Zenda-vesta as the god of light; with the conquest of Assyria and Babylonia he became the sun god.” Mithraism was a mystery religion based upon his cult. It spread rapidly through the unified Roman World. It was a serious rival of Christianity in the last days of Paganism. Anthropologist Sir James Frazer, in his book The Golden Bough, notes that, “Indeed the issue of the conflict between the two faiths appears for a time to have hung in the balance. An instructive relic of the long struggle is preserved in our festival of Christmas, which the Church seems to have borrowed directly from its heathen rival.”

Christina Hole explains that it became “the policy of the early Church to transform Pagan festivals wherever possible instead of trying to abolish them, and by giving ancient practices a Christian significance, to purify and preserve for the new faith whatever was innocent and deeply loved in the old.” The result was, according to Compton’s Encyclopedia, “as in other instances where Pagan festivals were substituted for Christian, many of the pre-Christian customs were taken over.” So, in the words of the Encyclopedia International, “the customs continued, but with a Christian meaning imparted to them.” The Concise Evangelical Dictionary admits that, “The church thereby offered the people a Christian alternative to Pagan festivities and reinterpreted many of their symbols and actions. For example, Malachi’s picture of Jesus Christ as the ‘Sun of Righteousness’ (4:2) replaced the Sun god, Sol Invictus.”

So let’s stop this nonsense that Jesus is the reason for the season – he’s not.

  • Source: Jay N. Forrest. From Christ to Buddha: Reflections on Christianity, Buddhism, and Spirituality. Albuquerque, NM: Spiritual Naturalist Press, 2017.