I was happily living my Christmas Dream when one day I was told that Jesus was not born on December 25th and that I was celebrating the Pagan festival of Saturnalia.
Talk about ruining someone’s day!
But as a Christian, I had to investigate these claims. After all, I did not want to do anything that was contrary to my Christian faith. It took a couple of years of searching, and now I’m ready to share my thoughts on Christmas.
I’m hoping it will be of help to someone who may be struggling with the same dilemma, perhaps your family, friends or even your church group is accusing you of celebrating Saturnalia. Whichever, the case may be, the FUN Police are out in force, and they grow stronger every year. It’s time to kick them and Saturnalia to the curb.
If you believe Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and the Christmas Police, Christians are celebrating Sol Invictus the Unconquered Sun. Come Christmas and Easter, and suddenly, everyone cares about spiritual welfare and pagan practices. The rest of the year we can be as pagan as we like. By the way, it’s politically incorrect to call anyone a pagan for celebrating Christmas.
Now for the truth: There was a Pagan Temple, Sol Invictus, built by Emperor Aurelian (AD 270-275) Saturnalia was part of Sol Invictus worship. Since the ancients were primarily agrarian, they celebrated the Roman gods of agriculture during the Winter Solstice in December.
Experts differ in respect to the dates for Saturnalia celebrations. Some experts say December 17- 23, while others say December 21-25. Unlike Christmas, Saturnalia lasted many days (up to 7), and it culminated in Sigillaria which is the children’s Solstice festival. It was the Sigillaria date that was chosen to commemorate the birth of Jesus the Christ. When Jesus was on earth, He said many beautiful things about children including that their Angels see the face of the Father in Heaven and that Heaven itself belongs to the little children. It’s not surprising then that they chose this day to honour Him.
Christmas falls on this Winter Solstice; there’s no disputing that. As a matter of fact, all ancient festivals fell either on an Equinox or the Solstices. Christmas is an ancient festival, nearly 2000 years old and it replaced another ancient festival Saturnalia, which dates to Babylon. Yep, that Babylon! If you research long enough, you’ll find that everything dates to Babylon. It says in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecc. 1:9). Other festivals fell on times of sowing, harvesting, enthronement, etc., such as mentioned in the book of Psalms. All of them date back to Babylon as well.
We need to understand that the ancients lived very different lives to us. We take many things for granted: like planning a world trip in three years’ time; booking a cruise; buying a new house or starting a new career. The ancients had little confidence in their future; their focus was on a mundane day to day living. When to sow their crops, when to harvest, how to survive the long, cold winter and how to appease the gods. The gods were temperamental beings back then, easily offended and quick to anger. They could even turn off the sun if they so desired, leaving the subjugated humans to wallow in the darkness.
Constantine gets the blame for Christmas being on December 25th. Constantine gets the blame for a lot of things, if the truth is known. In reality, he played only minor roles in the decisions making processes of the Church. It is true though that Saturnalia was abandoned by most during the time of Constantine (AD 312-337), and December 25th was established as a date to celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. By now the Roman Empire had been Christianized, and I say that with some pride — fancy that? It took Christianity to bring down the mightiest empire that ever was. Kudos to us for kicking Roman butt.
Although, this is not the first mention of celebrating Jesus’s birth, per Steven Ware (Prof. of Historical Theology; Chronology; Paschal Calendar and Historical Foundations of the Christian Faith) who has found evidence of Christmas and other festivities in the early Church before Aurelian’s Sol Invictus (Ware, 2013). Documents such as the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles indicate such celebrations although they were more somber in nature and often celebrated with fasting rather than feasting. Furthermore, Aurelian persecuted Christians and was, therefore, their enemy, hard to imagine they would’ve been keen to worship in his temple. And, Constantine repressed Sol Invictus, but who cares about such facts when connecting the dots between Christianity and Paganism.
It’s difficult for us to understand the reasoning behind decisions made over 1700 years ago, but it had a lot to do with unifying the Christian Empire. I’m not saying that all the decisions made then were correct, but I believe most people who celebrated Christmas then and now celebrate it not as a pagan festival but rather to commemorate the birth and life of Jesus Christ.
Christmas can only be a pagan festival if you celebrate it as the Pagans did. Avoid sun worship, sacrificing children, gorging, drunkenness, gambling and frivolous nudity and it’s not a pagan festival anymore, it’s that simple. Christmas has been unnecessarily singled out as pagan festival, while at the same time other Abrahamic festivals that also date back to Babylon as celebrated as Holy. Ultimately it must be what’s in your heart. If you chose to set aside a day to celebrate the birth of Jesus with family and friends; eat nice food, drink wine, give gifts and sing carols, who’s to say that is Pagan.
© Cheryl Mason (2016)
Myers, Jeremy. Christian Redemption: Why Christians Should Celebrate A Pagan Holiday. 1st ed., 2012.
Schmitz, Heinz, ed. The Dark History Of Christmas: The Pagan Origin Of Our Winter Festival. 1st ed., n.d.
Small, Maria. The Forgotten History Of Christmas. 1st ed., 2016.
The Holy Bible. 1st ed. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1982.
Ware, Steven L. When Was Jesus Really Born?. 1st ed. St.Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2013.