Christmas Traditions—Is Jesus Really The Reason For The Season?

Posted: December 15, 2015 in Christian Living, Holidays
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Many of us get more of our theology from greeting cards, TV specials and movies than we do from studying the Bible. And we do ourselves (and God) a great disservice when we follow traditions of men rather than the truth of God’s Word. Take for example, some of the traditions of Christmas:

Most of the customs, lore, symbols, and rituals associated with Christmas are actually linked to the Winter Solstice celebrations of ancient pagan cultures. While Christian beliefs are interwoven with contemporary observances of this holiday time, its pagan nature is still strong and apparent. Simply by giving spiritual focus to existing pagan holiday customs does not change that.

The History of Christmas Carols

Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago, but these were not Christmas Carols. They were pagan songs, sung at the Winter Solstice celebrations as people danced around stone circles. The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, usually taking place around the 22nd of December. The word Carol actually means “dance” or “a song of praise”. But who were these people praising?

When the Puritans came to power in England in 1647, the celebration of Christmas and singing carols was stopped because of its pagan roots. However, the carols survived as people still sang them in secret. Carols remained mainly unsung until Victorian times, when two men named William Sandys and Davis Gilbert collected lots of old Christmas music from villages in England.

Just like today, most carols from this time period are untrue stories, very loosely based on the Christmas story. One carol like this is ‘The First Noel’. Many believe it is based on Luke 2:8-14 when angels announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds watching over their flock near Bethlehem. The song as it is sung today first appeared in William B. Sandys’s 1833 volume, Christmastide: Its History, Festivities And Carols.

Today we sing that the First Noel was sung “to certain poor shepherds.” Sandys’s version had “three poor shepherds.” In a note, Sandys explains: According to some legends, the number [of shepherds] was four, called Misael, Achael, Cyriacus, and Stephanus, and these, with the names of  three Kings, were used as a charm to cure the biting of serpents, and other venomous reptiles and beasts.

Most of us should already know that Christmas almost certainly did not come “on a cold winter’s night”.  Because the shepherds would not have been out in the fields at night during the cold season of December. Also, it seems from Matthew’s Gospel account that no one had paid much attention to the Star of Bethlehem other than the Magi. (Median priests skilled in astronomy and astrology) Not to mention that I doubt that King Herod would be upset because of only three men who made inquiries as to where they could find the one born king of the Jews!

Other Traditions

Today, many adorn their homes with various herbs, pinecones and colors during Christmastime. Many of these have pagan symbolism. You may not know that Druidic holiday colors are red, green, and white.

Pagans who observe the Winter Solstice suggest that:

  • Family members join together to make or purchase an evergreen wreath with holiday herbs in it and then place it on your front door to symbolize the continuity of life and the wheel of the year.
  • It is traditional during the Winter Solstice to place holly, ivy, evergreen boughs, and pine cones around your home, especially in areas where socializing takes place.
  • Hanging a sprig of mistletoe above a major threshold is used as a charm for good luck throughout the year.
  • If you choose to have a living or a harvested evergreen tree as part of your holiday decorations, call it a Solstice tree and decorate it with Pagan symbols.
  • Decorate the inside and/or outside of your home with electric colored lights. Because of the popularity of five pointed stars as holiday symbols, this is a good time to display a pentagram of blue or white lights.

Santa Claus

Today’s Santa is a folk figure with multicultural roots. He embodies characteristics of Saturn (Roman agricultural god), Cronos (Greek god, also known as Father Time), the Holly King (Celtic god of the dying year), Father Ice/Grandfather Frost (Russian winter god), Thor (Norse sky god who rides the sky in a chariot drawn by goats), Odin/Wotan (Scandinavian/Teutonic All-Father who rides the sky on an eight-legged horse), Frey (Norse fertility god), and the Tomte (a Norse Land Spirit known for giving gifts to children at this time of year). Santa’s reindeer can also be viewed as a form of Herne, the Celtic Horned God.

I am not naive enough to think that anyone will stop singing Christmas carols or stop practicing any of their other Christmas traditions. They have been around for thousands of years and will probably continue until Jesus returns. I only pray that more Christians will reevaluate what they do based solely on God’s Word.

I’m sure that many mistakingly believe that everything that they are doing during Christmastime is in honor of Jesus. But what does the birth of Jesus have to do with lighted evergreen trees or pinecones? Or holly and mistletoe? Or Santa Clause and decorated pentagrams?

I remember when George Harrison’s song, “My Sweet Lord” was popular. Even though they removed the lyrics: “Hare Krishna—Krishna Krishna” at the end of the song, many Christians were singing it in churches around the country as a praise song! Without realizing it, many well intentioned Christians were singing praises to Krishna—one of the classic deities of Hinduism!

“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

References:

•Campanelli, Pauline & Dan, Wheel of the Year: Living the Magical Life. St. Paul: LLewellyn, 1989, pages 1-16.

•Crim, Keith, editor, The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989, pages 154, 182.

•Ek, Hildur, Jul Tomtar, Jul Bockar and Sheaves of Grain. Lindsborg, KS: Barbos Printing, 1983.

•Farrar, Janet & Stewart, Eight Sabbats for Witches. London: Hale, 1981, chapter 11.

•Funk & Wagnalls, Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1979, pages 229-230, 974-975,

•Royale, Duncan, History of Santa: from 2000 BC to the 20th Century. Fullerton, CA: M. E. Duncan, 1987.

•Scullard, H. H., Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981. pages 205-212.

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