Christmas Customs Came from Pagans
By Larry J. Walker
Pastor, United Church of God, Bend

People love to celebrate. The time and money spent on decorations, gifts and other festivities has a major impact on the economy and life style of our nation. No time of year is more dominated by holiday customs than the period from Thanksgiving to the end of the calendar year. Christmas shopping begins and the merchants prepare for the onslaught. Traffic snarls. Lines at the post office grow longer. People put off fixing their car and filling their teeth. Money ebbs away from service industries and flows into companies offering consumer products.

Some bewail the commercialism of Christmas and suggest a return to the alleged Christian basis of the day. But did Christmas celebration originate in the Bible?

The customs of Christmas long predate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Earl W. Count, in his book "4000 Years of Christmas" admits, "Although the Christmas story centers in the Christ child of Bethlehem, it begins so long before His coming that we find its hero arriving on the scene after more than half of the story has gone by." This eye-opening book documents the story of "…an old, old Babylonian festival that moves westward, …through Greece into Rome [until] …at last it comes to rest beside the manger of Bethlehem…."

Should a Christian be worshipping God with customs that originated in paganism? As if with one voice, most protest, "But we don’t do it for the reasons the pagans did." Does that de-paganize the customs?

How does God look at pre-Christian religious customs? He told Israel, "Take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them… and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way…. Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" (Deuteronomy 12:30-32).

God has told us how he wants to be worshipped, including days and customs to celebrate (which were observed by the early church).

When Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire, many citizens were too deeply entrenched in the pagan Saturnalia. As Count put it, "The habit of the Saturnalia was too strong to be left behind…. The pagan Romans became Christians—but the Saturalia remained." So it is to this day. How many contemporary Christians are so deeply entrenched in Christmas that the habit of Christmas is too strong to be left behind?

Few have investigated the origins of Christmas customs so many have so long enjoyed and taken for granted for generations. Fewer still challenge the assumed biblical basis for Christmas and other holidays of traditional Christianity. Even fewer change their lives on the basis of their findings.

Instead of following customs that originated with pagan religions, how about seeking to learn more about the customs, celebrations and Holy Days God instituted?