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Are Christmas and Easter Pagan Holidays?
Christian Holy Days and Paganism

By David Morrison

Usually around Christmas and Easter, people come out of the woodwork claiming these holidays are pagan or derived from pagan sources. Are Christmas and Easter pagan holidays? Do Christian holy days derive from pagan sources? Are Jehovah's Witnesses, Messianics, and others correct when they criticize other Protestants and Catholics for celebrating Christmas, Easter, and other Christian holidays? David Morrison answers these questions, demonstrating that Christmas and Easter are not pagan, as he questions the theological and historical assumptions of those making the claim that Christmas and Easter are pagan.

"One man esteems one day better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let everyone be persuaded in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord." Romans 14: 5-6

The Holy Family, photographed by David Bennett

It never fails.  Whenever one of the Christian holy days is approaching, especially Christmas or Easter, attacks on them and on those of us who keep them increase, especially on the Web.  Websites go up denouncing these holidays as unscriptural at best, or as "Papish" imports of pagan religion at worst.  In "Christian" chatrooms Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, and others are often on the receiving end of "bashing" simply because we are observing this or that "pagan" religious feast.

For the most part these attacks come from people who claim to be Bible readers and believers, folks who, one would think, would have read the above quote from St. Paul's writings. My fellow holidaykeepers and I, often repeat the quote to our detractors, assuming that, being good Bible believers (as they claim), the argument will be ended.  After all, Paul plainly says that if one wishes to observe a day, he may, and if one doesn't wish to, then he needn't, as long as everything is done "to the Lord." Unfortunately, people's prejudices and ingrained hatreds are often stronger than the Biblical principles they say they espouse and the attacks, and claims of "pagan celebrations" continue.

I likely cannot change anyone's opinion by anything I will say here and I wonder now if I should even try. "Let each be persuaded in his own mind," Paul writes.  Whether someone keeps Christmas or Easter (or any other day) is strictly between that person and God.  I can, however, share why I choose to keep Christmas and Easter and, quite frankly, lots of other holy days, some of which are often uncritically labeled as pagan.

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For me, keeping this or that feast or holy day, is primarily a way of entering deeply into the event being celebrated or commemorated.  When I put up the lights at Christmas, fill my home with boughs of evergreen, set up the Nativity figures, I am saying a joyful, personal "Yes!" to God's great gift of His Son who came into the world to save sinners like me. And it is a joy I want to share with others, by attending Christmas services with my brothers and sisters in the Faith, having a festal meal with family and friends, and sending cards to those who are far away. When I attend Good Friday services, hear the story of His Passion, see the rough-hewn Cross raised in the Church, it is my way of being there, "when they crucified my Lord", of entering into His Death.  And on Easter morning, as the bells peal out the glorious news, I join the women at the Tomb and hear with them the earth-shattering announcement, "He is not here. He is risen!" These acts, these commemorations of GOD'S saving acts, make them very real to me, by the power of the Holy Spirit taking me, in a very real way, back in time. I WAS there when they crucified my Lord! I have SEEN the Babe in the manger! I have heard the angels at the Tomb, and run with the women to tell the glad tidings to Peter and the others!

Forsythia in Bloom, photographed by David Bennett

I am asked quite often around Christmas and Easter, "don't you realize that these days were originally pagan?!" Concerning Christmas I must answer, Yes, I do.  And thank God it isn't anymore!  WHO remembers, except for scholars and the neurotically scrupulous, what deities USED to be commemorated around the time of the Winter Solstice?  But the whole world knows that NOW this time is when we celebrate the birthday of the Son of God. So what that the Romans and others used to commemorate the Unconquered Sun at this time?  I and millions of my brothers and sisters now use it to commemorate the True Unconquered Sun, Jesus Christ, the Sun of Righteousness and the Light of the World!

Easter is, however, a different matter. Easter (the correct name of which throughout the Christian world is "Pasch" or "Pascha") was never a pagan feast but always has been the yearly commemoration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Whether observed on the first day of the Jewish Passover (as was the custom in many parts of the Near East in the early years of the Church), or on the Sunday after that (to keep the symbolism of Christ having risen on the First Day of the Week), Easter/Pasch as a holy day is firmly and solely rooted in Jesus' resurrection from the dead.  It is for me the greatest of days, the day when, again, I join with millions of brothers and sisters to keep high celebration that Our Lord lives and that because of Him, we too will rise.

Why do I keep these and other holy days? I keep them because my Lord bids me remember Him.  "Do this as my Memorial," he told his disciples and through the Sacred Writings, us. Yes, I am well aware He was speaking specifically of the Memorial of His Body and Blood, but I cannot help but think the deeper implication is: Remember everything, the Cross, the Empty Tomb, the Coming of the Holy Spirit, the announcement to My Mother that she would bear Me, My birth in lowly Bethlehem, My Apostles and those in every age until My Coming Again who lived and died in Me. Remember it all and by all means - with high feasting and meaningful ritual, with fasting and prayer, with song and chant - whatever will "seem good to the Holy Spirit" and to you. And for centuries Christians have done just, sanctifying certain days and times in order, by their commemorations, to proclaim all time HIS domain and all days holy in Him.

So, I will continue to observe these days that the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has instituted for the benefit of her children.  It is my rich heritage and it is part of the freedom "with which Christ has set us free" that I may do so. No one can take that away. And remembering I will praise the One who is Lord of all time, even Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Related Resources:
Choosing the Date for Christmas: Why December 25?
All About Christmas
All About Easter

Ancient and Future Catholics

Photographs by David Bennett