What Christmas Means to Me: Pagan Roots or Christian Traditions?




Christmas is my favorite holiday — in fact, the holiday season is my favorite time of the year. I have always loved Christmas, and fondly recall our family traditions at this time of year. Even when my father was stationed in India and we lived there for three years during my childhood, family photos show my brother and me sitting amidst our presents under the Christmas tree which was some kind of Indian evergreen and looking much like any other Christmas tree but decorated with traditional Indian garlands of metallic cords and sequins as well as the decorations my mother brought with us. Our native housekeeper and his family piled traditional garlands of marigolds on our gifts and tables. Some of the metallic Indian garlands became part of our annual Christmas tree decorations. The marigold garlands, however, with their ties to Hinduism were left behind in India.
My father was next stationed in Fort Dix, New Jersey. There my brother and I went out with our father for the first time to cut down a Christmas tree in the woods. I learned this was one of his fond Christmas traditions, growing up on a farm in Tennessee, going out with an axe to cut down an evergreen tree. The next five years found us with artificial trees as we lived in Washington, DC, and although there was a woods behind our house, there were no evergreens to chop down, so we went with plastic. But when we moved back to the farm in Tennessee, going out with Dad and his axe to find the perfect cedar tree – tall enough, but not too tall, full and with a prominent, sturdy crown to put the star on — that became our annual tradition until I was in high school.
Several years later, when my father was well into the early stages of Alzheimer’s, he began going out in the small woods behind our house every year to cut down one of the few scrawny cedar bushes we had on our lot. Despite the fact we had already put up a large artificial tree, he would bring in his cedar bush a few days before Christmas and decorate it with bits of paper and odds and ends much like he had done as a child 70 years before when his family lived in poverty out in the country. We Dardens keep our traditions.
From what I remember of my grandmother, I may have gotten my overblown love of the festivities from her. She had the knickknacks, the candles, the bells and chimes, the sparkling Christmas balls in glass bowels, trays of candies, bows and ribbons everywhere. My mother had a few favorite displays she put up every year, skating gnomes, little villages, and angel hair for snow. Her displays were more sedate; my grandmother’s more eclectic and bright. But always the focal point of my grandmother’s home and my mother’s home during Christmas was the Christmas tree.
There is some dispute among Christians as to how appropriate it is to put up a tree and celebrate a holiday which has its share of pagan roots. At the private Christian school I attended in the 7th grade, I learned that there is little evidence Christ was born on December 25, or even in December. As I studied Christmas through the years — and I have studied the myths and facts behind Christmas for 30 years — I found tie-ins to the winter solstice, to the feast of Saturnalia celebrated from December 13 through December 23 in ancient Rome, to the pagan custom of bringing in greenery. In Great Britain, for instance, the Druid priests used holly and mistletoe as symbols of eternal life, and placed evergreen branches over doors to keep away evil spirits.
I also learned that over a thousand years ago, a monk named Boniface used a small evergreen tree to teach people about God, although there are many variations to this legend. During the middle ages, the church celebrated Adam and Eve day on December 24th, decorating evergreen trees with apples and/or communion wafers to teach children about the trees in the Garden of Eden.
Legend has it that Martin Luther is supposed to have seen icicles hanging off an evergreen tree reflecting the light, which reminded him that Jesus was the light of the world. This lovely scene inspired Luther to put up a tree in his home at Christmas time and to put candles on it to represent the light of Jesus.
A few have compared Santa Claus to Moloch, also known as Baal, mentioned in the Old Testament and who in medieval times was supposed to steal children, especially in December when his powers were supposed to be strongest. Of course, the many supporters of Santa Claus point to Saint Nicholas, who was probably the bishop of Myra (near modern Finike, Turkey) sometime in the 300s and who is supposed to have performed charitable deeds.
There are countless articles, legends, and histories that point to the pros and cons of all the traditions we associate with Christmas. I have only barely scratched the surface with this brief article. The bottom line to all my research conducted over the past 30 years is this: all the legends, whether pro-Christmas tree or anti-Christmas tree contradict each other. You can read five different articles on Boniface, Moloch, Adam and Eve Day, and Saint Nicholas and they will rarely have the same facts or dates. So where does that leave me with my Christmas memories and favorite traditions?

I might start by pointing out that while I am typing this, I am listening to Christmas music on my radio while the colorful lights glow on my tree. To me the possibility of some pagan roots to my present-day Christmas traditions is “meat sacrificed to idols” (see 1 Corinthians 10:27 – 33). If we were to strip away all the possible pagan roots or parallels in our Christian rituals, could we assemble together? Could we have specific places of worship? Could we build altars, use candles, worship or sing praises? Could we have symbols to represent our beliefs like the fish and the cross? The pagans had all these things before the Christians did. But, a very critical point to bear in mind is this: the pagans SPLIT OFF from Judaism (or later, from Christianity) at some point. Remember Adam and Eve and Noah? Our earliest traditions and rituals on the planet have come from our Jewish roots. It is my belief that the pagans got their customs from Judeo/Christian traditions somewhere down the line, and any traditions they came up with through the years were just corrupted counterfeits.
To me, Christmas is a time to celebrate family. It is a time to contemplate, faith, hope, love, and peace to men of goodwill. It is a time for giving and generosity, a season of joy and celebration. I seriously doubt Jesus was born on December 25, but one thing I have learned through the years is regardless of when Jesus was born, He is still the reason for the season. You cannot separate Christ from Christmas and you cannot have Christmas without Christ. No one else throughout history has inspired such compassion, generosity, hope, and joy. So while I enjoy the trappings and the memories of the ribbons, bows and bright Christmas balls of my grandmother, the quaint village scenes and angel hair of my mother, and the annual chopping down of the cedar Christmas tree of my father, Christmas means much more to me. Christmas is the annual reminder to a world badly in need of a miracle, desperately in need of hope, that once a Babe was born in Bethlehem, born of a virgin and born of God, to bring us hope and unaccountable joy, to reconcile us with the Divine. Oh, tidings of comfort and joy!

1 Corinthians 10: 27If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake[d]� 29the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? 30If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?
31So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God� 33even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
Recommended Reading
Visit the Christian Activities Music Store
Return to Book Beat Section
Christian Activities is on MySpace at:
Swag out with Christian Activities Merchandise!

Use this link to shop Amazon.com and support Christian Activities


Enjoy this website? Please spread the word :)