No, Not ( Really) a "Pagan Holiday"
Dec. 8, 2021
When the Lion had first begun singing, long ago when it was still quite dark, [Uncle Andrew] had realized that the noise was a song.
And he had disliked the song very much. It made him think and feel things he did not want to think and feel.
Then, when the sun rose and he saw that the singer was a lion ("only a lion", as he said to himself) he tried his hardest to make believe that it wasn’t singing and never had been singing—only roaring as any lion might in a zoo in our own world.
“Of course it can’t really have been singing,” he thought, “I must have imagined it. I’ve been letting my nerves get out of order. Who ever heard of a lion singing?”
And the longer and more beautifully the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring.
Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.
Uncle Andrew did. He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song.
Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to.
And when at last the Lion spoke and said, “Narnia, awake,” he didn’t hear any words: he heard only a snarl.
And when the Beasts spoke in answer, he heard only barkings, growlings, baying, and howlings.
-- From "The Magician's Nephew", Compiled in "A Year with Aslan"
Beware, those who spend too much time declaring Christmas "nothing more than a pagan winter solstice festival, co-opted by a duplicitous early church”, for you risk not being able to accurately hear men and angels singing "Glory to the newborn King", or visiting, in your heart, the royal creche, secreted, for only a little while, “away, in a manger”.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)
Does it matter very much, or at all, if some, Bard, traveler or evangelist from South of the Alps or Pyrenees bought the Gospel stories to the pagan Celts, Teutons, and Norse of Northern Europe while sheltering in one of their Longhouses, Lodges or Huts during a dark cold winter?
Observing their preparations for and observations of their Winter Solstice celebrations, does it really matter if he used those and other things in his surroundings, there among them, to help explain the "good news" ("the gospel") he carried to them in a way that might help them better "relate"?
It might well matter in explaining why so many of the “pagan” traditions of those folks have found their way into our Christmas traditions.
I have no objection, at all, if some brothers- and sisters-in-Christ chose to observe Christmas (Christ-mass) without evergreen boughs or trees, or the giving of and receiving of gifts, which was featured in many Pre-Christian and “pagan” winter-solstice observations. Nor do I have any objections to their rejection of the fanciful figures of "Santa Claus", "Father Christmas", or even the prototype of those character's in the person of the generous, and real, St. Nicolaus.
I don't even object if some Christians choose to eschew Christmas altogether, as neither the holiday nor any special celebration of the Christ’s birth, at any time of the year, has any biblical mandate.
However, perhaps we should consider some things and “lighten up” a bit about “Christmas” traditions rooted in non-Christian beliefs and practices, or in non-biblical parables and metaphors.
If your objections to some of the midwinter traditions have to do with "putting Christ back into Christmas", please consider that we may have preserved some of them because Christians of the early Church may have succeeded in putting Christ into Pagan winter solstice celebrations.
St. Patrick reputedly used the Shamrock (or cloverleaf) to Illustrate the idea of the Triune God that he served when he brought the gospel to the Pagan Irish, so that it is now one of the prominent symbols of the Irish around the globe. And never forget, also, it was subsequent Irish monks who managed to preserve, and then re-disseminate both Holy Scripture and classical Roman and Greek (which is to say “pagan”) literature during and after the time commonly known as “the Dark Ages”. Those sources were and remain the foundation of much of the best of so-called “Western culture”.
The Lord Himself used parables, similes, and metaphors, featuring things and situations common to 1st century “Palestine” (the Roman Name for the region) to illustrate His “good news”.
The fulfillment of centuries of prophecy and promises, in Himself, and the arrival of God’s Kingdom in the hearts of people was illustrated not only with citations of scripture, but with comparisons and references to actual and common things and situations. They were everyday examples and ideas that the people were already familiar with.
Also remember, these were people who were politically oppressed, militarily conquered, and spiritually lost in their dark and ultimately despairing world of either paganism or Jewish Legalism.
Therefore, it’s not hard to imagine a Christian traveler with a God-given gift for evangelism, sheltering amidst Northern European “pagans” during the darkest and longest nights of the year, using the Evergreen boughs and decorated evergreen trees which symbolized, to them, persistent life and hope thru the very dark and cold winters in those latitudes, to talk of the hope of Eternal Life, bought and paid for by the sinless life of the One Real God and Man. Here was a man who spent three days in the cold of death and unremitting darkness of the sealed tomb, only to roll away the stone and rise again, as proof of His true divinity, and then promise resurrection to His followers.
It’s not hard to think of that evangelist using their “pagan” tradition of gift-giving to speak of that greatest gift ever given to people, because of the giver’s grace, not the receiver’s virtues.
And, it’s not hard to think of him using the winter solstice itself, which marks the transition to a time when the long cold nights in the northern latitudes begin to get slowly, but inevitably, shorter, to speak of the sure and certain hope of better times ahead, and more “light”, even though the worst winter weather usually occurs after it, even as the spring approaches.
“…because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” (1 John 2:8b)
“See”, the “preacher says, “He has promised new life and His promises are even more true and real than the promise of spring after a long, dark winter."
Lighten up, brothers and sisters, or you may miss the singing;
“Gloria in Excelsis Deo!” (“Glory to God in the Highest")