‘Tis the season to be jolly, and, perhaps, to have one’s social media inundated with memes about Christmas being nothing more than a co-opted pagan holiday – maybe a winter solstice celebration – repurposed and baptized by Christianity.
“There are dozens of religions in mythology that have had visits by wise men, kings who’ve killed children to stop the new king being born…there’s a great deal of Christianity that is traditional, and however wonderful people think the story is, it’s frankly not original,” Stephen Fry, an actor and self-proclaimed atheist, said in a mid-2000s Christmas episode of the British comedy show, QI.
In the episode, Fry repeats some popular claims about Christmas and its origins, including that the date of Christmas was stolen from pagan holidays, and that many of Christ’s characteristics – that he was born of a virgin, is the son of God, that he and died and rose to save us from sin – were simply borrowed from pagan gods and traditions that pre-date Christ.
Is there any truth to these claims? CNA spoke with several Catholic academics to find out.
Dr. Michael Barber, an associate professor of Scripture and theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colo., said there is some truth to the idea that Christians “‘baptize’ pagan ideas.”
One example, he noted, is the wedding ring, a tradition with origins in ancient Roman, Greek and Egyptian customs that pre-date Christianity. Today, Catholic weddings include the blessing and exchange of wedding rings, as a symbol of the commitment of marriage, even though this did not originate as a Christian idea.
But the questions of pagan links to Christmas in particular are something Barber has spent much time studying, as he is planning to publish a new book entitled “Christmas: What Every Catholic Should Know.” It’s a part of a series that includes the book “Salvation: What Every Catholic Should Know.”
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