In celebrating Christmas, many Christians do exactly the opposite of what the earliest Christians did. By celebrating Christmas, they succeeded in bringing Christ into the pagan feast of the sun. Today’s Christians’ neopaganism is managing to paganize Christmas.
Jesus was not born on December 25 exactly. The Christian liturgy chose that date in order to give a Christian meaning to the Roman feast of the unvanquished sun. The pagans of the Roman Empire celebrated the sun’s rebirth during the longest night of the year. That midnight was considered as the starting point of the sun’s march, which then began to overcome the darkness. It was easy for the Christians to substitute Jesus Christ for the sun and to make the birth of Christ, Sun of Justice, coincide liturgically with the pagan celebration of the birth of the sun. The centuries that followed have proved the church’s genius, for bit by bit the meaning of Christmas pushed into oblivion the jovial pagan celebration and filled the entire world with the joy of the Redeemer’s birth. Today even unbelievers sense that something divine entered history during that night without compare. We all feel that the child born that night is a child of our family, and that the brightness of God’s glory that the angels carol makes ofthat night the loveliest day, a day when God himself offers us his peace and invites us to be men and women of good will.
What a shame that all of that Christian inspiration with which our liturgy christened a pagan festival has been betrayed by many Christians, who today surrender that spiritual conquest to paganism. To make the values of commerce and of worldly gaiety prevail over the gospel meaning of Christmas is nothing short of a cowardly surrender on the part of Christians.
A return to the spirituality of a genuine Christmas will be a noble gesture of solidarity with Christianity’s spiritual victories in the world. A celebration of Christ’s birth with a sense of adoration, love, and gratitude toward the God who loved us even to the folly of giving us his own Son, will be to arrange our life so that the peace that only God can give may brighten it like a sun.
[+Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, December 15, 1978]