Christian Celebrations are Jewish in Origin, Not Pagan: A Short Reflection on the Wonder of the Church Year
by Erik Ritland
The seasons of the Church year have a lengthy history. As far back as the third century, a mere three generations after Jesus, we see Christianity adopt special feasts and celebrations. These included special days to recognize departed saints and commemorations of events like the birth of Christ, the resurrection, Jesus’ baptism, and even many memorials of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This makes sense, considering that the Church grew out of a Judaism built around its festivals.
In fact, Christianity was originally a type of Judaism. Christians saw themselves as Jews whose ancestral faith saw its culmination and fulfillment in Jesus Christ. As such, it was natural for Christianity to express itself in the same way as Judaism, marking out its important events throughout the year with a series of fasts, feasts, and commemorations. God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
It is interesting to note – especially for those who think that the Church got corrupted once it became the official religion of Rome under Constantine – that Christianity became more Jewish as it became increasingly more Gentile. If a bunch of Gentiles were trying to absorb and transform a religion to fit their needs, as has been claimed, you’d figure they’d strip it of its original context and make drastic changes to make it more palatable.
But this didn’t happen.
While it has been claimed that celebrations like Christmas were patterned after pagan holidays, increasing evidence is suggesting that this isn’t the case, and that those conclusions were jumped to hastily by anti-Christians (despite lack of evidence) to discredit Christianity.
Instead, close examination of the texts of the feast days and celebrations of the early Church show significant parallels to ancient Jewish customs (and absolutely none to ancient pagan rites). The architecture, service books, and liturgies of the Orthodox Church still bear witness to this.
One of the most powerful aspects of traditional Christian denominations, from more orthodox Lutheran churches to Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, is the way that the Church year flows. Each celebration – from Christmas to Easter to everything in between – makes present the most important events in the history of the world. We meditate on them, drinking them in, becoming more immersed in them. It is one of the most important ways to become more and more intimate with Christ, to grow deeper in a personal relationship with him.
The Roots of Catholicism: Pagan or Jewish? (http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/3512/the_roots_of_catholicism_pagan_or_jewish.aspx)
A meticulously researched and well-argued article citing many actual sources disproving the myth of the pagan origins of Catholicism.
Horus Ruins Christmas (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDXwq_7-QYg)
Truth wrapped in humor.
The Jewish Roots of the Divine Liturgy (http://vps102482.vps.ovh.ca/jewish-roots-of-the-christian-liturgy.pdf)
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician. He is the lead staff writer and podcast host of Fully Alive Christian Media and Rambling On, which features commentary on music, sports, and an intellectual ragbag. He was also Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blogs Curious North and Hometown Hustle. Reach him via email or find him on Facebook and Twitter.
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Erik Ritland received his MA in Theology in 2017. He's the founder and content manager of Fully Alive Christian Media and Rambling On, copy editor and writer for Music in Minnesota, and an acclaimed songwriter.