Christmas - It is not pagan in origin. It has a New Testament origin.

Photo by David Trinks / Unsplash

Dr. Eusebio A. Tanicala

I was asked to comment on the article of Guy N. Woods posted on the internet in December 2020.  For this article, I’ll dwell just on two items: (1) Terminologies and some activities invented by pagans which we currently use without question, and (2) The etymology of the word “Christmas.”

Brother Guy N. Woods’s Argument

We quote a part of Wood’s article:

“The argument, that Christmas (Christ + Mass), is of Catholic origin, and that the use of the term perpetuates the errors of this ecclesiasticism, lacks merit, for two reasons:  (1) the word no longer conveys its exclusive earlier meaning, signifying to many of us no more than a holiday;  (2) it is inconsistent to offer this objection and to refuse the use of the word Christmas, because of its origin, while using, without question, many others of similar objectionable origin, but which have also undergone modification but no longer convey an improper sense.  Sunday derives from the sacred day of the sun; Monday, the sacred day of the moon; Wednesday, ‘Woden’s Day’ (Woden was one of the chief idols of mythology); Thursday designates the day of the war god Thor; and Saturday comes from Saturn, the ancient god of seed sowing.  To us, the days of the week bear no resemblance to earlier usage and we use them in harmony with their meaning to us and not to others.  Similarly, Christmas is not a ‘mass for Christ,’ but a day of joy, gladness, and warmth when friends and loved ones take occasion to meet and mingle, exchange gifts and good wishes, and relax in a season of happiness and wood will.”(Guy N. Woods, Question and Answers, Open Forum, Freed-Hardeman College Lectures (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman College, 1976) 203-2-4).

Pagan Days of the Week

Let us expand on the argument of Guy N. Woods.  The pagans who invented the names of our calendar days worshipped their deities and naming the days after the gods honored them.  Many of us have been ignorant about the background and etymology of these weekdays.

Sunday, Old English- day of the Sun;

Monday, Old English- day of the moon, (in Spanish, moon is luna from which Lunes in our dialects is derived);

Tuesday, Old English form was Tiwesday or day of Tiw, an ancient Teutonic deity, but Latin and Spanish changed it to Martes in our Philippine dialects in honor of Mars, the Greek, and Roman god;

Wednesday, OE- mentioned by brother Woods;

Thursday, OE, Thunor, short-form is Thor which has been changed into Jueves in our Philippine dialects by the Spaniards in honor of Jove, another name of Jupiter of the Romans who is  Zeus of the Greeks.

Friday derives from the Norse mythology goddess Frigg, wife of the chief god Odin.

Saturday, OE- derives from Saturn, the second-largest planet, and in Roman mythology, the god of agriculture.

We don’t have negative reactions on these pagan week days terms because the heathen religious shade of meaning has disappeared as Woods argues above.

We have a good friend whose family name is Saturno, evidently derived from the pagan deity Saturn. Shall we mark him as unworthy as a brother because he has that name?  Shall we urge him to change his name to Cristiano?

Pagan Names of Months

The ancient pagans have invented names of the following months:  

January: Janus, Latin god of beginnings or entrances;

February: from Februa, a Roman deity whose festival is celebrated on the 15 of February;

March: derived from Mars, the god of war of the Romans;  

May: from Maia, goddess of growth;  

July: named after Julius Caesar of Rome;  

August: derived from the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar (27 B.C.- 14 A.D.)

Also, the Gregorian Calendar was issued by the Roman Catholic Pope Gregory XIII in A.D. 1582, which replaced the Julian Calendar of Gaius Julius Caesar, the strongman of Rome (100-44 B.C.).

Conclusion: Although names of days and months are derived from pagan mythologies and names, worship and honor for those ancient deities no longer live in those words as was in the beginning, therefore, they don’t offend us and should not affect our religious beliefs. They are now secular, so these terms should not intrude into our religious sensibilities.

Is it possible for church members to secularize some Christmas activities?  We explore this idea.

Etymology of the Word Christmas

“The word ‘Christmas’ is derived from the proper name ‘Christ,’ and the addition, ‘mass,’ a rite or commemorative ceremony,” writes Guy N. Woods in the above quotation.  He thinks that ‘mass’, which is the suffix of Christmas, comes from the Roman Catholic Church’s sacrament called Eucharist, the consecration by a priest, distribution to and consumption by the Latin church congregants.  This “mass” ritual remembers the offering of Christ’s body and blood at the cross – His death.

This view of compounding Christ + mass (the eucharist) is promoted by some Romanists, adding that the nine ‘misa de gallo’ (dawn mass) that climaxes on December 25 is the origin of the term Christmas.   This explanation has no relation to the coming and birth of Christ on earth. It has no historical and linguistic basis in relation to the incarnation.  The mass (misa) of the eucharist (hostia and the chalice) remembers the death of Christ at the cross.  While the “mass” of Christmas points to the incarnation, the birth of Christ.

A different view on this etymology discussion is that the suffix “mas” is from the Latin infinitive “masir” and Latin verb “masse”.  Church history tells us that in the early centuries, catechumens (beginners in Christian instructions, Christian indoctrination), were mixed with faithful congregants.  However, at the later part of the church service, when the bread and wine were consecrated, to be distributed and consumed, the catechumens were sent out of the chapel because during those ancient days, the Eucharist elements were very sacred and the command to partake was interpreted to mean for the baptized believers only.  When that part of the ceremony of consecration was about to start, the catechumens were “sent out.” The verb used in Latin was “masse.” That part of the church ceremony of bread and wine consecration eventually was called “Mass” in the Old English tribes in Western Europe.  You may check this etymology of the word Christmas with a large unabridged dictionary that records the derivation of word entries.

If we take the verb form “masse” as the suffix of the proper noun “Christ” we have in the Latin “Christe+masse” and in the Old English people of Western Europe had it as a compound word “Christ+mas” – literally “Christ+send.” Latin language heavily influenced the growth of the Spanish and English languages.  

Therefore, this word Christmas refers to the sending of Christ into the world, his incarnation with the purpose of possessing a human body to suffer the penalty of sin as the basis of man’s salvation.  

Was Christ sent into our world?  Yes, indeed.  It is explicitly expressed in the New Testament.  Notice the following passages:

John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and lived with us, and we saw his splendor, the splendor as of a unique one from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his unique Son, in order that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but may have eternal life.”

Hebrews 10:5-7, “So, when he came into the world, he said, ‘You did not want sacrifice and offering, but you prepared a body for me. You had no pleasure in whole burnt offerings and sin offerings. Then I said, ‘Behold I have come!  It is written of me, in the roll of the scroll, to do your will, O God.”

Matthew 10:40, “. . . receives Him who sent me. . .”

Matthew 15:24, “. . . sent to the lost sheep of Israel. . .”

Luke 4:43, “. . . I must preach the good news of God’s kingdom. . . I was sent for this purpose.”

Luke 9:48, “. . . whoever receives me receives him who sent me. . .”

Luke 10:16, “. . . and the one who rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

John 7:29, “I know him because I am from him and he sent me.”

John 10:36, “how can you say (of him whom the Father set apart and sent into the world). . . “

John 11:42, “. . . I have spoken because of the crowd standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”

John 17:3, 8, 18, 23, 25, “. . . to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent. x x x 8. I came from you, and they believe that you sent me. x x x 18. . . even as you sent me into the world. x x x 23 . . . the world may believe that you sent me. x x x  25. . . and these know that you sent me.”

John 20:21,”. . . As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Colossians 2:9, “In him dwells all the fullness of the deity bodily.”

The above verses prove the Father sent Christ into the world. And he went back to heaven bringing humanity with him (Acts 1:9-11).  So if one believes in the above tracing of the etymology of Christmas, one should believe that the idea of Christmas is in the Bible.  Christ was sent by the Father and the Son tabernacled with us on earth.  That is the real meaning of Christmas. It is not pagan in origin. It has a New Testament origin.