In the previous bulletin, we considered mainly how Christians cannot scripturally observe Christmas as a commemoration of Christ. However, I did not have enough space to consider other critical details concerning Christmas and the Christian. So, we will continue the discussion this week focusing on whether a Christian can celebrate Christmas in any other capacity. To start with, I want to tell you that I do believe it is possible for Christians to celebrate Christmas as long as it is without religious association. However, if we had lived in a different century, I would have said just the opposite. We live in a unique situation today when it comes to Christmas, for the holiday has been adopted by the majority as a non-religious holiday. This wasn’t always the case.
Did first-century Christians celebrate Christmas?
Christmas was just as big of a holiday in the first century as it is today, and the festivities have experienced very little change in the last 2,000 years. One of the few changes is the name of the holiday; it was changed to Christmas in the fourth century, but before that, it was called Saturnalia. Saturnalia was a festival toward the end of December that glorified and worshiped the sun. The winter solstice brought longer periods of daylight, so to the ancient pagans, the solstice was considered the birthday of the sun god. In celebration of this birthday, the people would exchange gifts in decorated boxes, sing carols from house to house, feast, and play games together. Sound familiar? And there’s more: they would decorate their houses with lights, mistletoe, holly berries, evergreen wreaths, and evergreen trees. The color scheme was red (symbolic of the sun) and green (symbolic of new life). Worst of all, communities would sacrifice to the sun god a human citizen of the community. And in celebration of this sacrifice, dolls were given to children as presents (symbols of human sacrifice), they snacked on human-shaped biscuits (now known as gingerbread men; also symbolic of human sacrifice) and blood pudding (you know what that symbolized). Understanding the history behind Christmas, it becomes apparent that no true Christian in the first century could have ever joined in on the festivities of such an idolatrous and vile holiday. Consider also that these things were taking place annually throughout the life of Jesus, but Jesus could not entertain himself with such activities that break the covenant of God. Interestingly, today some cry out to “Keep Christ in Christmas”, but friends, Christ was never in Christmas, He purposefully stayed away from it! Others say “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”, no, the reason for the holiday was to garner favor from the sun god in hopes that the idol god would bless men for the coming year. Associating Christ with Christmas is manifestly sacrilegious and blasphemous once we look at the evidence.
Even those who were a part of the early evolution of Catholicism wouldn’t dare take part in the festive season: “The fathers of the first three centuries do not speak of any special observance of the nativity. The day and month of the birth of the Messiah are nowhere stated in the Gospel history, and cannot be certainly determined” (Encyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature). But as time went on, the Catholic church felt compelled to find a way to incorporate the idolatrous festival into their lives: “The pagan Saturnalia and Brumalia were too deeply entrenched in popular custom to be set aside by Christian influence. The pagan festival with its riot and merrymaking was so popular that Christians were glad of an excuse to continue its celebration with little change in spirit or in manner.” (Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge). The quote from the encyclopedia above uses the word “Christian” in a way that is unnatural to the Bible, applying it to the Catholic church, but consider how these “were glad of an excuse” to enjoy the holiday like the pagans did. Ah-Ha, so, Jesus is not the reason for the season after all, rather, Jesus is the “excuse” for the season. How irreverent to our Lord! They blasphemed the name of Christ, pasting his name over the festival of idolatry, calling it “Christ-mass”. So, in the fourth century, the birthday celebration of the SUN god became the birthday celebration of the SON of God. For twelve centuries the world continued to celebrate the holiday (although it evolved away from the pagan worship and human sacrifice aspect and into a more harmless and meaningless feast) and along with the world, the Catholic Church celebrated in the same way, except they associated the pagan symbols with the birth of Jesus.
In the sixteenth century, the protestant reformation began, and great waves of Catholics renounced Catholicism and sought for what they felt were more biblical views. Thus were born the Baptists, Puritans, Quakers, Amish, Methodists, and Presbyterians; all of which wholeheartedly rejected the celebration of Christmas, for they were disturbed by its idolatrous origin. But, as we can see today, Christmas won out yet again, and many of these denominational churches have now adopted the Catholic tradition, and they observe Christmas as a celebration of Jesus’ birth. No scripture has been given in support of this activity, only remarks that it is good for us to do. Christmas is only one example of thousands of “good” ideas that men have devised to make the church into something that better suits them or the culture that surrounds them, but in all these matters that have an appearance of good, do we first ask: does this suit God? After all, it is His church, His life, and His salvation. So, if we desire a part in His church, His life, and His salvation, then we must deny self (Luke 9:23) and selfish ambition (Philippians 2:3); deny the desire to honor Him our way instead of His way (Genesis 4:3-7, Deuteronomy 4:1-4, Proverbs 30:6) and refuse the temptation to act before consulting God’s proper order in His word (1 Chronicles 15:13).
Can Christians Celebrate Christmas Today?
As we discovered, it would be truly dishonorable to honor Christ in our own way using manmade traditions, whether it be Christmas, Easter, or anything else not found in God’s word. We also uncovered that it was impossible for Christians to observe Christmas in earlier centuries when it was associated with idolatry. However, in the process of time, exchanging gifts, feasting with family and friends, hanging colorful lights and decorations on houses and evergreen trees have entirely lost their idolatrous association. To the secular world, these things are done to merely brighten the dark days of winter. Therefore, if celebrated in this manner, then the holiday is presently not an issue of right or wrong. It is one’s choice whether to observe the holiday in a non-religious capacity or not to celebrate it at all. But, as with anything, it can become a stumbling block and sin if we bring these traditions of men into the church or into our adoration of Christ.
Article by Tanner Campbell.