The good news of Christmas is that even when the world or our circumstances change – the message of Christmas is timeless. Because Christmas is about the birth of God’s Son – Jesus. It is about how he came to give us love, hope and joy. That message doesn’t change from year to year.
So, how do you respond to the question of whether Christians should celebrate Christmas? Is Christmas biblical? Is Christmas a Christian holiday? Have you heard any of these?
An article at the popular Christian website Crosswalk.com defends Dec. 25 as an early established date for Jesus’ birthday, yet confirms some significant doubt about dates:
“The tradition for December 25th is actually quite ancient. Hippolytus, in the second century A.D., argued that this was Christ’s birthday though this Roman church father wrote several generations after Jesus and the apostles. Meanwhile, in the Eastern Church, January 6th was the date chosen.
“Then in the fourth century, archbishop John Chrysostom, claimed that December 25th was the correct date and from that day till now, the Church in the East and the West have observed the 25th of December as the official date of Christ’s birth.
“Though the gospels of Matthew and Luke both give an account of Christ’s birth, neither one provides a date for this great event. Though it may sound strange to our modern minds, it is likely that early Christians did not place any particular value on birthdays. This makes it hard to conclude when Jesus was really born.
It is clear that Christmas was assigned the date of Dec. 25, not by God or His Word, but by the clergy of the church.
Inexplicable though it seems, the date of Christ’s birth is not known. The Gospels indicate neither the day nor the month; and although Luke 2:1-3 sets the Nativity in a historical perspective; the date cannot be determined.
Today, Christmas is promoted as a commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and of course the story of His birth is indeed biblical. But how does that align with the observance of Christmas?
Certainly, God announced Jesus’ birth, and He was honored by a delegation of wise men from the East who brought gifts for the future King of Kings (Matthew 2:1-12).
There were no Christmas trees, wreaths, Yule logs, reindeer, elves, stockings or exchanging of gifts. By all accounts, Jesus was not even born in the winter. The Bible does not give us Christ’s date of birth, but it gives some clues that it was at a warmer time of the year.
Since the telling of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke have nothing really to do with the observance of the Christmas holiday as we know it, where did this religious tradition originate?
Is it perpetuating a pagan winter festival?
The Catholic Encyclopedia shows that the Christmas season came from the ancient winter festival that celebrated the sun god in the lengthening days following the winter solstice.
Forms of the idolatrous winter festival spread throughout the Middle East and accompanied people who migrated into Europe. Our ultimate source, Wikipedia, tells us:
“The pagan Scandinavian and Germanic people of northern Europe celebrated a twelve-day ‘midwinter’ (winter solstice) holiday called Yule with celebrations including wreaths, the Yule log, and other direct descendants of Yule customs. Scandinavians still call Christmas ‘Jul’. In English, the word ‘Yule’ is often used in combination with the season ‘yuletide.’ It is believed that the celebration of this day was a worship of the reawakening of nature.”
So, is Christmas really Christian? God never instituted it, and He never taught that it be observed. Further, He does tell us not to worship Him with pagan practices. However, God did give us His festivals and Holy Days to show His step-by-step plan for humanity’s salvation. With all this in mind, what do you choose to do?
Because of the attention paid to the story of Christ’s birth and the carols celebrating the baby Jesus, many may be shocked to hear a Christian say: “I don’t celebrate Christmas because it is not Christian to do so.”
Why would a Christian—someone who strongly believes that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior—make a conscious decision to reject Christmas?
Have I confused you?
Well, I have confused myself.
Oh, Wait! And then there’s Santa. Here’s what I found on him…
“Christmas is not Christian because lying is not Christian. There is no Santa Claus. Parents shouldn’t lie to their children.
One of the most popular Christmas customs involves telling children that there is a jolly, potbellied man named Santa Claus who delivers Christmas gifts to all good children around the world.
The custom practically makes Santa Claus into a godlike being—with the ability to hear children’s wishes (prayers) and visit all the good children of the world in one night (supernatural powers). And he’s portrayed as always staying the same age (immortal).
Of course, this myth is found nowhere in the Bible.”
That’s a ho-ho-bummer!
So, How Do Christians (or should I) Respond to this Question about Christmas?
As, I said at the beginning, the good news is the message of Christmas is timeless because we have made Christmas about the birth of God’s Son – Jesus.
Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. God is worshiped in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Christian’s response to this question of Christmas is simple: Regardless of whether we personally keep Christmas or not, we should be very careful in keeping the gospel message devoid of additions or omissions. Our response to the world should be whatever promotes the pure gospel and shows the love of God to men. If a Christian wishes to celebrate Christmas, they should do so in freedom – just as we are also free not celebrate all or part. We should take care, however, that Christmas is not treated as a day appointed by God, as an essential of the Christian faith, or as a mark of being “more” spiritual.
Christmas is not in the Bible, but the Birth of Christ is Biblical. Jesus was most likely born during the feast of Tabernacles which falls in late September or early October.
- December is the dead of winter in Israel. It is cold, wet, and rainy then. The shepherds would be in their towns with the sheep in stables, not out on a hillside subjecting themselves and their sheep to the elements.
- The Romans were the rulers of Israel at the time. The feast of tabernacles follows the harvest when the Jews were at their wealthiest. That was a perfect time for the Romans to take a census and tax the people. Many Jews considered it essential to go to Jerusalem to celebrate this holiday.
Suffice it to say Christmas is a religious tradition celebrating the birth of the Christ Child. Certainly, a festive and exciting way to celebrate our Lords birth. It has created an aura around itself over many centuries that tends to bring out the best in a lot of people and opens them up to the possibility of conversation about who Jesus is.
Over time it has morphed into what it looks like today, both the good and the bad. The family traditions and blatant commercialism.
Charlemagne, the King of the Franks was crowned Roman Emperor of the West on Christmas Day, AD 800. The following year, he held a massive court to celebrate the anniversary. It followed the typical form of royal courts, including lots of gifts and honors offered in grandiose manner on faithful and important servants to ensure future loyalty, but was far more lavish than the norm. That set something of a fashion among other great lords, and Christmas Courts became “a thing”. And that’s most likely how feasting, drinking, merry-making, bright colors and decorations, and gift-giving became part of Christmas.
You can find all kinds of claims for the origin of the Christmas tree. The most famous is Martin Luther’s sermon where he preached, he was walking home one winter evening and was awed by the stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room. He wanted it to stand there “evergreen” as a reminder to his children that when the world was at its bleakest moment — sad and helpless and covered with a weight of sin — God sent his Son, everlasting life itself, to bring hope in the midst the dark and chill.
He explained to his children that the tree is green in the winter like our faith in Christ. It stays fresh even in a time of trouble. Our faith in Christ stays green even in sorrow. It stays alive even in the midst of despair. Then Martin Luther put candles on the tree, saying, “The candles remind us of the star that led Wise Men to the Christ child.”
But the real origins of Christmas trees were probably rooted in Germany during the Middle Ages. Some years before Luther’s time in 1419, a guild in Freiburg put up a tree decorated with apples, flour-paste wafers, tinsel and gingerbread.
Now, Santa Claus and everything associated with him only emerged in Protestant countries after the Reformation. The Dutch Calvinists were all for banning St. Nicholas Day as idolatrous, but they couldn’t bring themselves to abolish St. Nick delivering goodies to the kids, so they just moved that part to Christmas morning. William of Orange brought that tradition to England, and the Dutch settlers of the Hudson Valley brought it to America. Meanwhile, in most Catholic countries, the big “give toys to the kids day” is still The Feast of the Three Kings on January 6th.
In the early-19th century, writers imagined Christmas as a time of heartfelt celebration. In 1843, Charles Dickens wrote the novel A Christmas Carol, which helped revive the “spirit” of Christmas and seasonal merriment. Its instant popularity played a major role in portraying Christmas as a holiday emphasizing family, goodwill, and compassion.
Dickens sought to construct Christmas as a family-centered event filled with seasonal food and drink, dancing, games, and a festive generosity of spirit. A prominent phrase from the tale, “Merry Christmas”, was popularized following the appearance of the story.
A final thought
A late fourth-century sermon by Saint Augustine explains why the winter solstice was a fitting day to celebrate Christ’s birth:
Hence it is that He was born on the day which is the shortest in our earthly reckoning and from which subsequent days begin to increase in length. He, therefore, who bent low and lifted us up chose the shortest day, yet the one whence light begins to increase.
Augustine basically said that Jesus was bringing light back into the world at its darkest time. That’s kind of hard to argue with. If that is the reason for December 25th, then throw another candle on the cake and I, for one, am celebrating Jesus’ birthday.
For God and you,