Okay, here we go…let’s get real.
When I was younger, my mom was dating a man who claimed Christmas was derived from pagans who had orgies under evergreen trees in the forest. Say, what now?
It made such an impression on me that I actually feared celebrating Christmas would send me to hell. I was an impressionable little girl.
As an adult, I love Christmas. I love the food, the lights, the decoration, Christmas Eve service, and the music. “Oh, Holy Night” is my favorite and I always get choked up on the verse:
Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born…
HARD TRUTH: Christmas is not found in the Bible. We are not commanded to celebrate it. The Apostles didn’t celebrate Jesus’ birth either. So, is it okay to celebrate Jesus’ birth with all the trimmings, trees, and presents?
Well, there really isn’t a black and white answer.
BIBLE TRUTH: In the story of Jesus’ birth we read about those who rejoiced in His birth, from angels, to the shepherds, the wise men come baring gift (although a few years later), and we read the prophecy of the birth of the King of Kings.
It’s a joyful time, indeed.
By reading of those who rejoiced in Jesus’ birth, we know this was a very special event and everyone celebrated, from heaven to earth.
Now, the Apostles did celebrate the Lord’s Supper, His death, and resurrection but not Jesus’ birth. There is an important reason for this. Culturally, it was more common to celebrate one’s death rather than their birth.
Jesus’ birth is the first coming; the shepherds celebrated and told everyone they could about this miraculous baby boy who would save the world from sin. Therefore, we consider it sacred.
HISTORICAL TRUTH: We know many of the Christmas traditions we celebrate today came into being during early Roman Christianity. You see, the Church saw Christ’s birth as an opportunity to replace the pagan winter holidays that many Romans and Christians enjoyed celebrating. These holidays didn’t focus on Christ but different pagan gods. By hijacking these pagans holidays Christianity became more accepting among the pagan-loving Romans.
It is true, many of the traditions like decorating a tree, holiday lights, burning of yule logs, and so on have pagan origins. I didn’t find evidence of pagan orgies though. Remember, the Roman Catholic Church wanted to replace pagan winter celebrations with a more “Christian” holiday.
The winter solstice celebrated the sun after a long winter and it symbolized light and birth. The church related the holiday to Jesus’ birth and because He is the light of the world it seemed to be an easy conversion.
Romans also had a December festival that celebrated Saturnalia, Roman god Saturn. During this time it was customary to exchange gifts and the rich did “good deeds” by giving to the poor. Does this sound familiar? Another festival celebrating Juvenalia, Persian god Mithra, was on December 25th.
Christmas didn’t become a celebrated holiday until the third century when Pope Julius I proclaimed December 25th as the day to honor the birth of Jesus; even though we know Jesus could not have been born in winter because the shepherds wouldn’t have been in the fields during winter.
Establishing December 25th as a Christian holiday felt like a win-win for Romans and Christians alike. They could celebrate the winter pagan holiday traditions and honor Jesus at the same time. This also helped Romans become more accepting of this man-made Christian holiday which eventually replaced their false gods.
“As we think today of the birth of the Savior, let us aspire after a fresh birth of the Savior in our hearts; that as he is already ‘formed in us the hope of glory,’ we may be ‘renewed in the spirit of our minds;’ that we may go to the Bethlehem of our spiritual nativity and do our first works, enjoy our first loves, and feast with Jesus as we did in the holy, happy, heavenly days of our espousals.” ~Charles Spurgeon
In 1870, Christmas was declared a federal holiday in the U.S. and Americans started celebrating the holiday as we know it and associated it with Christ’s birth. Even though Christmas has its roots in pagan traditions it is still viewed as a Christian holiday around the world to other religions.
Sadly, the meaning was quickly hijacked by Santa Claus, materialism, and commercialism. Just as the Romans, our culture has created traditions to suit our whims of what we want to celebrate and how. We have even created so-called holidays revolving around shopping days.
To celebrate Christmas or not? You can be on either side of the argument. I know plenty of Christians who don’t decorate a tree, exchange gifts, teach their kids to believe in Santa Claus, or participate in any of the materialism trappings of commercialized Christmas. I also know many Christians who desperately want the reason for the season to be all about Jesus but struggle with world views.
“One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” Romans 14:5
SPIRITUAL TRUTH: The beauty of being a Christian, as Paul explains in Romans 14:5, is we are free to celebrate Christmas or not. We are given broad principles to live by and are not held under Mosaic law that states how to worship. It is your choice. However, if you choose to celebrate do it for the right reason in your heart. God knows our hearts. And that is where I think the true answer may be found. In our hearts.
- We cannot get caught up in the materialism and worldly traditions. It’s about Jesus. Period. Find ways to make the season more about Jesus and less about the other stuff.
- Make sure Christmas is not the pinnacle of your faith. There is so much more to following Jesus than Christmas. In other words, don’t be a “C and E” Christian, only celebrating Christmas and Easter. Put Christ in your life every single day.
- Be a witness for Christ, and thank God for his one and only son. Tell people your testimony and share the Gospel. Be a campaigner for the Good News.
- Don’t judge those who choose not to celebrate Christmas as the western world knows it. Remember, this is their choice, and way of honoring Jesus. Isn’t that a good thing?
FINAL THOUGHT: Jesus is bigger, better, and brighter than this one holiday.