Christians oftentimes have questions about Christmas such as, “What does the Bible say about Christmas? Is it wrong to celebrate Christmas as a believer? Why would it be wrong?”
Can Christians celebrate Christmas? The Bible doesn’t mention whether we should or should not celebrate Christmas. It is a man-made holiday. However, it does talk about not celebrating pagan holidays. Christians should take into consideration the roots of Christmas and the negative and positives of celebrating it. From there, they can decide for themselves what they think God wants them to do during the season of Christmas.
Let’s take a look at:
- The Start of Winter Holidays
- Origin of Christmas
- What Christmas is Today
- The Regulative Principle
- Why Some Christians Don’t Celebrate Christmas
A few questions this post will answer include: What are the roots of Christmas? How did it become almost a world-wide holiday, celebrating the birth of Christ?
First, there are no records of the early church celebrating the birth of Christ. Yet, there is also no biblical prohibition about celebrating the birth of Christ. We can look at the start of winter holidays.
The Start of Winter Holidays
Before December 25th became a federal holiday in the United States in 1870, and in the 19th century began to change how it was celebrated, winter holidays and seasonal changes were celebrated throughout the whole world in ancient times.
The idea of Christmas has changed from a pretty distorted holiday to now a day of family and nostalgia.
Before this, winter rituals and celebrations took place during seasonal changes.
Early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the dead of winter. They would celebrate when the worst of winter was behind them, and where they could look forward to the return of longer days with the sun.
Origin of the Winter Celebration
The winter celebration was one of the most important because the ancients believed the sun was dying and that they too would soon be dead since they could not live without the sun.
So in addition to their solemn prayers to their gods, they developed celebrations. They would celebrate because they thought this would be their last chance to have fun before they died, and several days later to celebrate the sun coming back to life.
For the pre-scientific farmers living 10,000 years ago, the difference between life and death was marked by the success or failure of their harvests. They would use magic, myth, fertility rites, and other rituals, hoping to appease the sun god who they believed controlled the planting, growth, and harvesting of their crops.
As early as the Fall season in September, days started to get shorter until December 22, the day of the year with the shortest span between sunrise and sunset.
6,000 years ago, the Copper and Bronze age people believed the sun was burning out. For 2 days after December 22, the sun appeared to be standing still. They called this period solstice, from the Latin word “solitium” meaning “sun standing still”.
Science has shown that the sun never did standstill and that the apparent reversal of the direction of the sun was a terrestrial optical illusion. The word “solstice” has a supernatural origin, and some atheists and humanists have adopted the pagan term for their winter celebration.
When the Sun appeared to be burning out, the ancients built huge bonfires on hilltops for the purpose of giving additional strength to the sun god in his nightly battle with the forces of darkness.
When the sun finally came up earlier on the days after the solstice, they celebrated. The tradition of these bonfires continued some belief as a traditional part of this holiday season in many cultures.
Throughout history, there have been thousands of “saviors” and “messiahs” created by people.
The savior myth, in which gods were born of virgins, died, and then ascended into heaven, has been found in nearly every culture around the world. The ancient sun worship was meant to celebrate the triumph of the sun over darkness.
From the beginning of time, humans have had a desire to celebrate and worship something, if not God, something else.
Origin of Christmas
In around 2000 B.C. Mitra, what was considered the god of the sun, was one of the many Hindu gods, honored by the culture of India. About 1500 years later, the Persians renamed the god Mithra.
Soon it was adopted by Rome as the sun-god, Mithras. Later on, in the 3rd century B.C. Roman emperor Aurelian established December 25 as the birthday of Mithras the “invincible sun”.
Mithras was considered the god of the regenerating sun, and in pre-Christian Rome, Mithras was believed to be reborn every year on December 25. By the 3rd and 4th centuries, Mithraism had spread all the way to Britain and had become a permanent part of Eurasian spiritual thought.
Then when Jesus came, the celebration of December 25 was gradually transformed from the birthday of the “sun-god” to that of the actual Son of God.
Another winter holiday celebrated by the Romans was Saturnalia. It began on December 17.
It was a week-long festival held in honor of the god Saturn and involved sacrifices, gift-giving, special privileges for slaves, and a lot of feasting.
It’s main focus, besides gift-giving was to honor and focus attention on the agricultural god.
During this time, Romans decorated their halls with greenery hung ornaments on bushes and trees, and groups would gather roaming the streets singing. The holiday was also known as the Festival of Lights and candles were commonly given to be used to rekindle the sun.
At the start of this holiday, the days became shorter, and the sun appeared to be disappearing. From December 22 to December 25, the ancient people believed the sun had died. Then, on the 3rd day, they saw the sun as begging to rise again.
Shift from a Pagan Holiday to Christmas
So how exactly did all these pagan holidays gradually turn into what we know now, as the Christmas season?
In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday and the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday.
The Bible does not mention the exact date of Jesus’ birth. Although some evidence suggests that his birth may have occurred in the fall. It was Pope Julius who chose December 25.
It is widely believed by some that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival.
First called the Feast of the Nativity. Then the custom and tradition of this holiday eventually spread to Egypt by 432, and to England by the end of the sixth century. It has now spread to most parts of the world.
In the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated 13-14 days after the 25th of December.
This is because Western churches use the Gregorian Calendar, and Eastern Churches use the Julian Calendar, which is 13 to 14 days behind the Gregorian Calendar.
By the Middle Ages, Christianity had, for the most part, replaced pagan religion. Although certain traditions remained the same. Like…
- Decorating a Yule tree (which is basically a pine tree that we now call a Christmas tree). It was a pagan custom in which brightly colored decorations would be hung on a pine tree to symbolize various stellar objects significant to the pagans – the sun, moon, and stars. It also would be to represent the souls of those who had died in the previous year.
- This practice was continued by the Mithrain practice of bringing trees into the home; the Jewish practice of the Succah – which is building a home of leaves and straw within the confines of one’s normal home – and continues today with the practice of Christmas trees.
- During the apparent death and resurrection of the sun-god, evergreens were a symbol of eternal life.
- The custom of gift-giving evolved from the Pagan tradition of hanging gifts on the Yule tree as offerings to the various Pagan gods and goddesses.
On Christmas, believers would attend church. Then many of them would celebrate by drinking and getting drunk in a carnival-like atmosphere.
Each year, a beggar or student would be crowned the “lord of misrule” and eager celebrants played the part of his subjects. The poor would go to the houses of the rich and demand their best food and drink. If owners failed to follow through with their request, the visitors would most likely terrorize them with mischief.
Christmas became the time of year when the upper classes could repay their real or imagined “debt” to society by entertaining less fortunate citizens.
In the early 17th century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe. When Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, they wanted to get rid of Christmas entirely.
But when the people demanded and Charles II was restored to the throne, with him, the popular holiday came back.
The English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell.
As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings.
In the Jamestown settlement, John Smith reported that Christmas was to be enjoyed by all and passed without incident.
What Christmas Is Today
Since the beginning of seasonal rituals, and winter traditions and celebrations of pagan gods, Christmas has come along way.
Today, Christmas is celebrated by over 2 billion people worldwide. It’s become an ingrained part of modern culture. Christians and non-Christians celebrating Christmas, are in increasing numbers.
The season of Christmas plays a key role in the economies of many nations. In the U.S. the day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, is the mark of the Christmas shopping spree. It is known as the biggest shopping day of the year due to its Christmas sales.
From this past year, about 58 million people shopped online only, while 51 million shopped exclusively in stores. The remaining 65 million consumers shopped both online and in-store. Even if one does not celebrate Christmas, people still shop, because it is the season of good deals, right?
Besides consumerism, what else is Christmas about today?
- It is a time where most full-time workers get off work for a break and vacation time.
- It is the end of the year and time of reflection for some people looking back at the year they’ve had.
- It is a time of family and reuniting with friends.
- It can be a time of showing love, generosity, and hospitality by gift-giving, serving, and even inviting people who don’t have a family into your home.
- It can be a joyous time of festivities and high spirits doing fun actives and eating good food.
- It’s time to be cozy, relax, and enjoy traditions that are unique to your family and friends.
- It is time school kids and college students can look forward to helping them make it through the school year.
- It is the most consumeristic time of the year.
- Much money can be wasted and spent that one might not have (thus creating debt that could last a while to pay off).
- It can create comparison (for young children or anyone looking at other people’s gifts they received and experiences they’ve had vs their own).
- It can create some unrealistic expectations and pressure on parents to perform or act a certain way when maybe practically speaking they can’t do or perform the way that society says they should be behaving or doing during this time of year.
- It can be stressful because it is a busy time of year, just from the activities alone, it can be overwhelming.
- Stores, restaurants, lines, and traffic from people traveling and shopping can make it overwhelming to go anywhere and create anxiety when going out.
- If one has nowhere to go for the holidays or is in poor health over the holidays, it can be a sad time of year.
I think there are definitely positives and negatives for celebrating Christmas, and the list could go on. Growing up, I’ve always had a good experience with Christmas, it being one of my most favorite times of year. However, some people feel and believe differently.
The Regulative Principle
The regulative principle is a Christine doctrine which states we can only do what the Scriptures expressly commands. In contrast, the normative principle says we can do everything except what the Scriptures forbid. So, which is the right position?
When we turn to Scripture we find that it says that we are not to exceed what is written.
I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.1 Corinthians 4:6
We should look to the Scriptures as our guide.
I believe that Christians should follow God’s commandments and are given wisdom when asked of God, to make decisions that are to be convinced in our own minds.
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
If we take this approach, then celebrating Christmas becomes a personal preference.
We can also look at a few stories in the Bible where people asked questions wondering whether or not something was right to do.
In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul talks about meat being sold in the market place that was previously sacrificed to idols. Someone asked the questions if they should eat this meat, Paul answered saying it was okay to eat the meat.
Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.1 Corinthians 10:25
But then he continues and says:
But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?1 Corinthians 10:28-29
Paul is saying that if you are with someone who might be negatively affected by you eating meat that was sacrificed to idols, then don’t eat it. In this case, it is not about you; you won’t be harmed by the false gods, because they are false and hold no power.
In Galatians 4, it talks about how before coming to Christ, we were enslaved to worldly things.
Now, we are free and those things, the things of the flesh, sin, and evil, hold no power over us. But why go back to those things from before? There is no need.
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?Galatians 4:8-9
This passage is talking about being careful to not turn back to the old ways of doing things. Or being enslaved to worthless principles.
Another passage that talks about this says that some are weak, and might have former association with idols. For some, it does not matter if we eat these things, and no better off if we do. But for the sake of others, be careful to not be a stumbling block or trigger to someone who may not be on the same level.
However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.1 Corinthians 8:7-9
I believe this passage is saying that in some cases it really does matter. In other cases, it does not matter if you eat the meat, or do not eat the meat.
The point being is that God gives us freedom in some decision making, as long as it doesn’t hurt another. When celebrating Christmas, I believe it is up to the conviction of the Christian.
He is free to celebrate it. He is also free to not celebrate it. We are not to judge Christians who choose one way or another. I believe we are free to act according to our own conscience on this matter.
With all that being said, we should be wise in our decision making and can look to the history of Christmas, and how it became the holiday it is now.
Why Some Christians Don’t Celebrate Christmas
Why exactly would a Christian decide to not celebrate Christmas? Here are some reasons I came up with that I have researched or heard some people saying.
- It is a recycled holiday with pagan traditions of honoring other gods.
- In Deuteronomy, God condemns using pagan traditions to worship him. God says we must worship him in spirit and in truth.
- In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul addresses not going back to unbiblical religious customs and traditions. “What fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” (6:14)
- The Bible talks more about celebrating Jesus’ death and resurrection, than his birth.
- Some would rather celebrate the holidays that Jesus himself and his apostles observed rather than celebrate his birth during such a busy, and consumeristic time of year.
- Jesus wasn’t born on or near December 25th.
- Celebrating Christmas is not mentioned in the Bible, instead, it talks more about why Jesus came to earth and what has done for us on the cross for those who believe in him.
- Christmas is driven by commercialism and materialistic things. The Bible says to not be caught up in earthly things and that the love of money is the root of all evil.
Through writing this blog post, my thinking has been challenged and I will consider what I personally think I should do when it comes to the holiday season of celebrating Christmas.
I do know that Paul says to the early Christians that we are to not let anyone take us captive by “philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition.”
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.Colossians 2:8
We should be careful and open to the Holy Spirit’s leading and to do things according to Christ, and not according to this world.
I encourage you to also do the same, and seek wisdom from God on if you should or shouldn’t celebrate Christmas.