INTRODUCTION: Christmas time for many people can be many things. For some, it may be a time to revel and get drunk. To some it is a time to make money and capitalize on the occasion. Christmas season is extremely commercialized. For many, it is time to practice the custom of exchanging gifts. For others, it is a time for family and friends to get together and share one another's company. Some of these activities may be innocent and not wrong to engage in. Some are wrong or could be wrong. And we are not to engage in those things that are wrong.
For many people though, Christmas is a way of life; a way to worship God; a religious holiday or season. For them, it is the season to celebrate and commemorate the birthday of Christ. In this context, Christmas is wrong.
I. WHY IS CHRISTMAS WRONG RELIGIOUSLY?
God never told mankind to commemorate the birth of Christ. The New Testament teaches, we must have authority for everything we say and do. "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus . . ." Colossians 3:17. The Bible also teaches that we are to respect the silence of the Scriptures; those things God has not spoken. In the Old Testament we read how God dealt with His people, leaving for us examples how our attitudes are to be before God. A most striking example we learn from, regarding respect for the silence of God's word is found in Leviticus 10:1&2. Nadab and Abihu "offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them." God destroyed them with fire because of their irreverence to God's silence.
A practice may seem that it would give honor to God. But, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death"; Proverbs 14:12. Christmas, to many, seems as if it would give honor to God. Remember though, God never commanded mankind to commemorate the birth of Christ. God is not partial. If God was displeased with Nadab and Abihu's worship they offered, would He not equally be displeased with you and I, if we offer worship to Him in which He has not commanded? God did not command us to commemorate the birth of Jesus. He commanded us to commemorate the death of Jesus Christ, Luke 22:17-20; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. If we are searching to please and honor God, do what he authorizes, not what he doesn't authorize.
Another reason Christmas is wrong religiously, is because of elements of idolatry connected with Christmas. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:14, "flee from idolatry." In our day and time there is subtle, if not outright, informal acts of worship given to Santa Claus and the Christmas tree. These things, like others connected to Christmas, have their roots derived from practices from centuries gone by. Even as far back to antiquity; times that pre-dated the birth of Christ.
We shall now explore the past to see how the celebration of Christmas came about. At the end of this writing, you will find a bibliography showing where this information was derived. To find out information about the Christmas celebration, you have to study outside the Bible. The Bible does not contain any information of early Christians celebrating the birth of Christ.
II. WHEN DID CHRISTMAS BEGIN?
There is no Scriptural or secular historical evidence that Christmas was celebrated during the days of the Apostles. Secular history reveals that generally, the observance of birthdays was repugnant to early Christians, because it was associated with pagan practices. Probably the earliest historical record of the celebration is 336 A.D..
III. THINGS ASSOCIATED WITH CHRISTMAS
The word Christmas comes from Christ-mas, Christ's - Mass, The Mass of Christ. The Mass is a Catholic religious ritual, celebrating the feast of Christ's nativity (the circumstances involving the birth of Christ). Another name for the whole season of Christmas is Yule. Originally this name Yule did not have any connection with Christianity but was derived from the Germanic word jol (turning wheel), with reference to the gain of sunlight after the winter solstice, or from the Anglo-Saxon geol (feast).
The name and image of Santa Claus is derived by a Bishop of Asia minor in the fourth century, whose name was Saint Nicholas; the children's saint. He was noted for his good works. The idea of Santa Claus was partially also developed by the idol Thor, a fire god who fought the giants of ice and snow from his home in the polar regions. The image of Santa Claus in a red fur suit was invented by a cartoonist in 1863, his name was Thomas Nast.
The mistletoe also is derived by pagan practices. The Druids considered the mistletoe to have magical powers or properties. The pagans would burn it as a sacrifice on an altar. It is said that enemies that met under it, would drop their weapons and embrace one another. This may be where the custom of kissing under the mistletoe came from.
The Christmas tree also has its roots derived from pagan practices. It was once considered a symbol of eternal life and was worshiped. Trees that were worshiped in antiquity may have been of a variety other than fir, such as pine or oak. Some scholars trace the origin of the modern Christmas tree back to the eighth century. Boniface an English missionary erected a fir tree. Some date the modern tree back to the sixteenth century coming out of Germany. The Catholic encyclopedia says the tree was not derived from the pagans, but it was from the practice of honoring Adam and Eve. The tree was adorned with apples.
The evergreen holly was worshiped by pagans as a promise of the Sun's return. There were legends that surrounded this holly. Some believed that this holly was used as the crown of thorns that was placed on Christ's head. They say that the berries of the holly were first white and when the blood of Christ fell from his head onto the berries, they turned red. Some believe that the Christmas wreath had its origin in these legends.
Three wise men are said to have visited the birth of Christ. But there is no historical record that tells us how many there were. Matthew 2:1-12, is the Scriptural record of the wise men. We do not know how many wise men came to visit Jesus.
The exchanging of gifts probably originated with the custom of the Roman pagans. On January 1st they exchanged gifts.
IV. WHY ON DECEMBER 25th IS CHRISTMAS OBSERVED?
The date of Christ's birthday is not known. The reason Christmas is celebrated on the 25th maybe, to some degree, uncertain. Some Catholics try to trace Christ's birthday to December 25th, but with no satisfactory evidence to support it. There is much speculation on this point. Many scholars have placed the day in every month of the year. No one knows for certain the day Christ was born. The 25th of December is probably not the day that Jesus was born because the account of Luke says that the shepherds were out in the field (Luke 2:8). In that region, especially in the mountains in winter time, it is cold and at the start of the first rain in October or November, the sheep are brought in.
Most scholars and even Catholic "Fathers" hold to the theory that the birthday of Christ was assigned the 25th in accordance with the old date of the winter solstice. This is when the sun begins to rise higher toward the north in the sky and the daylight period begins to lengthen.
There were many pagan festivals at this time. Northern European tribes celebrated their chief festival of Yule to commemorate the rebirth of the sun. The Romans celebrated Saturnalia (December 17) in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. There were followers in Rome of the Persian god Mithra, Sun of righteousness, whose birth date was December 25th. This was called "Birthday of the invincible Sun." It was this celebration that was in competition with Christmas. Mesopotamians performed rituals to Marduk their god. The Greeks offered sacrifices to their chief god Zeus.
The 25th of December was therefore given arbitrarily and logically to coincide with the festivities of the winter solstice.
V. HOW DID CHRISTMAS BEGIN?
Historians state that there is no certain knowledge of who originally began the Christmas observance. We know for certain that it was the Catholics that introduced it. The oldest Christmas sermon manuscript was given by Optatus of Mileve in Numidia around 383. In the East, on December 25, 379 or 380 A.D., Gregory of Nazianzus, preached a Christmas sermon in Constantinople; he later referred to himself as the founder of the feast. John Chrysostom preached about it in Antioch, for it was known between 386-388 A.D.. Paul of Emesa preached about it at Alexandria on December 25, 432.
Scholars say that some would analogize the birthday of Christ to the birthday of the Sun god, to make Christmas more meaningful. (1) Both birthdays are on the 25th. (2) The sun is the light of the world, Christ is the Light of the world. (3) As the rising of the Sun is victorious over the cold and the darkness and brings warmth and hope for the coming year, by the birth and coming of Jesus Christ He was victorious over darkness and brought warmth and hope into the world. Some scholars hold that the evergreen tree that was a symbol of eternal life to the pagans, then became a symbol of Jesus Christ, and as a consequence, became a part of the celebration of Christmas.
VI. CONCLUSIONS ARRIVED AT
1.) Before Christmas was instituted, idolatry was rampant in the world. The celebrations of the winter solstice cut across many cultures.
2.) History reveals that generally the observance of birthdays by the early Christians was condemned as a pagan custom. In 245 A.D., Origen, an African church "Father" wrote that it was sinful even to contemplate observing Jesus' birthday "as though He were a King Pharaoh." Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is King and Lord of the heavens and the earth. How dare anyone to worship him in a way that would dethrone Him from the honor and majesty He richly deserves. The observing of Christmas to elevate Jesus Christ and to further His cause falls short of the purposes of God.
3.) In the fourth century, the Catholics began to celebrate Christmas with an attitude and manner as the pagans celebrated the winter solstice. There was much revelry and drunkenness. This gave an excuse for the so called Christian's behavior. There was much protest concerning their behavior, and many so called Christians were accused of idolatry and sun-worship, for adopting the pagan practices as Christian.
4.) The "Pope Gregory 1 the Great" instructed Augustine of Canterbury, whom he sent to England in 596 A.D., to assimilate and infuse the pagan practices into the Catholic religion for the purposes of propagating the faith, "For from obdurate minds it is impossible to cut off everything at once." From this we see so called Christians wanting to hold on to the practices of idolatry that were in the world then. The pagan world had festivities filled with partying and merrymaking. The Jews had Hanukkah and their rituals and ceremonies celebrating the rededication of the Temple. The pagans who were converted to the Catholic religion, would essentially have no exuberant festivities at the winter solstice. Therefore, they would not give up the their old practices. The Catholic leaders gave in to the peoples desires and encouraged the old practices.
5.) We find that December 25th was chosen to celebrate the birthday of Christ to coincide with the celebrations of the winter solstice.
6.) The revelry and merrymaking of the early days of Christmas have toned down considerably. In the early days, reveling would go on for days even weeks. Reasons for this toning down are probably because of the Protestant movement. When the Puritans came to power in England, in 1642, Christmas was eventually outlawed. Plum pudding and mince pie was also outlawed. When another regime came into power, Christmas began to come back, but not with strength it had once enjoyed. There were still dissenters of Christmas and would call the season, Fooltide instead of Yuletide.
7.) Erroneous religious practices are alive today. There are special masses that are observed by the Catholics on Christmas day. Other denominations hold special religious events.
8.) Idolatry and superstition, still prevails. There are some who worship Santa Claus though informally. Some believe he has miraculous powers; powers that only God possesses. They teach children to believe in him. There are some also who informally worship the Christmas tree by speaking or praying to it.
1. We are not to celebrate Christmas as a religious event. Other holidays that are wrong to engage in religiously, because of the silence of the Scriptures are: Easter, Good Friday, Ash Wednesday, Saint Patrick's Day, Saint Valentines Day, and Halloween that is followed by All Saints Day.
2. We are not to make Christmas day or the season such that we would be marked by GOD as idolatrous. Flee from idolatry, 1 Corinthians 10:14.
Bibliography: Albert Barnes Commentary; Adam Clarke Commentary; New Catholic Encyclopedia; The Encyclopedia Of Religion; The New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia; Encyclopedia Americana; Encyclopedia Britannica; The American Book Of Days; The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia; Hastings Dictionary of the Bible; The New Ungers Bible Dictionary.