The Bible has nothing to say about Christmas. We are commanded to remember the death of our Lord on the first day of the week, Acts 20:7 but are never commanded to remember the birth of Christ. Thus for basic information about the origin and purpose of this day, we are forced to look elsewhere.
The World Book Encyclopedia says “Christmas is a Christian holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. No one knows the exact date of Christ’s birth, but most Christians observe Christmas on December 25. ..The word Christmas comes from Cristes maesse, and early English phrase that means Mass of Christ.” Then again “The first mention of the celebration of Christmas occurred in A.D. 336 in an early Roman calendar, which indicates December 25 as the day of observance. This celebration was probably influenced by pagan (unchristian) festivals held at that time. The ancient Romans held year-end celebrations to honor Saturn, their harvest God; and Mithras, the god of light.” The Academic American Encyclopedia says “Despite the beliefs about Christ that the birth stories expressed, the church did not observe a festival for the celebration of the event until the 4th century. The date was chosen to counter the pagan festivities connected with the winter solstice; since 274, under the emperor Aurelian, Rome had celebrated the feast of the Invincible Sun on Dec. 25.” From Compton’s “The exact date of Christ’s birth is not known. For the first two centuries, while Christians were being persecuted for the few faith, the Christian church did not celebrate Christmas. Soon after A.D. 200, however, Christmas was being observed, but on various dates especially Jan. 6, Mar.25, and Dec.25. By the middle of the 4th century the church in the West (Roman Catholic Church) was celebrating Christmas on Dec.25.”
From these quotations, we learn several things: (1) there is no certainty, even from history as to the exact date of the Lord’s birth, (2) the early church did not celebrate the birth of Christ, (3) the Catholic church settled on the date of Dec.25 in the 4th century, and (4) the events surrounding the Christmas celebration are a mixture of religious practices from the Catholic church and previous pagan (non-Christian) observances.
It should be evident from the foregoing that Christmas is a religious observance built around the birth of Christ. Since there is no indication whatsoever from the Scriptures that the Lord wants us to celebrate his birth. To do so is to act without divine sanction. We are commanded to celebrate the death of Christ. We are not commanded to celebrate his birth. God’s silence rules against such a practice for Christians. In Gal 4:10 Paul chided the Galatians because “ye observe days…”. The days he referred were those set aside by the law of Moses, which they continued to observe even though the law was dead. How much better are we, when we observe religious days that are the product of Catholicism and paganism?
There are some who say that they realize Dec.25 is not the birthday of Christ, and that they do not observe the day in keeping with the season, observe it in a non-religious way. That raises the question as to whether or not one can observe a religious holiday in a non-religious way. Much of the advertising I have seen of late seems aimed at “putting Christ back into Christmas” and “Jesus is the reason for the season” It seems evident that most people even in the world know what the holiday is supposed to be all about. How then does it befit those of us who claim to be true disciples of Christ to argue that we want all that goes with Christmas, except the religious connotation? Not very well I would think. In fact if we can observe Christmas with all its trimmings, trees, bright lights, gift giving, etc. in a non-religious way, why can we not observe infant baptism in a non-religious way? The answer is apparent. My advice to all Christians regarding Christmas, is simple: leave it where it originated–with the Catholics and pagans.
Published in the OPA March 1, 1991