“Shall we have Christmas?” This question has resonated through more than 1700 years of Christian history. No one can deny the great significance and importance of the holiday to many people. Every year a seasonal barrage of movies, shows, and commercials heightens the holiday excitement. Cultural traditions such as A Christmas Carol, It’s A Wonderful Life, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are inescapable elements of American childhood. In the midst of bleak winter many homes and neighborhoods are magically transformed into wondrous luminous displays of colored lights. Hundreds of thousands of families delight in decorating the evergreen tree with sparkling ornaments and glitter. Many people feel the “spirit of Christmas,” which is a general attitude of good will and philanthropy.
Such a powerful cultural phenomenon has had an effect upon the Lord’s Church. In the last few years a shift in the attitude concerning Christmas has been observed by many of the older brethren. It is now rare to hear public debate about Christmas among Christians. Often the subject is studiously avoided because someone might be offended. Teachers attempting to publicly teach on the issue are sometimes told, “This is a subject best discussed in private studies.” Some gospel preachers are publicly teaching that observance of Christmas is a “liberty” and a “matter of judgement.” Thus, many members of the Church of Christ openly participate in Christmas in some limited fashion, while others commit wholeheartedly to the spirit of the season.
It is the purpose of this article to study the origins of Christmas, biblical teaching about Christmas, and then attempt to answer the question: “Should Christians celebrate Christmas?” There is no question that this is a difficult issue. However, the servant of the Lord must rely on guidelines provided by scripture and attempt with an honest heart to obey God. As Isaiah said many years ago, “Come let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18).
CHRISTMAS AND THE EARLY CHURCH
Both the New Testament and secular history testify that early Christians did not celebrate Christmas. The holiday was unknown to them. In fact, the Catholic Encyclopedia records:
“Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church.”1
There is a simple reason for the absence of Christmas in the early Church: the scriptures are silent concerning any authorized memorial of Jesus’ birth. Christians are not instructed to commemorate Christ’s birth by any type of celebration. Scripture and secular records tell us that rather than celebrating Christ’s birth they remembered His death and resurrection every first day of the week.
If Christmas is not biblical in origin, when (and where) did it begin? One commentator writes:
“Christmas was for the first time celebrated in Rome in 354, in Constantinople in 379, and in Antioch in 388.”2
Consider those amazing dates. It wasn’t until roughly 321 years after the death of Christ and establishment of His Church that Christmas came into existence! That time frame is almost a century longer than the existence of our nation. Also, consider the location of the origin of Christmas: Rome. A student of the Bible should be alarmed to realize that Rome is the genesis of any religious practice. Now that we know approximately when and where, let us consider why Christmas was created.
THE HISTORY OF THE WINTER SOLSTICE
Why did Christmas come into existence some 300 years after the life of Christ? To understand the origins of Christmas one must understand the festival of the winter solstice. Solstice means “standing-still-sun.” Winter solstice is the day of the year when sunshine is the shortest and the sun is at its lowest point (arc) in the sky. The sun appears to be “standing still.” The ancients knew of this yearly event (usually December 21st-22nd by the modern calendar) and made the days and weeks surrounding the solstice a time of renewal, sacrifice, and celebration. Celestial bodies were worshipped to prevent disaster and calamity from destroying the world.3 They feared that the daylight might not resume if the proper reverence was not shown.
How widespread was this festival of winter solstice? Archaeology suggests such celebrations may have been worldwide. It is possible that the tradition originated long ago and then spread to cover the globe (perhaps after the tower of Babel incident in Genesis 11). Dr. Earl W. Count (in his book 4000 years of Christmas) writes:
Mesopotamia is the very ancient Mother of Civilization. Christmas began there, over four thousand years ago, as the festival that renewed the world for another year. The “twelve days” of Christmas, the bright fires and probably the Yule log, the giving of presents, the carnivals with their floats, their merrymakings and clownings, the mummers4 who sing and play from house to house, the feastings, the church processions with their lights and song– all these and more began there centuries before Christ was born.5
Mesopotamia was not the only ancient culture to have a solstice celebration. Archaeology has shown that various forms of the solstice existed in nearly every culture that followed the Mesopotamia. The ancient kingdoms of Egypt, Babylon, Persia and Greece all observed the winter solstice in different ways. Rome also had a December tradition that was called “Saturnalia.” General merriment, feasting, and immorality were the rule.
Evidence of solstice celebrations is seen throughout the rest of the world. Vast numbers of burial sites, altars, and sarcophagi attest to this ubiquitous custom. The famous Stonehenge is believed to mark the summer solstice. A five millennial old granite circle in Ireland (which is more ancient than the pyramids) is perfectly aligned to accept a beam of sunlight on the winter solstice. Solstice was observed even in North America! In 1998, a developer discovered a 2000-year-old ancient solstice monument when he demolished a 50-year-old building near downtown Miami, Florida. The circular edifice is perfectly aligned with the summer and winter solstice.
It should be obvious that the tradition of solstice idolatry has been present in nearly every culture since the beginning of recorded history. Our nation is no different. Christmas is the modern solstice celebration.
FROM WINTER SOLSTICE TO CHRISTMAS
How did the solstice religion of the ancients transform into the Christmas holiday? In AD 274 the Roman Emperor Aurelian made December 25th the focal point of the Roman Saturnalia. The date was chosen in honor of the sun god, and echoed the ancient belief that worship of the sun insured its return to rescue the earth from eternal winter. The customs of Saturnalia were very similar to those of modern Christmas: work was suspended, students were released from study, gifts were exchanged, and homes were decorated with candles and greenery.
Sometime in the middle of the 4th century, Pope Julius of the church at Rome established December 25 as the celebration of the feast of the Nativity (Christmas). The Papal declaration affirmed that on the same day as the Roman Saturnalia the Church would celebrate Christmas. How is this possible? Why would the pagan Romans who had previously hated Christians for over two centuries tolerate this affront to their holiday?
The famous Roman emperor named Constantine (the first so-called “Christian” emperor) is the answer. The Papal declaration was possible because of Constantine’s favoritism to Christianity. Before the great battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312, Constantine had his soldiers paint the “symbol of Christ” on their shields. After he triumphed, he began the process of making “Christianity” the state religion. In 313 with the famous edict of Milan he restored to Christians any property that had been confiscated and established the civil rights of Christians as a state requirement. In 321 he proclaimed an edict encouraging Christians to solemnly observe Sunday as the Lord’s day. In 323 he invited all Roman citizens to become like him, a “Christian.” Gibbon records that soldiers in the service of Constantine had the symbol of the cross “glittering on their helmets … engraved on their shields … and interwoven into their banners…”6 Constantine even used the authority of the church to “ratify the obligation of the military oath.” In other words, a Roman soldier who was guilty of treason or cowardice would be “excommunicated” from the Church. As Gibbon so aptly writes, these events had “placed the monogram of Christ in the midst of the ensigns of Rome.”7 Christian leaders were “admitted to the Imperial table”8 and the Roman Pope eventually became the most powerful “Christian” in the world. Is it difficult, then, to understand how the Romans would accept the new holiday as the official celebration of the solstice? The Roman form of Christianity was “politically correct” and supported by the most powerful emperors in the world. To oppose Christianity was to risk death.
What a contrast with the Biblical picture of the Church of Christ! When asked what the kingdom would be like, Jesus responded:
“The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20-21 (NKJV).
Why did the Roman Church choose the date of the pagan Saturnalia to celebrate the Nativity? The apostate church desired to consolidate and expand its newfound authority and power. However, while the label “Christian” was being applied to greater and greater numbers of people, the hearts of the new converts remained pagan. Traditionally the pagan religions were very tolerant of other “gods.” The average citizen saw no difficulty in worshipping both the old gods and the new “Jesus” of Constantine. Thus, they were reluctant to give up ancient and enjoyable traditions such as the winter solstice. The Pope had no control over these pagan practices. How better to gain control of the solstice than to simply rename it in honor of Christ! Dr. Nissenbaum in his book, The Battle for Christmas comments on the choice of December 25th as the Nativity holiday:
…This date was chosen not for religious reasons but simply because it happened to mark the approximate arrival of the winter solstice, an event that was celebrated long before the advent of Christianity … Christmas was nothing but a pagan festival covered with a Christian veneer.9
Did “Christianizing” the solstice make the holiday more “holy”? Did the people forsake their sinful practices and begin commemorating the birth of Jesus in righteousness? Nissenbaum writes:
In return for ensuring massive observance of the anniversary of the Savior’s birth by assigning it to this resonant date, the Church for its part tacitly agreed to allow the holiday to be celebrated more or less the way it had always been.10
Thus, drunkenness, reveling, lust, gluttony, fornication, and wantonness have been the hallmarks of Christmas since its inception. The ancient custom of “misrule” involved the mockery of authority and power. Revelers disguised themselves with paint or costumes so that crimes committed were anonymous. The tradition of “mumming” involved wearing the clothing of the opposite gender and singing “carols” door-to-door. The sixteenth century minister Hugh Latimer wrote about Christmas:
“Men dishonor Christ more in the 12 days of Christmas than all the 12 months besides.”11
Thus, the heathens did not have to alter their lifestyle or licentious worship practices, and the Pope and “Christian” emperor received all the glory. Penne Restad (a professor at the University of Texas at Austin) comments on the advantages the Roman Church gained when it converted the solstice to Christmas:
The concurrence of the two celebrations gave the Church an opportunity to turn elements of the Saturnalia itself to Christian ends. For example, it used the creation of the sun, the center of the Saturnalia, to reinforce and symbolize frequent scriptural and doctrinal imagery of God as the sun, and of Jesus’ role as Son of God. The creation of Christmas was thus a measure of Christianity’s growing power, challenging the crowds enjoying Saturnalia revelry to join the once secretive Christians in a celebration not of the birth of the sun, but rather the birth of Jesus, the Son of God. 12
The intent was to substitute the Christian birth of the “Son” for the pagan birth of the “sun.” Is this surprising to anyone with knowledge of the apostate Catholic Church and its customs? It shouldn’t be. Consider specific elements of the Catholic Church such as incense, holy water, statues, icons, rosary beads, and Mary worship. All of these heresies originated from idolatry and paganism, but in the Roman Church they fuse with Christianity. The well-respected secular historian Will Durant makes the issue of paganism and the Roman Church crystal clear:
Paganism survived … in the form of ancient rites and customs condoned, or accepted and transformed, by an often indulgent Church. An intimate and trustful worship of saints replaced the cult of pagan gods … Statues of Isis and Horus were renamed Mary and Jesus; the Roman Lupercalia and the feast of purification of Isis became the feast of the Nativity; the Saturnalia were replaced by Christmas celebration … an ancient festival of the dead by All Souls Day, rededicated to Christian heroes; incense, lights, flowers, processions, vestments, hymns which had pleased the people in older cults were domesticated and cleansed in the ritual of the Church … soon people and priests would use the sign of the cross as a magic incantation to expel or drive away demons … [Paganism] passed like maternal blood into the new religion, and captive Rome captured her conqueror … the world converted Christianity…13
Notice that last phrase: “the world converted Christianity.” Just as the ancient Jews desired to force the Messiah to be a temporal king ruling over a great empire (such as King David), the Roman Church made Jesus into their own image of a potentate sanctioning their blasphemous edicts and decrees. The scriptures prophesied about this great apostasy:
Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 (NKJV)
THE DIVERSE ORIGINS OF CHRISTMAS CUSTOMS
The Nativity celebration spread rapidly from Rome throughout the Christian world. Conservatives at Antioch resisted Christmas but lost in 388.14
The custom had spread to Egyptian churches by 432. By the 500’s it was in England and Europe.
Have you ever wondered how Christmas became such a diverse and often geographically unique celebration among the various nations of the world? The Catholic Church allowed and even promoted the incorporation of foreign beliefs into the holiday. As the centuries transpired, Christmas became a complicated combination of many different religious customs. One way to visualize Christmas is as a river into which many different streams of pagan religion have flowed:
Christmas … is a microcosm of European religion … It is a river into which have flowed tributaries from every side, from Oriental religion, from Greek and Roman civilization, from Celtic, Teutonic, Slav, and probably pre-Aryan, society, mingling their waters so that it is often hard to discover the far-away springs.15
These religious “tributaries” predate Christianity by thousands of years:
…The Yule log, the candles, the holly, the mistletoe, even the Christmas tree– pagan traditions all, with no direct connection to the birth of Christ.16
Consider some of the origins of specific elements of modern Christmas:
Few people consider the origin of the Christmas evergreen when they “trim the tree.” Even well informed denominational Christian leaders often believe the myth that Martin Luther conceived the idea one winter evening while walking through the German outdoors. The truth is that the evergreen tree was a potent religious symbol thousands of years before Christ. Ancient peoples worshipped the evergreen as a symbol of fertility. Sheryl Ann Karas writes the following about the Christmas tree in her book, The Solstice Evergreen:
…The Christmas tree is a vestige of the ancient religious practice of using evergreens to symbolize life in the dead of winter … The evergreen played an influential role in the spiritual life of pagan societies throughout the world. Archaeological and anthropological evidence indicates that veneration of the tree dates from at least 4000 years before Christ. Its pervasive symbolism was central to primitive cosmologies, or beliefs about the universe, which laid the foundation for every major religion, including Christianity. These pagan beliefs survive to this day imbedded in religious rituals and myths as well as in secular customs, legends and fairy tales.17
Don’t believe it? The Old Testament records this association between the “green tree” and idolatry:
For they also built for themselves high places, sacred pillars, and wooden images on every high hill and under every green tree. 1 Kings 14:23 (NKJV) 18
Consider this striking passage from the book of Jeremiah:
Hear the word which the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the LORD: “Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; Do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, For the Gentiles are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; They fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple.” Jeremiah 10:1-4 (NKJV)
The above passage from Jeremiah associates the worship of the evergreen with “signs of heaven.” The days were shortening, the sun was lower in the sky, the temperature was falling, and people were dismayed at the retreat of the sun. Secular history records that the ancients recognized the evergreen as a symbol of life. This passage in Jeremiah suggests that as part of false solstice worship, Gentiles would cut an evergreen tree from the forest, decorate it with silver and gold, and fasten it so that it would not fall. Thus, the Christmas tree is a pagan solstice custom well established by millennia of tradition. It was well incorporated into the observance of Christmas because Christmas is the modern solstice celebration.
The modern Christmas celebration involves the ancient custom of placing multitudes of brightly colored lights upon homes and places of business and worship. This aspect of the holiday is ancient and related to the solstice celebration. For example, the Persians used fires to honor Mithra during their winter solstice. Other cultures (such as Rome) used candles to “drive away evil spirits.” The Catholic Encyclopedia makes no pretense about the custom of holiday lights and simply states:
We need not shrink from admitting that candles, like incense and holy water, were commonly employed in pagan worship and in rites paid to the dead.19
How did early Christians feel about the practice of hanging candles on one’s home during the December solstice celebrations? Tertullian (a Christian writer who lived AD 160-230) makes these grim statements concerning the customs of the heathen:
“Let them,” he writes concerning the pagans, “kindle lamps, they who have no light; let them fix on doorposts laurels which shall afterwards be burnt, they for whom fire is close at hand; meet for them are testimonies of darkness and auguries of punishment. But thou,” he admonishes the Christian, “art a light of the world and a tree that is evergreen; if thou hast renounced temples, make not a temple of thy own housedoor.” 20
“He says ‘Let your works shine.’ But now all our shops and gates shine! Nowadays, you will find more doors of pagans without lights and laurel wreaths than those of Christians! … Do you say, ‘But the lights in front of my doors, and the wreaths on my gate-posts, are a honor to God’? However, they are not there as an honor to God, but to him who is honored in God’s place through ceremonial observances of this kind.” 21
Tertullian teaches that these customs honor wickedness even if done in the name of God. Have things changed in our century? Has modern culture passed beyond previous boundaries and restrictions? No! Modern electric lights are an extension of this pagan practice. Early Christians knew that candles were associated with idolatry and avoided the practice. When modern Christians hang lights on their homes they are honoring an ancient idolatrous custom.
History records that early Christians avoided the ancient custom of holiday “gift-giving” because it was reminiscent of the Roman Saturnalia.22 For early Christians, the fact that holiday gift giving was associated with paganism was enough to avoid the practice. Do we have the same attitude today? Or are we apathetic? Christmas gift giving today is not only associated with ancient paganism, but more importantly with a holiday of the apostate church. This association should be even more disgusting to the servant of God.
Many more traditions of Christmas are linked to ancient idolatry. Santa Claus, the Yule Log, mistletoe, and others have intricate pagan histories. The interested reader may consult the endnotes.
THE BATTLE OVER CHRISTMAS
Most Americans are unaware of the fact that there has been a lengthy conflict over Christmas in American history. Christmas was first criticized in the modern era during the Reformation. Martin Luther suggested that the many Catholic holidays (Lent, Pentecost, Ascension, Easter, Rogation Days, Epiphany, Mary feasts, archangel feasts, etc.) were not scriptural. He felt that every holiday except the Lord’s day should be eliminated. Many orthodox religious groups adopted this policy as they struggled to separate themselves from the profane accretions of the Catholic Church.
The religious reformers beheld the “great mediaeval synthesis of paganism and Christianity” and realized that many of the practices of the Catholic Church were antithetical to true Christianity. It was during this period of time that some identified the Papacy as the “man of sin” or “man of lawlessness” of the New Testament (2 Thessalonians 2). The “man of lawlessness” is lawless because he disrespects the authority of scripture to govern the practice of the Church of Christ. He has no fear of God restraining him from tampering with Divine law.
The reformers carried their doctrine of religious purity to the shores of the new continent. The anti-Christmas forces consisted of orthodox Protestants or “Puritans.” Many of the Protestant immigrants rejected Christmas as a Catholic heresy. For example, the Pilgrims who disembarked from the Mayflower made a public point of treating December 25 as any other day. While many communities used the “informal pressure of like-minded co-religionists” to suppress the holiday, in 1659 the Massachusetts Bay General Court passed legislation to make the observance of Christmas illegal. The Puritans contended (a familiar theme to the Church of Christ) that Christmas was “non-scriptural” and should not be tolerated by Bible-believing Christians. In 1687, an influential New England Puritan named Increase Mather wrote the following:
In the Apostolical times, the Feast of the Nativity was not observed … It can never be proved that Christ was born on December 25 … The New Testament allows of no stated holy-day but the Lord’s-day … It was in compliance with the pagan Saturnalia that Christmas holy-days were first invented. The manner of Christmas keeping, as generally observed, is highly dishonorable to the name of Christ. 23
American observance of Christmas in the 16th and 17th centuries was inconsistent and haphazard. The holiday was not widely accepted, but the pro-Christmas forces were legion. Many argued that the American calendar was sadly lacking in holidays. John Pintard, a prominent New York citizen, bemoaned in 1823:
“Our Protestant faith affords no religious holidays and processions like the Catholics…” 24
Successive waves of immigrants from Catholic Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries were important to the rising popularity of Christmas. The Catholic immigrants, of course, continued old family and religious traditions (including Christmas) in their new American homeland. The Protestant reluctance to observe Christmas came under sustained criticism. Anti-Christmas forces were termed “Papaphobic dissenters” (a reference to the Pope) and “schismatics.” Puritans were described as men “sadly warped through early prejudices, long confirmed.”
With the advent of railroads and postal mail the country was connected and the popularity of Christmas began to spread nationally. Local newspaper editors in Boston editorialized for a “more marked observance of Christmas day” in 1833. In the 1840’s women’s magazines such as the Godey’s Lady’s Magazine (a magazine that had a dramatic influence on women, e.g. Good Housekeeping) began to endorse to the homemaker the merry holiday of Christmas. The idea of the Christmas tree was “sold” to wives and mothers as a way to bring holiday peace, cheer, and goodwill into their homes. The evergreen tree was an opportunity to begin a glorious new family tradition. As Restad explains:
“Women usually supervised the task of transforming this ancient fertility symbol into a moral talisman of domestic order” 25
Christmas trees were first sold in the 1840’s (beginning in New York City) and by the 1850’s were common fixtures in many churches and homes across the American landscape. In 1852 Gleason’s Pictoral reported:
“…Already is the annual Christmas tree established as one of the household gods of New England and a large portion of the states.” 26
Church ministers and youth leaders quickly adapted the idea and promoted the usage of the “Sunday school tree” as a tool to assist in promoting attendance and effectiveness in Sunday school. In 1856, President Franklin Pierce was the first president to place a Christmas tree in the White House.
Christmas was finally nationalized during the Civil War. During the midst of the bloody heartache and despair of a nation that had wounded itself, Christmas became a symbol of the national brotherhood that escaped a people in conflict. George Templeton wrote in 1862:
“Christmas is a great institution, especially in time of trouble and disaster and impending ruin…” 27
At the end of the war, Harper’s Weekly printed a drawing entitled “The Union Christmas Dinner” which showed President Lincoln beckoning the “confederate prodigal son” to come in from the bitter winter to a warm Christmas feast. Resistance to Christmas all but collapsed after the war’s end and today Christmas is the single most important celebration on the national calendar.
Currently, there is very little debate over the scriptural authority for Christmas. Rather, the controversy is over the much-discussed concern that “Christmas has lost its true meaning.” Denominational preachers bemoan and bewail the greedy spirit of materialism that has come to preside over modern Christmas. They feel that Christmas is too commercialized and urge people to remember the “true meaning” of Christmas. What then, is the true meaning of Christmas? Christmas is the ultimate expression of the self-willed religion of Cain (Genesis 4). With a rebellious spirit the religious world offers up to God an unauthorized holiday (while ignoring the true commandments of God). Christmas, until the last 150 years, was a hedonistic display of cross-dressing, drunkenness, lasciviousness, rowdiness, and general immorality. Christmas in medieval Europe was the epitome of debauchery and lewdness. Ordinary men and women engaged in a multitude of sinful acts with the blessing of the Roman Church. It was the elimination of these grossly immoral elements and the retail commercialization of Christmas that made the holiday acceptable to the general public (and sadly, Christians) in North America.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT CHRISTMAS?
Should Christians engage in the Christmas holiday? There are several reasons that Christians should have nothing to do with Christmas.
The Silence of the Scripture is Prohibitive.
The New Testament records the events of the Messiah’s birth in a concise but glorious fashion. The story is majestic and commands the attention of the reader. The natural impulse of the untrained is to make the scene the object of worship. Not one word of scripture, however, directs the Christian to revere the story of the birth of Christ. Indeed, the Bible teaches that the servant of the Lord is not to go beyond what is written:
…That you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. 1 Corinthians 4:6 (NKJV)
If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God… 1 Peter 4:11 (KJV)
Paul tells the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 that we are to “Test all things, hold fast what is good.” How does the servant of the Lord test a religious custom or principle? By application of the scripture. If the issue in question passes the test, then it can be adopted and “held fast.” If the issue fails the test of scripture, then it should be rejected with haste. Christmas does not pass the test. This reasoning should be enough for any Christian to forsake the celebration of Christmas.
Christians are to remember Christ’s Death.
Have you ever wondered why the New Testament does not give Christians many more special days and events than it does? For example, under the Old Covenant Jews had many different holidays, festivals, and religious ceremonies. These events all pointed forward to the coming atoning death of the Messiah. Christians, however, have only one holy day. This holy day, the first day of the week, looks back to the atoning death of the Messiah. The emphasis is on the Lord’s day. There are, of course, many different events in the life of Christ that are of special significance (Christ’s birth, His baptism, His Sermon on the Mount, His transfiguration). Christians could create holidays out of any number of biblical events. The Catholic Church has done exactly that! In fact, the Roman church has so many holy days, celebrations, and festivals that not even the most devout Catholic can keep track of them all. Christians are commanded, however, to commemorate our Lord’s death and resurrection from the grave.
Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 (KJV)
How are Christians to remember their Savior? “This do.” Should we make holidays out of any number of events that are found in the New Testament? “THIS do.” Jesus gave the holy and perfect ordinance of communion and instructed His servants to partake of it. Jesus never instructed His disciples to remember Him by some other method. What celebration has the denominational world placed first in its heart, the Lord’s Day or Christmas? Sadly, the world has placed Christmas above the scriptural observance of communion.
Christians are not to adopt the religious customs of the world.
By refusing to allow the world to corrupt our hearts and minds with false religion, we can demonstrate the true religion of God.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2 (NKJV)
Christmas is a worldly religious custom and is often used by society as a litmus test for Christianity. When told that a person does not participate in Christmas, many in the world react “I thought you were a Christian!” Christmas has become the standard of conduct for “believers” in the world. Thus, when we participate in Christmas we conform to the religious expectations of those outside the Lord’s Church. We fail to prove what is the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God. Jesus taught that we are to be a light to the world:
You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Matthew 5:14-15
How can the Christian be a light in darkness when he or she participates in questionable practices? For example, many non-believers understand the origins of Christmas. Modern “witches” delight in the secret knowledge that the ignorant Christians participate in an ancient pagan celebration. In addition, media figures have been recently referring to Christmas as the “winter solstice.” Why? They understand that Christmas is a pagan celebration.
How is a Christian’s influence affected by compromise with worldly religion? Will hypocrisy and ignorance impress the potential convert? Suppose a member of the Church converts a Roman Catholic and then subsequently teaches him not to partake of the false teachings of the Roman Church (such as mass, Mary worship, counting the Rosary, bowing to images). What will be the effect on the new babe in Christ when he then observes the Christian partaking in a false holiday? It is probable that the Christian’s influence will be damaged and irreparable damage may be done to the new convert.
Christians are to avoid Idolatry.
It is impossible to deny the pagan aspects of Christmas. Some, however, would argue that there is nothing wrong with indulging in “harmless” pagan customs. There are numerous other pagan practices, they say, that we engage in on a daily basis. For example, the days of the week are pagan in origin (Thursday comes from Thor’s day and Saturday from Saturn’s day). Another example is the custom of celebrating birthdays. Ancient peoples marked the passage of a person’s life by years as we do. Thus, the conclusion is that there is nothing wrong with engaging in pagan practices.
It is true that we may engage in practices in daily life that are pagan in origin. There are several important differences, however.
- We cannot escape the calendar. It is not a voluntary choice (Christmas is voluntary).
- Birthdays are not religious in nature and do not involve the worship of God. Christmas is by its very nature religious and associated with false (and unauthorized) worship of Christ.
You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations … served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place. You shall not worship the Lord your God with such things. But you shall seek the place where the Lord your God chooses… Deuteronomy 12:2-5 (NKJV)
Some would say: “That is an Old Testament teaching. We now know that idols are nothing and they are harmless. We can indulge ourselves freely because of our knowledge.” These persons, however, overlook the fact that the New Testament teaches exactly the same doctrine concerning idols.
For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols… Acts 15:28
The Holy Spirit has made it simple for us. What elements of the Jewish system do we retain and honor under the New Covenant of Christ? The first is that we do not indulge in “things offered to idols.” This admonition concerned primarily the consumption of meat. It is not difficult however, to see how the prohibition applies to religious worship. How can we take an idolatrous practice and incorporate it into our worship of Christ?
Christmas, as Nissenbaum so aptly stated, is nothing more than a pagan festival with a “Christian veneer.” The individual elements of Christmas were “offered to idols” throughout centuries of history. It is chilling to realize that many of the same practices condemned by Old Testament prophets are still in usage today among the people of God. Jeremiah condemned the cutting and decoration of an evergreen tree as a futile act. Ancient peoples from at least the time of Abraham used greenery and lights to welcome the New Year. Do you suppose that Abraham joined with his father Terah when he saw him partaking of the 12 Mesopotamian days of solstice? Or perhaps Joseph celebrated the Egyptian winter holidays with his master Potiphar? Is it possible that Daniel arose from his plate of vegetables during the Babylonian solstice to give holiday gifts to his family? Or maybe Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fiery furnace to wish their loved ones a happy solstice? Certainly not! These men of faith understood the pure religion of God even though they had not yet received the promise! (Hebrews 11:39) Brethren, we have received the promise! We have seen Christ and received His word of Truth. Let us forsake false religion and incline our hearts to the Lord!
“Now therefore,” he said, “put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD God of Israel.” Joshua 24:23
Observance of Christmas is not a matter of “liberty.”
Those who would support Christmas often teach that the observance of Christmas is a matter of “judgement.” They claim that the Christian has “liberty” to decide to partake in the holiday. Their argument is based on Romans 14:
One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. Romans 14:5-6 (NKJV)
As with any passage one must consider the context. The context of Romans 14 is the observance of the old Jewish law. Some Christians desired to keep the old Jewish feast days and holidays. Paul tells them they can keep the old observances if they wish, but they are not to impose their beliefs about the old law (such as the Sabbath) on Christians. To do so would make one a “judiazer.” Notice that these people are not creating their own new Christian holy days.
However, some preachers teach that Christians can invent new Christian holy days and observe them as family ritual. If one follows this line of reasoning, however, there is no religious observance that is proscribed from the Christian. Christians could take part in Lent, Ascension, Easter, Epiphany, or any other dreamed or imagined celebration. One family may celebrate the Sermon on the Mount while another celebrates the cleaning of the temple. This, of course, is exactly the same philosophy that created the Roman Catholic Church. The traditional and scriptural approach of the Church of Christ is to “speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent.” We are not to go beyond that which is written. Why isn’t the Lord’s day enough for the follower of Christ? Why do we need unauthorized rituals to complement our religious fervor? Does God want us to fashion our own religious celebrations to honor Him? Are we like David attempting to bring the ark back to Jerusalem on a cart?
Christmas is an invention of the apostate Roman Church.
This is a consideration of the utmost importance. Christmas is not a Biblical holy day but was created by the organization that persecuted and murdered innocent Christians by the innumerable thousands throughout the centuries. How would you feel about partaking in Lent? Lent is very similar to Christmas. Lent is loosely based upon the Roman pagan custom of observing February as a month of self-denial. Lent was created to pacify the new pagan converts to the Catholic Church (just as Christmas) and commemorates with fasting the 40 days immediately prior to “Easter” (another pagan holiday). Both the practice of fasting and the resurrection of Christ are Biblical concepts. What then can be wrong with the Easter celebration or the Lenten observance of fasting? Why not celebrate the resurrection of Christ in a special fashion? Lent doesn’t seem too bad, does it? Consider, however, what the Apostle Paul taught about Lent:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods… 1 Timothy 4:1-3
The Apostle Paul doesn’t leave the issue in doubt. Lent is a doctrine of demons! It may look good on the surface but it is deception. In AD 380 Emperor Theodosius made it law to celebrate Lent. Anyone guilty of violating the holiday could be put to death. No doubt many true Christians died because they refused to bow to the demon-inspired doctrine of Lent (Rev 17:6). They refused to bow to the Pope, they rejected the authority of the Roman Church, they forsook the false teachings of apostasy, and they paid the price with their lives. Do we desire to profane the memory of those who have gone before us by honoring the Nativity holiday of the enemy? No!
The apostate church is lawless and has no respect for the laws of God. It makes its own laws without consideration for the primacy of scripture. Rather, the Catholic Church teaches that the edicts and commands of the Pope are equivalent with the Bible. The book of Daniel prophesied how the “little horn” (the man of sin) would presume to tamper with God’s law:
He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. Daniel 7:25
The phrase “times and law” of Dan 7:25 does not mean civil times and law. Rather it refers to God’s times and law. Does the Catholic Church have the authority to make new “times” (holidays) or new laws? Absolutely not! If God had desired Christians to observe the birth of Jesus, He would have instructed us to do so.
Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or by our epistle. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (NKJV)
Only those traditions that we are taught from scripture merit our attention. How does God view our partaking in traditions that are non-scriptural? A sobering teaching of the Bible is that if we indulge in rituals and holidays of the Roman Church, we are partaking in its works:
If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever, and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name. Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. Revelation 14:9-12
What is the mark of the beast? The “mark” is willful participation in the works of the beast. Any of the multitudes of holidays, customs, and religious beliefs that characterize the Catholic Church qualify as the “mark of the beast.” Christmas is a Catholic holiday and should be avoided by those who keep the commandments of God. Christians should keep the heavenly admonition of Rev 18:4:
And I heard another voice from heaven saying, Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. (NKJV)
In conclusion, should Christians celebrate Christmas? Let’s review the facts that we have learned:
- The scriptures are silent about Christmas and the early Christians (Apostles and saints) knew nothing about its celebration.
- Early Christians shunned the practice of hanging lights and greenery on their homes and also avoided gift giving around the December holidays.
- Christmas was created by the 4th century apostate church from ancient pagan elements and fused with a few shreds of truth from the Bible.
- The Christian who indulges in Christmas is not “holding the traditions” (2 Thessalonians 2:15) that he has been taught. Rather, Christmas is a tradition promulgated by the “man of sin.” A person who observes Christmas is profaning sacred truth with pagan idolatry. How does God feel about the union of paganism with true worship?
So, is Christmas a benign holiday that is harmless and fun? Is it wrong for the Christian to engage in such a beneficial custom, especially, (as denominational apologists argue) because Christmas serves as a great time of the year to “witness” to non-Christians about Christ? How can parents deprive their children of such a family-oriented tradition that will leave warm memories for generations to come? May Christians participate just a “little bit” (i.e. not have a tree but give gifts anyway)? The answer is an emphatic “No!” What legacy are we leaving for the next generation of Christians? We should sound to our children a clarion call of pure and unadulterated religion rather than an example of compromise with the religion of Cain. Have we become accustomed to touching the “unclean thing”? (2 Corinthians 6:17).
To many Christians the idea of forsaking Christmas is devastating and bleak. Brethren, we should ask ourselves where our affections lie. We must give up everything to gain the prize that is in Christ Jesus. Jesus admonishes us in Rev 18:4 that we should “come out of her, my people…” As servants of the Most High, we have a solemn duty and responsibility to live by the Book and forsake heresy and blasphemy. If we find ourselves enmeshed in Christmas tradition, we must “come out.” Christians should realize that the holiday season is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the truth to those trapped in damnable denominational and Catholic false doctrine. What better way to begin a conversation with friends and co-workers about true religion than during the Christmas season?
To understand the history and origins of Christmas – a fusion of paganism and apostate Christianity – and still conclude that “it doesn’t matter” is to shut one’s heart to the truth. Christmas is a tradition of false religion and for the true servant of the Lord to participate in any way is a betrayal of all that we hold precious. We should not go beyond the word of the Lord, to do either good or bad of our own will. What the Lord says, that we should speak. God help us hold fast to the traditions that we have been taught from inspired scripture and have nothing to do with Christmas!
by Bart Shaw
bartshaw [at] msn [dot] com
- The online Catholic Encyclopedia at: http://www.knight.org/advent/cathen/ (See “Christmas.”)
- Geldenhuys, Norval, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, from the New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. F.F.Bruce, p. 102, Eerdmans 1993
- See Deuteronomy 4:19.
- The practice of cross-dressing
- Count, Earl W. 4000 Years of Christmas, A Gift from the Ages, pp. 24-25, Ulysses Press 1997
- Gibbon, Edward, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 2, p. 318, reprint of the 1909-1914 edition
- Gibbon, Volume 2, pp. 319-320
- Gibbon, Volume 2, p. 325
- Nissenbaum, Stephen, The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday, p.4 Vintage Books, 1996 (1st ed.)
- Nissenbaum, p.8
- Nissenbaum, p.7
- Restad, Penne L., Christmas in America, pp. 4-5, Oxford University Press, 1995 (1st ed.)
- Durant, Will, The Story of Civilization, Simon and Schuster, 1950, vol. IV, p.75; vol. III, p.657
- The online Catholic Encyclopedia at: http://www.knight.org/advent/cathen/03724b.htm (Under “Antioch”)
- Miles, Clement, Christmas Customs and Traditions: Their History and Significance, p.358, Dover Publications, 1976 (originally published 1912)
- Nissenbaum, pp.4-5
- Karas, Sheryl Ann The Solstice Evergreen: History, Folklore, and Origins of the Christmas Tree, p.4, Aslan Publishing, 1998
- See also: 2 Kings 17:10-12, Isaiah 57:5-6, 2Chronicles 28:1-4
- The online Catholic Encyclopedia at: http://www.knight.org/advent/cathen/03246a.htm
- Tertullian, quoted from Miles, p.269
- Tertullian, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3, p. 70
- Restad, p.65
- Restad, pp.8-14
- Restad, p.64
- Restad, p.63
- Restad, p.98