Is Christmas Christian?

by T.L. Hubeart Jr.

© 1996 by T.L. Hubeart Jr.

For my responses to e-mails addressing this essay, click here.

It is well known that some Christians in past history have rejected the celebration of Christmas--for example, the party of Oliver Cromwell, which took over England in the mid 17th century and forbade the holiday; and Alexander Hislop, the 19th century author of The Two Babylons, who argued that the roots of Roman Catholicism and of holidays like Christmas and Easter were pagan. In our own times, cults such as the Jehovah's Witnesses have adopted information such as Hislop's (often without acknowledgement) to support their position of non-observance of Christmas, and present Christians with what may seem like excellent reasons to abhor the holiday as an abomination to God. What then should be the Christian's attitude toward Christmas?

It must be admitted that Hislop's book and others like it go a long way toward demonstrating that many of the traditions we associate with Christmas did not originate with Christianity. One of the most obvious is the fact that there is little to be said for assigning the birthday of Jesus Christ to December 25th. This was actually a compromise after Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire; the pagan holiday "Saturnalia" was the holiday celebrated in Rome on the 25th of December, and Constantine basically rechristened it in an attempt to accomodate both Christians and pagans. Also, many customary features of the holiday, such as the Yule Log and the Christmas Tree, can be traced to the religions of Babylon and Egypt.

Should these features of Christmas, which is now celebrated by a majority of the world's Christians, cause us to condemn this holiday as sinful?

To answer this question, Christians who believe God's Word will want to consult the Bible, for although it does not mention Christmas, it may be that its general principles will shed some light on God's attitude toward Christmas.

When we turn to the words of Paul in the eighth chapter of First Corinthians, we find him discussing the situation of eating meats which had been sacrificed to idols. The People's New Testament Commentary sets the scene:

Corinth, like all Greek cities, was full of temples to heathen idols. At their altars victims [i.e., animals such as cattle and oxen, not humans!] were constantly sacrificed, the flesh of which was afterwards eaten. The question arose whether a Christian could eat of such flesh without the sin of showing deference to an idol. Perhaps the letter to Paul had asked about this matter.

We learn from 1 Cor. 10:25 that such meat might be sold in the common markets with no indication that it was butchered in idol worship. Was a Christian who ate such meat, even inadvertently, guilty before God? Paul replies:

1 Cor. 8:4 (KJV) As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. 5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) 6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. 7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. 8 But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.

If eating meat of idols was not in itself sinful to Christians, since believers in Christ certainly paid no regard to an idol, one wonders how celebrating a holiday with traditions that happen to coincide with some practiced by long-ago pagans can be sinful.

But Paul's further remarks--urging that even in using this "liberty," one ought to consider weaker brethren who might stumble--might be urged as a diminution of this liberty, both in eating meats and celebrating holidays. However, the warning would only apply to Christians who celebrate Christmas if it could be shown that weaker brethren could get the idea from the celebration that there was something idolatrous about the practice. Since the temples of Isis, Tammuz, and other pagan gods long ago crumbled into dust, it does not well appear how these weaker Christians could associate our Christmas with any pagan holiday. Of course there could be other idols, such as money, which insinuate themselves into the celebrations of certain individual Christians and make them displeasing to God. But this does not justify a blanket condemnation of all Christians--even those who truly love Jesus and honor Him on this day--as "sinful" for celebrating Christmas.

Paul gets even closer to the matter we are discussing in Romans chapter 14, where after some references (once again) to the subject of food and weak consciences, he offers the following comments regarding observances of days. Some of the Christians at Rome were still scrupulously observing Jewish Sabbaths and feasts, while others were determined to ignore these holidays; this difference of opinion was apparently causing some disputes in the church. The apostle offered his verdict in the matter:

Rom. 14:5 (KJV) One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. 6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. 7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. 8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.

Given the above principle, it does not well appear how the believer in Christ who regards Christmas as a holiday "unto the Lord" can be automatically displeasing to God. For the average Christian, who has hardly heard of Tammuz or Osiris or the idols of two or three thousand years ago, is certainly not regarding them as any kind of factor in his celebration. For him, the holiday is about Jesus Christ, a way to honor His coming to earth, and the fact that this holiday has been arbitrarily assigned to December 25th simply gives all Christians an agreed-upon day on which to honor Him. The fact that two thousand years ago pagans happened to be praising false gods on the same day is irrelevant to the believer today, just as the fact that a pagan in Paul's day worshipped an idol while butchering an ox meant nothing when the apostle bought the meat from that ox.

Let us celebrate Christmas in a way that is pleasing to God, and let no idols of any kind keep us from giving him praise and worship.

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