This is an exciting time of the year! The Christmas season promotes family gatherings and a time of sharing each other’s love and gifts. It is a special time of warmth and friendliness, a time when children are filled with great anticipation – great joy fills the air. This is what Christmas means to me, and these are the things I think about when I meditate on this holiday season.
Yet, for most of the world, Christmas is much more than a time for family gatherings. Christmas is a time when Christendom celebrates the birth of Jesus. It is a time when you see nativity scenes, figures of angels, shepherds, and three wise men. It is a time when you hear such phrases as, “Jesus is the reason from the season” and “Put Christ back in Christmas.”
Why is it that “most” members of the church of Christ do not celebrate Christmas as do those among the denominations? Is it just because we want to be different? No! Is it just because we want to be contrary? No! We do not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday because there is no Bible authority for it. Paul said, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name [or, authority] of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Col. 3:17). We must have biblical authority for all that we do. Is there biblical authority for celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday? Let us see.
First, let us consider the origin and development of Christmas. The Bible is silent concerning celebration of Christmas. The celebration of Christmas did not start until some 300 years after the church was established on the day of Pentecost, in A.D. 33.
Philip Schaff has written, “Notwithstanding this deep significance and wide popularity, the festival of the birth of the Lord is of comparatively late institution. This may doubtless be accounted for in the following manner: In the first place no corresponding festival was presented in the Old Testament. In the second place the day and month of the birth of Christ are nowhere stated in the gospel history, and cannot be determined. We find it [Christmas] first in Rome in the time of the bishop Liberius, who on the twenty-fifth of December, 360, consecrated Marcella, the sister of St. Ambrose, nun or bride of Christ, and addressed her with the words: ‘Thou seest what multitudes are come to the birth-festival of thy bride groom.’ Christmas was introduced in Antioch about the year 380, in Alexandria, where the feast of Epiphany was celebrated as the nativity of Christ, not till about 430. Chrysostom, who delivered the Christmas homily in Antioch on the 25th of December, 386, already calls it, notwithstanding its recent introduction (some ten years before), the fundamental feast, or the root from which all other Christian festivals grow forth” (History of the Christian, Vol. III, pp. 395-396).
The Encyclopedia Britannica states that “Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the church, and before the 5th century there was no general consensus of opinion as to when it should come in the calendar, whether on January 6th, March 25th or December 25th” (Vol. 5, p. 641). Much more evidence could be given to show that Christmas was not celebrated in the first century, but this is enough to prove the point.
The word “Christmas” is really made up of two words “Christ” and “Mass,” and therefore is Catholic in origin and nature. By the 4th and 5th centuries, Catholicism had developed into a religion which was a distinct departure from the New Testament pattern. In the December 25, 1960 issue of The Register (a national Catholic weekly publication) we read the following: “Christmas means ‘Christ’s Mass’ and is so distinctively Catholic that the Puritan Parliament of 1644 abolished it in England … The Puritans in Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1659 passed a law fining anybody who would celebrate it. Even after the U.S. was established, the schools were not dismissed in Boston on Christmas Day, until Catholic immigrants brought the great feast with them.”
This “Mass of Christ” is a special Mass observed on Christmas Eve around midnight. A Mass is a repetition of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for the sins of the world. Therefore, each time Mass is said, Christ is re-sacrificed. This is in total opposition to what the Bible says.
The Hebrew writer declared, “For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself” (Heb. 7:26-27).
The Hebrew writer later said, “For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another – He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Heb. 9:24-28). Calling on Christ to be re-sacrificed time and time again is in total conflict with the Scriptures.
That Christmas did not have its origin in the Scriptures, but in Paganism and Catholicism can be easily established. For example, according to the Worldbook and Americana Encyclopedias, December 25th was probably chosen as the day of Christmas because the feast of the sun (called “Saturnalia”), which was a feast held in honor of Saturn – the sun god. This Pagan holiday was further celebrated with the giving of gifts to the children and the poor, and setting slaves free. December 25th was also celebrated as the birthday of three heathen gods: Apollo, Bacchus and Osiris.
Let us note where many of the modern customs of Christmas came from. First of all, the manger scene, that is seen so often around the Christmas season, was first introduced by a Catholic named Saint Francis on December 24, 1223 A.D.
The “yule log” originated with the Scandinavians, and was burned during the Yule Season. “Yule” comes from “jol” from which we get our word “jolly.” Thus, the Yule Season was to be a joyful and festive time of the year. The “yule log” was burned once a year to honor Thor, the god of thunder. When these people entered Christianity, they adopted the “yule log” as an important part of their Christmas ceremonies.
“Holly” and “mistletoe” were considered sacred by the Celts, and was thought to have marvelous powers. The priests would pile it on their altars in sacrifice to their gods. The Druids and the Germans would hang “holly” and “mistletoe” over their doors for good fortune. Some considered “holly” sacred because to them it depicted the crown of thorns which was placed on our Savior’s head.
Strangely enough, the Armenians are said to celebrate Christmas by eating boiled spinach because they believed that Mary ate boiled spinach the night that Jesus was born.
The Christmas tree is a relic of the pagan practice of using evergreens to symbolize life in the dead of winter. The ancient German tribes and those of the Scandinavian countries would worship the evergreen tree. It is said that the early church frowned on the use of the evergreen because of its association with pagan festivals. Later, however, the custom of the Christmas tree was incorporated into the observance of Christmas by the Roman Catholic Church to appease the superstitions of the newly converted.
The beginning of “Santa Clause” dates back to a so-called bishop of Mrya of Lycia in the 4th century. He was called Nicholas and was considered a saint because of his good deeds; hence, we have “Jolly Ole Saint Nicholas.” He was regarded as a special friend and protector of children and widows. After his death, children began praying to him, and believed their prayers would be answered miraculously. Some believe that Santa Clause is the ghost or spirit of Saint Nicholas. The American “Santa Clause” is a corruption of the Dutch Saint Nicholas. And, of course, we know that “Santa Clause” is no more true or false than is “Old Mother Hubbard,” Jack-in-the-Bean-Stack,” “Mother Goose,” or any other fairy-tale character.
The origin of “giving gifts” is attributed to an ancient woman of Palestine who awaited the return of the “Three Kings of the Orient” who had passed her way bearing gifts to the infant Jesus. It is said that she still waits today since, unknown to her, they returned a different way. It is said that her influence watches over the little children who hang their stockings before the hearth-fire before they went to bed on the eve of Epiphany. Good behavior in the children was rewarded with gifts, and stocking full of ashes were given to those who had misbehaved. Today this ancient custom is said to be fulfilled by Santa Clause on Christmas Eve.
The evidence is very clear that Christmas is pagan in origin and was not observed as a religious holiday by the first century Christians. So, should we participate in Christmas as a religious holiday, have special Christmas services in the worship assembly, and put a Christmas tree and the like in the church building? Should we get caught up with the idea that “Jesus is the reason for the season?”
The Israelites of old were well acquainted with the observance of special religious holidays. They celebrated such things as the passover, pentecost, feast of tabernacles, new moon, the sabbath Jubilee and others. That is why it is so significant to notice that when the Jews became Christians, no religious days were observed. The old law was abolished, nailed to the cross (Eph. 2:15; Col. 2:14). Under the new law there have been no special days set forth to be observed other than the observance of the Lord’s Supper each first day of the week commemorating the death of our Savior (Acts 20:7). As a matter of fact, the New Testament condemns the observance of holy days. Paul declared, “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (Gal. 4:10-11).
Can we celebrate Christmas in any fashion? Down through the years social aspects have developed in connection with Christmas that have no religious significance. Christmas can be enjoyed in a purely secular way, much as we enjoy the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and other national holidays. There is nothing specifically religious about national holidays; and therefore, there is nothing wrong with enjoying them, provided we keep our Christian principles. There is nothing wrong in celebrating Christmas if done in a secular way. But to observe Christmas in a religious fashion is to be guilty of moving over to “another gospel” which Paul condemns (Gal. 1:6-10). To observe Christmas religiously is to be guilty of adding to and taking away from the word of God (Rev. 22:18-20), and we must not go beyond the things that are written (Jude 9).
As each Christmas season rolls around there are several things that we should keep in memory: (1) teach our children that Christmas has no, and should not have any, religious significance (2) refrain from using decorations or greeting cards that have a religious connotation, and would give people the wrong impression (3) be careful not to lead others into believing you observe this day religiously, (4) treat Santa Clause as you would other fairy tale characters, and (5) be sure we always deal with others on this or any other issue in a Christian manner. Those who desire to please God must only do what is authorized (Col. 3:17).