Every year, in the lead up to December, the question arises: should Christians celebrate Christmas? Here I want to give some answers which will hopefully help you with this issue.
If you do a bit of research about the history of Christmas, you will soon find mention of ancient pagan festivals that predate the birth of Jesus, as well as Roman traditions which became mixed into Christian tradition a few centuries after Jesus. This time of year has been used through the years by many cultures for various celebrations and festivals, not even all religious ones.
Passionate arguments have arisen, fuelled by both sides, about why Christians either should or should not celebrate Christmas.
Some who are against Christmas object to the use of the date (25 December), others claim that because some of the practices over Christmas have pagan roots, they have no place in a Christian celebration (and as a result brand the entire event of Christmas as unchristian). There are those who insist that we should not celebrate Christ’s birth like a human birthday, while others point to the partying done in the world over the season as evidence of its ungodly nature. I will address these issues in this article (and another article: Should Christians decorate and have Christmas trees?)
What we need to look at to conclude whether Christians should celebrate Christmas or not
- What does the word ‘Christmas’ mean? What exactly is Christmas?
- Is ok scripturally to celebrate a birthday, specifically Christ’s?
- Should we be using 25 December for the event?
- Can Christians decorate, use Christmas trees, give gifts etc as part of Christmas or are those from pagan religions?
We will study the first three questions in this article, then look at the last point in a separate article.
Is Christmas Christian?
The question we have asked (and that is often asked by Christians) is, should Christians celebrate Christmas?
This question itself does not refer to the actual date we celebrate on, so let’s first look at the general concept of Christmas before asking about the date we use. Let’s ask what Christmas is and what the word means.
The meaning of the word Christmas
The word Christmas is made up of two words: Christ and Mass. This clearly refers to Christ, so the term Christmas is directly a Christian word.
It does not refer to any other pagan festival that may have ever been on the same date. Regardless of objections about how pagan festivals have influenced Christmas celebrations through the years or that they are on the same date, we need to see the heart of the issue first. Pagan festivals had other names, so the word Christmas directly refers to a Christian event.
Mass is mostly a Catholic word, and refers to what other Christian groups know as Holy Communion. It’s exact origin is debated; however, is generally agreed to mean ‘a dismissal or sending’.
It is interesting that a word associated with the death of Christ is used to refer to an event celebrating His birth, but it makes sense when we understand that Christ came to this earth to die. His purpose, even before birth, was to go to the cross.
Communion (The Lord’s supper or The Breaking of Bread) is an act of remembrance. We do it to remember Christ and what He did (Luke 22:19). Remembering His birth is part of remembering why He came. This baby, born in a manger, had a destiny to redeem mankind by His death on the cross. In remembering His birth, we are remembering why He came.
If you don’t like using a Catholic word (mass), then simply call it Christ Communion!
Should we celebrate the birth of Christ?
Early church leaders (after Bible times) had different opinions about whether the church should celebrate Christ’s birth as a specific occasion. Some believed we should not, raising objections related to whether birthday celebrations were scriptural. A number of groups today do not follow Christmas on these grounds. Other early church leaders believed we should remember Christ’s birth.
Personally, I do not see that having a birthday each year is spoken against in the Bible. There are no actual commands either way on the issue in the Bible and coming to the conclusion they are unscriptural has to be done by a roundabout argument. You can make up your own mind here and follow your own conscience.
However, ask yourself, did the angels celebrate Christ’s birth on this earth?
Look at what the angels did when they announced the birth of Jesus to the Shepherds.
:13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
:14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
Is it wrong to celebrate the coming to this world of the Saviour and Redeemer of mankind like the angels did? I do not believe it is.
Regardless of the date, ask yourself, is it wrong to celebrate the birth of Jesus?
Should we celebrate Christ’s birth on 25 December?
If your question is should Christians remember the birth of Christ, then I believe I have shown above that the answer is yes. If your question relates to the actual date this remembrance takes place on, then read on.
Is the date of Christmas taken from a pagan festival?
If so, does it mean Christians cannot use that date?
The biggest objection to whether Christians should celebrate Christmas often relates to the date that was chosen for the event.
Should we use 25 December to remember the birth of Christ?
A brief history of Christmas
Early church leaders who supported the idea of celebrating the birth of Christ proposed a variety of different dates, for differing reasons. The biggest challenge was that Christians did not know the exact day of the year that Jesus was born on.
By the early-mid fourth Century, the Western Church had selected 25 December as the day to celebrate the birth of Christ (the Eastern church followed shortly after. Although some celebrate it on 7 January, this is simply due to different calendars being used, rather than a dispute over which date to celebrate on).
That time of year was used by many cultures (not just Romans) for various festivals and celebrations. The Norse and Anglo-Saxons winter festival was known as Yule and was associated with their god Odin.
Why December 25?
Exactly why 25 December was chosen is not clear, although it is believed that a variety of factors affected the decision, including the Roman winter solstice and, possibly, the Roman festival Saturnalia. Various pagan festivals celebrated by the Romans around this time may have been factors in the decision, although the reasons for picking a date used by pagans is debatable.
By the fourth Century a large proportion of the Roman Empire was Christian. Romans may have wanted to continue festivals which they had been accustomed to having before they were Christians, but under a Christian label, so chose to celebrate Christ’s birth on the same date.
It is also possible that the date was chosen in order to compete with pagan festivals, to encourage Roman Christians to do something Christian on the date, rather than go back to their pagan festivals.
Church leaders may have been concerned that Romans would go back to their pagan roots at this time of year in order to enjoy the festivals that they were accustomed to, so put a Christian event at the same time as an alternative.
Is it wrong to use the same date as pagan festivals?
This brings up the question: should Christians use a date that was also used for pagan festivals? My answer: why not?
Why would it be wrong?
Is there something inherently ‘evil’ about that day because it was used as a day for a pagan festival?
Just because the day was used for pagan festivals, does that mean it cannot be used to celebrate a Christian event. There is not some sort of universal booking system that states that once a day is booked by one religion, no one else can use it and no double bookings are allowed!
The date itself may have been chosen because it was already used by Romans and, when they became Christians, they wanted to keep their winter festival, but that alone does not make it wrong to celebrate.
Deciding to honour God on a day that used to be used to honour other god’s seems to me to be a positive, a victory!
That would be similar to a Christian who used to be a drug addict deciding to go to church on a day he used to sit at home taking drugs. It is a turn around and an honour to God. He shouldn’t think, ‘I used to do something unchristian on this day, so now I can never honour God on this day, because the day is evil’. That would be absurd!
I have heard some pagans claim that Christians ‘stole’ their festival. That is ridiculous. They do not have a unique claim on the 25 December.
The fact that other religions and beliefs have ceremonies on the same date is irrelevant. The date alone is not inherently evil. As we have already seen, the word Christmas is specifically a Christian term and does not in way refer to any pagan religion or event. So, referring to Christmas is referring to the Christian event on that date, not a pagan one.
Who made 25 December internationally famous?
The celebration known as Christmas was made internationally famous by Christianity. There is no evidence at all that, had Christians chosen a different date to celebrate Christ’s birth, the date would have become famous for any other reason or due to any pagan belief. Pagan festivals on other dates of the year have not become famous and internationally celebrated across cultures and borders.
If Christians had not chosen that date for the remembrance of Christ’s birth, it is most likely that the date would have simply been known, and used, on a small scale within different pagan groups, but would certainly not have achieved the status that it has today as an international event.
The fame of the day is directly due to Christianity and, therefore, pagans who get upset that Christians celebrate Christ on ‘their day’ have no real basis to complain. No one would have known about the day if it were not for Christianity.
It was Christianity, not pagan religion, that made the date internationally known
If they want to still use the date, that is their business, but it is not up to them to say that we cannot use it. They do not own the rights to that particular date on the calendar each year.
Should we get drawn in to arguments about whether Christmas is the correct date of Jesus birth or whether it is a Christian festival?
I do not believe we should. The term Christmas is directly Christian. So, it is, therefore, a Christian festival. No argument! The pagan festivals on the same date had different names, so the name given to that date is specifically Christian and not a reference to any pagan religion.
Christianity made that date internationally famous. Regardless of what other things the date used to be used for, it is our date now.
The real issue is: what does Christmas mean to me?
If Christmas to you means a remembrance of the birth of Jesus, then that is what matters. Not whether it is the correct date, or whether the date used to be a pagan festival.
Consider the values that Christmas is known for encouraging
- A giving attitude
- Time of rest from work (consistent with the idea of sabbath)
- Time to focus on family and friendships
- Time of forgiveness and to put past hurts behind
- Restoration of relationships
- A time to remember the poor and needy
Are they Christian values?
These are all, most certainly, Christian values
First ask yourself: is it wrong to celebrate the birth of Jesus?
Now ask, do we know exactly when Jesus was born, and if not, does that mean we should never set aside a day to do it?
As we do not know the exact day of his birth, is it wrong to select a day in the year, regardless of exactly when, to celebrate Christ’s birth?
Does the day we set aside to remember His birth have to be the correct day and does it have to be close to the correct date?
Does using the wrong date make it invalid?
I do not believe so. The important thing is that it is an act of remembrance, even part of us remembering his death, since he was born to die.
I believe that a Christian can celebrate Christmas, without concern that they are doing so on the same day as a pagan festival. Hold true to what the day means to you.