Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions About Christianity, Answered Honestly!

A Brief History and
Examination of Christmas

-by Tony Warren

ne of the most frequently asked questions is, "Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?" Well, the answer actually depends upon what we mean by the word Christmas. The word comes from the Latin [cristes maesse], which means, "the Mass of Christ." However, this is a misnomer as it relates to the traditional Protestant observance of the day. In Protestantism, Christmas means no more than this:

"a day set aside for a memorial celebration of the birth of Christ."

I believe there is ample scriptural precedent for this remembrance and celebration of Christ's birth, and that it is done in keeping with the events that occurred at the time of Christ's birth.

Luke 2:10-14

  • "And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
  • For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
  • And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
  • And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
  • Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
The actual story of what is today known as Christmas (the birth of Christ) is from the gospel of Luke and Matthew, where the angel appeared to shepherds by the town of Bethlehem and told them of Christ's birth. The Magi or wise men came bearing gifts, following a special star in the sky, which led them to the baby Jesus. Most Christians choose to remember this glorious moment yearly by a special day of celebration. It is set aside as a day of worship, prayer, commemorative decorations, placing stars and lights on a tree, and indulging in the spirit of giving. There is absolutely nothing "inherently" wrong with this, providing the object and adoration is of the gift of Christ.

I have been asked, "Should Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25th?" Since the exact date of Christ's birth is unknown, but Theologians almost unanimously agree that it was probably not the day Christians observe (December 25th), it's a legitimate question. This is because Zacharias (father of John the Baptist, husband of Elizabeth) was of the division of Abijah, and considering John's birth in relationship to Christ's, most learned Theologians would rightly place the Saviour's birth somewhere between September and October. The first records of anyone noting December 25 as the birth date of Jesus is in a Roman calendar dated 336 A.D. By this time Christianity was beginning to grow steadily and by the end of the century it had become the official religion of the Roman Empire.

The use of December 25th by Christians is generally thought to have been influenced by the pagan festivals, which were also held at that time. It probably was an effort to contend or combat these festivals with Christian customs. For example, the Romans held an end of the year festival to honor their harvest god Saturn at this time of year, and there was also the honoring of Mithras, which they believed to be the god of light. In these festivals the pagans prepared special foods, decorated their homes with plants, and gave gifts. It is generally thought that Christians thought to bring the gospel of Christ to the pagans by holding their celebration of His birth at this time to emphasize the gift of Christ. If true, it was a noble decision that has now become somewhat controversial.

Though Christian gift giving is believed to originate from the gifts of the Magi, many believe that the custom of giving gifts may well have also been influenced by the northern European tradition of giving presents as part of their end of year celebrations. It is not inconceivable that these customs made it more of an acceptable practice in the celebration of Christ's birth. Sadly, the legend of Saint Nicholas and his alleged charity also found its way into some Christmas celebrations as many Catholics made him a symbol of the charitable giving of gifts. Nevertheless, it is self evident that the unrighteous practices on any given day, cannot abrogate the day itself as unto the Lord, or make it unacceptable by Christians who use it properly in reverent memorial. Most arguments against observing Christmas are generally based on the origin of it, and leans heavily upon the abuse of the day both in history and the commercialismof it today. It is my opinion that this argument is spurious at best, because origin or abuse of any particular thing is not the arbiter of whether it may be used or observed righteously. It would be difficult for any logically thinking person to argue this reasonably, else we would have to give up the word Sunday because its origin is from the pagan worship of the sun. Likewise we would have to give up Saturday, because its origin is from the pagan worship of Saturn. In order to remain consistent, these detractors of Christmas should never utter the days of the week again. However, we all understand that mere words, their origins, or objects (such as trees or bells) are not inherently evil. And the same goes for a celebration of Christ's birth in December, January, or any other day for that matter. Must we say that because pagans today have usurped Sunday as their day of their religion of football in disrespect of God and hallowing it in their own eyes, that we should no longer observe the Sunday as a special Sabbath of worship? Most Christians would not suggest we stop worshipping on Sunday because of this. And likewise, there should be no condemnation of Christians who commemorate Christ's birth on December 25th, simply because Pagans had/have their own festivals at that time. That argument is lawfully untenable.

We would all agree that on this day some unrighteous practices certainly occurred, and is even today occurring, but that did not (nor does it) affect the righteous who choose to usurp it to commemorate Christ's birth with this special remembrance. Indeed, it became clear by the year 1100 A.D. that Christmas had become the biggest religious festival in Europe, and its popularity grew until the 1500's when a movement called "the Reformation" moved the church back to a sound reliance upon the word of God over the words of men. It is in this backdrop that some Christians zealously began to question whether we should partake in a celebration which was not "specifically commanded," and one that included what they deemed as non christian customs reminiscent of these Pagan festivals. Festivals including feasting and decorating. In their misguided zeal they even managed to outlaw Christmas in England for a brief period of time in the 1600's. This banning of Christmas also spread to some sections of the American Puritan colonies. However, it was short lived, and this overzealous action of the Puritans soon subsided.

In large part because of this history, some professing Christians even in our day (mainly in the Puritan and Jehovah Witness traditions) decided not to celebrate Christ's birth, despite the fact that today's Christian (as opposed to non-Christian) celebration of Christmas has nothing to do with those pagan festivals and feasts. In truth, the issue should not be one of the observance of Christmas, but of the spirit, attitudes and reasons for which it is done.

Once in a while the regulative principle is cited as a prohibition. However, Reformed Churches have through the centuries disagreed that Christmas actually violates this, and have differed widely on their application of the regulative principle in this matter.

There are other Christians who decline to celebrate Christmas because it has become commercialized (which is a much more valid reason than origin) where it has almost lost its reverential meaning, as carnal Christians fall from the faith. But again, can improper use of the day make a proper use of it evil? My understanding of God's law is that it most certainly cannot. Just as false churches cannot make a true church evil, neither can observance in unrighteousness, make observance in righteousness a bad thing.

Consequently, most Christians continue to observe Christmas on December 25. I think theyunderstand that it is of little import what actual day is used, because truly it is the Spirit and thought "behind the observance" that makes it good or evil. I feel that it should be self evident that no day can be a bad day to celebrate the birth of the Savior. If Christians with a right heart can set aside this particular time in the Spirit of giving, and decorate their homes with commemorative ornaments to bring notice to the birth of Christ, or set up a Christmas tree topped with a Star to the glory of the star in the birth of Lord their God, then I can find no reason in scripture to condemn it.

Often it is the Christmas tree itself that has become the most controversial part of Christmas. And many misguided Christians point to it as a Pgan ritual tool, and offer up the book of Jeremiah as proof that a Christmas trees is spoken of in evil terms. But upon careful examination, comparing Scripture with Scripture, this is revealed an accurate accounting of the text?

Jeremiah 10:2-4

  • "Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
  • For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
  • They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not."
Unfortunately, these erroneous conclusion concerning this verse have been parroted in many churches for years. We hear them every Christmas season like clockwork. But the fact is, this chapter has nothing whatsoever to do with a Christmas tree. When we read the context carefully, we find that this is simply another misapplication of scripture by those who choose not to celebrate Christmas. Jeremiah is talking about idol worship, not a Christmas tree. In those days, men carved wood idols and put faces, jewels and gold in them. They carved them with an axe, decked them with precious metals and worshipped them. Not unlike the native american totem poles of this country's early history, or as Africans carved idols and images to worship. Do men carry Christmas trees around because they cannot move? No, they carry these idols because they are not true gods. A careful consideration of the chapter "in context" would show that an idol is in view there. But some (for their own purposes), declare that this is talking about the evil of a Christmas tree. It is just another example of how something can be made to "appear" to be speaking about one thing, but when examined circumspectly, is found to be speaking about another.

Should Christians celebrate Christmas? The bottom line is that a good or evil celebration of Christmas with a traditional tree comes down to what is in the heart, and not what object you have in the house. By what Spirit you observe it in, not by what day you observe it. But whatsoever is not of faith, is sin (Romans 14:23) so therefore if we feel we cannot glorify God on December 25th or with a Christmas tree in our house, then by all means we should not o so or have one. But if we can look upon that tree merely as a token or sign signifying to all the precious gift of God in its ornamentation and beauty, or let it illustrate our joy in the birth of the Savior, then by all means we may freely observe the day and display the tree. Under no circumstances should we to speak evil of another man's good. Unfortunately, this is what many Christians choose to do when we joyfully celebrate Christmas. Even though Christians of all people should understand that good and evil come from men and not from days, symbols or in objects we possess. Just as the Lord gave us the example of things sacrificed to idols being eaten, and yet not inherently evil (1st Corinthians 8). There is no inherent evil in the idolatrous meats, but "in the man" and the reason hat he eats. Yes, we are not to cause our brother to stumble, but likewise we are not to think someone observing a Holy day unto the Lord is evil. Consider what the scriptures say, what they mean, and then explain how anyone can sin by esteeming this day a celebration unto the Lord.

Romans 14:3-6

  • "Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.
  • Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
  • One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
  • 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."
Since in the New Testament we are not "required" to esteem any day, what can this scripture possibly be talking about "if" not that we "CAN" esteem one day (or another) unto the Lord, and we are not to judge Christians who choose to do (or not do) so, because "to His own master he stands or fall." ..is it not, case closed? It should be, but it isn't.

If one "insists" that we cannot celebrate on any special days unto the Lord because it's not commanded, then this passage becomes meaningless. Because it is saying that we CAN, and more than that, it is saying to "real" Christians not to judge God's children in their observance of days. Some Christians simply do not want to look at these passages carefully to understand what they are saying. But clearly if we don't want to look at a day as a holy day, that is fine. But we are not to judge others who do observe that day, for they observe it unto the Lord. How much clearer can it get?

James 4:10-12

  • "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
  • Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.
  • There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?"
Why does man continue to try and put other Christians under bondage of the law, where God has not? It doesn't matter what Pagans did hundreds of years ago. Would I worry that the person who invented the pew was an atheist, and so not ever use one? No, I wouldn't because it is immaterial who first used itand foolish to hold that stance. What is at issue is how I use it. Likewise, many false gospels think of Mary, the mother of Christ, in an idolatrous manner. Does that mean that from now on I should not call Mary blessed because of their idolatrous worship of her? Again, what they do has no bearing on my understanding of her blessedness, or in the right way to think of her in serving God. It is what I do and how I believe that counts. It is not the cross, or the tree, the plastic star, the gifts, or the meats offered to idols, it is what is in our hearts. It's what is within a man that makes a deed unrighteous, not the tree that stands outside of him. God has made that perfectly clear before. It is what is in a man that defiles him, not the Christmas tree setting in his living room.

Some feel they can serve God well and bring Glory to Him by having a Christmas tree as a symbol signifying Christ's birth to all who would see it. And there can be no doubt that Christmas keeps Christ's birth prominently in view, even in the world as they abuse the celebration. Yes, even the wrath of men praises God. To the Christian it is in honor and it is for the glory God. Every day is a celebration of Christ's birth, but this special day of observance of the gift of God to men, can be very noble and God glorifying. The fact is, if Christ be the root of your Christmas tree, then the tree is a symbol of that planting, and the decorations the tokens of the beauty and brightness Christ brought to the world, and the gifts a representation of our agape or benevolent love towards all men, which is the greatest gift God has bestowed upon us. So then what evil can this celebration be? Do we think that the magi who came and brought gifts in honor of Christ the newborn King, would today be condemned by many with this judgmental attitude? I would say, in their zeal they would probably find some reason why they or it was unrighteous for them to do. Just as the woman who brought perfume for the feet of Jesus was judged unrighteous and condemned for her actions. Because man does not look upon the heart as God does, he's always looking upon the appearance, history or tradition. There is no evil in an action that is not condemned by God's law. There is no question but a Christmas tree "can" be used to commemorate Christ in faith. That is not to say it always is, but to say that it can be. Let God be judge of that, not man.

Nevertheless, whosoever cannot understand this principle, or who feels in his heart that this is improper, then they should not use a tree in celebration of the nativity of the Lord. It is not inherently evil as it is simply a piece of wood. So as they should not judge us in our doing it unto the Lord, we should not judge them in their not doing it unto the Lord. Judge not another man's servant (Romans 14:1-6) because to his own God he stands or falls.

Psalms 44:20-21

  • "If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god;"
  • Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart."
It is so simple. Because it's a matter of the heart, and of God being the judge, not the materials or objects used in celebration. And it never has been. And no matter what rhetoric is used, it never will be. There is no Biblical warrant nor precept for remembrance of the day of Christ's birth, nor does there have to be. Indeed in my humble opinion it is noble that we should have a special celebration each year to honor God's gift of Christ's birth, and special joy in the celebration of its significance. I find it very odd that anyone could find inherent fault with this. The theory that we must have clear Biblical command or precedent before having religious commemorations or celebrations is ludicrous. Do we have to have special Biblical command or precedent in order to pray on the 2nd day of April or the 3rd day of May or the 4th day of June? Do we need Biblical command or precedent before we worship or praise God as we're standing knee deep in a garbage bin? No, we do not. This theory is totally unbiblical and often self serving. God says very clearly that we are not to judge our fellow Christians in relationship or respect of a Holy day (Romans 14:6), so what about that statement is unclear or ambiguous?

Indeed, to every faithful Christian, Christmas should be more than simply celebrating His birth of some 2000 years ago. Rather it should not only be a time of special remembrance, but also of renewing, to keep our hearts and minds in Christ. A time of reenergizing in exhorting one another in continued prayerful expectation, as we celebrate the Blessed hope of His promised return.

May the Precious Lord who is Gracious above all, give us the wisdom to understand this very pertinent question.



Copyright 2000 Tony Warren
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Created 12/25/2000 / Last Modified 12/24/2012
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