It has already begun. The banter that often times occurs every year. Should we say, “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays?” Was Jesus born on December 25th? Do I even want to celebrate Christmas at all? Is Christmas an authorized Christian holiday? Is Christmas a pagan holiday? Why do I have to buy so many gifts? Yes, the questions can be quite endless.
Historically speaking, it is generally agreed that the original origins of Christmas can ultimately be traced back to Saturnalia—a holiday in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. Like many holidays, Christians took the idea of Saturnalia and made it their own. The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336 c.e., during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine. A few years later, around 350 c.e., Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on December 25th. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival.
Fast forward to the 17th century when certain Puritans banned Christmas because they thought that celebrating Christmas was too pagan and unbiblical. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was actually fined a penalty. In fact, Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday in America until June 26, 1870. While a lot more could be said in regards to the historicity of Christmas, the above historical information should suffice for the purpose of this article.
With that being said, how should Christians celebrate Christmas? The answer to this question actually depends upon you. In addressing the church in Rome, Paul wrote, “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.” (Rom. 14:5-6a). We do not know when Jesus was born, but that doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with taking a day out of the year to give special acknowledgment and celebration of such.
Last month we celebrated a day called Thanksgiving. While we should be thankful everyday of our lives (1 Thess. 5:18), there is nothing wrong with taking one day out of the year to dedicate and meditate upon thankfulness even more so. Churches typically celebrate Father’s Day and Mother’s Day (and at some churches Mothers may even get a rose!). While we should honor our father and mother everyday of the year (Eph. 6:1-2), there is certainly nothing wrong with taking a day out of the year to give special thought and appreciation to fathers and mothers.
So is Christmas a Christian holiday or a secular celebration? Well, it depends upon how you celebrate it. Personally, I enjoy the morally pure secular celebration of Christmas with its traditions as well as thinking about and celebrating the birth of Christ and being especially appreciative this time of year that Jesus was born. I don’t know when Jesus was born. No one living today does know. However, I am thankful that we live in a country where one day out of the year many people turn their attention to Jesus when they might otherwise not.
As stated before, there is no such thing as Father’s Day or Mother’s Day in the Bible. But I am told to honor my father and my mother. Therefore, I am personally thankful that I live a country that celebrates such honoring. The same is true with Thanksgiving and Christmas. While we should respect each others decisions and consciences, we must also be careful not to “judge each other in these matters” (Rom. 14:4). So whether you “Bah Humbug,” “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas,” make sure that you “do it unto the Lord and for His glory” (Rom. 14:6; 1 Cor. 10:31).
– Kevin Pendergrass