Gift-giving, Christmas Trees, office parties, December 25...

Is Christ in Your Christmas?

One of the most celebrated holidays in the Christian world is Christmas. Often people will travel many miles to be with their family during this mid-winter holiday which is considered a holy festival. Because of the fact that it is such a family oriented occasion, it is also perhaps the most enjoyed annual holiday of the year for many people around the world. Not to celebrate Christmas would seem atheistic to many.

In the USA,
The first State to declare Christmas a public holiday was Alabama in 1836.
The last State was Oklahoma in 1907.
It was declared in the District of Columbia (in other words, as a USA Federal Holiday) in 1870.

Besides being perhaps the most celebrated holiday of the year, it is also the most merchandised. Years ago, stores began advertising Christmas merchandise the last weekend in November. Just a few years ago, they began advertising at the beginning of November. More recently, stores began to advertise for Christmas at the beginning of September. It seems that greed has become the theme for many businesses at that time of year instead of Christ being the theme.

Is it any wonder that we so often hear people declaring that Christ needs to be put back into Christmas? It is easy to understand their reasoning. However, we need to ask a serious question, Was Christ ever in Christmas?

You need only to look up the word Christmas in an encyclopedia to find the answer. An answer that may surprise you.

Take for example the following excerpt from the Encarta 98 Encyclopedia under the title Christmas:

"Scholars believe that it is derived in part from rites held by pre-Christian Germanic and Celtic peoples to celebrate the winter solstice. Christmas festivals, generally observed by Christians since The 4th century, incorporate pagan customs, such as the use of holly, mistletoe, Yule logs, and wassail bowls."

The Encyclopedia Britannica (11th edition) added the following:

"In Britain the 25th of December was a festival long before the conversion to Christianity ... In 1644 the English puritans forbad any merriment or religious services by act of Parliament, on the ground that it was a heathen festival, and ordered it to be kept as a fast."

In the Companion Bible (Appendix 179) we are told: "that Christmas was a pagan festival long before the time of our Lord is beyond doubt ... When many of the followers of the old pagan systems - the vast majority of the empire it must be remembered - adopted the Christian religion as a cult, and the `Church' became the church of the Roman Empire, they brought in with them, among a number of other things emanating from Egypt and Babylon, the various Festival Days of the old religions."

"The Deus Sol Invictus "God, the Unconquerable Sun" cult has an eastern, Syrian origin; and it was centred on the winter solstice. It was first imported to Rome in 219 A.D. By 274 A.D., it was proclaimed the dominant religion of the Roman state by the emperor Aurelian. It was during the reign of Constantine the Great (306-337 A.D.) that the cult of Deus Sol Invictus reached extraordinary heights, so that Constantine's reign was even spoken of as the Sun Emperorship. The heart of the cult centered on the celebration of the Dies Natali Invicti on December 25, and it was this date on which Constantine subsequently based the date of Christmas. Constantine established the date of Christ's birth as falling on December 25 - thus simultaneously incorporating the Saturnalia, "the merriest festival of the year" (Cattalus), the official Julian calendar date for the solstice, and the symbolism of Mithra's birth [from the cosmic egg on the winter solstice] into Christianity."
Kate Prendergast, "The Merriest Days of the Year: Unearthing the Pagan Origins of Christmas", Science & Spirit, January 2000, p. 20-21.

Does It Matter?

Many Christians are aware of the fact that the Christmas celebration originated from ancient pre-Christian religious ceremonies and customs. However, they believe that because they are now worshipping Christ rather than false gods, it is irrelevant that the manner and time in which they observe it was based on pagan festivals.

But if we are to believe that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction for instruction in righteousness (II Tim 3:16), then we need to look at the Scriptures to see what they says concerning this belief.

First, lets see what God instructed Israel before they entered the Promised Land:

"When the Lord your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them ... do not enquire after their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.' You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way ... Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it." (Deut. 12:29-32)

God instructed Israel that He wasn't to be worshipped in the same manner that other nations worshipped their gods. The Israelites were not to even enquire as to how other nations worshipped their gods, fearing that they might want to do likewise. God further instructed them that they were to be careful not to add nor take away from anything He instructed. What did God instruct? We find the answer in the 23rd chapter of Leviticus. Here, God spoke to Moses telling him of the feasts that were His. He stated that they were to be holy convocations, that is, commanded assemblies. It is here that we learn of the weekly Sabbath, Passover, Days of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement and Feast of Tabernacles. Also in this chapter we find the exact day and month that each feast is to be observed. There is much meaning in these days as they are a shadow of things to come (Col. 2:16-17). The overall plan of God is revealed in these holy days. Therefore, Paul who wrote Colossians is able to say that they are a type of a future reality. These are the days that God expects us to set aside to worship Him.

Numerous other festivals were observed during the days of the apostles. In fact, Paul - who was sent to the Gentiles - had to deal with those who worshipped false gods. He even had to work with people who after being converted, reverted to former practices. We find an account in Gal. 4:8-11:

"When you did not know God [i.e., before they were converted] you served those which by nature are not gods. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?"

After being converted, they were returning again to the pagan festivals which they celebrated before their conversion!

"You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain", Paul told them. The apostle was quite concerned that his preaching had been in vain because the Gentile Galatians were beginning to worship and observe the religious festivals that they had forsaken when first converted.

Jesus said, "In vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Mt. 15:9). When we substitute heathen customs, practices and dates we are guilty of worshipping God in vain. For He instructed us not to worship Him in the same manner as the heathen worshipped their gods. Remember, God does not change. He is "the same yesterday, today and forever" (Heb. 13:8). If He forbids it to the Israelites entering the land of Canaan, He forbids it now also.

Even the decorating of a Christmas tree is a custom borrowed from the time when trees were an object of worship. God considered this custom useless and instructed us to not learn practices borrowed from foreign faiths:

"Do not learn the way of the Gentiles ... For the customs of the people are futile [vain]; for one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with an axe. They decorate it with silver and gold, they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple" (Jer. 10:2-4)

Yet at Christmas, millions of unsuspecting people - including most committed Christians - yield themselves to decorating trees to honor God. If they only knew that God considered it pointless worship - and a practice He roundly condemns!

The apostle Paul wrote that Israel had a zeal for God, "but not according to knowledge" (Rom. 10:2). Paul's words seem to be more appropriate each year, especially around the Christmas holiday. People become concerned that Christ needs to be put back into Christmas, but the truth is, Christ never was in Christmas!

by Bill Faith, pastor of a Church of God in Missouri

To comment on this article or request more information, please contact James McBride by e-mail at the comment form below.

For PDF or mailed copy, see CGOM. Excerpt from New Horizons Issue 12, November/December 1998. Edited by James McBride of the Churches of God, United Kingdom.

From Presbyterian Heritage Publications, P.O. Box 180922, Dallas, Texas 75218, U.S.A.
Is Christmas Christian? By Michael Schneider.
Christmas: An Historical Survey regarding its origins and the opposition to it of Creeds and Confessions. By Kevin Reed.
Christmas-Keeping and the Reformed Faith. A response to Professor David Engelsma. By David W. Cason.

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