How Should We Celebrate – or Should We Even Be Celebrating at All?
I have never been one to celebrate Christmas the traditional way. I was never taught that Santa Claus was going to come bring me gifts. I have abstained in the past from decorating certain ways, and celebrating like the “norm.” I haven’t always put up a Christmas tree, and instead put decorations of the Wise Men’s gifts, and names of Jesus on our wall. Those decorations are really special, as we handmade most of them – except for the lights and evergreen garland of course. 🙂
I have known people from the perspective that Christians should not celebrate Christmas, or any other “unbiblical” holiday. I have also know those that celebrate Christmas in a completely Godless fashion. And I have known about almost everyone inbetween both spectrums.
So how should a Christian celebrate Christmas? Or should we even celebrate at all? Should we, or should we not have a Christmas tree, presents, get excited about Santa, or decorate at all? Or does it even matter? We have to be open to find out from God’s Word exactly what He wants us to do, or this study will be worthless.
“…Don’t just be Semper Reformanda [Always Reforming], but be Semper Reformanda Recte—always reforming RIGHTLY.”
Probably one of the first things that I should say is I didn’t embark on this journey about Christmas because I “wished I could have learned about Santa Claus,” or anything like that. I am not bitter about not getting to celebrate a certain way. I have many good memories of celebrating Christmas, singing for residents in the nursing home, and having wonderful family time. I have experienced and chosen many different ways of celebrating Christmas. So in no way should any of this article be taken as resentful to my past. It is simply an honest Biblical approach. This journey has been one about “what does God’s Word have to say, and what does it not say about this topic?” What things have been passed on as tradition, yet not been thought about from a Biblical worldview? What things have we tried “reforming,” yet we have reformed the wrong way? As Joel McDurmon put it, “…Don’t just be Semper Reformanda [Always Reforming], but be Semper Reformanda Recte—always reforming RIGHTLY.” (a post on his Facebook page). In other words, we should always be growing in our understanding and application of God’s Word in the right way. Not simply adding or cutting things out of our lives because we think we are getting closer to what God wants us to do.
So to start out our study about this topic, our first question should logically be:
Should we even be celebrating Christmas at all?
Some say that Christmas originated as a pagan holiday, or that it was a celebration of the winter solstice, that Jesus wasn’t born on Dec. 25, or even that it doesn’t matter because we shouldn’t be making new holidays and celebrating them anyways. I will cover all of these topics, because they are all relevant to our discussion.
First of all, I would argue that it does not matter if a holiday was started by pagans at all. This fact is irrelevant to our discussion. Because if what happened is that Christmas started as a pagan holiday, then Christians came along and made it about Christ, Christ is getting glory from that victory! We took a pagan holiday, and created it into one that now has the name of Christ in the very name of Christmas. One that during the holiday season, even pagans sing the praises of our Lord with the Christmas carols, and one that reminds people, whether they like it or not, about Jesus’s birth! Psalm 18:49 says, “Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O LORD, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name.” Christmas is an open door into many lives to more openly share why we celebrate Christmas, and what Jesus came for. Bodie Hodge puts it this way, ” The Church has often failed during Christmas-time because we simply talk about the birth of Christ without talk about why He came. Whether Christmas happens to occur at the same time (or close to the same time) as a pagan holiday is irrelevant. There is nothing inherently wrong with celebrating a Christian holiday at the same time the pagans celebrate. Do Christians refuse to take communion if it falls on a pagan holiday like Halloween? Absolutely not. On Halloween, some celebrate Reformation Day, because of what Martin Luther did.” Answers in Genesis (online), Dec. 19, 2008. I would also mention that it is actually up for debate whether Christmas was started by pagans, or by Christians, which makes this arguement about Christmas being a pagan holiday even less stable. Now if we were talking about whether or not a Christian should celebrate a pagan holiday, this would be a completely different topic. We should not be celebrating a false god, obviously. Because, in Colossians 2:8 it says, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” But what we are talking about here is a possibly pagan holiday that we have turned around and instead celebrated Christ’s birth, and try to get others to do the same. We want others to focus on the Christian meaning of Christmas.
On a similar note though, do we even have the right to make a holiday that God hasn’t ordained? Shouldn’t we be celebrating, instead, the holidays God laid out in the Old Testament? Wouldn’t that be more Biblical? Actually, contrary to what it might sound, following a Old Testament feast would actually be more unbiblical if we think that we need to celebrate these things as a Christian. To go through the whole context of Galatians is above the scope of this study, but if you read through Galatians it talks about how we are not to be under the Old Testament law, and that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13). So after going through the whole discussion about the law, its purpose (to show us that we need a Saviour – like a schoolmaster), and other things, in chapter 4:9-11 it says, “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.” In context, these are not new holidays that we have made. These are holidays, feasts, new moons, etc. from the Old Testament law. Back in Genesis, “…God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:” Genesis 1:14. This would speak to the argument that Christmas is bad because of it being on the Winter Solstice – something God made from the beginning. We can celebrate the seasons God has given us to enjoy! “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.” Romans 14:5-6 There is room for Christian liberty. The main thing that God says is that we are persuaded in our own mind, and whatever we decide to do, we are supposed to give God thanks. You may also be interested to know that the Jewish feast of Purim (of when Esther saved the Jewish people) was not a holiday instituted by God, but one that the Jews started to celebrate what God had done for them. Why then can we not celebrate a holiday where we set time aside to focus on the amazing story of Jesus’s birth, and proclaim to the world why he came here?
Here is one last thought from Gabriel Hudleson on why using the argument about Old Testament feasts is unbiblical.
“I have in the past participated in “Passover” celebrations which served as a way to look back on Christ as the fulfillment thereof, and insofar as the Old Covenant feasts are enjoyed as educational and historical exercises which teach us about Christ they are wonderful opportunities.
But if God decreed these feasts- some of which He called perpetual, and commanded for generational observance- why are we not celebrating them yearly? Why are we not quite literally religious about them? Shouldn’t we be celebrating the Jewish feasts as a matter of obedience to God’s Word?
No. We should not. What’s more, we cannot.
The feasts were part of the ceremonial laws of the Old Covenant- laws which, unlike the moral and judicial laws, were abrogated in Christ, their Fulfillment. To which you say, “prove it, bub,” and rightly so; we cannot just go cherry-picking through the Law of God, deciding which ones sound fun for us to keep and which ones are too old-fashioned. So is there a Biblical basis for calling some of God’s Laws “ceremonial,” and for saying that we are not obligated to keep them?
In Hebrews 9:8-11, we see that the laws regarding “food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body” are appointed until “a time of reformation,” namely, “when Christ appeared.” That verse succinctly clarifies what exactly the “ceremonial law” is. But noticeably absent from this list is any mention of feasts or festivals.
Hebrews 10:12, however, tells us that Christ was the final sacrifice. We are no longer supposed to follow the laws about sacrificing animals, because those laws pointed to Christ, and He has come and fulfilled them once for all. It is now not only unnecessary but actually blasphemous to sacrifice animals, because The Lamb has come, and we should not look to anything else for our atonement.
What does this have to do with the Jewish feasts? Many or all of them involved offering sacrifices. Most notably, Passover- the yearly passover lamb which pointed to the once-for-all Lamb to be slain for the sins of the world.
Since sacrifices are inherently woven into the feast and festival laws of the Old Covenant, and since the sacrifices are fulfilled in Christ, the feasts must also be fulfilled in Christ. We cannot keep the feasts for obedience, because we cannot actually follow the prescribed method for celebrating those feasts- through sacrificing animals!
One more note- our church celebrates the New Covenant passover every week, when we eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Lamb who delivered us from the Egypt of sin.”
So now that we covered the fact that Christmas is acceptable to celebrate from a Biblical standpoint, we now should go through the major Christmas traditions and see whether or not they line up with God’s Word, and how we should celebrate with those things. Namely, Christmas trees, Santa Claus, and gift giving.
Should we be using a Christmas tree as a decoration?
It is hard to know which tradition in Christmas is more prominent. So I will start with the question of, “is it acceptable for Christians to celebrate Christmas and use a Christmas tree as part of the decoration?”
The first logical deduction from this question must needs be, “is it acceptable to decorate at any season with any kind of tree or plant for any special ocassion?” That is because if we say it is wrong to simply decorate with a Christmas tree we would also have to say it is wrong to decorate with any tree or plant for a holiday.
Let that sink in for a moment. The question is not just simply about Christmas trees. To simply say that one sort of tree and one sort of decoration is evil, is incorrect and inconsistent.
So let’s take a look at what the Bible says. First, I will go to the star passage that proponents against Christmas trees almost always go to. Jeremiah 10:2-5 “2 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.
3 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.
4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
5 They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.”
At first glance this appears to be speaking directly to the practice of Christmas trees being evil – i.e cutting a tree out of the forest, and decorating it with silver and gold! However, there are a few things to notice.
First of all, people are taking this verse out of context. The whole point of these verses are not the tree itself. It is the actual worshipping of it, and learning about all the details of their worship so you can worship how they do. This is very obvious when we look at these verses in context and in the rest of Scripture.
Here are verses 8-15 of Jeremiah 10, “8 But they are altogether brutish and foolish: the stock is a doctrine of vanities.
9 Silver spread into plates is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the workman, and of the hands of the founder: blue and purple is their clothing: they are all the work of cunning men.
10 But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.
11 Thus shall ye say unto them, The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens.
12 He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion.
13 When he uttereth his voice, there is a multitude of waters in the heavens, and he causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings with rain, and bringeth forth the wind out of his treasures.
14 Every man is brutish in his knowledge: every founder is confounded by the graven image: for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them.
15 They are vanity, and the work of errors: in the time of their visitation they shall perish.” (emphasis added)
The question is not just simply about Christmas trees. To simply say that one sort of tree and one sort of decoration is evil, is incorrect and inconsistent.
In verse 9 you see that in addition to what is claimed to be a resemblance to a Christmas tree in this passage, it says they also make silver plates, acquire gold, and wear blue and purple clothing. Now where else does this sound familiar? The tabernacle and temple of the Lord! There were many pieces of tableware and decorations made with silver and gold, and much of the cloth that was used were blue and purple. 2 Chronicles 3:14 says, “And he made the vail of blue, and purple, and crimson, and fine linen, and wrought cherubims thereon.” There are other extensive verses where it talks in detail about all the gold things that were to be made for the temple. It’s not these things that are evil. It is the usage of them that can be evil, or good for that matter.
In addition to this, all throughout the Bible you see instances of righteous people being likened to a tree (in Psalm 1), tree branches being used in worship and celebration (such as when Jesus coming into Jerusalem on a donkey), and, believe it or not, there were carvings of palm trees overlaid with gold in the temple! And when you look at verse 5, it speaks of these idols as “upright as the palm tree.” If this idol and a palm tree are likened, why were they carved in the temple? Probably because this issue is what is being worshipped – not the actual tree itself.
Here are a few verses that reference the positive usage of trees in the Bible – and that prove the issue is not with trees, decorated trees, or plants, but idolatry.
In Isaiah 60:13 it says, “The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee, the fir tree, the pine tree, and the box together, to beautify the place of my sanctuary; and I will make the place of my feet glorious.”
Leviticus 23:40-41 says about the feast of booths, ” And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.
And ye shall keep it a feast unto the Lord seven days in the year. It shall be a statute for ever in your generations: ye shall celebrate it in the seventh month.”
Ezekiel 41:18-20, 25 says, ” And it was made with cherubims and palm trees, so that a palm tree was between a cherub and a cherub; and every cherub had two faces;
19 So that the face of a man was toward the palm tree on the one side, and the face of a young lion toward the palm tree on the other side: it was made through all the house round about.
20 From the ground unto above the door were cherubims and palm trees made, and on the wall of the temple.” ” And there were made on them, on the doors of the temple, cherubims and palm trees, like as were made upon the walls; and there were thick planks upon the face of the porch without.”
In 1 Kings 6:18, 29, and 32-35 it says, ” And the cedar of the house within was carved with knops and open flowers: all was cedar; there was no stone seen.” “And he carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of cherubims and palm trees and open flowers, within and without.” ” The two doors also were of olive tree; and he carved upon them carvings of cherubims and palm trees and open flowers, and overlaid them with gold, and spread gold upon the cherubims, and upon the palm trees.
33 So also made he for the door of the temple posts of olive tree, a fourth part of the wall.
34 And the two doors were of fir tree: the two leaves of the one door were folding, and the two leaves of the other door were folding.
35 And he carved thereon cherubims and palm trees and open flowers: and covered them with gold fitted upon the carved work.”
2 Chronicles 3:3, 4-6 says, “Now these are the things wherein Solomon was instructed for the building of the house of God. The length by cubits after the first measure was threescore cubits, and the breadth twenty cubits.”
“5 And the greater house he cieled with fir tree, which he overlaid with fine gold, and set thereon palm trees and chains.
6 And he garnished the house with precious stones for beauty: and the gold was gold of Parvaim.”
So assuming this was a decorated tree in Jeremiah 10, is still a faulty argument according to the Bible. To sum it up again, images of trees were used in the temple (overlaid with gold), the righteous are compared to a tree (such as in Psalm 1), and tree branches were used in celebrations (such as in the Feast of Booths and Jesus’s triumphant entry). So obviously using any kind of tree (or plant) as decoration is not a sin.
But what if these verses in Jeremiah 10 are not talking about a decorated tree that looked like a Christmas tree at all? Context is everything, and we must compare Scripture to Scripture.
Notice in verse 3 it says, “…for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.” And then in verse 5 it says, ” They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not…” It appears that this is not simply a decorated tree at all, but is referring to how the heathen go out, cut a tree down, and carve it, or part of it, into an idol. Some other verses that make this appear to be the case are in Isaiah. Isaiah 40:19-20
“The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains.
20 He that is so impoverished that he hath no oblation chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image, that shall not be moved.”
And in Isaiah 44:14-17 it says, “14 He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest: he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it.
15 Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto.
16 He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire:
17 And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god.”
Especially in the verses in Isaiah 40, it appears to be referring to the same thing that Jeremiah was talking about – not a tree per se, but an idol carved out of a tree. Something that a workman can make into an idol.
It is also interesting to note that some of the same people that won’t decorate with a Christmas tree will decorate, however, with gold and silver garlands and Christmas lights on wreaths, and gold and silver garlands and Christmas lights on pine branch garland. This is practically the same thing as decorating a tree, except in this case, it is only the branches. This does not seem to be consistent reasoning, which is important when making any moral decision.
1 Timothy 6:17 says, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;” God gives us many pleasant things in this life to enjoy, including His Creation. He also likes to see us beautifying things around us, and creating and inventing things that will help others, or bring them enjoyment. Christmas trees are beautiful, and they can be good for creating memories, and good family time while setting them up.
To conclude, there are many reasons why it would be amiss to say that a Christian should not decorate with a Christmas tree. It is taking Scripture out of context, and creating an issue out of something that is not an issue in Scripture. It is also ignoring other areas of Scripture that contradict the belief that decorating with trees, other plants, and decorations is evil.
So now we visit another big issue in the realm of Christmas celebrations – Santa Claus.
What about Santa Claus?
For most of today’s culture, Santa Claus is an integral part in the celebration of Christmas. However, just like Christmas, Santa Claus is never mentioned in the Bible. However, let’s take a look at the history of Santa Claus – St. Nicholas.
St. Nicholas was born in 270 AD, and died in 343 AD. He was a Greek Bishop of Myra, in Asia Minor. Chances are, he was misguided in regards to the Christian faith (not much is known about him), but he did help in defeating the heresy Arius was promoting (that Jesus was not fully God). He also helped the poor and needy with giving gifts to them. So these things are definately commendable, and he should be kind of a hero.
However, the issue is not really with who he was as a historical character. Everyone knows that he is completely different from the Santa Claus of today (there are other historical legendary characters based on St. Nick through the centuries as well).
So here are some of the main teachings about Santa Claus that I gathered:
He sees you all the time, everywhere.
He gives gifts to the good, and not to the naughty (doesn’t usually work out in real life though)
Lives in the North Pole, and gives gifts on Christmas.
What do parents usually say around Christmas time? “Be good so Santa Claus gives you presents. If you’re not good, you won’t get anything!” What is this? Manipulation, and lying. Yes, we want to spur on our kids to good behaviour. But to do the wrong thing in order to try to make our kids do right is not acceptable. Not only is it confusing to kids, but it is wrong before God.
Also, to try to say that Santa Claus sees you everywhere, all the time, is an outright lie, and a slap in God’s face. Only God can do these things. While we may just be joking, it sure doesn’t sound like it in the songs. And kids are very gullible. Once they find out you’ve lied to them, how are you going to get back your trust for the things that really matter? Such as telling them that Jesus died for them, and that “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.” Prov. 15:3
There are many lies that we would tell our kids with certain aspects of the myth of Santa Claus that would make it unbiblical to perpetuate. However, if we want to tell our kids that the person behind the Santa Claus they see everywhere during Christmas time is based off the real historical character of St. Nicholas, then we can teach them about the good that this person did in his time. And how he is an example, in some ways, for us to follow. When there are heresy’s, tear them down. When there are people in need, we should help them. And God will get the glory! But whatever we do, we should not lie to them.
Should we give gifts on Christmas?
Christmas is a season to remember the gift that God gave us – His only son. Christ came down to earth, was born humbly, lived a selfless life, and thought of others. It is a time to celebrate his birth and life. As always, let’s go to Scripture to see if gift giving during a celebration of a holiday is something God is please with or not.
Esther 9:19-22 says, “Therefore the Jews of the villages, that dwelt in the unwalled towns, made the fourteenth day of the month Adar a day of gladness and feasting, and a good day, and of sending portions one to another.
20 And Mordecai wrote these things, and sent letters unto all the Jews that were in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus, both nigh and far,
21 To stablish this among them, that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar, and the fifteenth day of the same, yearly,
22 As the days wherein the Jews rested from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to joy, and from mourning into a good day: that they should make them days of feasting and joy, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.”
We see by these verses that it is not inherently wrong to give gifts during celebrations. The Jews did it to celebrate a deliverance that God granted them. However, one thing to keep in mind is that because of the gift giving in America on Christmas, Christmas now seems to become more about the gifts instead of Christ for some people.
Just think if it was your birthday, and everyone gave gifts to each other, and not to you? Yes, God wants us to be happy and celebrate, but when He becomes non-existent in the picture, it must be grieving to Him. One way to work around this is by giving to others on Christmas. Such as serving others by going to a nursing home, or helping others in need. By giving to others in Christ’s name, you are in essence, giving to Him. In Mark 9:41 it says, “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.” 2 Cor. 9:7b says, “…for God loveth a cheerful giver.” Whether you give gifts on Christmas, or give gifts instead on New Years (like we do), isn’t really the issue. The focus should be on Christ. Which granted, is hard to do when you do give gifts on Christmas, but not entirely impossible.
Focus not on the bad, but the good during this season! Learn to see the true meaning of Christmas in everything around you.
This dissertation, I’m sure, has sparked some controversy on all sides. It is quite unconventional in many streams of thought on this issue. But the thing is, it doesn’t matter how we were raised, and what traditions we were brought up with, or what opinions we have. Otherwise you may be one of those that either ignores the Bible about these issues, or adds in rules that don’t apply and contradict the rest of God’s Word. We instead need to base our thinking on the Bible – nothing more and nothing less. No, we don’t have to celebrate Christmas or set up a Christmas tree to be a good Christian, but I think we would be missing out on a lot of good family time, memories, and miss out on being able to share why we celebrate Christmas – for Christ! Focus not on the bad, but the good during this season! Learn to see the true meaning of Christmas in everything around you – the decorations, some of the traditions, etc., instead of seeing it from a pagan perspective. Because we are celebrating Christs’s birth – not the pagan holiday that some may try to say it is. May God bless your studies on this issue, and Merry Christmas (and have a happy New Year)!