Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?
I was married on April 20th, 2002. It was not long after that date that my, then, husband and I realized that we were married on Adolf Hitler’s birthday. It gave us a bit of a laugh, but I was a little disturbed that we would be celebrating our anniversary every year on the birthday of one of the most vile dictators in all of history. On our first anniversary It wasn’t even a thought. That day didn’t belong to Adolf Hitler. It was the day we were married and for the brief time we were married, it was our anniversary and we celebrated it as such.
One of the most common attacks on Christmas is the day it’s celebrated. December 25th. It is safe to say that most people these days understand that we cannot know when Jesus was actually born. While we know our own date of birth, it is not uncommon for us to change the date of celebration. Our schedules, work, and other obligations often cause us to choose an alternate date for celebration. However, the date a birthday is celebrated on does not and should not diminish the value of the meaning of such a day. So, what is the controversy concerning Christmas day?
If you were to do a simple YouTube search on the origins of Christmas, you will find a massive collection of videos, both defending the celebration and demonizing it as pagan. I personally know Christians who struggle with these questions. Should Christians celebrate Christmas? Is it really pagan? In order to come to a sound conclusion, I think we should first look at what the specific objections are. What exactly about Christmas is said to be rooted in paganism? What proof do we have in response to these claims?
For some, the controversy is the belief that December 25th is the birthday of the Greek god Mithra. After Christianity was adopted by Emperor Constantine in the early 300’s, sometime in the 336 A.D. Christmas was formally celebrated by the church in Rome. The Puritans rejected the celebration of Christmas because they saw it as part of the interweaving of Christianity with the pagan Roman state. Did Rome really choose the birthday of one of their gods as the day to celebrate the birth of Christ? It is true that Mithra’s birthday was celebrated on December 25th. However, there is nothing in the actual Mithraic legend that gives a date for his birth. In fact, he didn’t even have an actual birth. According to the story, Mithra emerged from a rock. Not exactly an occasion to call a midwife. Since the early Christians did not have a date for the birth of Christ, they would have been well aware that this was not an accurate date for his birth. The celebration was borrowed from earlier winter solstice celebrations by both the Roman church and worshipers of Mithra. Which brings me to the next attack on Christmas.
As previously stated. The celebration on December 25th was borrowed from winter solstice celebrations. The celebration of Saturnalia in particular is where many of our present-day Christmas traditions are derived. Saturnalia started from December 17th and lasted through December 23rd on the Julian calendar. It was a celebration of the Greek god of agriculture, Saturn. Businesses came to a halt, school houses and courts of law closed. Homes were decorated with wreaths and other greenery, colorful clothes known as synthesis were worn, and candles were given as gifts to represent the light of the coming spring during the darkest time of the year. It was a week of gambling, singing, music, feasting and gift giving. Even master and slave roles were reversed during that week long celebration. Drunkenness and sexually immoral behavior was also considered celebratory behavior as well. Even though the early church would not have condoned that part of the celebration, the traditions of singing, gift giving, decorating, lighting candles etc. were all merged into the Christmas traditions we are familiar with today.
About now, someone is asking, “Now wait a minute! You just admitted that our Christmas traditions came from an old pagan tradition. Why still celebrate Christmas then?” First, celebration itself is not inherently sinful. When the shepherds received the news that the Christ child had been born, they celebrated. Luke 2:20. In fact, the angels celebrated! Luke 2:13-14. The promised Messiah. The Savior of the world had been born. It was a time to celebrate. Secondly, decorating a home or giving gifts is not inherently sinful. The Magi traveled for miles and miles to worship the Messiah with gifts. Matthew 2:11. Third, singing, playing music and feasting with loved ones and friends is not inherently sinful. Those of us who have put our faith in Jesus Christ are waiting for that great day where we, the bride of Christ, sit down at the marriage feast in heaven. Revelation 19:7-10. On that day there will be rejoicing and gladness for those who have been invited. Revelation 19:6-9.
Paganism does not own December 25th. It does not own feasting, or gift giving, decorating or singing. The day on which the birth of Christ was chosen to be formally celebrated is not nearly as important as the fact that He was born! That is something to dance in the streets about on any day! A true Christian keeps Christ at the center of the celebration. It’s okay to enjoy the lights and wreaths and festive attire, as long as they don’t become the center of your worship. That would be idolatry, which is another topic for another time.
Christmas should be celebrated because without the birth of Christ, there would not have been the death of Christ. Without the death of Christ, there is no resurrection of Christ. Without the resurrection of Christ, we are still in our sins with no hope. His birth brought the hope of salvation. The pagans may have given candles to represent the light of the coming spring during the darkest time of year, but God gave us His son Jesus to be the light in the darkness in our souls. Amid the festivities let us remember that He is the greatest gift and our lives have been adorned with His love and mercy.