It usually surprises some who know that I am a devout Christian that I do not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday marking the birth of Jesus. After all, when the mantra of many in the Christian world is “put Christ back in Christmas” why is a Christian not supporting this and, in fact, not participating in the religious ceremony?
At the foundation is a conviction to look to the teaching and practice of Jesus and the apostles as revealed in the New Testament as the authority for what I practice as a Christian in worship and in my life. Christmas was not commanded or practiced by Jesus and the apostles and there is no record of the churches of the New Testament celebrating the birth of Jesus. It was introduced much later in history and was not even universally accepted then. As The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religous Knowlege notes:
Christian preachers of the West and the Near East protested against the unseemly frivolity with which Christ’s birthday was celebrated, while Christians of Mesopotamia accused their western brethren of idolatry and sun worship for adopting as Christian this pagan festival.
For those who would argue that even though Jesus and the apostles didn’t command it and the early church didn’t observe it is still a good thing because it honors God, I’d caution you to consider these points summarized from the post “Just Because We Want It Doesn’t Mean God Wants It”:
- David and Nathan, two sincere and devout men decided that it would be good to build a temple for God and that God would be with David (2 Samuel 7). God rebuked them for their presumption noting that He had never command this from His people. Even sincere people may assume that God will be pleased with what they want to do to His glory.
- King Jereboam was not acting out of sincere motives and, as recorded in 2 Kings 25, changed the practices commanded by God to suit his needs and was condemned.
- The Pharisees also changed service to God by adding practices then condemning those who did not follow the man-made traditions. Jesus rebuked them saying, “And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” They went through the motions of worship but God did not accept it.
The second reason that I do not celebrate Christmas as a religous holiday is that it is a mix of Christian symbols and idolatrous practices. Even a quick study of the origins of Christmas, by supporters and critcs, note the links between the idolatrous Saturnalia and Brumalia feasts and the introduction of Christmas. Schaff-Herzog again:
The pagan Saturnalia and Brumalia were too deeply entrenched in popular custom to be set aside by Christian influence…The pagan festival with it’s riot and merrymaking was so popular that Christians were glad of an excuse to continue its celebration with little change in spirit and in manner.
A quick Internet search of the pagan orgins of Christmas will yield an abundance of sites for those who want to pursue this further. If doing things in worship and service to God without His authority displeases God, so much more would would worship that is established on an idolatrous foundation be abominable to Him! The Old and New Testaments teach this clearly. For a more detailed analysis of the mixture of idolatry into Christian practices, view this article at Myth and Mystery.
Finally, I do not celebrate Christmas as a religous holiday because I am not a member of the Catholic church and do not observe the Catholic liturgical practice known as the mass (described here). I eat the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day to remember the sacrifice of Jesus as was commanded by Jesus and practiced by the apostles and early church. I don’t recognize the authority for a Christ Mass to be celebrated on December 25th in the New Testament therefore I reject that practice. It confuses me that many non-Catholic Christians who reject the authority and traditions of the Catholic church embrace this completely Catholic practice.
This time of year is a great time to spend with family as travel plans and relaxed work schedules permit greater opportunities to spend time together. There is no problem giving gifts to those you love at any time of the year. Christmas has, in many ways, left it’s relgious roots and its symbols–the tree, lights, etc.–have lost their religious significance. Each Christian has to decide to what degree, if any, he will participate in the celebrations but must do so considering the commands and expectations of God and do nothing that takes from His glory.
References: The Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge: Entries for “C” here
Update: 12/21/2011: Added Myth and Mystery Link