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Troubled by Christmas

As a Christian, I have often been conflicted about the observance of Christmas.  I was raised in a family that places a great deal of importance on Christmas, so I have a certain affection for the holiday.  I also recognize that many of the attacks against public observances of Christmas are really intended to tear down Christianity and curtail Christiansí religious liberties.  Many atheists and adherents to other religions are offended by Christmas only because they associate it with Christianity.  For these reasons, I am sometimes provoked to defend a personís right to observe Christmas for the sake of Christianity in general.  However, I am also disgusted by the unbridled avarice, crass commercialism, unbounded waste, and extravagant decorations and celebrations that are supposedly for sake of Christís birth.  There has always been something about our cultureís celebration of Christmas that feels dirty, gluttonous, and irreverent.  Like I said, I have been conflicted.

I recognize that the right way to evaluate Christmas is to set these feelings aside and consider this holiday objectively from a Scriptural and historical viewpoint.  I am reminded of 1Thessalonians 5:21-22, which says, "But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.Ē  Everything, including Christmas, should be tested with this basic question: is it good, or is it a form of evil?

Before considering this question concerning Christmas, notice that the Bible addresses the observance of special days in the fourteenth chapter of Romans.  In verses 5-6, it states:

One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike.  Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.  He who observes the day, observes it for the LordÖ

This passage has been cited by many, including myself, to allow for the observance of Christmas.  However, this allowance is for a person who is weak in faith and holds errant opinions (Rom. 14:1).  I for one do not want to be weak in faith, and I recognize that the affection for Christmas from my childhood actually is such a weakness.  Furthermore, I am not fully convinced in my mind that I can observe the day of Christmas to the Lord.  As I said before, I have been conflicted, and conflict is not conviction.

Therefore, letís evaluate Christmas.  First of all, the Bible gives no mandate for celebrating Christís birth.  This does not necessarily mean His birth cannot be celebrated, but no Christian should have a sense of religious obligation for keeping Christmas as Christís birthday.  Also, Scripture does not support December 25 as the day of Christís birth.  The actual date of His birth is not given in the Bible.  In fact, this winter date is highly unlikely because it simply would have been too cold for the shepherds to be in the fields during the night (Luke 2:8).

So how did December 25 become the traditional date of the Lordís birth?  It was in A.D. 350 when the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Julius I declared that Christís birth would be celebrated on that date.  He decided this ostensibly to appeal to the pagan Romans who observed a winter holiday season called Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, which to them was the "birthday of the unconquered sun.Ē  This season included a celebration of the winter solstice (December 21) and their winter holiday called Saturnalia, which honored their god of agriculture, Saturn.  The specific date of December 25 can actually be traced back to the ancient Babylonians, who celebrated a feast for the son of Isis, their goddess of nature.  The northern European pagans also celebrated the winter solstice with a holiday called the Yule (sound familiar?), which was for the birth of their sun god Mithras.

Strangely, all of the traditions now associated with the celebration of the birth of Christ have derived from these ancient pagan holidays.  Although I cannot present every detail here, I have found that everything from Christmas trees to gifts, wreathes, caroling, and mistletoe came from the idolatrous, pagan religions of the past.  Knowing this, I find it difficult or impossible to observe these traditions to the Lord as Romans 14:5-6 says I must if I observe them at all.

I have heard many Christians say that we can observe Christmas as a secular holiday as long as we donít make it religious.  I have probably even said this myself.  However, this notion makes no sense to me now as I understand the origins of the Christmas traditions.  The truth is that there is nothing secular about Christmas and there never was.  The whole celebration of Christmas is religiously pagan, and the only remotely Christian part of it is its unfounded connection with the birth of Christ.  Yet the only part of Christmas that some Christians wonít acknowledge is Christís birth.  Otherwise, they indulge in a veritable pagan soup of tradition.  Does this seem right to you?

I know that the Christmas season is a treasured time in our culture and that I am treading on a sacred cow.  You may be reading this and rolling your eyes, and I understand how you feel.  Children and families love the wonder and excitement of this holiday, and it is hard to consider letting go of it.  You and I may get together with friends and family, enjoy their company, and think about the Lord on December 25 just as we should think of Him every day.  I do not seek to pass judgment on anyoneís opinions (Rom. 14:1).  However, I do ask you to carefully consider what I have presented here.  Letís be careful not make a mockery of our Lord or of ourselves as weaklings in the faith.  If we cannot or will not observe the day for the Lord, then we ought not to observe it at all.

Stacey E. Durham




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