For years I have heard various arguments for and against celebrating Christmas. I finally decided to take an objective look at both sides, do my own research, and find out what is truth. I found that there are a number of myths about Christmas being perpetuated by, I presume, people with good intentions. Here are a number of the more popular ones and what I have learned about them in my studies.
#1 – Christmas is a Pagan Holiday
Probably the number one pagan holiday that is held up as the parent to Christmas is the Roman feast Saturnalia. This feast was held in honor of their god Saturn, and has been credited as being what early Christians based Christmas on. However, this is not a very plausible theory as Saturnalia ended on Dec. 23 – two days prior to Christmas.[i]
The most plausible of pagan holidays that may have influenced putting Christmas on December 25 is the celebration of Sol Invictus.
Wikipedia says this:
“Sol Invictus (‘Unconquered Sun’) was the official sun god of the later Roman Empire and a patron of soldiers. In 274 AD the Roman emperor Aurelian made it an official cult alongside the traditional Roman cults. Scholars disagree about whether the new deity was a refoundation of the ancient Latin cult of Sol, a revival of the cult of Elagabalus or completely new. The god was favored by emperors after Aurelian and appeared on their coins until Constantine I. The last inscription referring to Sol Invictus dates to AD 387, and there were enough devotees in the 5th century that Augustine found it necessary to preach against them.
“The theory dating from the 12th century, that the near-solstice date of 25 December for Christmas was selected because it was the date of the Roman festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun) is challenged by some Christian scholars. Different explanations for the date similarity are considered to be “academically thoroughly viable hypotheses” by some. Both theories have supporters, with some claiming that the festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti was later syncretized with Christmas and others saying that the Christian celebration may predate the festival of the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti.”[ii]
As the above indicates, the exact date that Christmas was first celebrated is unknown. The first recorded Christmas celebration was in Rome in 336 AD[iii] although it may have been celebrated elsewhere at an earlier date.
Even if Christmas was started after Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, we still don’t know the intentions of the originators. It may have been a Christianization of a pagan festival, it may have been put on the same day without any correlation between the two holidays, or Christmas may have been put on that date to directly compete with Dies Natalis Solis Invicti.
We do not know if Christmas originally had pagan influences or not. There are conflicting arguments from both sides, and neither has concrete evidence. I suggest that Christmas today is a 21st century celebration of the birth of the Messiah. It is not celebrating a pagan holiday anymore even if it once was. And if someone has a problem with trees, gift-giving, and the like, they can be thrown out without throwing out Christmas as well.
1 Corinthians 8:4-6 says “As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.”
God tells us that an idol is nothing. It has no power. Therefore, even if there were bits and pieces of pagan customs mixed in with the celebration of Christ’s birth when Christmas was first started, that doesn’t mean that it has tainted or ruined Christmas. God has not told us to avoid anything that has pagan connections.
If we decide that we aren’t going to celebrate Christ’s birth simply because a pagan god may have influenced our celebration, who are we saying by our actions is the most powerful? We are in reality giving credit to an idol as having been something real because it is still influencing our lives!
At the same time I don’t want to turn this into a guilt-trip.
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
If someone doesn’t feel that they should celebrate Christmas – fine. He is has full right to do so and those that do celebrate Christmas should not look at him as being inferior, or less Christian. On the other hand, those that do celebrate Christmas also have full right to do so – they are not sinning – and they also deserve full acceptance by their non-Christmas-celebrating brethren.
Of course, all this concern over Dec. 25th being a pagan holiday assumes that Jesus wasn’t actually born on the 25th.
#2 – It is unlikely that Jesus was born on Dec. 25
I have read those that said that “the shepherds were in the fields watching over their flocks by night, and that they couldn’t have sheep out in the fields past about mid-September because the nights are too cold and wet for the sheep.”
I looked it up. Average low temperatures in Bethlehem in December are about 52f degrees Fahrenheit, and they get about 3.5 inches of rain on average for the month.[iv] That is warmer than the average lows where I live and the rainfall is about the same. I have successfully raised sheep outside in this climate for many years, and sheep that number probably in the millions are raised outside in much colder climates every year and thrive.
Smith’s Bible Dictionary (1863) states:
“As in the time of our Saviour (Luke 12: 54), the rains come chiefly from the S. or S.W. They commence at the end of October or beginning of November, and continue with greater or less constancy till the end of February or middle of March, and occasionally, though rarely, to the end of April. It is not a heavy continuous rain, so much as a succession of severe showers or storms with intervening periods of fine bright weather, permitting the grain crops to grow and ripen. And although the season is not divided by any entire cessation of rain for a lengthened interval, as some represent, yet there appears to be a diminution in the fall for a few weeks in December and January, after which it begins again, and continues during February and till the conclusion of the season.”
In the volumes “Picturesque Palestine”, Canon H. B. Tristram (died 1906), who had made frequent visits to Palestine, wrote as follows (Vol. I, page 124):
“A little knoll of olive trees surrounding a group of ruins marks the traditional site of the angels’ appearance to the shepherds, Migdol Eder, ‘the tower of the flock’. But the place where the first ‘Gloria in excelsis’ was sung was probably further east, where the bare hills of the wilderness begin, and a large tract is claimed by the Bethlehemites as a common pasturage. Here the sheep would be too far off to be led into the town at night; and exposed to the attacks of wild beasts from the eastern ravines, where the wolf and the jackal still prowl, and where of old the yet more formidable lion and bear had their covert, they needed the shepherds’ watchful care during the winter and spring months, when alone pasturage is to be found on these bleak uplands.”
This indicates that the grazing season around Bethlehem was during the winter when the rains came and the grass could grow. There was a lull in the rainfall apparently in late December through early January which would have made the time right over Christmas to be one of the most plausible times of year to be out “keeping watch over flocks by night.”
It is very likely that the traditional date of Dec 25 is pretty accurate. And if it is a little off, who cares? After all, this is not a matter of right or wrong. God has not commanded us to celebrate Christ’s birth, and He hasn’t commanded us not to – which leads us to the next myth.
#3 – “It’s wrong to celebrate Christmas because it wasn’t commanded”
This is used by those that teach that that which is not commanded by God is forbidden. This doctrine is used to shoot down anything that they don’t believe in such as Christmas.
Such doctrine comes from a wrong understanding of God and who He is. He is not a dictator that just wants to put a big burden on us so that He can whip us when we stumble under it, but rather a loving God that has given us commands to follow that are ultimately for our benefit.
There are things that God has commanded that we are to do, such as loving those who hate us. There are things that God has commanded us not to do, such as committing fornication. But there are a lot of things in life, such as whether or not to brush one’s teeth or whether or not to use a computer that are not sin one side or the other, and celebrating Christmas is one of them.
As mentioned above, God specifically gives us the freedom to “esteem one day above another” (Rom. 14:5)
#4 – Santa Claus
Santa is based on lies and acting like God – parents lie to their children that he exists, he supposedly knows whether you have been good or not; he can fly though the air invisibly like a spirit; and is everywhere at once on Christmas Eve.
However, just because it is wrong to pretend to believe in Santa and lie to your children about him, there is no plausible reason to use that to discredit all of Christmas.
#5 – Christmas has been commercialized and secularized
Even among those that celebrate Christmas there is a valid concern by many about the commercialization of Christmas and that many stores turn it into a big money-making season. The concern is that instead of the Christmas season being about celebrating Christ’s coming to earth, it has become a secular holiday full of Santa, reindeer, and stores trying to get us to buy things months in advance.
I would submit for consideration that even if stores use Christmas as a time to make lots of money, and even if “Happy Holidays” pervades society, it doesn’t have to make any difference in what Christmas means to me.
After all, what right do I have to demand that Wal-Mart greeters say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”? Wal-Mart is a secular company and what has really been gained by forcing them to make me happy by using Christian sounding jargon? Has it made them any more Christian? Has it made them any closer to going to heaven? Or is it only so that I feel more comfortable with where the world is, and so I wouldn’t be reminded of where they are spiritually? Am I only trying to protect my holy bubble?
I can still take responsibility for myself that I don’t get just drawn away into forgetting what and Who we are celebrating. I must take responsibility for my own actions and not put the blame on others.
Reasons for the Season?
So are there reasons for celebrating Christmas? Sure!
Christmas is a great evangelistic opportunity. It is perfectly acceptable and not repulsive to most Americans to sing Christian Christmas songs. According to a Gallup poll in 2000, 75% of American society as a whole – non-Christians included, felt that there is not enough emphasis on the religious basis of Christmas today. Only 8% of society felt that there was too much religious emphasis.[v]
Christmas is also the only time of year that I can walk into a store and hear the name of Jesus coming across the speakers. Sure, the music could be a lot better, but it is a welcome break from the rock that is played the rest of the year.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Luke 2:13-14
What a magnificent moment! God had done what no other god of any other religion can claim. He had taken on human flesh and had come to live among and teach His people, and then to die in their place so that their sins could be forgiven.
This is what we celebrate each year. It is a time when we can remember what God has done for us and be joyful about it and celebrate it!