From Glenn Taylor
This week we celebrate the holiday many hold to be the most holy of all holidays. The nation pretty much goes all out with decorations and choir concerts not to mention the commercial aspect of the season. The shopping season now begins long before Thanksgiving!
But what about Christmas? We are not told when Christ was born. Even if we knew, the scriptures do not authorize a religious holy day for this celebration. To be sure, the Old Testament had many such holy days such as Passover and Pentecost. There are no such days in the New Testament to be celebrated on a yearly basis. We gather weekly to celebrate His death, burial and resurrection each Sunday. But what about His birth?
The fact is, it is very unlikely Jesus was born on December 25th.
Luke 2:8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
Winter is wet and cold in Judea. It is unlikely shepherds spent a December night in the open fields. It is more reasonable to think this was probably during the lambing season. During this time, the nights are balmy and shepherds are awake tending the ewes. The fact is early historical writings show the early Christians thought Christ was born in March or April.
So what is the origin of Christmas? The word was coined in the 11th century but the celebrations began much earlier. Records show there was an observance of Jesus’ birth as early as 180 AD. However, it was not until 386 AD that it was moved to December 25th.
Why December? The Roman Empire dissolved around 400 AD. Prior to this it was deeply involved in paganism. There was a pagan festival celebrated in December called Natalis Invicti or Saturnalia. This festival actually began on December 17th and ran for several days. It was called the festival of Saturn and celebrated the “Return of the Sun”. Remember Rome being in the same hemisphere as we, experiences the Winter Solstice on December 21st, (this of course being the shortest day of the year). This festival, Natalis Invicti, was a boisterous affair. Over time the Romans had pulled their Christian friends into the partying. By 386 AD the official celebration was called Christ’s Mass which means “Christ is coming”. Several centuries later we find the word Christmas.
Incidentally, many of our traditional celebrations can be traced back to this very festival. The decorated Christmas tree is said to have its roots when the ancient Romans decorated trees with small pieces of metal during Saturnalia, the winter festival in honor of Saturnus, the god of agriculture.
The question remains “Should the Christian celebrate Christmas?” Using Galatians 4: 10,11 and Colossians 2:16 some will say no.
Galatians 4: 10,11: You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.
Colossians 2: 16: So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths,
Others pointing to the freedom of Romans 14: 5,6 say it is a matter of opinion.
Romans 14: 5,6: One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.
We have no precept or example for its observance therefore faithful Christians do not keep it as a religious festival. I am reminded of Guy N. Woods when he said, “Many people consider it as no more than a holiday around which many family, social and national traditions have gathered, and there is in it for them no religious implications. I grew up in a home where these views prevailed and though the season contributed much to my happiness and enjoyment, I was never under the impression that we were observing Christ’s birthday. Christmas, when thus regarded, is simply an occasion when gifts are exchanged, families get together, and hearts are warmed by the happy festivities.”1
He goes on to address the argument that some will not use the word Christmas (Christ’s Mass) because it is of Catholic origin. “It is inconsistent to offer this objection and to refuse the use of the word Christmas, because of its origin, while using, without question, many others of similar objectionable origin. These words through the years have undergone modification to the point they no longer convey an improper sense. Sunday derives from “sacred day of the sun”; Monday, “sacred day of the moon”; Wednesday “Woden’s Day”, (Woden was one of the chief idols of mythology.); Thursday designates the day of the war god Thor; and Saturday comes from the very same god, Saturn that was mentioned earlier. To us, the days of the week bear no connection to earlier usage and we use them in harmony with their meaning to us and not to others. Similarly, Christmas is not a “mass for Christ” but a day of joy, gladness and warmth when friends and loved ones take occasion to meet and mingle, exchange gifts and good wishes, and relax in a season of happiness and good will.”2
The season is one of my favorite times of the year. I do not attach religious meanings to the season but I do relish and enjoy what this season stands for otherwise. I hope each of you enjoy the season and have time to visit family and friends. May we each count our blessings, one of which is that we have been allowed to live and see another year come and go. Merry Christmas to each of you.
1 Woods, Guy N. Questions and Answers, Open Forum. Henderson: Freed-Hardeman University, 1976, 203-204.