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. Can Christians celebrate Christmas with a clear consience?

CAN CHRISTIANS CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS WITH A CLEAR CONSIENCE?


Every year this time Christians are bombarded with information that Christmas is supposedly secretly pagan, secretly syncretistic, secretly a co-opting of pagan stuff and ignorantly claiming it to be Christian. But it depends on who you ask and what their sources are. I will quickly touch on some of the issues and then give us rules by which you can test your own Christmas celebration.

For many years most Christians have celebrated Christmas without any concern for such issues. But since the information age there are some questions that arise that causes some to doubt, and too often we accept the first article we read as fact, without source checking.

A further accusation is that Christmas is such a commercialized event that it is hypocrisy to celebrate it.  This is a favourite argument used by atheists and then of course Jehovah’s Witnesses alike. So, what do we say to this?

1. Let’s first look at 6 key issues at play here.

1.1 One issue that has surfaced as supposed support to do away with Christmas is based on a supposed Christmas ban in the USA.

In December 2018, one widely-shared internet meme turned this annual event on its head, claiming that Christmas only came to be accepted relatively late on in the history of the United States, after a long period of Puritan disdain for what was once perceived as a “pagan holiday.”

The Facebook page “For Truth Not Religion” posted a meme featuring blurred images of “publick notices” describing Christmas traditions as “Satanical practices,” along with the claim that “Christmas was illegal in the U.S. until 1836 as it was considered an ancient Pagan holiday.”

Overall this claim is false and nothing more than a manipulation of certain truths for own purposes. There was a ban, but this ban was restricted to Massachusetts and never to the US and lasted only 22 years. The date of 1836 mentioned was when Christmas became a public holiday and not when Christmas became legal.

But what were the reasons for the ban?

“That ban in 1659 was motivated largely by the austere Puritan religious beliefs of authorities in the colony, who objected to the December 25th celebration for two main reasons: because it was originally a pagan winter festival co-opted by Christians and lacking in any Biblical basis, and because it was typically accompanied by merriment and indulgence and therefore was anathema to the Puritan principles of sobriety and hard work.”

Why did they do that?

“Christmas involved behaviour that most of us would find offensive and even shocking today — rowdy public displays of eating and drinking, the mockery of established authority, aggressive begging … and even the invasion of wealthy homes … Excess took many forms. Revelling could easily become rowdiness; lubricated by alcohol, making merry could edge into making trouble. Christmas was a season of “misrule,” a time when ordinary behavioural restraints could be violated with impunity.”

But, was Christmas in the US illegal till 1836?

No! “The Massachusetts Bay prohibition on Christmas was repealed in 1681, some 22 years after it was introduced. We were unable to find any record of a similar ban on the celebration of Christmas after that date, either in the north-eastern colonies of the 17th and 18th centuries, or anywhere throughout the United States after 1776.”

1.2 Christmas supposedly replaced a Roman Pagan holiday called Saturnalia.

The claim is made that in Roman culture they celebrated a holiday on December 25, called Saturnalia, the winter solstice, which honoured Saturn, the god of agriculture, and was supposedly celebrated with merriment, feasting, and gift giving. This is the reason why many do not want to celebrate Christmas due to its association with this pagan holiday.

Is this true? I did much wider research on the matter. If you want to investigate it simply go to Wikipedia that makes 109 quotes out of many ancient resources that was researched, and they make the following claim. Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival in honour of the god Saturn, held on 17 December of the Julian calendar and later expanded with festivities through to 23 December. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, in the Roman Forum, and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves as it was seen as a time of liberty for both slaves and freedmen alike.”

What is true though is that when Rome eventually instituted Christianity as the state religion in the fourth century, the Roman church did away with Saturnalia and instituted Christmas on the 25th of December as a Christian holiday in order to commemorate Jesus’ birth. Christians have celebrated it as such ever since. So, it would be fair to say that Saturnalia which took place from 17 – 23 December was cancelled in favour of Christmas on the 25th of December, but it did not become Christmas.

1.3 When was Christ born?

We do not know the exact date of the birth of Jesus Christ. The Bible simply just does not give it to us. So, where does December the 25th come from? In the second century A.D., a Roman Christian historian named Sextus Julius Africanus calculated Jesus’ birthdate to be December 25 (nine months after Africanus believed Jesus was conceived). Despite the many assumptions made in Africanus’s line of thinking, the date was widely accepted.

1.4 Can we celebrate Christmas when there is a possible hint of paganism?

I do not know of any Christian that entertains any thoughts regarding Saturn the god of agriculture or who has a memory of anything pagan. In my upbringing Christmas has been about Christ from beginning to end. The tree, Father Christmas and anything else were side issues of personal preference and joy but Christ was always at the centre. I grew up as a Christian and in our household, it was always a full-blown celebration of the coming of Christ. The gifts we give are a reminder of Christ as God’s gift to mankind. All committed Christians I know still celebrate it to remember the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. It may be a matter of conscience for some, for as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 10:23 (ESV)23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.” So, the common thought is that the holiday has been redeemed due to the deeper meaning it has been given. Sadly, many celebrate Christmas without any thought of Christ. The question is, what is Christmas to you? What do you teach your children?  What others do with it is their problem.

1.5 Are you obliged to celebrate Christmas?

Are you obliged to celebrate Christmas, and if I decide not to, what should my view be of those who do celebrate Christmas? I believe Paul has the answer for us.

Romans 14:5-12 (NIV) 5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’ ” 12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.”

The golden rule is found in 1 Corinthians 10:31 (ESV) 31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

So according to the verses above, a Christian can rightfully set aside any day, including Christmas as a day for the Lord. We believe Christmas affords believers with a great opportunity to exalt Jesus Christ. We are to hold our standards of righteousness and devotion to God above everything else. We must seek to please God according to what we believe is consistent with Scripture. But, when we look at Scripture, we don't find any place that says to celebrate Christ's birth or not.

And even though our society has muddied the message of Christmas through consumerism, myths and empty traditions, we should not let these distract us from appreciating the real meaning of Christmas. Let us take advantage of this opportunity to remember Him, worship Him and faithfully witness of Him.

Obviously, the Scriptures are our guide. When we turn to Scripture, we find that it says in 1 Corinthians 4:6 that we are "not to exceed what is written," in our judgment of issues and behaviour and how we view others. When we look to the verses we saw earlier about all things being lawful and that Christians are to be convinced in their own minds (Romans 14:5), then celebrating Christmas becomes more of personal preference. I cannot decide for you, and you cannot decide for me.

1.6 Let me give you a closing argument based on paganism.

In the Bible, in 1 Corinthians 10:23-33, Paul speaks about meat sacrificed to idols that was then later sold in the meat market place.  The question arose, "Should a Christian eat such meat?" Paul answers the question in verse 25 when he says, "Eat anything that is sold in the meat market, without asking questions for conscience' sake." Paul said that it was okay to eat the meat which was sacrificed to idols.

Then in verses 28-29 he says, "But if anyone should say to you, 'This is meat sacrificed to idols,' do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience' sake; 29 I mean not your own conscience, but the other man's; for why is my freedom judged by another's conscience?" Paul is saying that if you are with someone who might be negatively affected by your eating meat that was sacrificed to idols then don't eat it--not because of you but because of the other person. In other words, eating that meat won't affect you. This should help couples who are struggling on the issues. Let the one who has freedom rather forfeit their freedom for the sake of the other, until both can find freedom.

Here is my point. The Pagan rituals and the false gods are not real. Galatians 4:8-9 (ESV) 8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?" These gods and traditions have as little power over you as food sacrificed to idols.

1 Corinthians 8:7-9 (ESV) echoes the idea: 7 However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” Though this passage requires a bit more examination, it still carries the sense of freedom. And, Jesus has set us free.

So, celebrating Christmas is up to the conviction of the Christian. We are free to celebrate it. We are also free not to celebrate it. But, do not judge other Christians who celebrate it or don't celebrate it since they are free to act according to their conscience in this matter. At the end of the day the question is this. Are you celebrating Christ in the midst of all the Christmas trappings, or is your heart set upon something pagan, something else? Make sure that you put Christ back into Christnas. I trust it is all about Christ and that you can say with a clear heart, there is nothing pagan in my thoughts, my heart, my teaching of my family in any way. Let's not be like the Pharisees who are maticulous in the detail, but miss the heart of it all.

Amen!

Soli Deo Gloria

Logos Community Church – 22 December 2019