“Why do you celebrate Christmas?” my Muslim friend asked at our Grill a Christian event. “I mean isn’t it a pagan festival emphasising materialism? Surely it isn’t something God’s people should be involved in?”
The panel were flummoxed. They’d never really thought of Christmas in these terms. Had they been celebrating some worthless pagan festival all their lives?
Is the high point of the Christian calendar just a capitulation to paganism? Is it actually doing more harm than good? Should Christians celebrate Christmas?
Let’s consider this according to three criteria: is celebrating Christmas biblical, is it helpful and is it sinful?
Is Celebrating Christmas Biblical?
There is nothing in the Bible that compels us to celebrate the incarnation in a certain festival. The only things the Bible tells us to celebrate are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, some groups refuse to celebrate Christmas as it is not in Scripture.
Is Celebrating Christmas Helpful?
However, just because something isn’t commanded doesn’t mean it can’t be done. The Bible doesn’t tell us to have children’s talks, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen.
So the question is: is Christmas helpful? If it doesn’t help us focus on Christ then it’s a wasted exercise.
Christmas is helpful in the following ways:
- It celebrates an event in the life of Christ, and makes that event known to people across our culture.
- The repetition of carols and scripture readings mean the message can be well remembered. Memorisation is always a plus.
- It gives an opportunity to tell children the Gospel (which as a teacher, I have valued!).
- It reminds us how blessed we are to have the Christ who the prophets longed to see.
- It is one of the few times of year all Christians look at the Old Testament and see it isn’t an irrelevant book, but rather points to Christ.
- It is a good tool for evangelism.
Is Celebrating Christmas Sinful
However, if something is helpful but sinful we should forget it. For example, a person may well find it helpful to pray to Mary, but that doesn’t mean it is something that should be done.
Anything can become sinful, and Christmas is no different. What we must consider is, is the very essence of Christmas sinful? We may list some sins that arise from Christmas, but each of them are not the essence of Christmas:
- It drives many families into debt, because of excessive spending. This is true, but is not an essential part of Christmas. These people are just taking gift giving to an extreme and should be personally rebuked, rather than being a cause to end Christmas.
- Materialism is often lamented at Christmas. However, I think this is a rather overstated case. All the Christmas programmes (especially the secular ones) say Christmas is about giving and family not materialism. It is a beautiful thing that in our culture we have a celebration where we give gifts to make our loved ones happy. To reduce it to materialism is undermining what is an incredibly helpful tradition. Moreover Christmas is a time when a lot of people give to the poor (i.e. Operation Christmas Child), that is not materialism!
- Because of the emphasis on family, it may result in rejection of widows and singles. However, this rarely happens as people are especially careful at Christmas to ensure people are looked after.
- Some would also say that telling your children about Santa is lying and thus evil. I’m not convinced that this fairy tale is an evil thing (“Santa is an anagram of SATAN” etc.) but even if it is, your family can have Christmas without Santa.
- Some would question (like my Muslim friend) whether using pagan imagery in a Christian festival is Godly. For example, isn’t a Christmas tree a pagan sign of fertility? However, there is nothing wrong with redeeming a pagan idea in a Christian way. For example, the book of Proverbs uses a pagan form of literature (and perhaps even some pagan Proverbs) and views them in the light of YHWH’s covenant love for Israel. There are two criteria for it to be used. 1) It must be able to point to Christ. 2) It must not be a sin. Christmas meets both these points
Something like pornography can’t be redeemed. There can be no “Christian pornography” because the very essence of pornography is sinful. Yet there can be Christian speech, for even though speech often leads to sin, speech can be redeemed and used to preach Christ. Christmas is the same. Though sins (some grevious) may arise, they are not the essence of Christmas. Therefore celebrating Christmas is not sinful.
I don’t think celebrating Christmas is essential, and in non-Christian cultures I wouldn’t encourage that it be instituted. Yet in our culture Christmas is incredibly important. I think any church that doesn’t celebrate Christmas is wasting a valuable evangelistic opportunity. Carol services, Christmas day services, Nativity plays: all such things can be great opportunities to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.
Moreover, Christian families who do not celebrate Christmas are missing a great opportunity for mutual encourage. This is an opportunity to remind each other of the gospel and show love through generosity.
What do you think of Christmas? Do you celebrate it in your home?